Archives for February 2015

Practice, Excellence, and Wild Abandon

music via kimberlyanncoyle.com

They entered from the back and walked the length of the two aisles, he with the suona (Chinese horn) and she with the gaita (Galician bagpipes). She passed closest to me, swishing in her full, gold skirt with the gaita beneath her left arm. The tassles and fringe on the instrument swung with her movement, and the notes clung to the air. I’ve never heard music expressed quite like these ancient instruments performing modern arrangements.

The entire night at the symphony with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble was a revelation. I don’t know that I’ve seen artistic joy quite like it. The musicians played with such spirited enjoyment, it looked like wild abandon. It seemed like abandon too, but I know this is rarely the case with artists. They practice and practice until the notes becomes second nature, until what appears to be abandon is actually brought to life by full-on preparation.

After the concert, I replayed the musician’s movements in my mind, and I watched again how they became one with the music. I couldn’t help but think of all their collective hours of practice. The long days where fingers hurt and lungs grew weary. Where tempers flared and eyes grew heavy with exhaustion. The days when all the notes swum together.

I thought of their joy at playing just the right notes strung together, and what it takes for them to arrive at that level of perfection. The road to excellence is paved with long, hard days of repetition. Genius is born in the tedium of countless hours and days and years of practice.

I’m no genius, but I want to strive for excellence in my life. For me this looks like sitting down to write in the green chair everyday, or lacing up my running shoes and facing the dark chill of the basement. It’s renewing my wedding vows every morning, and keeping the “I promise to…” regardless of what cockamamie argument we had the previous evening. I can hardly think of what this means for my parenting. I suppose the practice is one of showing up–for middle of the night fevers and weekday frustrations and weekend heartbreaks–although a mother always prays there won’t be any.

As a Christian, I know what the hard work of practice means for my faith. It means taking up my cross daily for the glory and joy ahead. But, my eyes grow heavy from straining to see the world as it is, when I know how it should be. This is the hardest discipline of them all, I think. Most of the practice occurs in the invisible interior, whereas much of life clamors for chronos time and the physical, high-touch, hands-on practice of the exterior. I’m not very good at marrying the two by creating a physical space and practice for spirituality, focusing much more heavily on the inner workings of Christ in me.

I want all of my life’s work to create a sound that clings to the air from the instrument I carry, and I want to love the road to excellence. I want to learn to practice both the interior and the exterior work until it looks like absolute joy, like wild abandon.

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How do you practice faith in the physical or exterior? What does excellence look like for you, in any particular area of your life?

*Painting above by artist Dale O. Roberts

A Decade of Delight

pink light via kimberlyanncoyle.com

My husband came in the door, and within a few minutes of catching up, I told him I was probably, almost definitely, with some degree of certainty going to quit writing. And also–if we’re talking about life changes–when I drove down the road earlier in the morning, the thought “We need to move” popped into my head most distinctly.

I didn’t blame it on the Holy Spirit exactly, because my husband knows by now this is highly unlikely, but I left it hanging there for a minute, implying it silently. The Holy Spirit usually speaks to me about things like repentance and forgiveness and selfish ambition. This was not that. This was the spirit of Kimberly. The spirit restless with the shape of things, wrestling with the idea of life looking only a little like I dream it in my head, wrangling with turning forty.

He gave me the side eye and said, “No, we don’t.”

Then he told me some hard truths about myself. Truths I already know, but which take on more weight when he puts his finger on them and traces the outline of my particular brand of crazy. We do not need to move, he says. Wake up to your own life, lady. I may have imagined that last statement, but I believe he employed my previous tactic by implying it silently.

He told me if I’m not careful, if I don’t step out and make some sort of change within the framework of the life I’m actually living, I will find myself sitting in this exact same spot next year with nothing to show for it. Just twelve months torn off the calendar, lining the floor like crumpled paper.

This is the hard part of being rooted. I can’t pack my bag and leave this community, church, friendship, career when it grows stagnate. I feel like I’m in a perpetual holding pattern, never taking off or landing. There is something in me that longs for new and novel, for fresh and unknowable and inviting. Ordinary chafes, and yet I don’t know what steps to take to make this ordinary life feel extraordinary.

