Making Peace with Our Bodies

In my early twenties, a friend invited me to a performance of the Royal Ballet in London. I’d only been to the ballet once as a child, and it had left me with the impression that I was on the outside looking in on something fragile and untouchable, but so very lovely. I agreed to join her, and wondered how I would experience the ballet this second time. I thought I would find it boring. I was in the thick of raising little ones, breastfeeding, exhausted, in a silent war with my changing body. My friend sat beside me with her leg in a cast, carrying crutches. We were a jacked up pair, as we waited to watch men and women with strong, able, obedient bodies create magic.

During the performance, the prima ballerina descended an entire set of stairs en pointe. It was so stunning, I held my breath. I stole a glance at my friend and saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Afterwards, we talked about that singular moment and how it wrenched the heart right out of us with its precision and difficulty. We left one another a few moments later–she hobbled to her taxi, and I rode the Tube home tired, but transformed by beauty.

I watched the dance movie Step Up while running on the treadmill a while ago. To be fair, I’d just watched two foreign films with subtitles and an art house film so subtle, I’m still not sure anything happened. I justified Step Up by telling myself one piece of fluff entertainment couldn’t hurt, but I forgot what watching dance does to me, how it brings me to tears every time. There is something so beautiful about the connection dancers have to their bodies that moves me in a way I don’t experience with other art forms. It evokes a longing in me for a similar connection to my own body.

I’m no longer in a silent war with my body, but I also don’t feel entirely at home in it either. Over the years, I’ve taken up various practices to help me begin a conversation with myself. I took up running in my thirties, and my body told me it is strong and resilient. But, I’m also prone to age and injuries. I practiced Pilates, and my body told me it can recover from the wild ways three pregnancies affected it. My body also revealed an inherent weakness, an incurable curvature of my spine in the form of scoliosis. We’re still negotiating this discovery. Over the last year, I added occasional yoga classes to the mix. My body tells me things in the quiet, slow movements of this practice. We share secrets, and it has been healing in a new way.

But, dance? This is the one thing I’ve always wished to do, the one challenge I’ve never attempted, having no sense of natural rhythm or grace. While watching Step Up, I recognized everything I’ve ever wanted for my own body. Dancers are at home within themselves, and this is the longing from my childhood identified–to feel that pain and beauty, fragility and strength, restraint and freedom of movement are part of wholeness. This is living at peace with one’s body. This is understanding the incarnation in a new way.

I carry a tiny seed of hope that someday, dance and I will become friends, and I will learn how to express myself without the crutch of words getting in the way. My body will reveal its secrets in a tactile, earthy way, and the untouchable art will no longer be a stage or screen away.

The Significance of a Sister Circle

*Subscribers: I apologize for the glitch this morning with the emails. This version has the links to the post:) Thanks for trusting me with your inbox, and thanks for reading!

After the family funeral, one of the older women approached me in the buffet line between scooping spoons of mac and cheese and chicken piccata onto my plate. Another peppered my daughter with questions through the stall door of the church’s ladies room. A third struck up a conversation with my son while waiting to greet the family after the memorial service. They spoke as if they knew the intimate details of our lives, asking questions only a magician, or someone in the family’s inner circle, could pluck out of blue sky and thin air.

When my son turned to me with wide eyes and a questioning look during the granny brigade’s interrogation, I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. He had finally come face to face with a lifetime member of his grandmother’s infamous Sister Circle…

To read the rest of the post on lifelong friendship, join me at More To Be.

One Word 2017: Artist

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ” Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses…” ~Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

In ancient Judaism, Jewish men bound small boxes, called tefillim or phylacteries, to their forehead and their arm. These boxes contained words of the Torah printed on scraps of paper, and they served as a reminder that the words of God should be at the forefront of our minds and the inspiration for the work of our hands.

I chose the word Restore as my touchstone word for 2016, a word I believed was birthed in the heart of God for me, and I carried it with me throughout the year. I wore it strapped to my heart like a tefillin wraps around the forehead or the arm of a devout believer. I wore Restore as a symbol, a beacon to guide me in prayer, in thought, and in action. For most of the year, I wore it with desperation, while so much of what I hoped for was stripped away. A job offer, a book proposal, my confidence as a parent, a friendship, peace of mind, my voice, a sense of hope–all disappeared under the weight of this word.

