Archives for September 2017

When Waiting is Your Destination

I recently lamented to a friend about my growing sense of impatience with the current state of my work life. I no longer have any deadlines circled on the calendar–every paper, article, and book project has reached a stage of completion or been scrapped entirely. Without dates scribbled and double-starred in black pen, I find myself at loose ends, wondering what comes next. The words of Patti Smith come to mind as my calendar–starless as a cloud-cloaked sky–fills with the redundant tasks of daily life.

Smith writes, “No one expected me. Everything awaited me.

It is the most radical thought I’ve had in recent weeks. After wrestling (with much fanfare and melodrama) through the stages of grief over the loss of a professional dream, and spending too much time stroking the wild-haired head of anger, I find myself once again in a place of waiting.

As I lament the familiarity of this space, my friend reminds me that waiting isn’t a passageway to a more spacious place. It is more than a temporary hold on forward motion.

Waiting is its own destination.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote, “Waiting is the rust of the soul, implying that waiting is a time of decay, a time of gathering rust and dust, rather than a time of expectancy. Action doesn’t exist in decay, and waiting is a word of action. It requires an active and ready posture. It is an open-handed pause with the expectation that everything on the other side waits for your arrival once the good, hard work of waiting is complete.

No one expects me. No deadlines anticipate my pen to strike them through. I have no idea what comes next, and I’m beginning to see the freedom that comes with this active posture. Rather than inviting rust, I feel the slow rumble of ideas gathering in the sky. Creativity grows best in uncomfortable spaces.

Relief returns as I remind myself this is a place for renewal and strength-gathering. On the other side, everything awaits me.

……

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.”

~Isaiah 40:31

On Being Kind to Ourselves

To celebrate a special day last week, I gave myself an entire day of permission. I gave myself permission to do whatever pleases me, and to refuse anything that does not. This means I spent the better part of my birthday ignoring the dishes calling me from the sink and the silent washing machine begging to be put to use. Their voices shout, loud and demanding, so I filled the empty space with other people’s voices from the pages of a book.

I gave myself permission to read for an entire day while the kids were at school. In a manner befitting Marie Antoinette, a manner of utter indulgence, I drove to my local library and gave myself browsing rights with no time limit. I gathered an armful (eight, to be exact) of books I want to read and I brought them all home. One is a large, coffee table book of an artist’s rendering of the green pastures and white-capped mountains Switzerland. The thought of browsing through it page by page, allowing it to spark vivid memories of our time living there, gives me pleasure.

More than giving myself permission to enjoy the gift of time on my terms, I promised I would only say good things about myself all day. This played out in the battle field of my own head. I decided to reject every negative thought about my own shortcomings, every ugly thought about how frustrated I am with my meager accomplishments, every bitter word I speak about my own self. Not only did I reject these thoughts, I forced myself to replace them with a kind word, a gentle internal gesture of gratitude for the person I’ve become.

It was nearly impossible.

It felt more indulgent than anything else I experienced that day. Even the celebratory slice of carrot cake, thick with whipped cream cheese icing was easier to place in my mouth than a kind word about my own self. I hadn’t realized how ingrained the negative thought patterns have become. Why is it so hard to simply like one’s self and celebrate her? It feels undeserving somehow, and yet I am made in God’s image. I am known and loved by Him, and by family and friends too. Yet, it’s difficult to extend myself this same love, difficult to say “I am loved. I belong here. I have good and important work to do.”

I gave myself one day of permission to simply be me, to enjoy the things I love, to look in the mirror and call this creation good. It was such a small thing, but it shifted something hard and cold inside of me. Today, I want you to give yourself permission too. It may not look like an armful of books, or Swiss art, or carrot cake. But it should certainly begin with kind words of love for your self. Begin to cut new paths of good, gentle, joy-filled words about the inner person you know yourself to be. Become a raconteur of your life’s story. You’re the only one who can really tell it.

………

***As I process my recent disappointments, I’ve received so many words of encouragement from readers and friends. At the same time, my inner dialogue has been harsh, filled with “if only” statements that never end well. I resurrected this post from the archives because I need the reminder to be kind to myself and to speak life to my own soul.

Maybe you need it too?

