Permission to Relax

It’s okay to rest today. To put your feet up and wrap your hands around a warm, steaming mug of coffee while you watch the clouds drift by outside the window.

It’s okay to escape today. Cuddle up with a soft, fuzzy blanket and escape to another place and time inside of a good book or a long anticipated movie.

It’s okay to put something off today. Save an item (or two) on your list of things to do and add a thing (or two) like a slow, easy walk while taking in the brisk, life-giving air around you.

It’s okay to rejuvenate today. Listen to some music that you loved when you were a young thing, back when you danced like crazy in your room…back when Saturdays and Sundays stretched so far and wide you would memorize whole albums in a day.

It’s okay to sleep today. Take the opportunity of a non-work day to sleep in a little…or nap a little…or make some chamomile tea or go find that lavendar sachet that will help you snooze a little. You’ve worked hard. Your body and mind deserve some rest.

It’s okay to play today. Grab a board game, make a fort with the kids, bake some cookies, or do some last-minute shopping with friends. Do something you love. Something that will lift your heart.

Stop that work that you’re doing. Look all around you and really see what is there. Listen. Take a break. Breathe. You won’t get this day back ever again, so take a little time to do what you love.

How will you enjoy this day?

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

The Crime of Perfectionism

Me? A perfectionist? No way. 

That was how I used to think. Until about a year ago, I’d never really investigated the word perfectionism. In my mind, that word was reserved for people who were already perfect and, well, I surely was not. Inside or out.

Yeah, I actually believed perfection was attainable.

Then, one day while browsing the aisles with my latte, I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble for the title alone. You’re Already Amazing by Holley Gerth. While most of the title words were black, the word “already” was printed in bold red, as if it were saying, “Yeah, that’s right, you see me correctly. I’m saying you, yes YOU, are ALREADY amazing. Dare me to prove it to you.” Intrigued and downright hopeful, I bought it, took it home, and snuck it into the bathroom where I escaped into the first few chapters during a long, warm bath.

I was being sneaky about it because it was embarrassing to THINK myself amazing, let alone showcase to anyone who saw the book cover that I might also agree that I was. I did not want to be labeled as conceited. Yikes!

Inside that book, I met “Ms. P” (a.k.a Perfectionism) in Chapter 3, and I saw myself in her description. All or nothing. Never good enough. Every failed attempt hammering yet another nail into the coffin of “Unworthy”, rather than seeing those failures as growth experiments which honorably coexist with “Worthy”. When I read this poem by Gerth, it finally dawned on me that I had been a perfectionist all along. Here, take a peek:

Why You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

by Holley Gerth

I know Perfectionism.

She calls my name and says,

“You will never be good enough.”

And sometimes I listen.

I cower in a corner.

Or I endlessly run.

But it’s always about fear.

Then these words stop me in my tracks,

grab me by the heart,

and invite grace to speak instead:

Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18)

I don’t have to be perfect.

I only need to be perfectly loved.

And I am.

So are you. 

A reminder from 1 John—a truth—that we are loved by God. And that is what matters more than trying to do everything perfectly. In fact, that love sets us free.

Well, after that, for a good while I threw “You are amazing” around all over the place, like great splashes out of a giant fountain of love. Sticky notes on my mirror and in my car, posts on Facebook, on little chalkboards in my classroom, texts to family and friends…all little dashes of truth to everyone (and myself) who might need it. Reminding them that they are amazing just the way they are…and me, too. Because many of us get all caught up in what we think we ought to be or who we think others want us to be. Trying to please everybody from here to there and everywhere.

But forget that. We all fall short, and that’s just the way that it is. Of course, we still strive to do our best, but we must keep in our sights the reality that mistakes happen and it’s okay. We also can’t spend every hour making the perfect this and the perfect that. We must make room for balance. And we will go through seasons when we run low on patience, compassion, and friendliness. In light of that, I find myself humbled by the reminder that God extends grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those whom He loves…for I will need it all continually.

One of the areas of my life where perfectionism still seizes me greatly is in my writing. I want to write. I lovvvvvve to write. I want to either help or entertain others through writing (I don’t know which yet)…but I struggle. I have daily battles with thoughts of “no one will want to read that”, or “no way should you share that”, or “you’ll never be able to tackle an actual book, because you don’t know what you’re doing”. Perfectionism tells me “you don’t know enough” and “you’re not qualified to write that”.

Yacks! No wonder I haven’t returned to the book that’s on my heart. I’ve let that way of thinking rob me of more than six months of action. I put my book in a drawer after finishing the first draft and have. not. touched. it. since.

Recently, however, I was reminded to safeguard my good intentions by shaking off those threatening thoughts. I saw a shared post on the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page of a quick little “perfectionism reality check” written by professor and author, Brené Brown. As I read it, I got to a part that literally stole my breath: “it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.” So true.

