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Holey Bucket List! When Dreamers Meet Reality

18 Aug

Ah, the infamous bucket list. I’ve never met anyone who’s actually written one down, yet if you ask, just about anyone can rattle off their top five or six items. I believe we intentionally keep our lists untethered. It’s a brilliant system, really. Frees us from commitment and leaves room for updates as our world view and our sense of the ideal experience evolves. When I was a harried young mother, all I wanted was a good night’s sleep and to stay (sans children, of course) in a European castle. I’ve long-since given up on either of those ever occurring. Sleep, to me, is still a mythical suggestion, and most real castles are not the opulent fairytale fortresses of my childhood imagination. They’re cold, damp, and echo-noisy. I truly doubt people sleep in castles, except perhaps the residents of Windsor.

Lately, I’m becoming more aware of The List, whether because we’re free to travel now with the boys grown and chasing their own dreams, or because I worry about the ticking clock, and getting too old to enjoy travel. I think it’s most likely because I’ve become aware of a tiny hole in the bucket, and of the possibilities that have been leaking out. For example, in January, I had to mentally cross off “Drive through the Giant Sequoia tunnel tree” because the dang thing fell over. And this summer I learned that landslides have buried parts of California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway, a drive I’ve never had a chance to experience. They will be repaired, but the new route might not be the same.

trainsigns

Aren’t these posters perfect? The adventure of my dreams!

So, when my hubby suggested taking a train to meet his family in Colorado, I just knew it had always been on my list, and I eagerly accepted. I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic than falling to sleep to the clickety-clack of wheel and rail; quiet dinners for two, whispering to each other as a debonair waiter uncorks the wine; or watching mile after mile of scenic countryside fly past me as I wrote volumes of nature-inspired prose.

Silly, silly girl.

It started off well enough. We stepped aboard the Capitol Limited, a massive steel monster headed from D.C. to Chicago. The porter showed us to a tiny sleeping cabin, helped us stow our bags and sent us off to a fantastic dinner. We ate “family style,” which is train talk for “We don’t have a lot of room, so sit here with your new family.” Not the intimate time for two we’d expected, but okay. We chatted with a young father and his 10-year-old son over dinner while the train wended its way up through the mountains, into Harper’s Ferry and the setting sun.

We returned to our cabin to find the porter pulling out the wee prison-mattress. He turned with a smile and said, “Try to get some rest.”

Not, “Good night,” or “Sleep well.” It’s as if he knew.

My idyllic “clickety-clack” turned out to be more of a “screech, clank, clank, JOLT,” filled with stops and starts, lurches and shakes, and metal-on-metal groaning. All. Through. The. Night.

Good thing I’m not a sleeper.

I hadn’t anticipated how much traveling we’d be doing at night. One bonus to sleeplessness was that I could text my oldest as the train pulled into Pittsburgh around midnight and tell him I was waiving in his general direction. He was up, and we e-chatted as the train chugged through town. I must say, Pittsburgh at night, with its myriad bridges adorned with iridescent lighting, is a sight I’d never expected but am glad to have witnessed. I’d put it on my bucket list if I hadn’t already seen it.

the_steps

Okay, guys…what is this?

We pulled into Chicago for a layover, a story I’ll save for later, except to say I hadn’t put “Stand at the top of Willis (formerly Sears) Tower” on my list. Fortunately for me, hubby had. What a view! Chicago’s Union Station (they’re ALL called Union Station, by the way) brought an unexpected thrill for him when we stumbled across this apparent-bucket-list-item for all men. A simple stairwell, it seemed to me, but to him, you’d think we’d climbed Mt Everest.

Back on the train, this time the California Zephyr into Denver, we again had little time to take in the view before darkness fell. What scenery I did see surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. Early on I recalled the phrase, “down by the tracks” and understood its implications. Once I accepted that we wouldn’t be seeing glorious vistas start to finish, I was able to re-frame my expectations and enjoy the splashes of Americana flying past: junkyards, fancy new windmills, rickety old trailer homes, backyard trampolines, dense foliage, phenomenal murals and graffiti, farm animals, cornfields, and U.S. flags hanging from every possible brace. Glimpses of the hundreds of beautiful stories going on every day across the country. I couldn’t write, because of the jarring train and my sleep-deprived fog, but I enjoyed the glimpses.

