Cheerleaders

We sat enjoying our traditional vacation early morning at Cracker Barrel, sipping our coffee and noshing on Grandma’s Pancake breakfast. The older woman behind us was unlike most of this morning’s customers. She sat primly, beautifully coiffed hair, meticulous dress and make up. A frazzled young mother rushed in, hip-toting a baby girl who squealed and reached for the older woman. Both baby and grandmother lit up with remarkable and pure love.

As they ordered, the older woman danced a delicate ballet between occupying the toddler and attending to her mom.

“You’re doing such a good job of juggling it all!”

“Oh! Look at your yummy eggs!”

“She’s such a smart little girl! I can tell you spend so much time reading and playing with her.”

The frazzled young mother and the exuberant baby both fed off of grandmother’s energy, her calm strength, her genuine love.

On and on it went. I watched, mesmerized by how grandmother kept both mom and baby afloat, happy, encouraged.

At first, I felt a wave of sadness for the grandmother. She gave and gave and gave, and I doubt was asked a single question about herself or her own life, even as she gracefully inquired about theirs.

And then I realized this IS her life. Grandmother didn’t need to be asked about her book club, her prayer group, her garden. Her obvious and contagious joy came from actively loving these two in front of her. Her soul was being fed with giggles and syrupy hands and tired smiles. Grandmother surely left every bit as happy and encouraged as those she poured her love upon.

It was a simple breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and yet, it was a joyful, selfless act of showering love.

Grandmother was an epic cheerleader. She came ready to play the game, and to play to win. She watched each move, and adapted her responses and love accordingly. She kept the crowd’s energy positive and and at a peak. And she was victorious, because the baby happily waved bye bye, and her exhausted daughter lingered in her mother’s long, strong hug.

As precious as the baby girl was, it was grandmother who captivated me. Her generous gift of focused attention, flowing encouragement and unconditional love seemed like a stark contrast to the quiet, sleepy, somewhat grouchy vibes of the rest of the room.

Grandmother showed up ready to love and listen. Dressed in her Sunday best, she came to the field fully prepared to cherish the time with her girls. She lit up from her marrow when her beleaguered daughter and squirmy granddaughter entered her sight, She infused joy, love and nurturance into their time together.

Oh, how we could all benefit from some hash brown casserole shared with such light and focused love, to have a cheerleader in our lives who is fully present, every ready for what we bring.

You know who they are. The people in your life we go to when weary, discouraged, celebratory. We need that person who cheers us on, holding pep rallies for our life based only on their sheer and endless love for our existence.

We breathe, grow under the rah rah rah of their unconditional love. Though it may seem that Life sometimes conspires to knock down our carefully balanced pyramid of existence, these people are our “catchers”, the ones waiting below with arms out ready to have our backs if we fall.

Funny how the cheerleaders get a lot of attention, but none of the glory. The glory goes to the players on the field, the ones making the scores. Yet, here’s the thing about cheerleaders…they don’t want the glory, they want you to win. Just like grandmother, your victory is theirs.

So go sit in the stands and cheer on your loved ones, clapping with delight and encouragement. Wear your team colors, let your people know you’re fully present and all the way in. Celebrate both wins and losses, and keep that sense of pride and encouragement rolling.

Cheerleaders rule the world.

Because of the love.

Passing the Chips

The baskets of chips move up and down the table while both the salsa and the margaritas flow easily.  There are enough people gathered that multiple conversations are happening simultaneously, with questions and laughter and excited stories being told.

Over tamales and enchiladas we learn more about each other, get caught up on our lives, and remember why we’re lucky enough to be here. 

An hour earlier we had said our final goodbye to our mother, mother-in-law, grandmother.  It was a modestly simple service in a sleepy town deep in the Ozarks.  Time, distance and advancing Alzheimer’s had whittled those attending to just a precious few. 

The homey service focused on her grittiness, her humor and her deep devotion to her family.  The closing remarks were to her adult children, challenging them to keep her memory strong.   The torch was passed, they are now the tellers of the tales and the keepers of the stories. 

So here we sit, passing the chips, sharing stories, taking in the too-little time when we are all together in one place at one time. 

It’s funny, really, how we spend so many of our years striving to make our lives bigger, brighter, “more important”.  How so many of us measure successful lives through stocks and bonds, toys in the driveway, social connections. 

Yet in this equally tacky and tasty Mexican restaurant in the middle of Missouri, it is clear that those are not things that equate a life well lived. 

What matters most, perhaps, are those who are left sitting, laughing, crying, and passing the chips.  The people that remain when all the rest have gone home, the ones who are telling those tales that keep memories alive. 

