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.

Room to Grow

Although I am in love with everything Spring, there is one day each year that sets my soul on fire. It happens after the last frost has tried to delay the season yet again, when the thick Southern pollen has stopped coating cars and driveways, and when the whole world is a bright Granny Smith apple green with freshness.

It’s the day I head to nursery, spend an hour roaming up and down aisles, and fill the truck bed with the perfect blend of flowers.

Now, I am not a gardener. I don’t till the soil and plant rows of vegetable seeds. I don’t reap a harvest of fresh fruits and tend tediously to a growing bounty.

My garden of choice is potted flowers. Each spring I will fill the ceramic pots to brimming with lively, vibrant and beautiful flowers. The pots are then lovingly spaced around the patio and deck, bringing a splash of sass to our outdoor living spaces.

My pairings tend to be random (as with many things in my life). Aside from being mindful of sun vs. shade, I mix and match at will, captivated by the colors, heights, textures of the plants.

And at the end of this glorious day of digging in the dirt, I have a dozen or so large pots, ready to spend the spring, summer and early fall with us. Every summer I lovingly tend to the pots, watching the flowers grow and grow and grow.

Until they don’t grow any more.

Every summer, my magnificent flowers fade away far too soon, unable to thrive any longer. Year after year they leave me in late July, when really they should be hanging around until September.

It took me a few seasons to realize what what going on. In my over-exuberance to have immediately full and dazzling pots, I overplanted.

I didn’t leave room to grow.

I was always in such a hurry to have the full beauty available immediately, thus cramming multiple flowers together, that I actually ended up killing my flowers. In my need for the allure NOW I didn’t allow space for natural growth.

I commited plantacide.

I gave them light and water and nutrient-dense soil. I moved them around so they’d get different degrees of light. I cared for them daily.

But I didn’t leave room for them to grow.

And so this year, I was more mindful on my magic day of planting. I bought fewer flowers. I dug more deeply into the pots. And I planted fewer flowers together so they’d have the space they need to flourish.

I do this in other areas of my life, as well. In my fervor for Life, in my desire to say a big fat “Hell Yes!” to any opportunity for adventure that comes my way, in my desire to do my work to my absolute fullest and deepest level, I overpack my schedule. Just like the flowerpots, I try to cram one more marigold, one more petunia of an activity into the day-planner. I’ll lean back, look at the chocked-full calendar with a satisfied sigh, and think, “Look at me. I’ve got it going on!”

And then the living of that jam-packed schedule comes into play, and without fail a sense of constrictiveness creeps in. Day after day of “too much” slowly strangles the joy out of the tasks and activities I was so proud to schedule.

I forgot to leave room to grow.

Reading. Writing. Coffee in the gazebo. A walk by the pond with the dogs. An extra yoga practice. These are the things that keep my soul fresh, alive, nourished. They feed my soul in the way the extra space in the pot allows for stretching. growth and the sense of expansiveness that makes it all so worth it.

That space to grow is essential to Life. Not just to a higher quality of life, but to Life itself. If you doubt this, ask my flowerpots of the past. It might be a job, a relationship, or even our own habits that box us in, but when we neglect the time and spaciousness to just be, we cannot avoid the sense of smothering that accompanies it.

Just like the flowers, some of us thrive in close communion with others, growing roots that spread quick and wide. Others of us thrive best when planted with ample capacity to grow deeply, to meander into the dark, rich soil of life.

This I know, about both flowers and people. When we rush to cram our lives with busy beauty right now, we end up short-changing our true joy in Life. We all need time, room and energy to grow. Time for our souls to meander, to go a different direction, to cover new ground with the delight of exploration.

May we each make the space in which we can grow to our absolute beauty.

No Pushover

My husband has a reputation with trees. He wants them cleared. All of them. Gone. It baffles me, and has outright angered me in the past.

In our previous home, our back lot was very wooded. Yes, it could get messy, especially in an endless fall of leaves each autumn, but it also provided beautiful lush privacy from all of our surrounding neighbors.

He cut the trees down. Every. Last. One.

Gone.

I ranted. I cried. And I never really loved my yard again.

When we moved to our new home, with lots of acreage and a very overgrown pasture, he immediately went into landscape mode, swiftly identifying which items needed to be cleared first. While I was inside picking out paint colors and organizing closets, he was outside, laying claim as master of his land.