Dining remained interesting, despite a menu that never changed. We met new “family” at every meal and swapped tales that our old families have long-since tired of. I found something to love about every guest and every attendant, and more than just their value as future novel characters. Of course, my debonair waiter with the corkscrew turned out to be a series of wise-cracking, overworked servers with orders to keep us moving along. I thought I’d lost my mind when extremely thick-accented Guillermo kept asking if I wanted “basketballs” with my meal. I never realized how much that sounds like “vegetables.” (Go ahead, say it. You know you want to: “You want basketballs with that?”)

trainview

Typical scenic view from a moving train.

The same legs on our return trip took place during the day, enabling us to see much more graffiti and farmland. Still awake, when we passed through Indianola, Nebraska in the wee hours, I used the GPS to tell me exactly where Uncle John and Aunt Peggy’s house was and watched it fly by. It gave me a strange sense of connection—picking out this little home in the darkness, knowing its sleeping inhabitants. (I knew better than to send a text this time).

Romantic? Hardly. Quiet time for two? Not a chance. Writing time? Not a word. But don’t cross Train trip across country off your list too quickly. We had a blast. While our unmet expectations could have ruined the journey, once we reeled in the fairy tale and took the world as it zipped past, we were quite glad we did it.

Will we do it again? I hope so. I’ve heard the train trip across the Rocky Mountains is quite lovely. Doesn’t it sound romantic, flitting through the snow like birds? Enjoying the clear blue skies and crisp mountain air, snuggled in our parkas while Guillermo lights the flambé?

Ah yes, add that to the list.

———–

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. — Exodus 13:21

Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down

5 Aug

Somehow, without meaning to, I took an entire month off.

Nobody was more shocked than yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I did absolutely nothing, if ever, for more than a weekend. I’m usually that guest at the family gathering who keeps stealing away to write, or the one who cancels at the last minute because of an unmet deadline. I take my laptop on retreats.

“Writing IS my relaxation,” I tell the raised eyebrows.

Just over a month ago, I was building writing projects into an upcoming two-week adventure with my husband. I looked forward to the train rides across country to Denver and back, falling asleep to the rhythmic click-clack as the rails ticked by; sitting on a quiet deck at the rental in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my writer’s brain inspired by the cool breeze and lovely view of Mt Werner; and then a week in the city, sight-seeing by day and journaling each night.

Ah, plans.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I enjoyed every minute (my next three or four blog entries will catch you up there), I did not work a single minute during that time.

Flash back to the weeks before we left. I’d taken on a deadline-driven part-time job that requires a bit of a learning curve, I had accepted three different short-story assignments (fortunately with August deadlines), and nearly took a fourth that would have been due mid-vacation. I’d also been rushing through some editing projects and wrapping up two book productions, all while our family saw the youngest through high school graduation, an Eagle Scout ceremony, and preparation and delivery to his 7-week camp counseling job deep in Virginia’s woodlands.

Frankly, my brain fried. I began forgetting words, simple words like “mailbox” and “bread,” and resorted to pointing and saying, “that thing.” I’d stop mid-sentence in conversations, wondering where in the heck I’d been heading with whatever ramblings were escaping my mouth. I reached the point where just writing my name felt creative. I worried about my mind, and my work, concerned that I wasn’t giving my customers OR my family the best of me, and with today’s hindsight, I can validate that worry. But I pushed forward, because that’s what I’ve always done.

People count on me; I must keep working.

I felt particularly overwhelmed by snippets of story and blog ideas that tried to surface, an experience that used to thrill me but had begun to scare me, because nothing really made sense or led to a real concept. Knowing I had no time to address them, and no mental strength to remember or even log them in my idea file, I simply let them go. I felt like a mom at the playground, ignoring her kid yelling “watch me!” from the top of the slide.

