Extra Ordinary?

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I had a dream last night. I guess it was more of a nightmare, really. I was auditioning to be an actor in my own book, which of course, makes zero sense whatsoever. But such is the way our brains seam together the jumbled pieces of our lives while we lay sleeping. My old college volleyball coach was running the audition, and although I had written the book, she kept telling me I was reading it wrong – my expressions weren’t quite right, the intonations slightly off. She would work with me and do her best to help me but at the end of the day, I wasn’t exactly right. I just didn’t have “it.”

I woke up with tears pooling in the corners of my eyes and still don’t think I have fully woken, although it is now late in the afternoon. The feeling has lingered and dampened my day. Most of the time, I feel healthy, strong, proud of who I have worked so hard to be. But sometimes, a simple nonsensical dream invokes my broken parts, my hurting parts, the parts that tell me hard as I may try, I will never be enough. I am destined for a life of average-ness, these parts remind me. And they speak with such authority that I am meekly tempted to agree.

My sweet husband tries to reassure me and informs me that I am above average in everything I do. That in all of our years together, the only average thing he has ever witnessed has been my feeble attempts to cook fried chicken. I laugh through my tears and counter his comment. Regarding fried chicken, I am highly deficient. The damn obstinate breading just won’t stick! He wants me to see myself in the way he sees me, but his viewpoint is biased, so I disregard him as a flawed character witness.

I go on a walk to shake off my dream. The sun is abnormally warm for this time of year, and I know I should savor it. But my haze follows me and dulls the sun’s rays.

A phrase emerges to the forefront of my mind, one that I saw in bold letters on a recent advertisement – BE EXTRAORDINARY! Extraordinary? Extra – ordinary? What does this strange word mean? Is that the same thing as being more average? Is extraordinary better than normal or just a double-dose?

I wonder what I am striving for in wanting to be better than average? To whom am I comparing myself? If I consider myself to be “average,” would being extraordinary simply mean being more of myself, more fully me? If I don’t step up to fill my own shoes, who else is remotely capable?

More questions than answers today, but suddenly, I notice the sensation of sun on my face. My muddled haze is gone, and my insides feel settled and not quite so angry. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be extra of my ordinary self, to let go of the striving desperation and fall headlong into faith and trust.

I become aware of birds calling one to the other, and their uniquely “ordinary” calls lift my spirit from my own depths. They are only doing what they have been created to do, yet it is, of course…extraordinary.

Broken Ribs, Homeless Boys, Police, and Self-Doubt

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Monday, my dad slipped on the ice at our house and broke four ribs. Tuesday evening, my husband and I were winding down in the hot tub after a long day, and when we got out, we couldn’t find Grayson – our fifteen-year-old autistic son. As we were searching the house and property, our daughter called. Her voice sounded hot and quivery. Are you missing anything?! Because the police found Grayson wandering around the Walmart parking lot – barefoot and in his robe. He stowed away in my trunk, and now he’s pretending he doesn’t know me, and he’s saying he’s a homeless boy. I’m so embarrassed. Mom, what if that lady didn’t call? What if I never knew he was there and left him behind? (silent sniffles)

For once (Hallelujah!), Grayson didn’t run from the police, and they didn’t chase him. The two officers were so amazingly wonderful and let our daughter assume the lead role. My husband and I jumped in our car and drove to Walmart, reasoning with Grayson over speaker phone the whole way. Eventually, I was able to talk him down, and he peaceably walked back to my daughter’s car to wait for our arrival. The situation was resolved easily enough without traumatizing restraint, arrest, or catastrophe.

Yesterday, I got another call from the local police over a matter still ongoing and too personal to share. It left me reeling and struggling to breathe. That one will take a bit longer to get over. The issue was turned over to the Sheriff and Child Protective Services, and I found myself once again staring at my phone all day, waiting for “the call.”

All that in three days.

Now it’s 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, and I’m sitting down to work on my memoirs for the first time this week. I’ve lost three days of writing and only have a short one today due to a brainstorming meeting at Grayson’s school. Thoughts swirl in my head alongside the chaos, making it impossible to hear the quiet voice inside. How am I supposed to write about the previous mess of my life while still currently living in its midst? Self-doubt swoops in and consumes my motivation. What were you thinking? Who do you think you are? You can’t write a book. It’s impossible. You suck. This is too much.

I have no good answers today, and I lack the energy to engage. Maybe it’s true, I say to myself, but quitting is not an option.

I write a quick blog to clear my mind, then open my memoir to plod ahead. Maybe it won’t be any good, maybe I’ll never get published. But I’ll certainly never know unless I try…

There by the grace of God, go I.

