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

 

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.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

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.

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Sing Anyway

Some people sing so beautifully that it causes others to stop in their tracks with wonder. I’m not one of those people. There were clues along the way. For example, I vaguely recall my little brothers asking me to stop singing in the car during weekends at Dad’s. At the time, I thought optimistically that it was because the radio took precedence. However, things started to become clear when I joined the college choir as a rookie, eager to raise my voice in song with others because it just felt so good to sing.

On the first day, when it came time for introductions and to share with each other what part we sing, I said to the group that I didn’t know. Soprano, alto? I had no idea.

“I have no idea”, the choir director teased in a Minnie Mouse voice in front of the small class. We all laughed.

My feelings weren’t hurt, but some of the curious looks I got when we all started singing were hints that I was out of my element.  After that experience, I decided to hide my voice in the ginormous choir at my church on special occasions, like Father’s Day. I just wanted to sing, and maybe this would be a better opportunity to sing where no one would notice. Well, maybe no one noticed, but I struggled. My throat fought against the imaginary boa constrictor which had taken up residence around my neck. Now I was just overthinking it.

So I thought perhaps the best thing to do if I was going to seriously try to improve was take a voice class. Oh, that was painful. My vocal stylings were akin to nails on a chalkboard as I stood alone in front of my classmates, knees shaking, trying to make something beautiful out of something obviously broken…their glances creeping towards the mid-century modern windows as if looking for an escape from my interesting performance of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Willow Song gone wrong.

When I got married, my husband gently confirmed my suspicions without even saying a word. I started to notice he’d stealthily do pretty much anything to avoid my singing. On days I just couldn’t help myself and start to belt out tunes in the kitchen while doing dishes, I noticed the volume would go up significantly on the TV in the next room. At first he dropped those kind of subtle hints, but now that I have accepted I am vocally challenged we laugh about it together and he literally just begs me to stop. Therefore, I sing even louder. In his face.

Part patriotic respect, part golden opportunity, my students and I sing a song every day after the flag salute. It’s the best moment of the day. We’re mostly off key, all of us, and as a musician who plays the bassoon and clarinet I could help them improve their singing (at least, I think I could) but I don’t. I don’t because they are happy and in love with singing and they don’t really care that they don’t sound perfect, so that is good enough for me. Plus we have to move on to the math lesson. I notice some days their little heads will swivel around with eyes wide as saucers when I really tank the “rockets red glare” part, but they’re so sweet that they don’t say a word about it. They don’t even laugh at me.

I really don’t understand it, my voice. It’s like I was born from a family of hummingbirds, meeping and chirping away, unable to get it just right. I played in bands and orchestras for almost twenty years, so how come I just can’t seem to sing beautifully? It’s a puzzle. And over time, I’ve finally decided this:

I can’t care.

I can’t care anymore if I don’t sing well, because usually it is God I am singing to. He listens. And God doesn’t make mistakes. For some reason, He made my voice my own curious little thing to the ears on earth. But to Him, I imagine He loves my voice. How could He not? He loves yours, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 says “For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” And then it goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!”.

Marvelous and precious. That’s what we are to the Lord. I’d reckon our voices are not excluded in that. No matter what they sound like. He formed us just as we are. So, let’s come to Him in song just as we are. Wherever we are. His opinion is all that matters anyway. I’ve decided that, as Martina McBride’s song celebrates, I’ll just sing Anyway. (I love watching this video of a woman signing the lyrics of that Anyway song.)

Each of us has our own unique individual voice. Voices that are lovely to the One who designed them to be so. Let’s be unabashed with our outpouring of joy. Let’s allow ourselves comfort in sorrow with song, if that’s what suits us. It would be tragic to deny ourselves this thing just for the sake of worrying what others think.

So that’s why I’m just not going to mind anymore if no one likes my voice. It will take courage, yes. I’ll likely have to shut my eyes sometimes as I sing to block everyone out; I may have to take deep breaths to bolster my heart. But the feeling of singing, for me, is such a happy feeling and brings such solace that it’s worth the risk of being out of harmony with others. At least in this small thing.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;

Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.”

-Psalm 98:4

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Fear

To reach that spectacular, beautifully rugged land’s end, I needed to cross that blustery bridge. It was the summer of 2015, and my husband and I stood on the rocky soil of County Antrim, Ireland. The smiles of the people waiting in line for their turn were like lifelines to me. Tourists who had already made their way over the popular Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge waved across to all gleefully, eager to share their joy at reaching a point of the Emerald Isle that would have been treacherous any other way—if not for the bridge made of simple wood planks and intricate knots of thick, trusty rope.

I wasn’t so sure that rope was so trusty.

Shortly after we returned to our home in California, I turned on the computer in our home office and immediately discovered my husband had changed the desktop wallpaper. It was a picture of me on that bridge. I was confused. Why not a picture of the two of us from some other photo op on that trip? Usually, our desktop wallpaper was something of us together, or of our beloved dog, Amber.