I sit back for a moment, taking a long sip of my frozen margarita, and imagine who will be passing the chips when I’m gone.  Instantly, all of life comes into crystal clear focus.  It’s one of those precious moments in life when everything syncs up and you know exactly how things are meant to be.

I reach for the salsa and know with complete certainty that life should be focused on the ones who will remain.  I look up and down the table and imagine my own children laughing, interrupting each other eagerly to add to a story, which likely has become greatly embellished with age.  I think of the bonds they have, how it will remain when I’m no longer there to braid them together. 

How easy it is to make time for obligations and commitments while simultaneously taking time with our closest people for granted. There is a sense that so much else in life is fleeting, “grab it while you can”, but family can wait because family will always be there.

Breaking my own “no phone at the table” rule, I slide my hand into my bag, pull out my cell, and send a family text. “Dinner…next Sunday, who’s in?”   The phone begins pinging with available times and excited suggestions of where to meet.  I smile quietly, knowing that I’ll see them all soon, and we, too, will sit around a long table and speak over each other and laugh and tell stories.  I take a deep breath, overwhelmed a bit with how quickly it all goes. 

This I know: I want to pass the chips with my favorite people as often and for as long as I can.

I take a bite of the cheese enchilada and re-engage with the stories, just so grateful for it all. 

Let’s Be Sue

We recently had the joy of visiting my mother-in-law in her memory care unit.  Alzheimer’s is, undoubtedly, an incidious thief, and yet I find myself fascinated by what remains, what essences sticks around stubbornly because it is so much a part of that person.  For our mom, it’s both her sassy sense of humor, her well known eye roll, and her girlish giggle.

We joined her with her friends in a small common area.  The banter back and forth was fun to listen to, going nowhere in particular but showing how connected these women are to one another in some sense of commonality and community.  It was clear one of the ringleaders in the group was slender, curly haired lady named Sue.  She seemed to have no trouble orchestrating the nonsensical conversations in a way that kept everyone engaged while she remained in control (it did not surprise me to discover she was a retired teacher😊).

Sue juggled her audience through inclusion and tips for good living.  She told me how I could smuggle food out under my shirt, how she used to hide groceries in her bra, milk the cows before breakfast and they won’t be so mad, and that we must all pay attention.  I was charmed and mesmerized as she did her thing.

And then, as sudden as the flap of a butterfly’s wing, she stood up and began shuffling down the hall to her room. 

Sue stopped suddenly, turned around, wagged her finger at us, and left her parting words:

“Here’s what you need to know.  If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.”

And with that, she turned and shuffled the remainder of the way down the hall.

The banter and intermittent napping continued in the common room, but I couldn’t shake both Sue’s words, and the clarity and intensity with which she shared them.

If you know or love someone with Alzheimer’s, you may recognize that in the earlier to middle stages, there is a lucidity that can flash across their face, and for the twinkling of a second they are fully grounded in the moment. They may not fully process where they are or who they’re with, but what they know is that, for a few seconds, they know.

What Sue clearly knew that day was this:

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

Over and over, like towels in a dryer, those words tumbled in my head.

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

No, not tomorrow.

No, not when our schedule lightens up.

No, I’m sorry, not when you feel like it.

Now.  Period.

Sue says NOW’S the time. 

And Sue strikes me as a woman who saw a lot of need in her day, and spent a lot of her time and obvious leadership ability helping meet those needs while rousing others to do the same.

It doesn’t take 30 seconds to bring to mind several people in my life who currently need help.  It takes less than another 30 seconds to recognize those in my community who need help.  It’s everywhere.

Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious, such as needing items after a fire, or a ride when a car is in the shop.

Perhaps more often needs are private, often attempted to be hidden from others.  The stress of caring for an ailing parent, trying to bravely survive a rotted marriage, praying for a wayward child. These needs may not require money or items. What’s vital in the moment may be a hug, a long talk, someone to simply hold space and time for their hurt.

So here is Sue’s challenge to us.  When we see the need, and let’s be honest, we see them daily as they envelope our lives, the time to help isn’t when we’re ready or available, it’s the moment we recognize it.

Crisis, ongoing hurts and hardships, sudden disasters, they do not respect the calendar.  They are not scheduled conveniently, rather they blast their cannon ball of chaos right into the center of our lives.  Likewise, when the wrecking ball swings, our attempts at help cannot be schedule either. 

Seeing a need, recognizing someone who needs help, is a call to action.  I don’t believe our hearts and minds are drawn in to someone’s pain only for us to keep walking. 

While I am certainly not suggesting that we martyr ourselves and live solely at the service of others, I will challenge myself personally to recognize that the need to help is greater than my need to be comfortable or well-rested.