Something in me ignited and caused me to comment on that post. A realization was born. “Perfectionism,” I typed with certainty, “is the culprit that puts up the imaginary black and yellow caution tape around my writing desk, cordoning me off from my creativity…leaving me too often with regret. We can’t let perfectionism rob us of our joy, so we have to fight back by taking action. One of my second graders often tells the kids very matter-of-factly, ‘when you’re feeling nervous, just do it scared’. Oh, how I wish I’d had that wisdom at age 8.”

(Even now, I have doubts because I’m not sure writers typically quote themselves as I just did, but…whatever! LOL)

Then I offered this quote because it always sets me back on track:

“Ditch the self-defeating tunes in your head and upgrade to life-giving thoughts.” -Trish Blackwell

It’s time, isn’t it? To shake off those thoughts that imprison our dreams. To stop sabotaging ourselves with our unreasonable expectations. The ones that kidnap the joy and satisfaction of accomplishing great big things. Or even great small things.

So…go do your thing. That thing you’ve been putting off. Just take the step and get it done. Baby steps, giant leaps…anything that gets you closer to your dreams. Someone will want to read this. Yes way, should I share this. You and I may not know what we’re doing or know it all, but the world’s got resources out there—we can figure it out. We are qualified to speak what’s on our hearts because we have been enrolled in Life 101 this whole time. And remember, God is with you…He wants us to live abundantly so that we can, in turn, be a light for others.

You’ve got this. We’ve got this! Let’s do this.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

P.S. Please remind me now and then. 🙂

 

Praying with Jane–A Book Review

Have you ever put off reading something because you felt like you were just too busy?

I was gifted with a treasure of a book which turned out to be the very thing I needed to calm down my busy-ness!

When Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen by Rachel Dodge arrived at my door, I was preoccupied in a flurry of this and that. It took me awhile to make the time to start it. After getting through my days filled with activity, I would glance longingly at the beautiful cover where it sat on my nightstand before closing my eyes and giving in to much-needed sleep.

On one particularly stressful day, feeling as if I could barely take a breath for all the demands of life weighing me down, I finally picked up Praying with Jane. That day, I felt especially far away from God…I felt lost. I felt overwhelmed. I kind of felt wretched. I remember hoping that maybe this book I’d been wanting to read would give me the respite I needed.

It did. I wished I had started it sooner, actually, because it provided a sense of calm and soul perspective that I’d neglected for quite awhile. Small, yet profound, after just a few of the short daily readings, I found myself able to breathe more deeply, more fully…and, most importantly, reconnect with my priorities in regards to my faith in Jesus, my Savior.

I love the gentleness of this book. Each day’s reading takes about 5 minutes or less to read, and through Rachel’s writing I was able to connect with the prayers of a woman who lived so long ago. Even now in the 21st century, I could relate to Jane’s prayers and, more importantly, I was reminded of areas in my life in which I wanted to grow or nurture.

I’m somewhat of a free bird when it comes to reading devotionals, picking them up here and there when I feel the need. Sometimes I like to think on a thing for several days. I loved going back to this book, and looked forward to each new piece. Each time I picked up Praying with Jane it seemed as though the topic of the day (or rather, the section of Jane Austen’s prayer Rachel was addressing) was fitting for me in that moment. Has that ever happened to you? It’s a stunning feeling.

My favorite parts of the book were the interactive prayers at the end of each day (“Let Us Pray”). There are times in my life when I want to pray to God, but cannot find the words, and these beautiful, humbling, and genuine prayers were very good at helping me along. In some cases, they also provided me with new insight on changing the way I pray.

I also, of course, learned much about Jane Austen, her life and times, and her family through Rachel’s expertise and easy way of weaving Jane’s history into relevant thoughts for today. I’ve only read a couple of books by Jane Austen. I’ve probably seen more film adaptations, actually.

While not previously knowing much about Austen, I am thankful for this book’s tender challenge to my heart in regard to my own three decades old relationship with Christ. The benevolent call to obedience—the soft whisper to open my eyes to my own sins, however big or small they may seem—the undeniable proof of God’s love for me, no matter how many wrong turns I’ve made along the road of life. That He “knows our hearts fully, even more than a close friend or family member.”

Praying with Jane would be a wonderful gift, even for those who may not be super fans of Austen. I also think new Christians (or even those who aren’t Christians) would gain a lot of biblical insight and knowledge through the many bible references sprinkled throughout each day’s read.

