Light Changes Things

Before I’ve pulled back the curtains and opened the blinds each morning, everything inside my house is draped in darkness. As I walk down the hallway, my eyes rest on dog hair under the couch that seems to multiply overnight and what is left to be organized in Room #3 (Extension cords? boxes of photos? diplomas and yearbooks? Room #3 holds all those items without a specific place when we moved. In August).

Deep breath.

No matter who you are, whether you live alone or with other people, it seems all this work still needs to be done…after all this work already finished. But as the sun comes up, I can’t wait to open the blinds, as many as possible, because the light streaming in changes things. Instantly, the way I see it all is different.

mountains

Just as the morning light brightens the room and brings warmth, if I am grateful for where I am and where I used to be, unrealistic expectations or frustration over what was left undone the day or year before lessens. 2014 was a challenging year, and a lot was accomplished. Much of the difficulty came first along with fear and anxiety over what was coming next. Somehow, I settled into the upheaval after kicking and screaming a bit, knowing we were carried in the arms of God. Always. Attitudes changed and before we knew it, the dread of WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN NOW? became an excited and hopeful What now?!

God has us (even when He feels far away) and will point us in the right direction when we stop kicking Him away. Maybe when situations don’t go as we would like, instead of jumping right into the next opportunity, we take some time to look out from where we are, breathe in some fresh air, and let the light tumble in, flooding us with a new perspective.

Was 2014 a growth year for you? Why or why not? If so, how have you changed because of it?

May your 2015 be filled with health, strength and joy through the challenges it brings.

It Pays to Wait

We moved into a small, rental place after selling our house in August and a few issues popped up.

  1. fridge died the first week
  2. a front door hinge broke so the door would not close (after the new, too-large-for-the-space refrigerator was delivered and hauled away minutes later)
  3. branches fell on the house, leaving a hole in the roof (during heavy rain while we were out of town)
  4. electrical sockets stopped working
  5. the hot water heater went out

And so before long, we wondered if our landlord would stop answering our calls.

We had more than the basics, and we no longer had to fit a mortgage or repairs into our budget; that responsibility belonged to someone else, but even then I had a tough time feeling content. “God, I’m just letting you know, I hate this place,” I complained-prayed aloud when impatience stretched over me like an itchy sweater. Downsizing was the right thing for us, but my vision included moving in and having everything put away within the month…with none of these complications, of course.

We just had to wait and trust that our landlord would do what was best (waiting is hard). It took a while to relax into the goodness of that truth, the gift of someone else paying for all of it. Slowly, though, the right-sized fridge was delivered, followed by a hot water heater with all other repairs done in between. And just as slowly, boxes were unpacked and most of our belongings found a place.

Isn’t it the same when we pray, practically telling God how to solve our problem, whatever it may be? We’d rather be doing something instead of waiting around for Him to get to it (even though he’ll take care of it in the way He thinks is best, when it is best). But, I see over and over again, there is learning during the waiting — learning to trust, learning to be okay when everything around us is not. Many times, the outcome is wildly different than we imagined, and sometimes, it is also better.

So, a couple months after moving into our smaller, rental house I realized gratitude and peace settled around me like fragile bubbles blown from across the room…so quietly, I almost missed it. Even with the challenges, I’m really starting to like this place.

 

On Openness and Seeing Jesus

There was once a little chestnut pony named Openness and a tall, dark horse they called horseSeeing Jesus. One hot day, while roosters crowed across the way and a black and white cat chased a dragonfly, a woman led the horse and the pony around sections of the dusty arena. Each section was marked by a scattered pile of colorful fabric scraps and symbolized something important: one for strengths, another for weaknesses and one for opportunities.

As the little pony and the tall horse walked, their behavior seemed to change from one place to another. “Ta-da,” she said, arms stretched out, as they looked on at all that lay there, her mound of strengths: compassion, warmth, ability to listen among others, and it seemed the pony and the horse were in agreement.

But as she led them to the heap of weaknesses, she noticed Seeing Jesus took a longer path, turning in a circle before making his way there. Openness stood still, breathing it all in: lack of time, insecurity and loneliness, to name a few, but Seeing Jesus only gazed past the pile and patiently waited to move onto the next. Rather than focusing on the shortcomings of the one who led her, the tall, dark horse stood, a strong presence.