Seeing a need is a privilege, an honor, a calling.  Let’s be honest, not everyone is looking or caring.  But you are.   So if you’ve been blessed with a heart that sees and cares,  you will also be strengthened with the tools to help. 

Now. 

It may be inconvenient.  It may not be how you planned to spend your day.  You may not even particularly care for the person who’s need you see. 

But I know wise words when I hear them, and I clearly heard them from Sue: 

If you know anyone who needs help, now’s the time.

Who do you know?  What do you see?  What can you do?  When can you help?

Our wise friend Sue says now.

Let’s be Sue. 

Space and Grace

I read the email, and my heart sank to the soles of my feet.  In my work with foster children, there is a little boy waiting for his forever family.  He is currently in a beautiful home with two supportive parents, siblings and pets.  He is trying so hard to be happy, but still yearns for his birth mom who has long since left his life.  He’s adjusting slowly.  He’s showing some less-than-pretty responses to the stress of trying to understand healthy family life.  He is struggling.

I begged his team to give him some space and the grace of more time to figure it out.  The answer was no.  So we start all over again.

Space and grace.  That’s all this scared little boy, dealing with things most of us can’t even imagine, needed. 

Space and grace.

As I try to lift up my heart and clear my head so I can help him through the next steps, I find myself reflecting on how much better our world could be if we could just extend a little more space and grace to one another.

Space, not just the physical, but also the emotional time and environment needed to create a life that works for us, to find systems and responses and habits that serve us well in whatever new situation we may be entering.  Space to adjust to a new job, a new move, a new marriage.  The space to create what life will look like for a new mother or a newly retired doctor.  Providing one another space can mean extra support or can mean extra solitude.  It’s about listening and watching for what the other person needs, and stepping into the best way to support it.  Establishing space in our lives allows us to live from an authentic core.  Space is not just about how we decorate or how we design our surroundings.  It’s also about how we establish the pace of our lives, the rhythm that respects what we need and who we are. 

The term “holding space” has come to refer the ability to be physically, emotionally and mentally present without being invasive.  It requires no personal agenda or investment in an outcome, but rather a simple presence so the one unfolding can do so in a safe, loving environment.  This term always reminds me of a flower bud opening.  It must do so in it’s own time…to be tugged or rushed will only serve to distort or destroy the innate beauty that is meant to come from within. 

Grace.  Grace is acceptance for what is, exactly as it is.  Grace involves forgiveness, especially  when it’s never been asked for.  It is the offering of kindness even when we have no direct benefit.  Grace involves a compassion and open-heartedness that makes us both vulnerable and incredibly secure simultaneously.

In my work with children, space and grace are the secret ingredients.  And yet they are also the secret ingredients for each one of us. 

You see, we cannot offer space and grace to others if we don’t first offer it to ourselves. The kindness, the compassion, the time to figure things out. We must gift our own souls with these simple, beautiful elements, and allow ourselves to receive them from God. Only then can we understand why they matter so.

When we are able to offer those we love, or those we simply stand behind in the grocery store, the benefit of our patience, the strength of our acceptance, we change the energy and the emotional realm of the moment.   If we can take a deep breath when frustrated by another’s actions, remove ourselves from the impatience, and give them the time and resources they need to move forward, we alter the entire dynamic.

When we show ourselves patience and forgiveness, when we allow ourselves to grow from mistakes, we develop a compassion that becomes more easy to extend to others.

Simply stated, it’s how we change the world.

Space and grace. The secret sauce to a kinder, gentler life. May we all be willing to both receive them for ourselves and gift them to those around us.

Surfing

Those Facebook memories get me every time.  Some days I’m able to laugh and sink into a joyful memory, but honestly, some days they rip me wide open.

It’s been two years since our last pictures were taken together, two years since her last trip to visit us on the farm.

It’s been almost two years since she headed into hospice, honoring me by allowing me to be with her til her final breath.

The pictures that pop up today are of us being uproariously silly during a drive to our mountain top hangout space.

Uproarious was kind of our thing, it’s what we’d done best for 40 plus years as best friends and soul sisters. 

She was slower this trip.  She was cautious about everything from diet to amount of sleep to how much energy each outing required.  None of these things were part of who she was, they were part of the ovarian cancer that also came along for the ride.

This was round 3 of treatment.  She came for one last visit, though neither of us called it that.

 I’d so desperately needed her here one more time.  I needed one more morning coffee chat in the gazebo, one more nap by the pond, one more trip to TJ Maxx together. I needed our home infused with her giggles and snorts and wise words just one more time.

 One more, one more, one more…….

She got home from the trip and said that was it, there’d be no more traveling but she was so grateful she’d come to see us one more time.  I’d needed it.  She’d needed it. 

We didn’t use our time together to talk about it being the last trip.  We didn’t need to. 