One of my favorite prayers for the reader written by Rachel from Praying with Jane is this:

“Thank you, Lord, for your faithfulness and your strength. Please show me the areas of my heart, temper, and habits that you want to refine. As the psalmist prayed, please “set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).  I confess to you now my negative thoughts regarding: [your specific confession]. Make my heart clean and new again. I turn to you now for refreshment and revival. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:10

What a wonderful way to start a new year, with the promise of renewal and refinement.  I’m so glad I took the few minutes out of many of my days to breathe in these integral reminders which are rooted in great faith and love.  I will be rereading it again in the new year.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

 

Promise

Several years ago, I discovered a non-fiction book by one of America’s favorite fiction authors, Debbie Macomber. It was called Knit Together: Discover God’s Pattern for Your Life. I loved this book. I loved it so much that I lent it out to friends and cannot remember who I last gave it to. I think it may be time for me to get a new copy and read it once more.

One of the things that stood out to me in Knit Together was the idea Debbie shared of having one word that is her defining word for the upcoming new year. She shared that it was a tradition for her to choose a word that meant something to her, that would represent what she wanted to focus on throughout the whole year. For example, surrender or prayer. In fact, she later wrote another non-fiction book on the whole topic called One Perfect Word. The idea really appealed to me, so for the last several years I’ve also been choosing my word for the year.

Lately, I’ve seen it come up on Facebook. For example, over at (in)courage, they are sharing DaySpring’s quiz to help people find their own word for 2019 since a new year is just around the corner.

Each Thanksgiving, I begin thinking of my new word. It’s usually hard for me to decide. But the last few months have been rough for me spiritually and physically, and I neglected to even give 2019’s word much thought.

However, recently I’ve been reading a little book called Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge…and then came Christmas. Between those two things, I’ve been deeply reminded of the sweet joy of Jesus in my life and how I never want to take that gift for granted. And with His gift, the ability to make each morning new…our sins forgiven, if we but ask. The opportunity for a cleansed and revived heart….the hope we have in waiting on the Lord. I was reminded that what I want most is for His love to shine through me, and not be hidden.

And so I thought to myself, what is the root of all my trouble right now? What is keeping my light from shining? And I realized it came down to broken promises. Broken promises to myself in many different ways which eventually affect those around me.

Here is one example: If I break the promise I’ve made to myself to show up to thirty minutes of exercise (or even ten minutes!)…but then I break that promise every day, it then snowballs into an unhealthy habit. I end up not only feeling icky, unfit, without energy, strength, and stamina, but it also eventually makes me feel bad about myself for continually breaking that promise (this was an intriguing notion I learned earlier in the year listening to podcaster and confidence coach Trish Blackwell). Then I feel grumpy and have back pain from a weak core, and we all know grumpiness does not really pair up with friendliness. It’s hard to appear kind when I’m cranky.

Another example of breaking my promise to myself is when I am not in God’s Word consistently, yet I have every intention to do so. When I say “I will make time for the Lord today”, but instead choose TV or social media. By doing so, I am not reminded of God’s promises….of His grace and love and forgiveness…of the trials of people in the Bible and how they overcame them, how God provided for them…of the blessings and goodness and just downright peace that comes with praying to Jesus…that’s the fuel for the fire that keeps my light burning brightly. Without that fuel, my joy is not as easy to see, my kindness not as forthcoming as it ought to be. I need the fuel. I need to keep that promise to myself to stay in His word.

Promise.

That’s my word. And it’s all to do with showing up. Even when I don’t feel ready.  Even when I don’t feel I’ve got the energy.

So…here are the three ways in which my word for the year, “promise”,  will relate to me in 2019:

#1) I promise to show up for my health and spiritual wellness when I say I will. Except when I’m sick, of course! Ugh! Just saying this, I know there will be times when I’ll hit the snooze button or convince myself to go to bed early or…or…okay, therefore….here’s to #2!

#2) I promise to give myself grace when I mess up. ‘Nuff said. LOL

#3) I promise to do one thing every day that scares me. This is from a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, which I heard when I first began listening to Trish Blackwell’s podcasts. I’m not talking about skydiving (that won’t ever be on the list)…but instead I mean even the littlest things that get my heart jumping and tempt me to run in the opposite direction. Being an upstander. Showing up to my writing space. Overcoming my shyness to make someone feel welcome. Trying a new recipe (if you know my reputation for cooking, this will make sense!). Teaching in front of an observer. Making conversation at a party. That kind of stuff.

So, there it is. 🙂

What is YOUR word for 2019? When you know it, let me know in the comments below. And even better, share why it’s your word!

For another great example on how to choose your word of the year, listen to episode #298: How to Successfully Set Goals for the New Year on The Confidence Podcast with Trish Blackwell.  

Have fun pondering!

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

The Great House Mystery

“Go work on your house and forget about it.” 

That random quote is written on one my bible’s front cover pages. I cannot remember exactly when I wrote it down there, but I have a memory of being intently focused on the pastor’s words while he was speaking to us that Sunday morning at church.

At the time, the words struck me as so very important, so relevant…but now, I can’t recall the specific circumstances in my life that made that sentence evoke such a strong reaction in me. However, decades later, despite the mystery behind why they are there (or what they even mean exactly) they still do something for me.