Just hang in there until vacation time. Then you’ll be freed to think.

But that’s not what happened.

The moment I stepped aboard that train, I stowed my laptop under the seat, where it stayed. I toted it through the streets of Chicago and onto the connecting train, where I stowed it again. It sat idle in the Colorado mountains, in the Denver hotel, and again on the train home.

red rocks

Just a tease. I have so much more to tell you about! 

I tried to feel guilty, I really did. I at least jotted down a few fleeting ideas. But in truth, I enjoyed not concentrating. We hiked a bit, slept a bit, read a LOT, took in some of God’s most amazing scenery, and greatly enjoyed the company of family. (I feel compelled here to allude to our Beers Across the Midwest adventure, but only as a suggestion of blogs to come, and without the words “a lot” because the truth is never quite as interesting as the suggestion…)

In short, I rested.

Self-imposed deadlines passed, yet the world kept turning; words went unwritten, yet my mind filled with beautiful, coherent phrases; tasks I’d considered of massive importance shrank to mere suggestion size. I swept them away with a wave of my hand.

mount evans

More teasing. 14,000 feet up, I couldn’t imagine anything more creative than what The Creator has already given us.

And do you know what? My mind healed. Not completely, but enough so that I noticed my words coming back and that story ideas made more sense. I ventured out of my awkward introvert persona enough to have real conversations with people. Conversations with a beginning, middle AND end.

Back at home, I extended my non-thinking binge until we returned from a weekend trip to pick up Woodland Counselor Boy and deliver him to Middle of Nowhere College, just east of camp. I kept reading lovely words and letting my brain rest.

Sweet Victory!

I woke up this morning ready to go again. My mind is clear, active (in a productive way) and excited about being creative again. This is what a real rest can do.

When did I buy into the idea that pushing forward and staying busy would make me more productive? Obtaining rest between obligations is a concept that goes back to, well, the Bible, in Genesis 2:2, where even God rested. Sure, I try to honor the Sabbath by not working, but I realize now it was more a freedom from doing—my mind never actually took a break. Lesson learned. Getting rest is not about taking your work somewhere else; a true VACATION is a departure from activity. Its Latin root word is vacare, meaning unoccupied, and it’s in the same family as “vacate,” or “empty.”

We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?

Do you want your mind to be more productive? Give it a rest.

———-

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. –Mark 6:31

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday America! A grateful look down ancient paths

4 Jul

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!  — Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

——

Today we celebrate the Colonies’ July 2, 1776 decision to separate from British rule (the date July 4 was added at the printer’s), and the August 2, 1776 signing (the day most signatures were attached) of the Declaration of Independence.

declarationI recently read an account of that August 2nd signing by Rhode Island delegate, William Ellery, who wrote, “I was determined to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary Charles Thomson and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance.”

Here we are, nearly 250 years later, a nation still blessed by the sacrifices of those brave men. Interestingly, we still argue about many of the same ideals that our forefathers fought over. For instance, Thomas Jefferson wanted a nation where all men could govern themselves with state rule, but Alexander Hamilton believed a strong central government was necessary to keep the people in check.

Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same, don’t they?

However, rather than launch on a history lesson of how our nation formed, let me tell you about some people I’ve been privileged to meet along my path who inspired me and helped me appreciate what it means to live in a country where the people’s rights and liberties are still valued.

First, I think of a panel discussion I attended in the early 90s, of Prisoner of War survivors from Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam, later dubbed Hanoi Hilton by those kept there. Two members of the panel impressed me significantly: Navy Commanders James Stockdale, A4 Skyhawk pilot, and George Coker, A6 Intruder co-pilot. They talked about their years of torture and how they fought to keep themselves sane through their most horrific ordeal with mutual encouragement and reminders of home. Cmdr Stockdale told a story about having to stand at attention while Vietnamese soldiers stomped on and burned the American flag. Rather than break him, the event actually strengthened him, he said, as it reminded him that in America, people could burn the flag if they wanted to, and suffer only ridicule by those who could never conceive of such an act. However, if a Vietnamese citizen tried to do the same to his own flag, he’d be killed instantly. I think of that when I hear people put down our flag, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude for those who fought (and still fight) for our right to burn it freely. Which is why I never would.