We wanted one more late night chat, one more pee-our-pants adventure up the mountain.

One more.

I still want one more one more. 

What would I say?  That I love you?  She already knows that.

That I’m loving your boys, your Dave, your folks, and I will til the day I die?  She already sees that.

That I’m happy and calm and living life fully for the both of us, taking nothing for granted?  She’s still very much a part of that. 

That I miss you, every dang day I miss you?  She accommodates that regularly through a random dragonfly hovering near, or a double rainbow over the mountain tops, or the perfect light breeze on my skin.  She reminds me she’s still here with me almost every day.

Quantam physics tells us that energy never dies, it just changes form. 

I need this knowledge in my life. 

It is what allows me to know that these “random” events aren’t just wishful thinking.

Physics also tells us that energy begets energy. Terri was nothing if not a burning bundle of pure joy.  So I tell myself that the more joy I engulf myself in, the nearer she is.

It usually works. 

It sometimes doesn’t. 

There are still moments when the heart’s muscle memory of her being here is faster than the brain’s muscle memory that she isn’t, and those moments are the toughtest.

There was a millisecond after receiving the invitation to our son’s wedding that I picked up the phone to see if she’d gotten hers yet, and weren’t they beautiful?!

I had my phone in my hand, finger poised over her name in my “favorites” list, when it occurred to me she wouldn’t be answering, we wouldn’t be squealing together. 

Life morphed into slow motion.  The instantaneous realization of the realization of reality.  I could almost envision Bruce Lee’s best round house kick straight to my gut. 

Winded, disoriented I sank to the kitchen floor. 

There are no words. 

And so this “grief” surfing goes.  

Most days I balance upon the waves, going full force with life finding joy and adventure on behalf of us both.

Some days I sink and swim awhile with the sharks.

But I always get back on the board because, really, what other option is there?

I’m careful not to call it grief, because what is grief, really, but the other side of love?

Yes, I’d much rather call it love.

 I try not to call it loss because I don’t believe she is fully gone.

It’s change.

 It’s navigating a new way of living, and new way of carrying one. 

It’s a new way of loving her, because the love doesn’t go away.

  Like energy, it never goes away, it just changes form. 

blue and white dragonfly perched on brown plant stem in close up photography during daytime

Come As You Are

Farm Church This Sunday

11:00 am

Come as You Are

I zip past the vinyl banner, hung in front of a camp/retreat center less than a mile from our home.  I smile each time I pass, the sign being one of the many new things this suburban-bred girl is learning about living in the semi-rural south. 

Farm Church, I have learned, is exactly as you would imagine.  It is an outdoor service geared towards those who’s vocation does not allow for a day off, even Sunday.  Held at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where on even the most scorching Alabama summer day one can find a breeze to cool both body and soul,  no fancy church or alter is needed for these hearty individuals.  There is no greater majesty available than that which has been created by God himself.  In lieu of stained glass windows and velvet ropes are wild turkey and the occasional grazing doe. 

The timing, 11:00 am, is intentional and respectful, the morning feedings and plantings or plowing are completed, and a break in the nearing heat of the day is welcome.    There are no suits or fancy dresses to be found here, but rather blue jeans and overalls, many already caked from  the morning’s work. 

Everything about it honors the reality of the lives of those who attend. 

I love the randomness of it.  The sign does not appear weekly, and I have yet to find a pattern.  It seems based on the whims of nature and weather. 

I love knowing that the beautiful pastures I see daily are tended to by the people who are, in turn, themselves tended to.

I love living in a place and space that still has that Mayberry feel to it, where everyone knows everyone, everyone has a role, and every role is honored.

But what I love most is the last line:  Come as You Are.

Come as you are.

In our small town, where there are churches on every corner, and sometimes in between, I have never seen a church sign with a more powerful message.  I’ve seen,  “Sunday School starts this week” and ‘Welcome Pastor Joe!”, but never have I seen “Come as You Are.”

It is plain.  It is simple.  It is profound.

Come as you are.

Covered in mud?  Come as you are.

Sunburned and weary?  Come as you are.

Hands covered in oil from trying to revive the tractor for one more season?  Come as you are.

I am awestruck by the majesty, the nobility of the words.  I can’t read them without feeling as if God himself is saying them.  I can close my eyes and imagine the celestial hug that accompanies them.

I want to live a “come as you are” life.   

Each year I settle more deeply into the authenticity of my truest self.  One of the most beautiful gifts of aging is that sense of nesting into your soul, being at home in your own skin, and being able to see through all the nonsense. 

Each day, I strive to live in a way that is inclusive and open and welcoming to all I encounter.  I yearn for those I know and love to know they can always come to me exactly as they are.  No pretense.  No need to present in any way other than what is real and raw and true. 