The woman moved on to the scattered pile of opportunities (she usually called them problems) and again was slowed down as Seeing Jesus took a longer, winding path. Why is she doing this again? she mused, a little annoyed to tell the truth. And it was there, Openness, the little chestnut pony, shifted from patient to uncomfortable, hooves pawing the earth and head bobbing up and down. As Seeing Jesus stood by, Openness opened his mouth and bit the horse, agitated and ready to move. Still, the tall, dark horse was steady, waiting.

After a while, she led the little chestnut pony and the tall, dark horse to the center of the dusty arena in the midst of the colorful fabric piles. There, Openness nudged up against Seeing Jesus. Where there was agitation minutes before, the little pony and the tall dark horse stood side by side.

While the black and white cat lazily rolled in the dirt, and the roosters squawked past the old oak tree, she thought.

Oftentimes, when she felt out of her comfortable place and irritable, she was more than ready to move to the next thing. Staying with it was hard, she felt afraid, and she couldn’t see anything else, but all the while Jesus was right there, steady and waiting.

Where she spent much of her time mulling over her weaknesses, it would do her good to somehow acknowledge them, keep looking forward and maybe even consider them opportunities. It was just fine if she took the longer route, her own path, and reflected along the way. And with that pile of opportunities: the one who yelled at her in line yesterday, the bills, work, misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations of herself (it was a quite a heap), well, she smiled and thought,

Sometimes it seems impossible, but it takes time and openness to see Jesus.

On Marriage: I Wish I Had Known

Years ago, someone called marriage a blessed challenge,* and I’ve always liked that. It reminded me it’s necessary for things to be hard at times, but it’s amazing, too, especially after making it through all that tough stuff. Since I am not a relationship expert but quite the expert on my own marriage, the following is some of what I’ve learned over the past 11 years. I wish I had known all of this… well, 11 years ago.
photo(15)
  1. Alone time is good for together time. During married years #1 – 3, we thought we would hurt one another’s feelings to get the heck away from one another, but now we have learned to say we need it when we need it. And then when we return after a couple hours (or days), we enjoy one another again even more. On the other hand, if we feel distant, we call it a no TV night and focus on quality time.
  2. Laugh everyday. It used to drive me crazy that Brian could make a joke out of anything. “Can’t you be serious?” I would say with a roll of the eyes. Now, I appreciate it more than ever because sometimes life gets way too complicated. I am thankful this man makes me laugh every single day, and he doesn’t even try.
  3. Making plans is a good thing, but flexibility and openness is better (which I re-learn everyday). We didn’t want children. Then, we decided we did and expected at least one by now. And now we are trying to sell our house because we haven’t grown into it…unless getting a second dog counts.
  4. The person you married will be different in the future (and so will you).  It stung to hear, “You aren’t the same person I married,” but he’s right. I’m less controlling, more authentic, stronger in the ways that count, and well, I eat differently. Years ago, the employees at the local pizza place knew our names AND our order! Now I juice and eat things like kale and beets, and he’ll actually drink a shot of green juice, too. I’m sure that’s what he meant.
  5. How you deal together during tough times makes all the difference. I hoped things would never be as hard as they were when we first married, that we would be immune like having chicken pox, and never face that craziness again. But tough times come and go and then come again. When words like hypogammaglobulinanemia and autoimmune became part of our vocabulary, Brian took my hand in his and said what was playing as he cleaned the garage. Hold on to me as we go/ as we roll down this unfamiliar road…(great song, Phillip Phillips).snowprints
  6. Listen. Trust. Speak what you love and value in the other person. I used to compete for final decision-making rights on practically everything. Several years ago, I realized my skepticism (words, yes, but even body language) tore Brian down little by little and took time to rebuild. But he is more than capable, and sometimes it’s less work to sit back, trust him and see what happens. Other times, we make decisions together. And when I see something amazing in him that he may not yet see and then speak it aloud, it is powerful and affirming.
  7. Appreciate the thought even if you don’t love the gift. I failed when Brian bought an old two seater bicycle after hearing me talk about the tandem bike I rode with my brother years ago (I didn’t exactly want one). But Brian listened to my stories, put time and money into the bike…and we actually figured out how to ride that heavy thing without falling OR yelling. And that is a marriage accomplishment.
  8. Having fun together is important, but so is doing what YOU love. Brian went skydiving and took two stand-up comedy courses. Both of these sound as appealing to me as having my toenails plucked off one by one. I watched him skydive, started a book club and meet with a writing group. We give one another space to grow by having an I-believe-in-you-even-if-it’s-not-for-me attitude.
  9. Schedule sex. Our society laughs about married couples losing the excitement of sex, but little is said about a solution that actually involves staying together. We tried spontaneity, but our schedules usually took over. So now, together, we put it on the schedule to be intentional, and everything else is bonus.
  10. Reach out to one another. There is something about sharing our fears when life requires moving into unknown territory and figuring out the next step. Brian going skydiving, fertility issues, getting and waiting for more diagnoses, surgery, waiting for our house to sell and knowing we’ll eventually move have all been big things. I can’t imagine wading through all of this by ourselves, so we connect with friends and talk to God about it, too. It’s hard to wait, but it’s brave to trust and see what happens. And you know, I didn’t always see it this way, but I am amazingly overwhelmed by our blessed challenge.*
    photo(13)
    We’ve come a long way…baby. 🙂