I believe I was in my twenties when I entered that phrase on that page. It’s possible I was in my late teens. It was before I met my husband, that’s for certain. The bible I wrote it in has been in my possession since I was thirteen-years-old, so that means it could’ve been written any time between ages 13 to 28. It has been a mystery I’ve been wanting to solve for years. That is, why did I make note of that? In my bible, of all places. What was it in reference to?

I remember the feeling I had when I wrote it down. It was a moment of discovery. That feeling you get when understanding unfolds in your soul and you can breathe just a little bit deeper than you ever had before. The joy of comprehension bubbles and rises up in your heart so big that you smile with wonder. Or maybe you might dip your eyebrow down a little as you ponder that new nugget of wisdom and attach it to old memories tucked away in your brain.

I recall the urgency I felt to make sure it was a message I would not forget. But, human that I am, I have forgotten the details. So over the years, every now and then, I work rather hard at puzzling out what exactly it was supposed to refer to.

The reason this mystery is important to me is that it’s written in my bible. In nearly 30 years, I’ve underlined scripture, made notes in margins, drawn hearts over verses that have caused me tears of thankfulness and joy…all between Genesis and Revelation. But it has been rare that I’ve written down anything in the blank pages of the front and back covers.

My bible is sacred to me in the sense that it is not the place where I make grocery lists or the like in it. I cringe, actually, every time I see Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park (near Big Sur) crossed out on the inside of the front cover. Lacking paper once, I’d dashed off the name of a place a new friend had recommended visiting (I discovered it is a beautiful place, by the way). But afterward, I vowed to not write unnecessary things in there again.

There are three blank pages at the beginning of my bible, its leather cover fractured and torn in multiple places on the spine from being handled and read for twenty-eight years. These front pages are a bit warped, the ink on some of them a little blurry now. They hold just a few little pieces of info from years past that, in the moment, I wanted to remember…quick jots of heart-musts.

For example, written in pencil at the top of one of those pages is the title of a hymn I loved immediately after I sang it for the first time–“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus #581”. I had scrawled that in a hurry. A tiny little pair of eyeglasses are doodled off to the right, my signature note-taking symbol which was to remind me to go look it up again in the hymnal later when I got a chance so I could take time to really savor the words.

Underneath that are three words in skinny black ink: “He is Able”. No mystery there. That was a wow moment during a time in my life which was a steep climb when I felt weak.

A hand-written quote is third in line–the thicker black ink a bit fuzzy, possibly from the the humidity which engulfed my apartment. A pipe had burst while I was away on vacation and left water on the floor unnoticed for a week. I had carefully written,“Contentment is not our goal, it’s a by-product of living your life for Christ.” 

Beneath that John 17:1-26– with a puffy heart and the words “JESUS’ LOVE FOR US” in all caps– is boxed confidently, secured in the center of the page.

And then, from what must have been a really rough patch in my life, my heart twists in sympathy for my younger self as I reread in barely-brave-enough pencil, “I don’t want to hurt anymore, I just want to live in His joy.” 

I don’t remember what exactly caused me so much pain when I wrote that sad sentence in my very special, very-much-a-part-of-me-book…wait, stop. Isn’t that amazing? I don’t even remember what hurt so bad. What a testimony to God’s grace and goodness. That, too, has passed.

I also can’t recall where I was when I penciled that determined vow. But I do have to go off-course for a minute here to remember that it must have been the beginning of a season in my life when, for the first time, I deliberately and persistently sought joy instead of holding out hope that it would be brought to me on the UPS truck.

Until I discovered joy is a choice, and it is sometimes hard work choosing if you’re not familiar with how to infuse it into your soul.

But the work is worth it, and the reality is that seeking and attaining joy is a roller coaster. You have to hang on during the lows and keep your eyes focused on the hill as you chug slowly upward, closer to the heavens, having faith that eventually you will get to the top again and experience joy once more. Have you ever noticed how easy and fast it is to decline on a roller coaster, and how difficult it is to keep the momentum as you race to the top? And once you’re up there it’s a brief and fleeting thrill before you drop to the bottom again. Joy is like that. Life is, too.

If you are searching for joy right now, keep searching. Keep climbing. And expect the lows now and then. Be prepared for them. Know that there is no limit to the number of rides you can take on the roller coaster of joy. You get a free pass. It’s just up to you whether or not you hop on. Focus on what you can be grateful for. Make lists. Redirect your negative thoughts to positive thoughts. There is power in gratitude.

And back to my bible, there are a couple more notations on that second blank page. But then you flip to the third blank page and, sitting all alone, are the mystery words:

“Go work on your house and forget about it.”

The only handwritten line on that third page of my bible cover. Nothing else on the page. The teeny black-inked words scribbled in haste, so that I wouldn’t miss out on the rest of the message in church that day.