Each hour I endeavor to be fully present, open to what is happening in the moment, being as I am, with people who are being the same.

I fall dreadfully short on all counts. 

I can get caught up in drama and nonsense, sidetracked from my best intentions.  I fall prey to passing judgement and criticism, often without knowing the full person or the full story.  I can become quick-tempered when frustrated that things are not going my way, on my time schedule.

But the “come as you are” philosophy invites me to accept even those less than perfect parts of who I am. 

It allows me to be seen and known for all of who I am, even as I continually struggle to do better. 

It grounds me in knowing that God calls to me, for me, loving me exactly as I am.

It reminds me that I can spend my time beating myself up about my faults, or call a truce and focus on moving forward.  Either way, I am fully accepted.

“Come as you are” reminds me to give the same grace and understanding to others that I would wish for myself. Grace without “earning” or “deserving” it, but because it is right and precious.

I wonder how these words can become the core of who I am.  I challenge myself to rise to both the complexity and quietness of the simple phrase. 

I move forward with the intention to always come, exactly as I am, to each moment and every opportunity, and to welcome all I meet, know and love to come the exact same way. 

Exactly as we are. 

Nesting

It is an early spring morning, still somewhat cool and crisp, unusual for this time of year in the South. I sip my steaming black coffee while sitting in our little gazebo overlooking the pasture, the mountains looming tall behind me.

I love living on this land. There is nothing in my life that would have ever made me think I’d fall madly in love with living in a small, semi-rural Southern town on 20 acres of land, but it captivates me in ways I can’t explain.

Each year, after the last freeze of winter hits and the temps slowly being to inch upward, our land comes alive. The neon green of new leaves, the slow blossoming of the wildflowers, and the scattering of creatures all about fill me with a childlike giddiness and sense of wonder.

The deer graze off of the fallen pears, the rabbits run amok, teasing the dogs from behind their fence. There’s many a day when I feel like Snow White walking into the woods with all of her woodland friends landing lovingly around her. Even down to the bird perching on her finger….

As I snuggly hold my mug with one hand and pet the pup with the other, relishing the initiation of gazebo mornings for another year, I am captivated by a small but mightily loud wren perched on the fence post, doing what I can only imagine is the equivalent of swearing me out in bird-ese. She is not anxious, but rather determined. She is not going to leave. She is staking her claim to the gazebo in no uncertain terms. She impresses me, how she holds a beak full of twigs and yet simultaneously remains bravely vocal. I sit still, mesmerized. I’m kind of impressed with her moxie.

In a flash she swoops to the top of the gazebo rafters, drops the twigs, then looks at me. I’m not moving, I tell her. I had the gazebo first. I sip my coffee as a sign of laying down my gauntlet. She speaks to me loudly, but I’m stubborn. This is my special place and I’m not leaving. And no sassy bird can make me.

I sit as still as possible as she makes multiple, identical trips. She disappears for a moment, then perches back on the fence post to, with beak full of grass and twigs, give me a piece of her mind. I’m clearly cramping her style.

But she is fearless and headstrong. Trip after twiggy trip she comes back. Each time she whooshes close to my head as she enters and leaves the gazebo. Eventually it’s time for me to proceed with real life, so I bid her goodbye, letting her clearly know I’ll be back for coffee tomorrow and she has not won.

And so our mornings pass. Me in my jammies, pot of coffee in tow, and the busy wren, eventually named Priscilla, who decides she’ll just have to put up with me.

We have some negotiating to do, she and I. We both realize the gazebo is the most prized piece of real estate on the property, and neither wants to relinquish it. So Priscilla and I sink into an early morning camaraderie. She tweets and squawks and chirps at me, trying to sass me away from her domain as she systematically continues to build her tiny castle. I sip my coffee and chat with her, letting her know I’m going nowhere but I do respect her persistence.

Day after day, pot after steaming pot of coffee, twig after twig, we spend our mornings together. I give her little shout outs for her hard work, letting her know her stamina and determination are impressive. You go girl, you’re a rock star! You’re building a home, you’re building a life. You’ve got it going on!

And then I notice an ever so slight change. One morning she is no longer carrying twigs in her sassy beak, she is carrying grubs. And if I listen carefully enough, I can hear the faintest of tweets coming from the rafter. I smile and I maybe, just maybe, shed a tear. Motherhood is so sacred no matter what species we may be. I whisper a welcome to motherhood to my wren, and let her know she and I now have more than the gazebo in common.

Until now I have not violated our silent pact…to each respect the other’s space. I have resisted the urge to peek at her nest, and now with new life in it I’m even more respectful. But oh, how I want to see the babies! Is there anything in the world more magical than new life?