I remember on this day, an interview I conducted with a woman who escaped Communist Romania on a one-week visa to Hungary, and from Hungary to Austria and Holland in a bus luggage hold. She spent 16 months in a refugee camp before earning passage to America. She left behind a world where farmers died of starvation because all crops were turned over to the government “for the people,” a world where parents turned in children and children turned in parents for speaking against the government, and where people were ostracized for claiming to believe in God. She told me the greatest freedom she’d found in America was the freedom to say aloud that she is a Christian.

Also on this day, I recall the words of a missionary friend of mine who spent many years in Honduras, where nearly 63 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, and where, for most people, toilets, medical care and clean drinking water are mythical concepts. She said to me one day that she often cries when she walks into grocery stores in the United States, for the sheer volume of merchandise available to us, that we can even choose what type of mustard to spread on our food.

antietamI love this country and all its strengths and weaknesses. I love its diverse cultures and breathtaking terrain. I love us. We’re nuts, but we’re the good kind of nuts. My favorite glimpse of us occurred on September 12, 2001, when I drove down Interstate 95 on my way to work, flanked by flags that flew from nearly every vehicle and overpass, and then from the home fronts on the back roads. We are strong, we are more united than we might think we are, and we are blessed with every opportunity and freedom available to man. But mostly, we are blessed by 250 years of sacrifice and dedicated altruism by those who have fought to keep those opportunities available, and we have the honor of preserving for future generations the joy of living in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

And that’s what I celebrate today.

What about you?

———————-

“…‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:14-16

Sounds of an Empty Nest

14 Jun

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

I lied.

Even my husband doesn’t know . . . well, I suppose he does now. Every morning when I leave my bedroom, music greets me and pulls me down the hall and into my son’s room. There, I stare at the radio, its soft alarm light blinking at nobody, singing to an empty room.

On the bed lies the black bow tie I rushed all over town to find for him to wear at high school graduation (please, not a clip-on, Mom). Now it’s been left behind with his dress belt in a heap atop the ceremony program, reminding me he didn’t even stay home for ONE night after graduation day.

A now-familiar lump builds in my throat and I find myself sobbing. Again.

Am I actually crying over an empty nest? How can that be, when I looked forward to this so eagerly after 32 years of having sons in the home? Why all these tears when I’m so genuinely proud of this young man and the path he’s chosen? He’s ready. I thought I was as well.

Yet, I can’t put my finger on this mysterious pain. Sure, I’ll miss him. I miss his older brother, who’s been on his own for many years. But that’s not it. We’re supposed to miss them.

Perhaps part of my confusion stems from the volume of personal items he left behind, taking only what he needs for his summer counselling job at scout camp. The numerous pairs of size-14 shoes take up a lot of space and make the room seem lived-in.

A haphazard collection of books and coins lies scattered around the room, and there are clothes in the laundry basket. The entire picture seems to whisper, “I’ll be back,” as if the door will open any moment and he will nudge me aside with a sheepish apology for forgetting to turn off the alarm setting. He knows I can’t work this technology stuff.

There was a day when I could do anything. Bring storybook characters to life, locate missing socks, rescue crumpled homework from the bottom of the backpack, bring home the right flavor PopTarts. He’d look at me with such joy, making me feel like a superhero. My primary job was to be there when he needed me.

When he needed me.

I keep going back to that silk bow tie, which I pick up and caress idly. With a fresh wave of tears, I finally identify my pain. It started with this tie, the day before graduation. I recall my frantic scramble to one sold-out store after another, mumbling to myself.

He might have mentioned this than a day before the ceremony. He has a perfectly good clip-on at home. If there aren’t any to be found, he can borrow one of his father’s long ties.

All of these musings were true, and if I’d suggested any of them he would have nodded and found his own tie, because he’s easy-going that way. To be honest, he really didn’t ask for the tie. He just hinted that he preferred to tie his own. Clip-ons are for cheaters.

