Sunday, December 11, 2011

Respecting Your Personal Blueprint

I'm not what you'd call a chic type. I don't like to put on makeup. I don't think I've ever been at the cutting edge of a fashion trend. I wear hats far too often because fixing my hair just seems like a waste of time.

But, somehow, I do manage to look put together every now and then. And, when I do, I have to admit I feel pretty good about myself. But, the rest of the time, I find myself feeling guilty.

"I really should've taken the time to flat-iron my hair," I'll think.

"Look at Mia's mom," I'll muse. "I've never once seen her in a hat. She always looks immaculately groomed. What's wrong with me?"

Well, a couple things, it turns out.

One, spending time in the bathroom getting ready is downright dangerous these days. I have a very active 20-month-old boy (in addition to my 6- and 8-year-old daughters). While I have attempted to put on mascara or blow dry my hair, he has:

* Shattered a glass votive holder on my ceramic tile floor.
* Dipped his hands in the toilet.
* Spread cotton balls and Q-tips all over the bathroom.
* Either unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper or shredded it.

I'm sure I'm missing something here.

Ah, yes ... screamed for attention, re-arranged his sisters' bedrooms, and poked both of his fingers in the dog's eyes. I can't even make this stuff up.

So, half the time, it's not worth trying. Not to mention that he has a way of, um, putting his own mark on my "look." He's adept at ripping off necklaces and has broken several, and he almost always ensures I have a nice food smudge or two on my shoulder.

So, my son is my first excuse.

My second excuse is simple. It's just me. I'm not a girly girl. It's not who I am or where my strengths lie. I can make a mean apple pie, and I ran my first half-marathon this spring. Oh, and if there's something crafty you need done, give me a call. I love that kind of stuff.

Rather than beating myself up, or trying to be something I'm not, these days, I'm trying to be at peace with who God created me to be. In His infinite knowledge, He has made us all different. We all have our own God-given skills to share with this world.

Mine isn't telling you the best place to get the coolest new handbag... But I can tell you how to applique cute patches on your kids' jeans. It's super-easy. Oh, and I have a great chocolate mousse recipe. And, did I ever mention you can make this homemade hand lotion that really rocks?

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

 1 Peter 4:10, ESV

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Papers and Knicknacks and Tchotckes, Oh My!

I love a clean house. A clutter-free kitchen. A freshly made bed.

I crave clear, wide swaths of carpet. I dream of smooth coffee tables and kitchen tables and side tables and desks, with a few artfully placed accents.

I feel like I can take a big breath of relief and just relax when things are tidy.

Which is...

A. At 10 o'clock at night for about an hour before I collapse into bed.
B. Never.

Oh, did I mention I have kids? Three kids (8, 6, and 1)?

Did I happen to note that they are art freaks, nature aficionados, and tchotcke connoisseurs? You can see it in the collections that inhabit every flat surface, that swirl and eddy around the corners of closets, furniture, and every nook and cranny imaginable.

You can see my dilemma. You live it too if you have kids.

But here's the problem with aspiring to a clean, tidy home: It can become an impossibility, an obsession, an idol we pursue above more important goals.

Thanks to a very thoughtful friend, I've been reading Sarah Young's delightful little book, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, which she lent me.

Because Sarah is infinitely smoother-tongued than I, I'll quote from the entry that hit the bullseye for me.

You yearn for a simplified lifestyle, so that your communication with Me can be uninterrupted. But I challenge you to relinquish the fantasy of an uncluttered world. Accept each day just as it comes, and find Me in the midst of it all.

Yes, that's me, to a T. How often do I wait to seek God until just one more thing is crossed off my to-do list?

A successful day is one in which you have stayed in touch with Me, even if many things remain undone at the end of the day. Do not let your to-do list (written or mental) become an idol directing your life. Instead, ask My Spirit to guide you moment by moment. He will keep you close to Me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Going The Distance

There's a certain level of discomfort we runners have to come to terms with. Fatigue, aching muscles, burning lungs. Especially when we first start out.

When I was a freshman, I planned to run cross-country. So, the summer before I entered high school, I decided to prepare for the seemingly impossible task of running three miles without stopping. I began jogging the pancake-flat roads in rural Brown County, Ohio (outside Cincinnati), on hot summer afternoons, dust kicking up behind me. Oftentimes, it seemed like I could hardly run another step, though I knew I'd barely reached a mile. It was hard. I was sweaty. My breath came in huge gasps. It seemed to take forever.

I wasn't cut out for this, I thought. I quit.

I saved my energies for the shorter, flashier distances of track, which I loved. There was nothing like the powerful spurt of a sprint and the adrenaline rush of overcoming your opponent.