As each day passes, the chirps get louder, light feathers waft from the rafters to the gazebo floor, and Priscilla seems frazzled as she looks for bigger and meatier breakfast payloads. I tell her it’s ok, she’ll make it. I was a single mom, too, and I know it’s tough, but it’s worth it. I’m pretty sure she rolls her eyes at me as a grasshopper wriggles in her mouth.

Priscilla and I no longer just tolerate one another. There’s a bond. There’s a connection. We both belong. To the gazebo, to the farm, to the crazy sorority of motherhood. She now goes about her business without trying to warble me away, and I no longer feel as if I must stubbornly assert my authority as rightful owner of the gazebo. We are co-owners of this space and these mornings, sisters in womanhood.

I come back out after a long weekend away with my husband, and instantly sense a change. Priscilla is no longer swishing in and out past my head, from the rafters to the pasture. She is quietly calling to me as she sits in her nest. At first I’m worried that something happened to the babies, that she is protecting them from something.

And then I realize.

The nest is silent.

Just like that, the babies are grown and gone. She sits, alone, most likely wondering how it all went by so fast. One day you’re preparing a nursery, the next day you’re busy meeting a million little needs, and the very next day it’s over. She is likely sinking into the deep realization of how exhausting motherhood was, while also wishing for one more chance, just one more day, to be that tired.

For the first time I pull my chair over and stand on it to look at the masterpiece that is her home. She sits still as I peer into her dominion. Face to beak, I tell her, ever so quietly, she did her job well. And for one last time, we connect, as mothers, at the final stage of the journey, feeling the mixture of sadness and pride at how quickly and successfully our little loved ones flew away.

The Other Side of Boredom

Boredom.  The act of doing nothing.  Not knowing what to do.  Not knowing what you want to do.  Not really wanting to do anything.  And yet being restless that nothing is going on.

When my kids were little, we called it “the can’t help its”…when they would get into a mood, you know, THAT mood, and nothing seemed to soothe their little souls.

Boredom can be an unsettling state of being.  There is a restlessness that comes with it, a sense of uneasiness, frustration, even anxiety.

So we end up striving to avoid boredom at all costs.  Especially in today’s hyper-achievement-oriented world, where even a trip to the bathroom is most often accompanied by a flick through Facebook or a game of solitaire, we avoid silence and stillness at all costs.

I see it in myself, in my scrolling through emails when I just checked them a few moments ago, thumbing through Facebook even though there is nothing really new to see. Starting a game of sudoku instead of just sitting and catching my breath.

I see it in my adult kids, who have their phones in their hands almost all the time, no different from their peers in this fact. 

I see it in the children I work with, unable to regulate emotions of frustration and boredom because they’ve grown up with the instant gratification of technology and overly doting parents. 

But what, truly, is the problem with that?  Our culture values the doers, the ones who are active and achieving and always accomplishing.  Isn’t this need to have our brains constantly occupied a sign of our efficiency and effectiveness in an ever-hustling world?

Boredom, by it’s very definition, is a state of unrest, and who wants that?  Avoid at all costs, right?

Yet, what lies on the other side of boredom?  What waits for us in the stillness of our brains?

Could it be that we are missing out on what truly makes us unique, the time for thoughts and dreams and ideas that make us miraculously one-of-a-kind?

Boredom is sitting with nothingness.  Nothing to do, nothing you really want to do, nothing critical to think about.  It’s discomfort is two fold, both in a feeling of uselessness within an activity-driven life, and a sense of emptiness in a consumer-based brain we strive to keep full 24/7.

And yet sitting with boredom is actually an act of self-care.  Recognizing we have a break, a pause in our hustle, allows us to settle into a moment of stillness and breathe in space we seldom allow ourselves. 

Boredom is a pause. It’s a time-out from our over-busy minds. And it is in the pause where the magic happens. 

Without time to slow down, without allowing ourselves time to sip coffee without reading the news or to take a walk with no music except the symphony of nature, without finding ourselves on a Sunday afternoon with chores done and groceries bought and nothing else to occupy our time, we would fall victim of meaningless activity. 

In education, teachers call it “busy work”, the work we give children just to keep them occupied. As adults, we fill our lives with busy work, things to do that are of no true value.

The need to stay busy is a human construct.  It isn’t found in nature. The farmer’s soil has to rest and renourish between crops.  The mother hawk perches on a branch after the hatchlings’ morning flying lessons.  An entire season, one quarter of the year, is spent in Winter, a time to rest, hibernate, and prepare.  Even the Creator of the Universe took time off and encouraged us to do the same.