My husband does. He always has the “If it were me…” list down to three, tick them off your fingers answers. He would never let time pass without wringing every minute of purpose from it. But here’s the difference, besides the obvious he’s a do-er and I’m a thinker, I want more than minutes filled with purpose. I want crumpled up pages stained with tea and wild words and glittering moments and butter-smeared baguette crumbs.

I want pages filled with delight. Delight is where the holding pattern ends. It’s where I want this next decade to land. Delight is where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and I wake up to my life, the one I’m actually living.

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This post is part of an ongoing weekly-ish series on home, rootedness, and belonging. It may also have something to do with turning forty.

Where do you find delight in your ordinary? How do you create something new for yourself within the structure of the life you’re already living?

Teach Us

sit still via kimberlyanncoyle.com

“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.” ~TS Eliot 

I don’t regularly follow the traditions of the church calendar, so Ash Wednesday snuck in on the coat tails of the flu and strep throat as they bullied their way through my little people. Housebound with kids capable of doing nothing but watching tv and sleeping off their fevers, their illnesses gave me the opportunity to sit a bit between my pill-dispensing duties. I sat, but my thoughts moved about so much, I woke up this morning feeling exhausted.

As a writer, I sit a lot, but it’s a deceptive kind of sitting. My mind moves like a tilt-a-whirl, twirling and grasping for a thought, any thought that might be captured and put down in writing. I may have one worthwhile idea in a swarm of inconsequential ones. These worthless ones are the thoughts that threaten to take over–thoughts of dust bunnies, snacks for small group, filling the car with gas, or paper trails that need filing. It doesn’t allow much room for the thoughts that arrive like a soft slant of light in the motion and blur of the tilt-a-whirl.

You may not have as much sitting time, but I know you too dug into your pockets and pulled out crumpled tickets to hop on this ride. You too forget what it feels like to sit still with peace and hold longing. Your mind races with thoughts of no consequence, leaving no room for prayer or mindfulness or meditation. You see the slant of light, and your face inclines towards it, but you don’t know how to jump off the carnival ride to the bench sitting at the entrance, empty and waiting. The bench is for onlookers, those who appreciate the whirl of the ride, but know their place isn’t on it.

If we’re ever to warm our face in the glow of the slanted light, we need to learn how to steady our souls. We must turn off the grinding machine of our minds, and allow the stillness to teach us to both care and not to care. To care for the worthwhile thoughts and the quiet whisper of God’s Spirit. And not to care for the dust bunnies and paper trails and sink full of dirty dishes. A few days ago, I did manage a moment of stillness as I read aloud and prayed over the names of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians, now martyrs for the cause of Christ. It was the truest thing I’ve done in days, in the middle of my own whirl of unimportant crazy.

This is the kind of truth I want to experience during this season of Lent. As I look toward the glow of the cross and the resurrection, I want God to teach me how to sit still in the darkness of this season, as he teaches me not to care about the trivial, and whispers hints of what is mine to care for and carry.

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What would “teach us to sit still” look like in your life?

On skipping parties for pre-marital counseling

coffee shop via kimberlyanncoyle.com

The show Friends premiered the year I got engaged. I slipped on a diamond ring at the end of my freshman year in college. I was still one year away from embracing my second decade–a year away from a birthday with a two in front of it. I had no business thinking about marriage at that point in my life, but like many good, christian girls of the early 90’s that’s where this good girl was headed. Rather than spending my college years making the kind of girlfriends that last a lifetime, I spent those years obsessing over wedding gowns and flower arrangements. Rather than girls nights and mani-pedis and late night study sessions, I spent my evenings debating the merits of duvets vs bedspreads with a boy/man whose only interest in the topic focused on what might happen beneath them. My kids asked me recently if I attended a lot of my friend’s college parties, and I said of course not. Parties? I was too busy with premarital counseling.

In a word, it was ridiculous.