He grew up working his grandparents’ farms, surveying land, even picking cotton. He loves the land, and his dream was to own his own little patch of Heaven.

Our new pasture was his canvas, and he was the artist. This was his opportunity to create beauty from brush. He loves his time on his tractor. His soul is deepened each weekend as he finds a corner of our property to pour his energies into.

Soon we found ourselves dancing around the age-old debate….which trees would go, and which would stay. In full disclosure, I’m not sure the word “trees” appropriately identified the thick, rambling bramble that he had to try to tame. Most were not much more than overgrown brush, strangling growth around them.

There were, however, some non-negotiables. A beautiful oak that sits at the far end of the pasture. And a few smaller ones, who seemed to be hanging on with hope, with a glimpse of being strong and mighty one day.

We walked the land. We tagged what could go and what should stay, and we came to one last, scraggly tree, in an awkward spot that really didn’t make any sense at all.

I presented the emotional reasons to keep it. He presented the very-practical reasons to pull it. And because the perfect pasture is his dream and he IS the one who cares for it all, he won. The sapling would be pulled.

The following weekend, I sat on the deck overlooking my husband working in the field he loves so deeply. Scrappy tree after rambling brush was cleared to make the land fresh and thriving. Finally all that remained to be cleared was the solitary, highly-debated seedling.

I watched as he maneuvered the tractor to run over it. As the tractor crossed over, the sapling immediately sprang back up. He circled around for another try. The tractor flattened it. The tree sprang back. I sat on the deck laughing, watching him try again and again, and each time this tiny tree righted itself to it’s full and sturdy height of 4 feet. Tiny but mighty.

It reminded me of those inflatable punching bags we had as kids, the kind with the weighted bottoms. No matter how hard you knocked it, it always bounced back upright. Or like Weebles. They wobble but they don’t fall down.

This young sprout of a tree was not to be defeated. It had staked it’s claim.

And so it remained. It’s refusal to be knocked down, pulled or otherwise removed has made it one of the favorite parts of our now healthy and thriving land.

Resilient. Stubborn. Headstrong. Deeply-rooted. Confident. Determined.

Each time I look at the tree, I see all of those things. It grows as a symbol of strength, of what it means to rise again. Of being invincible.

There is a saying that it’s not the times you get knocked down that matter, but it’s about how you rise, again and again.

Life gives us endless opportunities to rise, because it also gives us endless experiences that knock us flat.

I reflect on the times I have felt like the sapling, run over, knocked down, ungrounded.

I marvel at the times of strength when I’ve been able to bounce back up, and stand tall, and grow from each experience.

That silly tree, the little one at the base of the hill, is a living testimony to what we all have within us, a resiliency so great, that no one, NO ONE, can prevent us from rising again.

Stronger.

More stable.

And always, always growing.

PS. My husband likes to say that he decided the tree should stay put, but we really know who made the decision to stay!

Being Like Bess

I look up from my work and smile. She has taken over the yoga mat and sleeps peacefully in the sunbeam, as if the ray of light and warmth was created only for her.

She is never far. She spends her days dutifully following me from space to space. She greats me each morning as if she hadn’t just snuggled with me all night, yipping and wiggling with delight that I’m finally awake and our day together is ready to begin.

I marvel at what I’ve done to deserve her constant, steady adoration. I’m a good fur mama, I keep her warm and fed and clean and loved. But she loves me so far beyond that.

We play, but not as much as we should. We adventure, but not as much as we could. An yet, she loves me anyway.

I get busy with my days, working from home, cleaning, reading, forgetting sometimes that she is even there, quietly near, always just a few steps away.

She is at once the least intrusive and yet most loyal dog I’ve ever had. She is not a big one on cuddles, she is not demanding of attention or invasive in my space. She never forces herself upon me. What brings her peace, it seems, is simply to be close, and for me to know she’s there.

Her only goal in life is to love me and watch over me. To be present. Period.

I am in awe of her silent, steady, unwavering dedication to loving me. Unconditional companionship. Here when I’m ready.

It’s the unconditional presence that is so heart-stretching for me. Even on my busiest, most chaotic, cranky or ignoring days, there she is, just loving me.

I realize I strive to be more Bess-like in my life, and in my relationships with those I love. I think especially about my children, now busy adults, and how they don’t need me yipping at their heels demanding attention, but rather need to know that I am always right here, available when they need me or just want a hug.