There is a magic that awaits on the other side of boredom, if we just allow ourselves to get there.  It’s the stillness and space to dream, to pray, to meditate.    Boredom is when our thoughts begin wandering, taking us on unplanned adventures to unexpected locations. It allows us to weave and zig-zag through our thoughts and dreams, places we don’t attend to when we’re busy checking off items on our to-do lists. It is the clearing of the cluttered mind that allows us to become open to inspiration and creativity.

Most of us don’t have our best ideas in the middle of checking Instagram or in a loud, agenda-filled board meeting.

We find it in the solitude of the shower.  In the car ride to work (if we stay off the phone).  In the walk in the woods.  In playing with a young child.  In taking an extra moment to watch a loved one sleep next to us.

Our ideas, our solutions, our creativity comes to visit us in the nothingness. That’s where it lives.

The beauty of life, what makes it rich and fertile and so worth all the hard stuff, is found on the other side of boredom.

But we have to allow ourselves to get there, to get past the sense of unease and frustration that comes from being idle. We need to give ourselves unbridled permission to do “nothing”.

If we do not give ourselfves the gift of nothingness, then we never allow our souls time and space to refuel with energy and vibrancy.

If we do not wallow in an occasional sense of restlessness we can never truly listen to what our heart is telling us it yearns for.

Adopting the concept of essential down time, time with no agenda, no outcome, no hurrying, could hold the power to restore our creative energies, giving us time to reflect on our lives and our worlds in ways only our unique selves can do.

The beauty that lies in the state of nothingness is what makes it worth all the rest.

Breathe deeply. Turn off the electronics. Tune into your heart. In the stillness it will speak to you.

Learned, Burned and Earned

Through a series of serendipitous events a few weeks ago, I was blessed to spend a weekend in Golden, CO with a dear friend.  In addition to the long soul talks, great food and craft beer, spectacular fresh air and exquisite mountain ranges, the apex of the trip was seeing Michael Franti in concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.  My first encounter with this amazing outdoor venue left me speechless and spellbound.  The venue, built into a mountain, provides a cocoon of Mother Earth while the Colorado sun sets and music comes to life. 

Franti, a long time favorite, is a man of such optimism, faith and love that one cannot help but be energized and lifted by his music and spirit.   He strikes me as someone who truly believes that positive thoughts lead to positive actions, and one person can make a difference in the world.

This trip was my first “post” pandemic travel, and it brought my soul back to Life.  Travel has long been what grounds me, keeps me balanced, and helps me stay connected with the deepest parts of myself that don’t get put into action in the sometime redundant passing of days.  To be out in the world in a breath-taking location with music about love and hope pulsing through the rocks was invigorating to say the least.

Franti began his concert with a video montage of the past 16 months.  He shared some of his losses from Covid, including people near and dear.  He graciously thanked his fans who stayed true and connected even as concert after concert was canceled and not rescheduled. 

But the most memorable part of his opening was the way he framed his past 16 months into things he learned, things he burned, and things he earned.

Learned.

Burned.

Earned.

This resonated with me in such a profound way that I couldn’t help but immediately begin reflecting on how my experiences from the past 16 months could also be placed into these compelling categories. 

We lost.  We all lost during Covid. 

People.

Jobs.

Income.

Connections.

Time with others.

Momentum towards our dreams.

But we also learned.  Many of us gained robust and impressive insights into  ourselves.  About how we handle hardship, change, the unknown. 

As I reflect, I see so much in that “Learned” category.  I learned life marches forward, no matter what else is happening.  I learned that for this old suburban girl, now living on acreage and being deeply connected to nature is among the greatest healing forces in the world.  I learned I am far more introverted than I ever knew, and the preciousness of solitude is balancing and calming. And as I continued my work with children experiencing abuse and neglect, through the frightening spans when I couldn’t lay my eyes on them, I learned that connection is the truest heartbeat of all. 

The ”Burned” part feels a bit intense.  Just as we are, hopefully, always learning and gaining insight, those insights lead us to acknowledge, and even embrace, things that no longer serve us. In some ways this is the Marie Kondo part of Life, the time when we examine people, habits, things by asking ourselves, “Does this help me live my best life? What is the cost of maintaining this? Has this reached it’s blessing for me.”

There is a purging that must occur every so often for us to maintain healthy boundaries and stay in authenticity with the Life we strive to live.  During the time of sheltering in place, I burned and purged the need to “stay put” in situations and relationships that were no longer positive for myself or others. Easy does not correlate to better, and sometimes the toughest road is the one for which you are meant.

I burned the idea that, for me, a structured “Sunday School God” is how you “do religion”.  I need a raw, powerful God found in nature and children’s smiles and holding the door for an elderly gentleman.  God got immensely bigger for me in the past 16 months.  I not only got Him out of the box, I broke the box down and recycled it.  I burned the idea that if I didn’t “do religion” just right, I was somehow letting God down.  He and I have come to terms with knowing there are lots of ways to connect with one another.  It transcends any place or time, and is the truest meaning of ethereal.