The Fear Behind the Fear (COVID-19)

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During this strange and unprecedented time, I have been amused by the humorous memes and videos that have been popping up on social media. Parents have been instantly thrust from their roles as busy professionals to homeschooling, full-time, stay-at-home caregivers. While it is so good to laugh at ourselves and find humor where we can, I have to wonder at what lies behind the memes.

Over and over, I have heard people asking for suggestions for ways to pass, kill or survive their time at home, and for ideas on how to stay busy. A fairly consistent theme that seems to be emerging in these funny videos looks something like this…1) person is excited for “down-time” 2) person binge-watches all possible NetFlix shows 3) decides they will finally try to sit and talk with spouse and/or kids 4) ends up melting down screaming into a pillow and ultimately finding a breath of relief in the bottle.

What seems to be lurking behind the humor, is the fear of 1) unstructured and unfilled time, 2) unlimited time with spouses/family members, and perhaps most predominantly a fear of 3) time spent alone. While on paper, and at our busiest, most people would concur that these opportunities are desired and necessary, even coveted. Yet, when the same opportunity extends its hand as a real and viable option, we panic.

Setting aside potential fears surrounding the actual virus and the economy, I have been thinking about the psychology of social isolation for a while now and wondering…what is it, specifically, that are we so afraid of? Upon reflection, it seems that when we find ourselves “stuck” at home with cleared schedules, and unfettered access to our spouses, children, and perhaps most importantly, ourselves…our deepest fear (if we are even able to silently acknowledge it), might be that we will come face to face with…absolute nothingness.

We know that all of the conversations we’ve avoided due to lack of time, all of the insecurities and nagging voices that we’ve drowned or kept at bay…will all be waiting for us in the vast expanse of time. I think that if we are honest, this might be the cause of our deeply-rooted and intensely personal panic. This is what keeps us binge-watching, searching the web, looking for ways to “kill” time. We will do anything to avoid being alone with ourselves.

What if rather than trying to “kill” time, we attempted to lean in and embrace time in its fullness, whatever that might include? What if we sat for a while, alone (gasp!), and let our thoughts and fears rise to the surface and breathe in the fresh air of honesty and unhurried moments? What if we allowed ourselves to feel failure, fear, sadness, anger, and pain…instead of evading, numbing, and tuning these emotions out? What if we allowed ourselves to acknowledge our internal emptiness and nothingness?

In one of my favorite (highly recommended) books, Sabbath by Wayne Muller, he says, “For some people, emptiness can feel fertile and spacious, alive with possibility, as a womb is ripe waiting for a child to come. But others feel emptiness as an ache, a void; something painful, in need of being filled. When we are empty, we feel unhealed; when we are unhealed, we can feel unworthy.”

It seems that this generation, perhaps more than any, is afraid of emotional pain. We try to fix, medicate, eradicate…but we will not allow ourselves to feel.

Could it be that we are a nation of stress and busyness mainly because we are unwilling to feel and acknowledge everything that hurts inside? What if we must first admit to, and then acquire a certain level of companionship with our emptiness and unrest, in order to find true peace, instead of settling for a tuned-out mental break from our internal torment? During this time when the literal world needs healing, what if we started by using the extra time to heal ourselves? A wise saint once said, “All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad. It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where. This is the truest path.” This does not mean that we don’t help our friends and neighbors, but rather that we will best serve others when we begin to heal ourselves.

It is my prayer that we will be able to see the opportunities presented by this virus, as opposed to the fear and inconveniences. Suffering is not a new concept, but perhaps new to this generation on such a large scale. I pray that whether we suffer internally or situationally, we will all learn to suffer with patience, kindness, and gratitude, and that we will be able to teach our children how to do the same; and if by chance, you find yourself panicking at the thought of isolation…breathe, lean in, sit with it, and become acquainted or reacquainted with the glorious person that you were created to be.

 

“To come to what you know not, you must go by a way where you know not. Growth may not feel like growth, and we need encouragement that there is somewhere to go, if we are to sail on.”

-St. John of the Cross-

 

 

 

Living Seasonally

live-in-each-season-1024x1024I’ve spent the last few months with blinders on…not the blindfold type of blinders that prevent you from seeing, but more like the type they put on horses to keep them focused on what is ahead of them.  Life all of a sudden got really hard, and really good, and really busy, all at the same time.  Kind of like a whirlwind introduction to teenagers, owning your own business, husband starting a business kind of boot camp.  I laugh/cringe because this is just the way I operate…when things get hard, I get small and go inward.  When I was delivering my first son, I basically kicked everyone out (and down the hall so I couldn’t even hear their voices), and my poor husband who took all those crazy classes with me didn’t even have a chance to put his newfound knowledge to work from his chair in the corner.  I had to be fully alone and present with myself to focus and complete the task at hand.  So I’ve spent the last few months in my “internal cocoon…” possibly socially isolated and emotionally withdrawn, although I don’t know how I appear to others.  I haven’t been upset, I’ve just had to focus on getting through a challenging time and I do my best work alone.