But, after high school, I wasn't running 200- or 400-meter sprints anymore, and jogging sounded like a good plan. I started slow, short 2- or 3-mile distances, whenever the mood struck. No regular routine. After college, a workplace relay team formed for the marathon. My leg was 5.5 miles. I almost gave up. It was hard. My legs ached. I found that around my hilly Pittsburgh neighborhood the best 4-mile training loop involved an epic 1/2-mile-long hill so steep at one point you could actually walk it faster than trying to jog. It became a thing, between that hill and me. Making it to the top without stopping; making it through the run without stopping.

Now, through three kids and more years than I like to say, I still run. Not constantly, and not obsessively, but I run. And, I've become somewhat immune to the discomfort.

"I ran up The Hill three times yesterday," I said to my husband recently. We're both training for the Pittsburgh half-marathon this year.

"Are you crazy?" he replied. It's another neighborhood hill. Steep, and if you stop to think of it when you're running up, impossibly hard. But, if you can do it once in a day, I've found you can do it three times (and probably more).

It kind of reminds me of life. Lots of things are hard. For me, it's raising kids and being the Christian I'm called to be. It would be easier to have a cup of coffee and watch HGTV than challenge myself with reading a Bible passage. It would be easier to not fight the battles of respect and hard work with my kids and let them do as they please.

Way too often I take the easy route. I disengage, I back down, I get distracted by shiny things. I start thinking, this is hard, it's taking too long, I might get sweaty.

Just like when I'm running a hill, I need to remember the basics. Stay on your toes and lean into the hill. Don't overthink it. And above all, keep moving, however slow.

Dear Lord: While I may be used to pushing myself physically in exercise, I'm lax when it comes to my mind and soul. Help me to get in spiritual shape. Help me remember that it's okay to struggle; that, in fact, it's good for me. It's hard to be a good wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, writer. And, that's okay. My struggles bring me that much closer to You. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

A New Set of Eyes

I've often thought I could use a sense upgrade. A new set of eyes, a better sense of smell. I usually think it metaphorically.

It's when I suddenly look at the world around me with a better appreciation for what it has to offer. The blackness of bare branches against a bright blue winter sky. The overwhelming scent of honeysuckle on a June evening. The soft shush of the creek that runs behind our house.

I think to myself: Why don't I notice this every day and revel in it?

But, for some of us, habitual glasses and contact-wearers, we really could use a new set of eyes--say, one with a slightly different curvature of the cornea.

It's really that simple. A flatter or steeper cornea is really all most of need to say goodbye to glasses.

More than 10 years ago, I worked for a small PR agency. Though it was the most harrowing seven months of my professional career (due to two control-freak/schizophrenic boss-owners), one good thing came out of it. I got an insider's view of laser vision correction surgery.

One of my clients was an ophthalmology group, and a key part of their practice was laser vision correction. I got to hear all the pros and cons of the procedure (though there really weren't many cons), and I got to sit in on focus groups with people who had gone through PRK or LASIK surgeries. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive-- it was life-changing, they said.

Then and there, I made myself a little promise: This is something I will do for myself one day.

That day came three Fridays ago--January 21, 2011.

I still keep thinking I need to reach for my glasses at night, or take out my contacts. A glasses-wearer since I was five, and a contact-wearer since ten, it's going to be a hard habit to break.

But, I think I can live with that...

The miracle of the surgery isn't that your vision is necessarily any different or better, but... it is always there.

And, it's not just there through a layer of glass or thin contact polymer.

It's kind of like our vision as corrected by God. When we're tuned into God and His plan for our life, we see things differently. Sure, our world is often the same about us, but an extra layer of care and concern and hassle is removed. We see obstacles as challenges and accept them gracefully. we view every day tasks as a blessing.

That's a heavenly kind of vision correction I could really get used to!

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.

Matthew 6:22

Dear Lord: I thank You for the marvelous blessing of my new physical eyesight, but I also pray that You will continue to remind me of the importance of my interior eye. Help sculpt and train my spiritual eyesight, so that my soul will be filled with Your radiance and light. Amen.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stop. Smell. Roses.

I resolve to be present. I resolve to live more in the moment.

Another word for this is mindfulness.

It's actually a key Buddhist principle, but I was first introduced to the concept by a nun.

Sister Donna was a feisty nun who taught basket weaving at a convent just north of downtown Pittsburgh. (Actually, she's probably there, though it's been close to 10 years since I took her class).

One night as I was botching my weaving, Sister Donna shared with us a little pamphlet on mindfulness. I was intrigued.

You're brushing your teeth, it explained. When was the last time you remember feeling the bristles in your mouth or the precise mint taste of your toothpaste? When was the last time you used all five senses to fully experience a moment?

Well, heck if I knew. But, it sounded like a good idea.

Life moves on, as it always does, and three kids and many responsibilities later, mindfulness has become that much more important.

And that much harder to achieve.

Mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition is described as a calm awareness of one's body functions and feelings--a sort of meditation prerequisite. Evidently, mindfulness also has many therapeutic applications in Western psychology...accepting things as they are and living now, without carrying the baggage of the past, or worrying about the future.