I think of my soul friends and the time we spend together. I hope I can be like Bess, steady and attentive without imposing unasked-for opinions on the happenings of their lives.

I endeavor to be Bess-like for my husband, fully mindful of our life together, unconditionally accepting, always, always loving.

I aim to be present without pressure, for those I love to feel they can be exactly who they are, at any given moment. Fully themselves, fully embraced.

I am struck with wonder that Bess is like God, always nearby whether I are tuned-in or not. Ready. Waiting. Loving.

I reach my hand down from the chair, and she scoots over to rest under it. She has is satisfied that she has completed her mission today….that I know I am loved.

I wish to be like Bess.

I

Living Love

As one who is always looking for a good reason to celebrate, it comes as a shock to my friends and family that I hate Valentine’s Day.  Well, ok, hate is a bit strong, but I really don’t like it.  It seems incongruent to them that someone who lives her life to love others has a strong distaste for the “day of love” set aside each year.

And yet that is exactly the reason that I don’t like it.  It’s the “set aside” part that rubs me wrong. 

Why, oh why, would we ever choose to live a life where we need to set aside a reminder to love our people?

I believe love is the ultimate act of self-expression, creativity, and spiritual practice.  That’s far more than can be contained in a single day or through a bouquet of red roses. 

If we’re doing it right, love is in all we do. How we tend our homes, do our jobs, check in with friends, care for a sick child….all of it, all of it is love.

Imagine if we lived our lives as if Love was the central theme of every day. 

Classrooms would stay full of hearts and reminders that friendship and kindness make the world better.

We would have candlelit dinners with our partners, hanging on every word intentionally, feeling connected, even if it’s a regular old Wednesday and we’re eating frozen pizza.

We would leave little love notes for our kids, just because.  Not because they made straight As, not because they cleaned their rooms when asked, but simply because they are the greatest little loves of which we could have ever dreamed.

We would celebrate Galentines with our girlfriends often and fully and raucously, recognizing that our friendships are a true act of artistry and connection.

I, for one, want to do these things every dang day. 

Every. 

Dang. 

Day.

A few years ago my sister-in-law and I were cleaning out my childhood home after the passing of my mom and her husband. We were stopped in our tracks by the number of love notes that were scattered around their home.  Hidden in underwear drawers, in the pages of books, in a jewelry box, even the kitchen cabinet…where ever we looked we found little sticky notes of love from one to the other. 

It was clearly a kind of “hide and seek” game they played, a way of reminding each other in the midst of a normal day that love anchored it all.

It was playful. It was creative. It was captivatingly gorgeous.

As a child of the 70’s I grew up with a series of comics called, “Love is….”.  It featured two cherubic figures in a circle with hearts, declaring that day’s expression of love.  The story goes that this wildly popular cartoon began as a series of love notes from the artist to her future husband.   She would hide the doodles around the home when they were away from one another, a perpetual, playful reminder of their bond. 

My husband is a stealth romantic.  His friends and family, and even our kids, have no idea what a softy he is.  He will text me in the middle of the day from work when one of our favorite songs comes on his iPod.  He brings home a bottle of champagne just because we need to remember life is short and we should love it all the way.   He never lets a day go by without letting me feel his amazement at the life we have created together.

I have been blessed with magnificent friends, who love me spectacularly through laughter, remembrances, heart-to-hearts and ceaseless spirits of adventure. 

I shudder at the thought that we can get so caught up in the humdrum of life that we forget to love our people well.  I wince at the thought that a day set aside each February seems to level out the forgetfulness, carelessness and absentmindedness from the rest of the year. 

As I grow older, my desire to “make my way in the world” ebbs away and what flows into that space is my desire to “love my way in the world”. 

My greatest desire at this stage of the game is to love fully, creatively and deeply on a daily basis, whether it’s through words, actions, or prayers. 

And there’s just no way I can fit that into one day a year. 

I’m not even sure 365 are enough. 

But I’ll give it my best shot.

Futuring and Adventuring

On a warm, misty morning several years ago, following the first recurrence of my best friend’s cancer, we sat in our jammies, opposite sides of the sofa with toes touching under a blanket, holding steaming cups of coffee, and pondering what lay ahead.

“ I don’t know what’s coming this time, “ she said, “but I’m so glad we’ll be futuring together.”  We giggled at a word that so aptly described who we are to one another.  Whatever was to come would come to the both of us.  We were, and will always remain, a spectacular team.