And, finally, “Earned”. I interpret earning as something I had to work hard through/for and can feel a sense of accomplishment for having reached.   Having lost my lifelong best friend/soul sister a mere 6 weeks before the world shut down, the two are inextricably connected.  I look back now and I know I have earned my way through a grief like no other, the deepest loss of my life.  I think one of the toughest parts of losing someone, at least for me, is watching the world slowly get back to “normal” while mine remains shattered, knowing there is no more “normal”.  It felt as if the whole world stopped at the loss of Terri.  Unlike our Western culture’s rapid expectation for grief processing (funeral on Tuesday, back to work on Wednesday), I was suddenly given the time and space and silence needed to figure out how to build a new world without her daily physical presence.  I was gifted with space and silence, and powerful, beautiful, soul-filling things emerged from that.

Slowly, slowly the world is opening back up.  Gently and mindfully we resume our activities, our social connections, our time out and about exploring Life fully and freely once again.

Yet not one of us is unchanged from the past 16 months, from the sacrifices, loss and uncertainty of it all.  As Life opens back up like a blossoming flower, I pray we all take the time to reflect on how very much we have learned, burned and earned during this time.

Lost and Found

It is a crystal clear sky, deep, cloudless, calm. The sun dominates the scenery, the true star of the show. It’s that beautiful new spring day when the dreariness of winter has been blown aside by spring breezes and the peeking promise of summer.

I climb up into my jeep, lovingly named Daisy Jane, the same color as the radiant sun beaming down. She is stripped of her sides and top, open wide for adventure. I giggle. I pretty much giggle every time I climb into her, my bright yellow Jeep slathered in stickers about kindness and joy. Daisy Jane is my partner in crime. Driving her can make even a trip to the grocery store an adventure.

Today is a bit different. We have no errand to run, no appointment to make. We are just cutting loose on this beautiful day, no goal in mind. Just a spring breeze, a sunny sky, and a girl and her Jeep.

We drive. And drive. And drive. With no destination in mind and no timetable to keep, we soar up mountain roads, clip past newly-planted pastures, and wave to the local church’s yard sale attendees.

I’m not a “car girl”. I’ve never loved a vehicle before. But Daisy Jane is different. With the top down, gliding through the country roads, I feel like she is a kindred spirit. There is a sense of wildness, freedom and it feels like she’s a friend along for the ride. The open air, hair whipping in the wind, the sunshine kissing my skin, I feel more of a kinship with the Americana I cruise through. A little bit freer. A little bit wilder. A little bit younger.

I have no idea where I am. I have purposefully chosen twists and turns I’ve never traversed before. My intention is to become fully and completely lost.

I click on the playlist I’ve made just for today. Springsteen’s gravely, raw energy, matched by The Big Man’s soulful sax, permeates the countryside. Mellencamp is up next, crooning his odes to the American heartlands where I grew up and went to school. I’m transcended back, back back. The years peel away and I’m a 21 year old college kid, watching him pick up a guitar in a local pub. Then James Taylor. Then….then…then….

Song by song, memory by memory, turn by turn on the bucolic roads I slough off the layers of adult life. As the music blasts and the miles pass, more and more of daily life slips away, like dust in the wind.

With each unexplored curve and stretch I shed the sense of responsibility and recover the last wonder of youth. I sing the soundtrack of my youth loudly, off key, and with pure abandon. I am fully tapped into the sense of adventure, possibility and limitless optimism. I am transmuted to my 20 year old self, alive, curious, simultaneously whimsical and laser focused. Audacious and courageous as can be. Never saying “can’t”, laughing at what others consider obstacles. Joyfully accomplishing it all.

Sometimes, in the midst of every day realities, I miss that girl. Some days, in the glaring light of everyday life, she feels so very far away. I can find myself missing her innocence, tenacity, that cocky-sure knowledge she will change the world.

Daisy Jane slows as we pull to a 4 way stop. I turn down the music, and look around. I realize I know right where I am. After three hours of intentionally aimless driving, I have somehow landed right back in the middle of the familiar.

I breathe deeply, and turn on my blinker, heading home. It’s probably time to leave the wanderlust behind for now, to return to my family, my soul-filled work, my home.

But as Daisy Jane and I drive home, there is an extra passenger in the Jeep. That carefree, passionate, ceaselessly optimistic girl is coming home with me. She’s decided to stick around for awhile. She inspires me. She grounds me and reminds me of what is right and good and always possible.

She reminds me that sometimes you need to get lost to become found.