During those years, I watched Friends faithfully with my fiancé turned husband every Thursday night. We each stretched out on a blue floral hand-me-down sofa, me surrounded by my pharmacology and physiology books, him surrounded by the dog and a bag of Dorito chips. Like any twenty-something, I enjoyed the show, but it bore no resemblance to my real life. I already had the end result each of these friends longed for–a forever relationship with a significant other. For most of my early twenties, I cut myself off from everyone and everything other than college, my second-hand home, and my fledgling marriage. I had no gang of friends or Central Perk or cool apartment in Manhattan. I had night shifts at the nursing home, schoolwork, and a husband desperate to understand what to make of a wife who until recently, still considered herself a teenager.

When I heard the hoopla over Friends making its way to Netflix, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it. It felt even more out of step with who I am now. But, I interrupted my regularly scheduled programming to watch an episode while running on the treadmill. Then I watched another and another. After making my way well into season two, I realized that the first time I watched the series, I entirely missed the point. (This is the story of my life. I missed the point of my entire second decade.) I thought it was all about reaching an end goal, about biding your time until the right romantic relationship came along to sweep you off your feet and carry you into your “real” life.

It turns out, Friends is not about the end goal, it’s about the journey. It’s about knowing where you belong and surrounding yourself with people who belong there too. Sure, real life happens in marriage and parenting, but real life also happens with roommates in cool Manhattan apartments. It happens around foosball tables and cups of coffee and staring across the balcony at the weird neighbors. I thought I’d given up my chance on this kind of friendship when I traded it in for a series of terrible jobs and an early start at motherhood and marriage. But, I think I might be wrong about this assumption.

After watching a number of episodes, I see the appeal for a generation of twenty, now forty-somethings. I know I’ll never have the apartment or the coffee shop with a velvet covered sofa in Manhattan. But, I’m increasingly curious about how I can incorporate the bigger lessons of friendship and belonging into a life deeply committed to my kids and my marriage. I want to explore what this might look like in reverse, while bringing the best parts of my very authentic, very conventional, very happy life with me.

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This post is one in an ongoing series of essays on home and belonging.

Have you watched the show? What was/is your experience with this kind of friendship?

Burdens We’re not Called to Carry

rock via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I would love to be one of these people who hop out of bed with a bluebird on their shoulder. Instead, I get out of bed, and I feel the throbbing of teeth clenched tight throughout the night. My jaw aches every morning. I have the tell-tale signs of a woman who just might grind her teeth to little nubs if I don’t begin wearing a night guard, or in an alternate universe, I become someone who experiences stress free living.

I woke up this morning with the usual sore jaw and an appointment at the dentist. He once asked me why I’m so stressed, and I stammered something silly about teenagers and desperate housewives and the catch-all phrase “I’m busy”, but my truth is a little more complicated. The truth is, I don’t know what’s mine to carry.

The real cause of my stress is this broken and messy and hurting planet. I find myself incapable of knowing what I should pick up from it and what I’m meant to lay down. Do I carry the weight of the world news? The twisted “art” that serves as entertainment in this country? Or do I let those pieces fall for someone else more qualified and capable to gather, to bind up, and carry?

Do I pick up the crisis in our school district? Do I gather up and store in my body the sound of dogs barking and lockers slamming during the canine drug sweep at my daughter’s high school? Do I carry the weight of her friend’s impending brain surgery? Or hold tight to my friend’s grief at the loss of her life partner?

Do I bear the weight of my mother in law’s loneliness? My kid’s hurt feelings? My husband’s frustrating job situation? What of this is mine? What do I carry?

I forget what I own, and I gather it all up. I pack the pain in, and I store it in my very bones. In my clenched teeth. I am a desperate housewife, but I am desperate for God’s Kingdom come. Here. Now. In this heart, in this house, in this town, in this country, in this world. I want to see some of the glory now, and I am tired of waiting, tired of holding the pain close to my mouth when my mouth struggles to form the words we need to hear most. “Peace. Be still. God is with us.”

I can’t speak these words through a jaw clenched tight in fear and stress and pain. If you came here today for encouragement, all I can offer you is a word of lament. There is a place for this as a believer, a place for saying this world is too much for us with human hearts and brittle bones. The needs are so great, and our bodies aren’t built for the stooping, the gathering, the unbearable weight of the effort. There is a place for saying, Lord come quickly for I don’t know what is mine to carry.

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What is one thing you know you need to lay down? What is one thing you feel called as a believer to carry?