As this memory popped up a few days ago, I googled the word “futuring” to see if it was a real word.  It is, indeed.  It means carefully using forethought to plan and direct actions.

Then I REALLY giggled.  You see, my sister-friend was one of the least “plan-ahead” people on the face of the Earth. Futuring was more my role.  I was the more “grounded”, strategic one of the pair.

Which brought me to the true word that defines Terri…..Adventuring.

She and I, best of friends since the age of 16, spent over 40 years of friendship living adventures on a daily basis.  Terri had an indominable sense of spontaneity, fun, and whimsy.  There was no conversation, including some of the most intense ones of our lives, that we couldn’t end with belly-busting laughter. 

Our sisterhood was formed and grew on the shared belief in the goodness of the world, and that adventures were always waiting to be had.

If one of us said, “We need an adventure,” it meant a trip needed to be planned ASAP and shenanigans were on the way.

We would end phone calls by saying, “And what adventures are you going to have today?” to remind us to have a sense of joy in all we did.

Our adventures could be a trip to TJ Maxx or a trip to see a broadway play.  It didn’t matter what the event was, what mattered was the intention of joy and excitement in all.

In true yin/yang fashion, she would light the spark, and I would make the plans.

There were times when my “futuring” mind would drive her nuts.  “Why are you always THINKING so much?”

And there were times when I wished her adventures could be a bit more thought-out (her tardiness was the stuff of legends). 

And the balance, the magical marriage of our friendship, worked.  For over 4 decades, it worked. 

One night, as she lay in hospice, I began the daunting task of going through her personal belongings.  The futuring part of my soul was frustrated, almost angry. 

After a 4 year journey with cancer, the end was not a surprise.  Despite the constant belief in miracles and magic, the end did not sneak up on us. 

How had she not prepared?  How had she not even begun the task of setting precious items aside for her boys?  Starting with her jewelry, I set things aside into separate piles.  I would see a ring she loved, and imagine it being given to a future daughter-in-law.  I held her grandmother’s engagement ring, and could envision one of the boys giving it to his daughter one day.  I sorted and itemized, and honestly, stewed a bit.  Why was I the one doing this job?  Couldn’t she have “futured” just a little bit more?

The following morning I brought in several items for her to look at and guide me on how to preserve.  She laughed and said, “Oh, you figure it out, you’re good at that planning ahead stuff.”  Well, we knew each other’s strengths, that’s for sure!

Two days later, slowly slipping further away,  we were obviously beginning the phase of her becoming in and out of “consciousness”. 

I greeted her with a hug, and as always, asked, “What adventures should we have today?”  She grinned and giggled as she slipped into sleep.

What followed for the next several hours was perhaps the greatest adventure of our lives together.  I wish I could have been inside her head, her spirit that day, but all I know is that every time she woke up, she existed in some aspect of her past.  Once she woke up enough to ask me if I had bottles made for the baby (her boys are adults).  Another time she asked me if I could get her favorite stuffed animal from childhood. I was reminded to feed her first dog. She drifted in and out of “sleep” all day, and with each awakening she existed in different time frame of her life.  Her previous house.  The dorm at college.  Had I picked up my maid-of-honor shoes yet (and, honestly, were they ugly? In case you’re wondering, they were hideous).  It went on all day.  We relived all of the major moments of her life, one chapter at a time. I drifted in and out of each time and place with her, speaking to her from the reference point of where she was at that moment, grateful I’d been a part of it all, and could be fully present with her.

I can’t imagine a greater adventure, to relive one’s life with them one last time, because you’d had the honor of being in it all along. 

And then she was gone.

As with any good partnership, it is the conglomeration of strengths that builds the whole. We “wore off” on each other through the years, sharing our spirit and perspectives. Between the two of us we had it all covered. The planner and the dreamer.

 That was us.

 The one who remembered to future, and the one who ceaselessly adventured.

 The one who grounded, and the one who flew free. 

The one who remains, and the one who is having the greatest adventure of all.

We are all a little bit of each, futurer and adventurer. The true magic of life is in the balance…the knowing when to plan, and the knowing when to throw the plans out the window. The steady and the saucy, the centered and the whirling romantic.

 May we each find and admire the perfect balances in the ones we love, as well as in ourselves.

Here’s to planning great adventures.