But in my heart, I had a mission. He needed me one more time.

. . . which is how I ended up at the tuxedo rental store buying, not just a bow tie, but a silk one. An act of desperate love that has already been forgotten. A silk token lying in a pile of cast offs.

It’s both a joyous and a painful realization. His father and I have trained him up the way he should go, and now we’re reaping the consequences. He’s got this.

He doesn’t need me.

In fact, all I can really do for him now is pray, send the occasional care package, and turn off the alarm every morning. Of course, that third item wouldn’t be necessary if someone were to switch off his program settings.

Heaven help the person who does that.

——————-

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

 

Honoring Mothers, Even My Own

11 May

I usually don’t write about my mother.  As a “Daddy’s Girl,” I’ve dedicated three or four blogs over the years to my father, flawed as he was, but I steer clear of Mom. Perhaps I do this because some aspects of our relationship still need healing, yet they never will heal completely because she’s been gone for nearly 10 years.

Most of my more recent memories of my mother involve whiskey and tears. My mom raised nine children (well, the youngest four pretty much raised each other, but that’s another story) and she carried two girls to full-term, losing them in childbirth. I cannot deny she led a tough life, but a part of me still resents that she turned to the bottle for solace.

The most poignant words I ever heard her utter were, “I’ve been pregnant 99 months of my life and all I have to show for it are varicose veins and a mountain of laundry.”

On some levels that’s a bit funny, however, because she believed it, those words pierce my heart to this day. If she could see us now, and I think she can—certainly more clearly than she could here on Earth—I know she’d be proud of her children. We’re not wealthy doctors and lawyers, but we’re all good-hearted people who work hard, and who believe in doing right and helping others. Among us you’ll find a teacher, a fisherman, a carpenter, a deacon, a store manager, a truck driver, and three very-small-business owners.

You’ll also find varying degrees of anger and resentment toward Mom. The variation comes with differences in birth order, proximity to the problem over the years, and depth of understanding regarding our Dad’s role in her demise. (Yes, there’s a book here—working on it!)

My personal struggle is with wondering how much of my childhood experiences were necessary to make me who I am today? How much of that gave my oldest brother such a compassionate heart that he relentlessly collects food and money for regular relief trips to an impoverished area of West Virginia? How much of that imbued my youngest sister with the stubbornness to pursue her college degree, one and two classes at a time over many years, after the world told her she would never be a teacher? (Today, she’s pretty much Teacher of the Year every year in my book—take THAT world!) How much of what we went through as children drives each of us to pursue dreams instead of merely money?

And mostly, I wonder how much of what we went through is Mom’s fault? She did what she thought she had to do. She made good and bad decisions, like all of us. She became trapped by some of those decisions, and it affected us. To an extent, it defines us today, but it does not define our futures. We each have a say in how much we will allow our childhoods to drive our adulthoods.

Why do I bring this up now? Lately, it’s become trendy for people who don’t celebrate Mothers’ Day, for varied and quite appropriate reasons, to assert those reasons into the conversation as if to lessen the joy of the day. In some circles, people are becoming cautious about wishing each other Happy Mother’s Day for fear of offending. I’ll admit, although I have two wonderful boys, Mother’s Day always brings a twinge of sadness for me. And I cannot imagine what the day is like for someone who has lost a child. Whoever you are, please know that my heart aches for you, not just this Sunday, but every day. For you, and for me, this is just not our day.

Taking offense is a decision, however, and I choose not to.

Because Mothers’ Day IS a sweet and special day for others. I’ve learned to appreciate a beautiful story about a wonderful mother and not feel envy, but gratefulness, because that mother created a fantastic person. I celebrate with you, mothers everywhere, for the job you’re doing. I honor you, whether you’re making good decisions or fumbling the ball right now, whether your house is spotless or a cluttered disaster, whether your kids eat Pop-Tarts or home-baked bread for breakfast. My prayer for each of you is that your children absorb your good examples with sponge-like efficiency, and learn from (but see past) your failures and short-comings. I want to encourage you to keep trying, to push forward, and to be awed and inspired by this task you’ve been given—to influence young minds and create good adults.

young mom

“And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
 That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.”