    *author unknown

Learning With Paintbrushes, a Canvas and Life

photo 5I recently went to one of those canvas painting classes, where participants get step-by-step instructions in order to end up with beautiful artwork after two hours. I love the creativity! The time with friends! The challenge! And each time, I eye the example piece and nod my head, thinking, You can do THIS!

I’m always excited to get started, but by the end of the night, my gusto dwindles. Although I’ve had fun, I look at my work and know its earned a place in the garage.

This is not natural to me. I’m not an artist.

In the rare case when I draw for my elementary students to explain some kind of concept, I also have to explain exactly what it is I’m trying to show them. “This (rectangle with legs) is a horse,” I say, and they respond with sad, sad, we-can-do-better-than-that looks.

So, instead of wanting to hide my work (it’s a reminder that I fell short), I’d rather reframe this experience because I really do like the everyone-can-paint-idea. We all may not be fantastic at it, but we can enjoy it.

What I’ve learned about making art (with paintbrushes, a canvas and well, in life):

1) When in doubt, ask for help. When painting a forest scene, the details on my trees looked all wrong. After getting some help and changing my technique, things looked more accurate by the time I got to the last tree (sometimes, I’m a slow learner). I also got some profound encouragement along the way.

“You’re looking at the finished product, but you’re not there, yet.” Um, yes. Always, it seems. And then, I pray because I need help.

It's messy.
It’s messy.

2) Sometimes it takes more time. How often do we look at where we are, mad that we aren’t where we think we should be? I look around at others’ progress and want to be where they appear to be– with them. When painting, I second guess myself and work too slowly, so when I get to the part that really counts, I’m slapping on details and running out of time.

3) Which brings me to—> be patient with yourself and your needs. I never have enough painting time and get so behind, I don’t even listen to the instructor anymore. It would be okay to take a break and get back to it later. Maybe I should buy the supplies and try to finish another day. It would feel scary to try it alone, but who knows what might happen?! Same thing with everyday things– forcing it sometimes just makes things worse.

I'm a work in progress.
I’m a work in progress.

4) Lose focus on perfection and have courage to make it your own. When I paint with a certain end in mind, I’m afraid I’m going to mess it up. And everyone will laugh. This time, some of my tree details took the shape of fuzzy caterpillars, so I gave one of them a smile and legs (although it felt wrong and still does, it’s growing on me). It seems like this gets easier later in life. Maybe our older and wiser self begins to care less about what others think.

5) Relax and go with the process.  I had a great time with my friend, but I didn’t relax. I was stressed and ended up with a stiff neck the next day. Putting less pressure on myself and being grateful for the experience means finding more joy in the doing. I’m still learning.

painting8Sometimes what we have in mind at the beginning of a journey takes a different path if we have the courage to let go of our expectations.

I

Space to Learn What I Already Thought I Knew

Right now, I’m in this funky place where some of what I was comfy and cozy with has been pulled out from under me before I knew what was happening. It’s a rocky place where there’s a multitude of questioning and desire for quiet–lots of time to think. My heart and mind beg for space as if I’m crammed into a box and can’t stretch and run and jump. When I have carved out time to do what I think I need (practically every day), my mind feels unsettled and races on to the next big thing without stopping to rest. This is foreign, and I’m not sure what to do with it.

I have to wonder if this all has to do with trust, here in this uncomfortable place. Trusting God the way I want to seems easy(er) when I’m okay with all that swirls around me. In this space, I’m having to learn how all over again.

I just so happened to run across this poem weeks ago when I thought I should tuck it away for another time. So glad I did. It’s exactly what I need right now, at this very moment. And you?

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