Archives for January 2012

Sanity Check

Over the holidays, I noticed a significant increase in my anxiety level. As in, unable to sleep, racing thoughts, and PMS worthy outbursts, type of anxiety level. I thought it was the traveling, or the kids, or the fact that I was sleeping on the most uncomfortable bed known to spoiled first world residents. I turned it over and over in my mind, and I soon realized it was because I was on a self-imposed running hiatus. Well, that’s not entirely true. First, I tried to blame it on my husband, then I realized it was the running, or lack thereof, that was doing my head in.

When I started running, it was purely a vanity effort. I wanted to look decent in a bikini, and after three kids that was not going to happen on it’s own. I ran consistently for a year, then started training for a race. If you want to know the meaning of the word anxiety, sign up to run a stupidly long race when the greatest distance you’ve ever run is five miles. Anxiety reduction was certainly not a part of the equation during those five months of training. My husband still gets that deer in the headlights look every time I tell him I’m considering signing up for another one. I tell him time will heal the wound of my temporary insanity that year, but he’s never quite convinced. In light of that, it wasn’t until I’d been running for a few years, that I realized the mental health benefits of a nice long run.

Don’t get me wrong, if I could look good in a swimsuit and stay sane while sitting on the sofa eating chocolates, I would definitely go that route. Most mornings, I look at my running shoes and I sigh. Then I lace up anyway. When I began to run regularly, it was difficult to stop putting my thoughts on an endless loop of repeat, the most prevalent one being ‘When will this be over?’ But I kept at it, and now I find that I get into a zone where I’m able to shake my mind free of most of the excess and simply be in the moment. There are still times when the moment sucks or hurts or feels endless. But, the other times? The ones that feel like flying and like freedom? They are worth every ugly one times a thousand.

After a three week break, I’ve started running again, and I can feel the difference. I am sleeping better, feeling stronger, and taking anxiety out for a beating on the pavement. I’ve even decided to sign up for another race. Let the sanity begin.

Pausing the page

My youngest looks forward to Library every Monday afternoon. She brings home two books, and only two, because there is a librarian-imposed limit. I don’t understand this, as there seems to be nothing congruous about books and limits, so we supplement with our own. She loves to hear me read although she’s perfectly capable of it herself, and so we alternate paragraphs or pages. We have one rule. I am never allowed to read words written in all CAPITAL LETTERS. Capital letters are only meant for six-year olds looking for a parent-approved reason to shout.

When we stop in the middle of a book, she carefully pulls down the top of the page and slides her finger across to make a dog-eared crease. She calls it pausing the page. This is equal parts adorable and parenting fail. I need to rethink how much television this child is watching. The page folding makes me a little uncomfortable. I am old school. I like to protect the words and respect the page. I look for the nearest slip of paper, gum wrapper, or bobby pin to mark my place.
Mrs. McQ was my librarian in middle school. I remember her because she had a great figure and taught aerobics classes to students after school. I don’t know if she dog-eared or paper slipped her pages, but I remember her voice and that she always left off the reading mid-sentence because she lost herself in the story and forgot to check the clock. This I can relate to, the aerobics, not so much.
I wonder at times if my girl will find herself getting lost in the story, or if the TV, computer, or latest video game will keep her from learning how to focus long enough to be swept away. Story is so important to discovering who we are and where we fit in this world. Of course, I’ve always believed I was meant to be Jo March in Little Women, so there’s always the risk of forgetting who you are too.
The way I see it, cultivating a love of story, a love for the art of seeing life through twenty-six little letters, is a part of my job description. And apart from the ‘show them how to live like Jesus thing’, it’s the best part. Show them a great story, and then help them live one. I might not be Mrs. McQ, but I can pause a page with the best of them.  

Heart wounds

I wrote in my last post that we are facing some stuff and some things. A loved one is sick and while there is always hope, there is also a grief so deep that we find ourselves turned inside out. A few days ago I accidentally brushed against the iron and it seared the skin on my arm. It is red and raw and it will probably leave a scar. Seeing it reminds me that there are seasons when life is lived in the raw, that our hearts bear wounds that are, for a time, fresh and red and sensitive to the slightest touch.

Beneath this heart wound is the constant pulse and pull to be Home, to close the distance by an ocean and a country or two. As our hearts beat for home and healing, would you please lift a prayer on our behalf? Pray for wisdom, peace and signs and wonders too. I think I’ll probably go quiet on the subject for a while. So, if you return and find me rambling on about my beef with the laundry pile, do know that beneath the seemingly normal, we’re still living a bit sensitive to the touch.

In which I offer you hope

My husband is home. He is home, and the littlest smiles and retires Daddy’s shirt cum little girl nightgown until he is gone again. I made chocolate chip cookies and we laughed over Phil and Claire Dunphy and I complained about my sore backside. He rubbed my shoulders and we held hands in the dark. 

I tried not to be annoyed when he sent me to the mountain without him again this weekend. Some things just aren’t worth the fight. Some things are, but not this. This week we received news unexpected, and it spun us around until all we could do was hold on tight. To faith, to hope, and to each other in the dark.

If life were predictable, it would be too much to bear. Sometimes life surprises us with wonderful, and sometimes with grim. And sometimes life’s real surprise is that you’re left standing when you feel the weight of impossible on one shoulder and despair on the other.

It’s been one of those weeks.

Our shoulders are sagging under the weight of some stuff and some things. But, and this is a huge but, we build our lives on hope. On grace. On Words that say ‘Fear not’. And when everything in us wants to rebel and place our feet on fear, we stand fast in hope. We are mired in it. Not in a fairytale, happily ever after kind of way, but in the hope that God’s grace is sufficient to keep us standing and shouldering the burdens. 

What unexpected things are you trying to shoulder? How can I pray for you? 


Thin places

I was on my way to pick my kids up from school, and I stopped to take this photograph in spite of being rather late. I can’t help myself. I can’t take a drive on a clear day without stopping somewhere along the road to take a photo of the mountains. One would think after nearly two years of the same view, I would learn to stop living like a tourist.  My husband told a friend that living here, looking on the beauty of the Alps is a spiritual experience. That might sound dramatic and all existential-y, but it is true. Our friend knew just what he meant, responding by calling it a ‘thin place’.

Thin places are the ones where the line between the world we know and the one we don’t begins to blur. It is where we catch a glimpse of God’s Kingdom within the boundaries of our own. I think we can experience them in all manner of ways, they aren’t just mountain top experiences. Thin places may show up in the birth of a child, in the way you love and are loved, in your work, in the change of the seasons, in the miraculous and in the messy. The thin places are there.

I’ve been thinking about these places as I think about art. For me, good art is that which expresses a thin place. I think that is part of the role of the artist. To find the thin places. To capture them in words or music or color, to trap them behind a lens or mold them in clay. An artist sees beyond what this world is to what it should be, they see the hard and know that somewhere in that, there might be Holy too.