What did that mean? What could it mean? Perhaps it’s referring to our aspirations. I know sometimes I am overly ambitious…unreasonably ambitious. To the point I get overwhelmed and have taken on so much that I can’t do justice to all of the things on my plate. Maybe it’s a reminder to step back and focus on what really matters.

Maybe it was in reference to worrying. Don’t worry, have faith, just bloom where you’re planted and everything will come out according to God’s plan. The pieces of your life that are not within your control aren’t worth wasting your energy on…so go work on what you can control so you won’t waste your time on what you can’t control.

Maybe there was someone in the bible who God basically tells “go back to what you were doing, I’ve got this.” 

I’m just making guesses here. I read it often, and I wonder for minutes on end. And each time I come across it, I happen to be facing something different in that moment of my life. Surprisingly (or not), the phrase seems to mean something profound to me in its own little way for each of those respective times.

And maybe that’s what it was meant to do.

What does “go work on your house and forget about it” mean to you? What are your favorite notations in your bible, if you’ve made any? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Arrival

At some point during the Autumn season, my memory makes an annual visit to the U.K. It’s usually when the temperatures finally start to drop, and I find myself staring unexpectedly at random yellow-tinted burnt umber treetops, dried and crisping while they contemplate the obligatory leap to the waiting ground below. A flurry of scenes from a single day are once again revived in my mind.

This happened to me last Saturday while I was sitting in a parking lot five thousand miles away from Leeds, the third largest city in England which sits on the fringe of the rolling green and cloud-shadowed Yorkshire moors and dales. Decades ago, I lived there during an academic year, an opportunity I can still hardly believe came true.

It always starts with the same remembrance of my arrival in Leeds in the Fall of 1999, or was it 1998? It must have been 1998 because the following Spring would have been ’99. That was when we took a quick trip over to Paris, and I remember my disappointment that the Eiffel Tower had been marred by a huge electronic marquee counting down to Y2K—scaffolding, green construction mesh, and all.

But back to Leeds.

I arrived on a gray and blustery day in early Fall. It was the kind of weather that perfectly brought to life all of my daydreams of the England I’d not met yet.  The little connecting flight that brought me from Heathrow dropped me off, and I battled the wind while walking across the tarmac carrying my backpack and my instrument.

Some kind British passengers on the plane had warned me that the location of the Leeds Airport on the top of hill would make the wind even worse than down in the city, but I smiled like a champion and trudged on. I was both deliriously tired from the long flight and tickled to finally be there.

Once inside the small airport, I tried to hide my grin from the jolly man who took an extra long time inspecting my bassoon at the security check. He hadn’t seen one before, he told me, as he picked it up and looked down the red maple bell joint like a kaleidoscope. He was suddenly a twinkly blue-eyed kid in a toy store.

The best part about my first day in England was that I was alone. The other student who would also be part of the exchange between our California university and the University of Leeds was not due to arrive until much later that evening. I was excited to meet England all by myself, and I just knew I would relish it.

So I gathered my things and found my way outside to a taxi stand where I was whisked away by a driver who said he had no idea where I was going. Just the sort of thing you want to hear when you arrive in a foreign country you’ve never been to, right?

We drove around for about forty-five minutes, me never truly believing he didn’t know where he was going. The cynic in me was sure he was just trying to get as much fare as he could. At the time, I did not realize how big the city really was.  He did seem earnest in his occasional stops along the way to ask for directions, and I just prayed confidently along the way. This was before cell phones were expected to be on us at all times like underwear.

Eventually, we made our way up Cumberland Road and drove through a massive arched pale stone entrance with black wrought iron gates boasting the residence hall’s name, Devonshire Hall, in white painted block letters. I immediately forgot all of my irritation on the matter of being ripped off and held my breath as we tentatively passed under the solid arch. This was it.

The taxi gurgled its way around the circular drive and made a final stop in front of wide stone steps stretching below a wall of aged glass doors. It took me awhile to find someone, anyone. Come to find out I was the first student to arrive because international students got settled in before the others.

I was given a key, mumbled goodbye to the taxi driver who charged too much, and hefted my suitcases one at a time up a few flights of stairs until I entered a door with my number on it. Finding myself boxed into a teeny space of about three feet by three feet, I encountered two more doors to choose from situated in adjacent corners. Pink doors.

Once in the right room, I looked all around me. The space was about as big as my bedroom had been at home. There was a sink along the wall which shared the door, a small wardrobe, a twin size bed, and a desk beneath the window. Someone had thoughtfully included a large single bookshelf over the bed and a reading chair in the corner.

Walking over to the window, I was delighted to find it was my favorite kind—the kind you have to crank to open. I peeked down from three stories to a vibrant green lawn and, in the corner, was a short ivy covered fence with a mysterious gate that left me wondering where it led to.