(Emily Dickenson, Hope is the thing with feathers)

Happy Mothers’ Day. May each of us find something about mothers to take joy in this Sunday.

And to my own mom, I honor you as well, for all it cost you to be my mother, our mother. I’m glad you’re no longer suffering. I want you to know we didn’t break. I’ll never understand, this side of Heaven, what that was all about, but I kinda’ like how we all turned out. We’re a tough, stubborn, witty, resilient people. Thank you for my life and for each of my siblings.

I miss you.

————————————

Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. – Proverbs 23:25

The Great Buts of Human Limitation

24 Apr

Who are you, deep down? What is it you really desire to do? What is it you’ve been putting off for years, despite the constant yearning? We all have dreams, hopes, a purpose . . .  but some of us are sitting on our buts and may never see them realized.

It seems the more I write, the more I hear from people who want to write. The more I write about peace and positive outlook, the more I hear from people craving peace and positive outlook. The more I write about jumping off the ledge to follow your dreams, the more I hear the word “but.”

But I’m too old. But I’m too young. But I’m too sick. But I’m too far in debt. But I don’t know where to start. But the kids…

I understand completely, because I’ve been there. I pined to write for 35 years, yet never stuck my head out past the margin of societal expectations. Despite having an active imagination and dreams of writing for a living, I believed the voices that said to leave my current job would be irresponsible, that making lots of money is more important than pretending to be a writer, that I might not be good enough to make it in the writing world.

But perhaps when I’m old enough to retire; but maybe if I could secure a solid offer for something first; but perhaps when the youngest graduates college…

Then, quite out of the blue, I do believe I heard the Lord tell me to get off my but(t) and start scribbling. I did, and although I wouldn’t call myself a financially successful author yet, I’m on my way and having a ball. I’m happier than I ever was when money was assured (although, depending on your spiritual foundation, one could argue that sufficient money has been assured and IS being provided, as we are not in need.)

As I walked through my neighborhood recently, I took specific notice of some trees that clearly do not conform to nature’s expectations, and it occurs to me that sometimes, despite our greatest yearnings, we make decisions based on the world’s expectations and let fears and past hurts keep us from what may be the true happiness we’re seeking, a happiness that comes from doing what we were meant to do with our lives.

So, the photos on this blog post will be larger than usual, because I want you to study them and search for your face amid the leaves.

stubborn treeThis first I call the Tree of Determination. You might say it’s a young tree with an old soul. This is a rebellious Eastern Redbud, which sports radiant purple (go figure) flowers every spring. This tree has clearly experienced a recent tragedy, yet refuses to go quietly into that good night. Notice how tall and full its new growth is. There’s nothing meek or hesitant going on here. This is how we were meant to be, alive and vibrant, pushing forward despite the negative buffeting of the world around us, and despite the passing of those who went before us. It’s okay, and quite healthy, to mourn those who are no longer with us, but we can also honor them by taking what they left behind and letting it nourish our growth.

The second is this Tree of Hope, quite possibly a Red Maple, but I’m not a tree expert so don’t write that down. When a fire stripped this pitiful thing bare last summer, I was sure someone was sharpening the axe. But the owners, who are clearly wiser than I am, burned treepruned back the branches and let it rest over the winter. This spring there is evidence of hope. It put up a small patch of growth this year, perhaps all it can muster, as if timidly testing the environment. I will track this tree’s progress over the next few years, and reblog someday with hopefully a fantastic fall display. The lesson I take from this tree is, sometimes we know where we want to go, but we’ve been burned too many times to stick our neck out there. In that case, it’s okay to go slow. Do only as much as you can right now, but move forward. Fires can and may happen, but the likelihood that they will keep happening and in the same place is not great. That picture in your mind of where you’re going? That’s your dream. Do something every day that brings you closer. Don’t give it up, even if the world mocks you or knocks you down (see picture #1). It’s YOUR dream and they can’t have it.