I planned and pushed with fervency to wrap up as many jobs as possible so that I could be home with my kids for the summer.  And then…it was summer.  But to my complete surprise (and delight), the summer that normally devours me like a consuming tornado, has meandered in peacefully and silently, observed by the wonderful cessation of marking time and checking off to-do lists.  I did reverse psychology on myself by getting so busy, that summer now seems slow in comparison (I must be smarter than I thought to be able to trick myself)!  My oldest boys literally fish from sun-up to sun-down and my daughter is in Florida helping family.  I have gone from having 5 seemingly co-dependent children to feeling like I only have 2!  My days have transitioned from non-stop movement, to coffee (with refills!) on the patio in the company of a good book.

Throughout the course of the last few months, I am reminded that the struggles and busy-ness of life can function as a splinter.  They can cause irritation and sometimes outright pain, but the second they are removed, the relief gives way to a newfound joy and appreciation.  Although I am a regrettably slow learner, I am beginning to posses with certainty the belief that every stage of life is good (even the hard ones) and can offer new opportunities for gratitude.  I have loved being busy and creative and working, but I also love letting my brain rest and “just” being a mom.  We can go through life, constantly looking anxiously ahead to the next phase, or we can learn to suck the marrow out of the here and now.  I have done plenty of looking ahead.  I long to improve upon cherishing the present.

I am also (finally) beginning the grasp the importance of living seasonally.  Earlier in life, I strived and worked incessantly.  I felt lazy if I stopped to rest.  Yet when we frantically press on and on (even in positive, fun times) without diversity or change in pace, we quickly run out of steam and live a dreary life of monotony.  There must be times of ebb and flow, work and rest, tears and laughter, suffering and joy.  I am learning to heed and embrace the literal seasons of nature for life cues…the long, slow spread of summer days, the solitude and silence of winter, the invigoration of spring and the calming crispness of fall.  I’m even attempting to eat seasonal foods to provide for varying physical needs throughout the year.  I’m trying to fight less against life, and instead receive with open hands of gratitude each twist of events that life presents.  In doing so, I am learning to trust more deeply and authentically.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and the longer I live, the more I can look back over the threads of time to see how my life is being expertly woven.  I am seeing with greater clarity that I can breathe and lean fully into a life of trusting God, nature, and myself.

Living seasonally is nothing new.  It is, in fact, ancient and old and wise.  I, however am not.  But perhaps through the symbiotic relationship of internal intuition and nature’s external prompting, I can settle in to a rhythmic sort of journey that will lead to a full, healthy and long existence.  Life is hard.  But it’s also really, really beautiful.  I want to make the CHOICE to savor the sweetness of life, instead of dwelling on it’s bitter moments.  Cheers to summer…My new art purchase...

 

 

Intentional Silence

undulations“Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case.”

~An Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau~

 

It has been said that words are the most base form of communication.  In a time when everyone is concerned with finding their voice in the world, we forget the impact and importance of silence.  When we speak constantly, people stop listening.  Words that might be valuable, get lost in the sheer projectile volume.  Life gets big and chaotic and turbulent and if we rise to challenge it, we immediately begin to get lost in the noise.  This does not necessitate a passive, apathetic approach to life.  Practically, we must rise to meet to whatever stands before us.  But we cannot forget the value of first withdrawing into ourselves to subdue our inner turmoil.  When life gets big, we must get small.  If we mindlessly rush headfirst into pandemonium, we will only add to the cacophony and delirium.  We feel the need to say the right thing, do the right thing, and forget that silence is also a viable course of action.  How many problems in life could potentially be solved by just stopping, and waiting in silence?  The Tao Te Ching states that, “No one can make muddy water clear, but if one is patient, and it is allowed to remain still, it may gradually become clear of itself.”  If we are able to resist the urge to constantly fill time and space with empty and urgent words, silence becomes not only an ideal choice but also a familiar and comforting companion as well.

 

We can make our minds so like still water

That beings gather about us that they may see, 

It may be, their own images, 

And so live for a moment with a clearer,

Perhaps even with a fiercer life

Because of our quiet.