I smiled and took a breath. Then I immediately fell onto the bed and slept.

When I woke up, the shadows were long on the walls and the silence was deafening. The staff member who had given me my key said no other students would be here until the next day, at the earliest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, sleeping in this massive hall all by myself. Yikes! I examined the deadbolt I had locked earlier. It was a pretty big lock, and quite modern despite the antiquity of the building, so I decided not to worry. Yet.

Realizing I was hungry and that the afternoon was waning, I began walking down Cumberland Road toward a small row of shops—the only shops that were in sight. It was a Sunday. Everything was closed. I was so enchanted by my surroundings that I didn’t even mind much. It was so very different from America…the textures and stone, the scents in the air…the compact cars and their skinny license plates with too many letters. I shivered inside of my black peacoat.

Resigned to the idea that I likely would not be eating that evening, I made my way back up the hill to Devonshire Hall. Along the way, the dry fallen leaves whirled around me and I found comfort in their percussive taps and scrapes on the roads and pavements. I let my fingertips dance lightly along the stones in the walls I passed as I walked. Such a sight took hold of the daydreaming part of my heart and all of a sudden I didn’t mind that I would be missing a meal. I was in England!

Halfway up the road, something furry suddenly wrapped around my leg. A sweet little gray striped kitten. She left my side and bounced up ahead, her little collared bell ringing daintily above the soft whistle of the wind. I don’t even really like cats much, but they always seem to be appearing. Like special friends meant just for me. The little cat sat and watched me make leisurely progress up the incline (no one had told me Leeds was hilly, and I was not in shape!) until the point where I was just within reach. Then she leaped up to the top of the dark, jaggedy stone wall over my shoulder and disappeared with a wave of her tail.

I stood still for a moment, waiting to see if she would return. When it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, I pivoted around taking in the sights around me. Cumberland Road seemed to be a residential street of sorts, save for the large church on the corner at the bottom of the road. Twilight was near, so I decided to get back to the hall.

I sighed and let in the reality of just how far away from home I was. I realized I hadn’t called my mom to let her know that I was safe and sound, so I made my way back to the giant stone arch of the hall and found a single iconic red telephone booth. The faraway sound of her voice chased away any whispers of loneliness trying to tempt me as the day’s end can sometimes do.

I don’t know that I ate after all. My memory is too foggy. But I will never forget the blustery weather, the sound of the leaves twirling about along the ground, the never ending taxi ride, the kitten…the view from my room. The way the trees arched over the road leading up to Devonshire Hall and reaching across, touching, creating a shelter from the rain.

I like to remember that day.

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Sleepless Flight

In the darkness of my home, I imagine crossly that the boisterous bird outside must be the most desperate bachelor in the entire North American continent. Whatever gal he’s trying to attract surely must be sleeping.

It is half past midnight, and it seems so weird to me that a bird is out there, singing in the black of night under the invisible new moon. He seems not to care who he awakens, his pride full-grown.

His night song is persistent, shrill. I want to yank open the door and throw a shoe at whatever tree he sits in. I would never, of course…but the thought crosses my mind. Trying to tune him out, my thoughts return to an upcoming flight and I look helplessly up to the ceiling which I cannot see.

It’s stealing my sleep again. Not the bird, but the worries. This is not new, this overthinking of flying. I love to travel, but I do not like getting to my destination by air. And yet four times this season I will be facing the giant big scary sky. My wanderlust must be greater than my unease, but on nights like these I question my choice to explore.

I scowl when the bird goes on and on, once again he interrupts my worry. Accepting that he will not be silenced, I slowly realize I could be grateful he is there. I could let him be a welcome distraction from my fear of flying….the thing that keeps me up days and days and days before I ever set foot in an airport. But it is a battle, this choice of gratitude versus distress.

Squeezing my eyes shut, my senses are flooded with discontent at the thought of being on an airplane. Apprehension so strong I can feel it weighing me down, as if I’m restrained in the same way I once saw my grandmother as she was tethered to her wheelchair in the Alzhemier’s unit. The fun of it all has been sucked out of me, replaced with big fat fear. This leads to other worrisome thoughts, and I clench my teeth with the realization I’m letting it get the best of me. Again.

Through the thick, closed window panes and through the deep walls keeping the fresh air out, the night bird’s music keeps trying to remind me of something important. Summer has brought a warm tossing-turning night, and I gather my strength to kick off the covers. The window begs me to open it, but I won’t dare.

Ridiculous! I’ve been done with the anxiety. I’ll not let this bring me back to it. I shove myself out of the bed and blindly search for my glasses in the dark. My hair is annoying me, I need it off my forehead and off of my neck in this airless room. The fan is too weak, and at this moment so is my mind. I begin to pray for strength, for calm. There is so much world to see, so much laughing to do, so many people to meet, and experiences to dive into…I will not give in to this joy wreck.