Makes sense.

But, Buddhism and counseling aside, what's God's take?

In my quiet times with God, when everyday concerns creep in and distract, He tells me to lift my eyes to higher things, to focus on this moment with Him.

In my daily life when all I can do is stare blindly down at the path to be trod in front of me, He tells me to lift my eyes and look around me. How much I miss when my gaze is trained on pavement, rather than the trees, sky, and the wonders of the wide world He created.

Look up, He counsels gently, look around you. Treasure what you have.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Isaiah 40:26


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Living in the Moment

Photo, Elizabeth May, Copyright 2011

We're eleven days deep into January.

If I had to guess, I'd say most people are in one of three camps when it comes to New Year's Resolutions. They're either: a. working mightily to stick to their goals, b. thinking they should probably get going on those resolutions, but already they can't quite remember what they were, or c. aren't thinking about resolutions at all, because they just didn't bother.

For me, it's "D, None of the Above" this year. I fully intend to resolve some things, um, some really important things.

You may say it's a little late, but in my book, 2011 is young, a mere newborn babe.

So, here I go:

1. I resolve to seek God daily.
2. I resolve to be present.
3. I resolve to get moving.

Number one is self-explanatory, but, nonetheless, essential.

Number two refers to my problem of letting the minuate of life exert its tyranny over me on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems like I can think of little else than a running to-do list.

I'm tired of walking around with a chant of clean-bathrooms-renew-library-books-get-to-karate-on-time-plan-dinner like some kind of fanatic domestic monk.

So I resolve to be present here, now, in this moment. To truly savor my family, nature, everything--more.

And, last, I resolve to make time to be active again. Taking walks, jogging, commiting to a workout class. Doing something that's both healthy and renewing for me.

God, I struggle mightily to do it all on my own. To keep the dishes at bay, the fridge stocked, the mail and paperwork sorted, the laundry folded, the bathrooms cleaned. And, all this with a constant stream of little voices expressing ongoing needs, questions, and demands. Help me to learn that a clean, organized, cozy home--while desirable--shouldn't be pursued above all else. Teach me that caring for my family's emotional and spiritual needs means more. Allow me to slow down and do more by doing less. Help me to give of myself and my time willingly. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Waiting for God

Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. ... For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.

Henri Nouwen

In preparation for the Advent season this year, before all the craziness I talked about in my last post hit us, I purchased two devotionals. The first, Let Every Heart, I'm using with my girls. It's an older book, and it can be purchased used nice and cheap from Amazon (which is what I did)! To be honest, though it's billed as a family devotional, it would be better for pre-teens and teens, in terms of the level of the writing.

However, we enjoy the hymns that precede each devotional, and the singing helps prepare our hearts for the message to come. The devotions themselves are short and include questions for discussion at the end, as well as a little ending prayer. This devotional is good for me on days when I'm short on time, because it doesn't take long to read. I just find myself paraphrasing as I go for my girls, 5 and 7. (The 5-year-old has a short attention span and doesn't seem to be getting much out of it, but the 7-year-old is listening.)

I'm sure there are better kid Advent devotionals out there, but for us, this is the first time we have been more intentional about devotions and Advent. So, it's more about the exercise itself that is important to our family.

For myself, I bought Watch for the Light, which is a collection of Advent and Christmas readings, including pieces by C.S. Lewis, Annie Dilliard, Thomas Merton, and more.  (There's even a Sylvia Plath poem.) These are meatier readings, worthy of more time and thought. I have only read about three or four so far. One was too stuffy and didactic, but the others I've really enjoyed. I like the scholarly feeling of this book.

I really loved Henri Nouwen's piece, "Waiting for God" (also the title of this post) and the source of the beginning quote). I like how it gets me thinking. I'm not a waiter; I'm a doer. I'm terribly impatient.

But, God asks us to wait.

Consider Nouwen's insights on purposeful waiting. He explains how, in the beginning of the gospel of Luke, we see Mary and Elizabeth, waiting. But, this is no ordinary waiting; they are waiting with a sense of promise. Of course, they are both with child, but their situation teaches us that if we believe we have the seed of promise within us, we are ready for waiting, God-style.

"We can only really wait if what we we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more," says Nouwen.

Nouwen also teaches us the benefits of what he terms "active waiting." He says it's all about being present in the moment. That's a lesson worth learning for an impatient doer like me, often distracted with tasks and lists of "what's next" scrolling through my brain.

"Active waiting means ... the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment."

Dear Lord: During this season of Advent, of preparing for the day we celebrate your birth, teach us how to wait. Help us learn that you have planted the seed of promise within each and every one of us, if only we believe. Help us learn to have faith that you can do something miraculous through us, if only we wait patiently. Embue us with a sense of  hope and purpose that allows us to do this important work of waiting, while still being present to the moment. Amen.