 

 

Finally, we have the No-longer Imprisoned Tree. I have no idea of its species, because I boxed treewas too focused on the roots of this tree to examine the leaves. Here’s a fully functioning, helpful tree. It’s tall, and straight, and even supports a swing. A giver. At one time, though, its roots were apparently boxed and tightly constrained. Sadly, the message here is one I see all too often. Many of us were once boxed and tightly constrained, but although we’ve been set free, we haven’t moved a muscle. We function, day after day, provide care and nurturing for others, but we keep our own selves confined. What’s keeping us from stretching those limbs and experiencing the freedom we’ve yearned for? Other voices? Reminders? For me it was fear of failure. Or more precisely, fear of success. I worried that if I succeeded with my first book, I’d have nothing else to say, and I’d be found out a fraud. The voice I listened to said anyone can write one book, but only a “real author” can keep the words coming. I still worry sometimes, but I know the dream is still in my heart so I’m striving to be a purple Redbud tree.

My inspiration to keep moving forward, however, comes not from trees but from three women I greatly admire. My Tree of Determination friend is Erin Elizabeth Austin a writer friend who suffers from an often debilitating disease called Lupus. She refuses to let negative events of the world dictate how she will behave, and chooses to make every healthy minute of her life count by helping others and by blooming wildly. She has just released the 11th issue of “Broken but Priceless” magazine, an uplifting and encouraging magazine for people who have, or care for loved ones with, chronic illness. And in all this, she’s so danged funny, just like a purple Redbud tree.

Aimee Gross is my Tree of Hope. She’s a fellow blogger who suffers from mental illness and chronic depression, but she’s sticking her neck out there in hopes of reaching that one person who might be looking for help in this vast internet. Aimee has a physically demaanding day job, yet she writes to inspire others in her free time. Her main message is, you’re not alone. you can overcome, we can do this together.

And my Tree of No-longer Imprisoned? That would be Michele, a strong-willed, smart, big-hearted woman whose dreams are repeatedly squelched by buffeting storms. Some of the waves have even knocked her down at times, but she resolutely stands each time and braces for the next. What she can’t see, but her friends can, is that the waves are getting weaker, further apart, and the sea is ebbing. I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when she realizes she can stretch out her limbs and take a step forward. Michele is not a writer (yet), but boy, does she have a story. I’ll keep you posted there as well.

So, a lot of words blogged today to ask, again, who are you deep-down, and what’s the next step in fulfilling your dream? I would love to hear your answers, unless there’s a “but” attached, because on this blog, we don’t sit on our buts.

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

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Book Signing Poster2Oh, two announcements! First, for those who live in the area, I will be co-sponsoring a book signing with Bea Fishback this Sunday (April 30), at Brew Republic Bierwerks in Woodbridge (near Wegman’s). If you can make it, please stop by between 1 and 3. Even if the idea of good books and fellowship doesn’t grab you, at least try the beer cheese pretzels or the crab dip—such a treat!

Breaking the Chains Cover_300 dpiAND, I’ve recently contributed two stories to the Lighthouse Bible Studies anthology “Breaking the Chains,” an uplifting place to start if anything in the blog above strikes a chord. This book addresses the spiritual attacks that keep us bound and believing things about ourselves that just ain’t true. If you want to take that first step forward, I’ll have books at the signing on Sunday, or you can order them here.

From the Peak of Round-to-it Mountain: Can’t I Just Sit Here and Enjoy the View?

6 Apr

Happy April!

I’ve missed you all so much. It’s hard to believe this page has been dormant more than three weeks, because it seems more like three months. I must admit, I approached this page with trepidation today, a little worried you may have found another blogger to spend your time with. I can’t say I blame you.

bootleg

Yep. I’m a trend setter! (In my defense, it looks a lot better when I stand…)

Do I start with an apology? An explanation?  A wild story about being imprisoned by the fashion police for wearing white ankle socks with short jeans? This last, sadly, could happen, as I keep my ankle socks closest to the front of the drawer (think lazy, pre-coffee dressing in the dark because it’s too early for major wattage) AND, all my jeans are too short, because longer ones tend to run wide, so I usually have to choose between the cinched trash bag look or the awkward strip of bare calf.