As I quietly pad my way into the living room, my feet relieved to meet cool floors, I pray all the way to my favorite chair. The birdsong follows me to where I now sit with head bowed, forehead too stubborn to assist the tears which fight for release. His tune changes from frantic to sweetly melodic, and I belatedly make the connection that this nighttime companion is also connected to flight. I smile, surprised by the thought…and I think on the amazing wonder that air travel is even possible for humans.

The rhythm of the clock nearby steadies my heart, and suddenly the C.A.L.M. acronym from a recent Max Lucado book, Anxious for Nothing, flashes in my memory, the four letters white and flickering like a neon sign in the dark:

C-Celebrate God…Lord, thank you for being here with me, thank you for the opportunity to take these trips to see new places. 

A-Ask God for helpFather, please take this anxiety from me. Please help me to sleep and breathe and stop worrying over what I can’t control.

L-Leave the problem with God…I give this to you, God. Your Word says to “fear not”. So I’m just going to try really hard to do that. 

Breathe. Deep breath. I sit for a minute to give my thoughts some space. The bird is silent.

M-Meditate on good things…Thank you, Lord, for that night bird and thank goodness he finally quieted down so I can get some sleep and for reminding me of your presence.

Again, I breathe. A little deeper this time. And the air, while still not fresh, feels a little cooler and more bearable. My thoughts continue to tread on the good things. I remind myself that, for me, it’s the only thing that will cancel out the fear…the choice to think of one good thing at a time. Thought by thought.

As my fears begin to wane, I am reminded of all the ways that flying is fun and most always safe. My mother’s voice echoes in my ears from when she told me earlier in the day that just being in my house or driving a car is putting myself at risk of danger.

“So why not fly?” she countered matter-of-factly.

Her excitement for me in my adventures brings a big smile to my face. And I begin to softly imagine the lilting accents I will soon hear, and the lovely green foliage my eyes will feast on.

The pulsing rush in my ears has stopped, and I dig in Grandpa’s Desk for the little notebook of bible verses. The emerald and gold cover has edges worn, some rips and bends, but I don’t mind. I run my hand across the cover which says “Happiness is a bright and shining thing.”  This little gem has seen me through many fears, many flights.

It holds words I’ve highlighted and literally held onto…our future only truly known to God—whom I love and whom I am learning to trust, breath by breath. I joke with my friends about airport margaritas being my saving grace, but really it’s the selfless protection of Jesus. I read through the verses in the little book again, and I know that no matter what all will be well.

Before I go back to sleep, calmer now, I will leave these verses with you in case you need them, too. I will always needs them. Reading them once will never do. But each time I am reminded that I am in good hands, and each time I can feel strengthened and resolve to be a conqueror. And as I leave this paragraph, I hear the bird again…and this time I’m not annoyed for I remember it is, after all, his love song.

From My Fear Not Journal

  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” -Phillipians 4:6-7
  • “When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.” -Psalm 56:3
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” -2 Timothy 1:7
  • “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:6-7
  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6
  • “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” -Psalm 34:4
  • “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” -Matthew 6: 25-27

Do you have any verses, songs, or tips that help you in times of anxiousness? Please share them! Thank you.

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Write On

Do you journal? I wouldn’t describe myself as one who journals. In fact, when I think of journaling, my nose often crinkles up in distaste. It sounds like hard work. It sounds arthritic. My hands seem to literally ache whenever I even hear someone suggest starting a journal. “Who has time for that?”, I think, dismissing the thought immediately.

I prefer to type, as my mind flies through words like a peregrine falcon striking its prey. I wish my words came to me in spoken conversation as quickly as they flow from my fingertips to the keys. I’m real good at getting tongue-tied.

Well, I don’t know what kind of lies I’ve been telling myself, but I found this stack (see below) while rearranging my massive bookcase, weeding out the Ones Who Won’t Be Saved. I’ve been thinking about the whole journal thing since an old friend, Rachel Dodge, posed the question on Facebook awhile back. And it looks like I found my answer.

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More than a dozen, there are…and that doesn’t include the journals of my childhood, my college years, nor the ones oh my gosh, how could I? I shredded to hide my deepest insecurities or most horrible feelings. I also (don’t tell anybody) love to write song lyrics in journals. My husband and I currently playfully argue over a song I wrote that I’m very serious about and he, well, isn’t. I can say this without my feelings being hurt because it is called “Ride the Bull”…I can be open-minded in seeing how it might not be viewed as life-changing with a title like that.

So…I guess I do journal. The proof is hard to deny. Who knew?

And now that I’ve found these, I’m dying to know what’s inside them. I sure can’t remember. Most are not all filled in. Most are at least halfway full. How could I overlook them…forget they existed? It must be some sort of selective memory mystery. To be fair to my ever-aging brain, it has to have been at least four years since I’ve written in a journal. I think. 