 

SaveSave

How to Sit with both Sadness and Hope

 

“Grief may be joy misunderstood…” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

It’s nearly autumn in New Jersey. I sit under a canopy of leaves and watch as a single orange-tipped leaf floats to the ground in slow motion. It’s a season of small, delicate deaths–where the joy of reaping a harvest mingles with the sadness of the ground turning fallow once again.

This summer, my heart cradled hope in full bloom, like a basket of fresh-cut flowers. Yet, autumn has ushered in a season of dying one small death after another.

After months of planning and preparing, I opened the door on a classroom of college freshman and stepped in as a teacher rather than a student. I soon discovered teaching isn’t a part of my natural skill set. Rather than opening the door to an assumed strength, I opened the door to a weakness–the kind of weakness that makes me want to cut and run. I died to the confident vision I had of myself every time I stand behind the desk and sweat through a session.

Despite this rough start in the classroom, my inner self hummed and painted blooms on the walls of my heart. I carried inside me a private joy the color of blush pink English ramblers. After years of writing and re-writing content, my book proposal had finally made its way into the hands of publishers months earlier. All summer, I waited for news.

I learned this fall that my book will not be published. Nor will the next book I propose. Or the next. The reasons are best left contained within a trail of sad phone calls and emails. Again, I died to the vision I had of myself holding a copy of my book and smiling for the camera.

As these dreams have died, I’ve spent countless hours trying to spin new ones. But, it is autumn. A single leaf drops to remind me. In my sadness, I have found myself drawn to the story of Sarah, a woman who longed for and dreamed of children to circle around her ankles and call her Mama. A woman who, in her weakness, began to spin dreams that were birthed in grief rather than joy. For years, God’s promise to her went unfulfilled. She dreamt in partial solutions, and Ishmael was the result.

In my disappointment, I have wanted to force an Ishmael into my life. I have turned in circles looking for partial solutions when the only answer is to sit with my sadness and wait. I sit with Sarah and watch autumn unfold as summer dies to itself. I don’t want to force an answer apart from the will of God, and so I pray for a spirit of steadfastness and resilience instead.

The joy Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of lies in the knowledge that autumn lasts for a season. Spring and summer will come again. Warm winds will blow and seeds will bloom, but first autumn and winter. First dying to self, first sitting with sadness, understanding the heart of Sarah.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Letting Go as Our Kids Grow

 

Twenty four hours after pushing and groaning my way through her birth, I clicked the silver snaps on the bottom of my daughter’s onesie and wrapped her in a cotton blanket blooming with rosebuds the color of her fingertips. I slipped a matching cap over the dark peach fuzz of her head, and I cooed over her as we waited for her daddy to arrive and drive us home.

The two of us fumbled with the straps on the car seat, and I slid, tender and raw into the seat beside our baby. Side by side, apprehensive, in love, driving into the unknown.

I clutched the new car seat as my husband sped home. I had no idea then that motherhood is learning how to let go–from the first day to forever.

As I stepped across the threshold of our little brick house on Sunny Hill Lane, I held my baby wrapped in rosebuds, and I waited for someone to stop me. Someone older and wiser would surely step in and save this child from the imposter posing as her mother.

I had never felt so disoriented or disconnected from my own life with its new responsibilities, its new role, its new body. Overnight, I became someone’s mother. With two steps and the creak of a screen door, we entered our home as a family.

I had no idea what I was doing. Eighteen years later, I still don’t. Give me a toddler, an elementary aged kid, a middle grader, and I can advise you on the joys and pitfalls of each stage. Give me my own child, now posing as an adult and living in another state, and I am once again an imposter. I slip through the screen door and feel my way around the new shape of our family.

My rosebud baby is in full bloom–a garden of soft-petaled roses. I watch her unfold from a distance. At the sight of the small, empty well on the right side of her bed, I pick my way through thorns and velvet. There is a daughter-shaped space in every room. Her laughter lingers like smoke in quiet corners.

I miss her.

I realize now, she’s been preparing me for this from the first car ride home from the hospital. From the first time she ran in the opposite direction when I called her name, the first time she slept at a friend’s house, the first time she drove away with a driver’s license burning like fire in her pocket.

Until she’s a mother herself, she won’t realize the exquisite joy/pain I feel every time I pass by a mirror and see the shape of her eyes looking back at me. She doesn’t know that while I practiced letting go, I never stopped carrying her inside of me.