I called out my question to him from where I knew he could hear me in the living room. It was quiet for a bit, and then I heard the muffled sound of his feet brushing across the carpet as he made his way to the room.

“I know how hard that was for you,” he replied quietly from the doorway.

I felt my heart swell with love for this man.

“I know how hard it was.”

Although our trip to Ireland that year was overall an amazing experience, it seemed like I was trapped into facing one battle after the other. Instead of being excited to fly across the Atlantic, I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing in fear of our upcoming flight. Instead of every moment thrilling to the luscious green land all around me, at times I struggled to catch my breath. Instead of marveling at the natural wonder of the hexagonal columns at the Giant’s Causeway, I trembled in near panic as we walked along dirt paths next to cliff walls…certain they would crumble down on top of us at any moment. The odds of that happening were extremely slim.

The fear I struggled with is a distant memory now, but at the time that gruesome pest was taking all the fun out of an extraordinary trip. And my worrying over every little thing was draining the strength out of my mind and spirit.

So by the time we arrived at the “car park” of the rope bridge, he looked over at me before we got out of the car. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I peered out the windshield and looked at the path which led to the ocean. I could barely see the bridge, but from this point it didn’t look quite as scary as I had imagined. “Yep,” I huffed with a tight smile. “Nope,” my heart shot back, the echoes of my discontent bouncing around my rib cage.

As we got closer to the line of tourists waiting to cross, however, my breath started to come out in hesitant, quivering bursts. I squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to quiet the evidence of my uncertainty. “Are you sure?” he checked again when he caught me staring down at the crashing sea 100 feet below.  (That’s the part you can’t really see in many pictures.)

“Yep.”

When we were next in line, I looked up at the young, fair-haired Irishman whose cheeks were red from being slapped by cold, wild coastal air. He was one of two workers there who were the gatekeepers, so to speak, supervising and limiting the number of bridge crossers. The three of us chit-chatted loudly over the roar of the waves while we waited, laughingly trading California and Irish stereotypes, and how he’s been meaning to make his first trip to the States to visit a friend in San Diego.

Finally, I looked into his friendly blue eyes—certain God had placed him there that day to comfort me with his quick camaraderie—and all of a sudden blurted, “I’m a little terrified, but I’m going to do this.” It had been the statement I’d repeated silently the whole way down the path up to this point. I was sick and tired of letting fear beat out my faith and trust. I said it over and over until I believed it.

The stranger’s kind smile gentled, and his eyes turned serious as they acknowledged my fear.  “Not to worry,” he said, his musical Irish accent calming me, “you’ll do just fine. Are you ready?” He had received the nod of permission for us to trek ahead from his partner across the way.

And so, step by step I worked my way across the bridge. The creaks of the rope swaying in the gusty wind invaded my ears, but the strength of the planks below my feet, my silent prayers, and my belief that I could squash this feeling of trepidation—because I chose to—upheld me and my courageous soul the whole way and back again. For the rest of the day, you couldn’t take the smile off my face if you tried. Even thinking back on it now, the memory girds my heart.

“I know how hard it was for you.” My husband’s answer whispered to me again.

Currently, I’ve chosen to focus on the truths of courage over the lies of fear…but I still have my moments of not believing I can do certain things. Even now, I have some goals that leave me shaking in my boots when I think too long on it. But the things I want to conquer don’t have to be achieved all at once. I believe that some day I will be able to scratch each one off the list, but I have to be patient with myself and give myself the grace to persevere—one step at a time, if need be.

There are some fears I’ve fled from and didn’t triumph. And yet, I won’t dwell on the ones from the past which I may not have the opportunity to face again. Instead, I’ll find new things to find victory in.  Whatever you may be facing, believe that you can declare yourself the victor. The feeling of accomplishment and relief…the burden of dread lifted…the surrender…it is so worth it. Will I ever bungee jump? Never will I ever. For me, today… in about 10 minutes, it’s going to be the pile of dishes in my sink that I will conquer. That mess seems impossible. But I believe I can tackle it, and so I will.

IMG_2011

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin

Awaken

It was one of those mornings when I woke up wondering what day it was. After being completely exhausted all week long, I finally slept THAT well. Too well, because all I wanted to do was snuggle deeper into the covers and go back to dreaming. Work beckoned, however, and couldn’t be avoided. I thought to myself, “I’m going to throw on some jeans and wear yellow”.

Yellow is possibly the friendliest and most uplifting color in the world. It says hello to us through the daffodils and sunflowers. It greets us in the morning as the sun begins to rise. For me, it is a beautiful reminder of hope and perseverance.

Well, I didn’t have any yellow to wear that day, but then the sun began to shine…and I guess once in awhile that’s all it takes to feel that little zing of happiness begin to awaken. Sometimes just recalling the love Jesus has for us via little gifts like sunshine, flowers, and vivid colors of life is all we need to rise to meet the day. Each morning begins with hope. Hope and love. Know that you are loved, and then go have a terrific day.

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  -Romans 5:1-5 (NKJV)

Image result for pink heart clip art loveRobin