~The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats~

                                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 

Walden Pond

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Standing on the edge of Thoreau’s Walden Pond

“I have had twenty-five or thirty souls, with their bodies, at once under my roof, and yet we often parted without being aware that we had come very near to one another…I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear — we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case. Referred to this standard, speech is for the convenience of those who are hard of hearing; but there are many fine things which we cannot say if we have to shout.”

-Henry David Thoreau-

Reading Color

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Today I met the most amazing man.  He is an older gentleman from Greece and he writes (draws) icons for Orthodox churches. He was sweet and funny but what I found fascinating was his ability to see color.  Now anyone who knows me knows that I am a bit obsessed with color. I love the undertones, the way they change from wall to wall, from day to night. I love colors that look blue and gray and green all at once, to where you almost don’t know what color you’re looking at.  I would get a Ph.D. in color if there was such a thing!  This is very different than my husband, who when asked which paint swatch he likes best, responds with a shrug and says that they all look the same (bless his heart, as they say in the South).  But I digress…back to the iconographer. What amazed me about this man is that he not only can read color, he  knows how to MAKE it!  He can look at a color and know how much black and white and red and yellow and blue would be required to CREATE any color!  He knows what to add if it’s too dark or how much to add if it’s too light and what colors enhance the richness of others.  This might be silly but it honestly mesmerized me.  I’ve been thinking about it all day.  What talent and skill!

soulAnd so I have come to this thought tonight…what if we could look at people the way that this artist looks at color?  What if we could have insight into the creation of their personhood, how they became who they are…their ups and downs, sorrows and joys, the moments that have either broken or resurrected them, what they currently long for?  What if we could discern exactly what “color” to add to enhance other’s lives and beautify their existence?  How much more patient and compassionate would we all become?  What if we could learn to look at OURSELVES this way?!  What if today, instead of seeing my irritability and the dishes and the messes and everything that feels like a failure, what if I could look at myself like a color, complex with constantly changing undertones, drastically different in the morning light, but beautiful nonetheless.

But alas, my eye is not quite as developed as this skilled artisan.  I still see only in tones and shadows.  I do not look deep enough or close enough.  The late author Jonathan Swift writes that, “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  Oh, that I might have the eyes to see that which remains hidden in every person, and the knowledge of what to add so that fullness of color might be achieved.   Perhaps over the course of my life, I will hone my skill and attain proficiency.  In the meantime, I will remain restlessly content to aspire to those who have inspired.

The Lost Art of Sitting

 

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Last night, my 11-year-old niece told me about a birthday party she had gone to.  Their morning activities included waking up to a morning smoothie bar and a hired yoga instructor.  Am I the only one who happens to thinks this is INSANE?!   What happened to the birthday parties where you play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, eat some cake and call it a day?  Our American culture has become obsessed with productivity, efficiency, and one-upping last year’s Pinterest birthday party.  The dog days of summer have been replaced with a steady stream of camps, organized play groups, and a landslide of sporting events.  Stress related illnesses have reached an all time high.  What is happening to us?!

Now with five children, I could never convincingly claim that my life is anything but frantic, chaotic and constant.  But I can genuinely assert that as a direct rebellion against the busyness, I have intentionally reclaimed the lost art of sitting.  I have created a space for this sitting right by the fireplace with my favorite chair that will soon have an indelible imprint of my backside.  I have a small garden stool for a table used exclusively for my coffee.  And my kids know that when I am sitting there, I am very unlikely to jump up and do much of anything for them.  They are, in fact accustomed to me calling out for the nearest child to “give me 20!” (which in layman’s terms means a coffee reheat).  This time for me always involves a little reading, a little contemplating, and a lot of just staring out the window. It is my balking recoil against time, chaos and the never ending to-do list.

From an architectural standpoint, it is interesting to observe how even our homes exhibit our cultural priorities.  Backyard patios, as opposed to front porches, tend to be the focus of most outdoor living spaces.  Porches represent the concept of sitting, doing little to nothing, just being.  Whereas, patios tend to emphasize entertaining, playing, and doing. Interesting enough, these are the top five results that pop up when the word “sitting,” is googled: “Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes and premature death…Sitting is bad for your health…Sitting will kill you, even if you exercise…Is sitting a lethal activity…Sit less, live longer.”  Even alleged inspirational quotes about sitting carry a negative connotation. References are made to bench warmers, laziness, loneliness and passivity.  Sitting has gotten a bad rap.

Even so, I choose to sit.  I choose to sit and slow down time.  I choose to be unproductive for 5 minutes, an hour, a day so that I might be happy and rested and mentally clear.  I choose to not be constantly efficient so that I might have energy for my kids and husband.  And I choose the pin-the-tail-on the donkey birthday parties so that my children will not constantly expect bigger and better for the remainder of their lives.