But no. My reason for ignoring my writing is much less dramatic, and much more pitiful than a prison stint in fashion jail.

You see, I’ve allowed busyness to rule my schedule rather than try to tame it with actual scheduling.

Why is this pitiful, you might ask? Well, because I’ve learned this particular lesson approximately seven thousand times now, and one might expect that at some point I would actually apply it to my lifestyle, but I can’t seem to get there.

From what I’ve learned, I apparently lack two critical talents required in the struggle to prevent busyness: a “no” button, and math skills. I love to help. I can help. I want to help. So, I tend to accept most requests for assistance. However, if I had an inkling as to how math really works, I might not so frequently accept a six-day project and pencil it in for Tuesday, or agree to a two-day edit when I’m leaving for the weekend.

Nor would I accept someone’s estimate that the piece they’re about to send me for editing is “not too long.” In my world, that phrase implies, say, an article explaining why, for the love of PETE, my no-longer-go-to dictionary has decided to change the definition of “literally” to include “figuratively.” (Not enough blank paper here to express my hidden emotions on that topic, so I’ll respectfully not approach the soap box.) However, I’m quickly learning that some folks think of “long” as the Oxford English Dictionary, and thereby, all other documents “short” by comparison. I’ve even annoyed people by not getting through their “short,” 150-page dissertation on the same day they sent it to me.

All this to say, I’m sorry I’ve been away, but my days have been ridiculously filled, and some of my nights even worse. At one point I became so busy, I actually wrote “Wash Hair” on my schedule, fearing it wouldn’t get done otherwise.

Yet learning has occurred. Let me tell you four other tidbits of wisdom I’ve acquired in the past three weeks.

best yes

It’s on the floor beside the desk because this is “To Do” Stack Number Two.

First, I will never finish it all. I find it particularly funny that my copy of the book “The Best Yes,” by Lysa TerKeurst, which teaches us to make wise, purposeful decisions for our time, is buried under a pile of paperwork I’m trying to work my way through. That’s akin to being notified by the library that your book on time management is overdue. However, I can accomplish more than I thought I could in a day (not that I really want to know that, for obvious reasons).

Second, my family is fantastic. They gave me space when I needed it, and gallantly ignored the increasing clutter and dust bunny piles throughout the house (although the jury’s still out as to whether they even noticed those – he who sees must take up the broom and all…) My husband, in particular, showed great empathy and support, mostly by letting me vent and not trying to “fix” my mess. He, too, had some trying schedules during this time. I will from here forward carry with me the sweet memory of one night after a particularly exhausting day, when both my husband and I settled down well after 10 p.m., realizing neither of us had eaten. He quickly boiled some pasta and coated it in parmesan cheese, and we nibbled sleepily while we watched nothing on television, then fell asleep, head-to-head, bowls in hand.

Third, I love (and need) to write more than I knew. I may edit well, and I can appreciate that this is where my bread and butter lies, but when I go too long without writing, my world becomes bleak and I become bleaker still. Creating gives me energy. It’s the gift God gave me for His purposes, but I often treat it like a “nice-to-have” instead of an assignment. Besides, spending all my time on other people’s creations makes me feel like a kid stuck inside during recess. I’m vowing here and now to put my own oxygen mask on regularly, so I can better serve others.

Finally, I’ve learned, again, that this is not the way God designed me to be. While all the projects I worked on over the past month were good, and I believe have the potential to DO good, I must learn to say no. God made us because He delights in us, pure and simple. To me, that means he enjoys watching me, so why would I want to spend my time frantically scurrying from task to task when I could be delighting in Him back? There are tasks He has set in front of me, specifically for me to do. They are all sitting on that “Best Yes” pile, and I’ll bet I’d be much less frenzied working on any one of them.

By God’s math, one can travel farther by slowing down, accomplish more by doing less, and live more fully by choosing simplicity over abundance.

Now that’s some math even I can appreciate.

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You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. — Haggai 1:9