Maybe this explains why my hands groan at the mere mention of a journal. The stack telleth all. Now I’m tempted to go out and get a new one. But…who has the time for that?

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Belated

Belated. Those who know me best know that I am, and have been, belated with many things in my life.

The short list:

Remembering to send birthday gifts on time.

Getting dinner on the table.

Filling the gas tank.

Recognizing my purpose in life…(still puzzling that one out).

There are so many other events and circumstances, big and small, that I have been late for. Each time, I learn that some things do indeed let others down. This leaves me feeling guilty, and challenges me to try harder to be punctual.  There are some things, though, which have come to me belatedly and have been worth the wait. One of my best belated outcomes has been meeting my husband…another is my sweet friendship that has blossomed with my mother.

My mom is one of those gifts in my life that I don’t want to take for granted. Especially because she has been experiencing chronic pain since October when, honestly, we nearly lost her. Today, eight months later, I can still recall the medical team rushing her out of the ER in order to perform a procedure necessary to ultimately save her life.

Sitting alone in the darkness of the hospital room that had been hers, the missing bed leaving a gaping stretch of littered linoleum across from me, I was left to wait. Quietly, I curled my forty-year-old legs into the hard chair like a child, and hung down my head to finally cry. After more than forty-eight hours of being her advocate, along with my step-dad, I had forced myself to stay strong. It was exhausting, but necessary. I was thankful for this moment of solitude, this opportunity to feel.

A pair of well-made shoes appeared in my view like a shy, gentle fawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if my silent crocodile tears splashed a few times on top of them before I raised my head to look into kind eyes. It was one of the doctors who had been looking after my mom while she was there. In his eyes, I spotted the clash of his own uncertainty and hope mirroring mine as he valiantly tried to reassure me.

“Don’t cry. She’s going to be okay.”

And she was. But not without dealing with a long recovery, and still experiencing pain ever since.

When I think of my history with my mom, it wasn’t all rainbows and daffodils. Like many mothers and daughters, we had arguments when I was younger that would shake the shingles of the roof. Disagreements which left us giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Words that wounded and would be imprinted on our hearts for years. Our relationship was not always easy, and I’m sure I was not an easy child to deal with. I could be stubborn. Entitled. Moody. Like Fern in Charlotte’s Web, my sense of injustice ran high…sometimes unreasonably so. I really didn’t know what the future held for us.

It wouldn’t be until I became a teacher and saw the realities of parenthood all around me that I would understand what I had taken for granted all of my youth. I finally began to understand how much stress she must have endured being a single mother for so long, raising a child while at the same time earning a college degree (and a Masters), and then later working full-time. It took so much tenacity and hard work to accomplish that. She has the heart of a warrior, the most generous soul, and a gentle spirit I am now coming to know more and more as I call her not only “mom”, but also “friend”.

As a social worker, she has dedicated her life to serving those in need and providing them with resources. I am proud of her for helping children find adoptive families and placing them in their new homes. I am in awe that she directed the setting up a shelter for women who suffer from domestic violence. I am touched by the involvement she had in coordinating the reuse of old wedding gowns and having them turned into tiny burial gowns for infants who pass away while in the hospital. I am thankful for her foresight in arranging for my grandfather’s hand print to be put on pillows for the members of our family to have to remember him by. She demonstrates the kind of selflessness that I aspire to have someday, too.

These days, my my mornings are made complete with her daily funny meme or motivational text…an occasional weekend FaceTime, or monthly halfway-between-our-respective-towns lunch meetups. Even though she is going through pain of her own, she’ll text me encouragement when I need it…like a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed and she reminded me to “count backwards from 3” and then turn my negative thoughts to positive thoughts. Or last week when I was feeling super tired and having trouble pushing through the morning, and she urged me to “Decide you’re going to have a terrific Tuesday.”

Then there was the time I shared with her my current favorite blog, Adventures of Toby, where Toby’s new sidekick is a blind dog named Amos. She perused it for a bit, and then optimistically texted back, “How sad [for Amos], but he doesn’t let anything keep him down!” I think I must have inherited my perseverance from my mother.

Not everyone has a friendship with their mom. Maybe for some, their memories are what they hold on to now. For others, perhaps they were mistreated or are estranged. Life is not easy. We all have our rough patches. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved beyond measure by the One who knew you from before you were here. God is our first and ultimate parent. In Psalm 139:13, David reminds us of the Lord’s hand in our life’s first whisper of existence when he says, “For You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

And so, even though Mother’s Day has come and gone for the year, and even though we had a nice lunch on that holiday and were able to be together, I honor my mom here. Better belated than never. Image result for heart clip art

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Broccoli Bird

My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do.  It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.

Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.

As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose WritersBird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.

Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.

Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.

Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.

Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.

Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.” 

And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.

Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.

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