I thought I held a promise, and instead I clung to a word that brought doubt and defeat. It was a difficult year of waiting and watering seeds that never seemed to grow. And yet, as the year draws to a close, I see restoration taking root. A few opportunities slipped into my open hands. Prayers for my children bore fruit. I wrote words and released them into the world. I discovered points of light guiding me in the darkness.

During this dark, imperceptible work of restoration, a deeper longing began to grow, and it birthed a word to carry with me into 2017. “Artist” is my touchstone for the New Year, the word that will serve as a beacon and symbol–a phylactery bound to my hands and feet and chest. This is a year of becoming, of creating courageous art because creation requires more than imagination, it requires a lionhearted act of courage. It is about consuming art not as a diversion, but as inspiration to create more of my own.

“And the idea of being named for an artist. A person could be reborn on the strength of that.” ~Barbara Kingsolver in Flight Pattern

I have always coveted the name Artist, but I’ve felt embarrassed and ashamed of this desire. Ashamed that I couldn’t claim this name for myself, but rather waited for someone else to give me permission and to name me.

Shame forces us into the shadows, and this year I am stepping out of the shadows and into starlight and sun. I want to live into the fullness of myself as an artist, rather than in the shadows of others’ art. This feels very vulnerable to admit out loud on the internet, but it is a first step towards a reclamation of my name. A first step towards creating courageous art.

I don’t know what this becoming will look like, but I stand ready to embrace imagination and discipline my way towards acts of creation, to step out of the shadows, to drink of the light, and let it pour out like drops feeding the lake of good and true and incarnational art.

“All of writing (and art) is a huge lake. There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. And there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys. All that matters is feeding the lake.” ~Jean Rhys in the Paris Review

….

Your word for the year may not relate to art in any way, but I want to encourage you as you enter the new year, to begin looking for ways to bring light into the shadows. Where do you find yourself hiding? What would a courageous next step look like for you in 2017? Once you’ve identified it, write it down and bind it to your heart in some way. Give yourself the name you’ve always longed to hear, feed the lake of your passion, embody courage.

Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

To read the rest of the story, please join me at (in)courage, one of my favorite spaces filled with some of the loveliest people on the internet. Want to see less competition and more women encouraging other women? Sign up here to receive daily posts from the writers of (in)courage, delivered straight to your inbox.

My Top Five Posts of 2016

I gathered a list of my top five posts of the year, a stress-free offering for you to read at your leisure–perhaps when you’re hiding in the bathroom from the children/mailman/to-do list? No judgement here. I hope you find a moment to pause during this final week of Advent as we wait with expectancy for Emmanuel, God with us.

As the year draws to a close, I want to thank you for dropping by for a virtual chat every week. If you’d like to subscribe to receive my weekly posts in your inbox, please do so in the sidebar to the right.

I’d like to try a few new things here on the blog in 2017, namely a monthly newsletter with all the bits and bobs of daily life that never make it into my posts (books! music! photos from the European archives!) I’m also toying with the idea of offering a little something to subscribers. A friend suggested an audio devotional of sorts. And while I am heinously opposed to the sound of my own voice, maybe you won’t be? I thought I’d float the idea to you, my internet besties. Would you like an audio devotional? A short devotional for reading? A literary exploration? My questionable poetry with photos from my travels in Europe?

Be a pal, and let me know what you think via email, a comment here on the blog, or via owl/carrier pigeon. On to the posts.

My Top Five Posts of 2016:

One~ Community Matters

After an afternoon ramble in the sunshine, I checked the mailbox on my walk up to the house. Once inside, I flipped the papers onto the kitchen counter, and a flyer from the local hospital slid out from underneath a pile of junk mail. The words “Community Matters” blinked up at me in brown ink.

I’m a Pennsylvania native living in New Jersey, by way of London and Zurich. I live in the safety of the suburbs, where moms sit on bleachers and chat about their summer plans while our boys run laps across the lacrosse field. Where dads show up to soccer games with their ties hanging slightly loose around their necks…(read the rest here)

Two~ When You Wish You Started Sooner

One after the other, when asked what they would do differently for the next assignment, each student said, “I’d get started sooner and stop procrastinating.” I listened from a seat in the corner of the classroom, and their lament struck a chord with me. They were all of eighteen years old, and even with our age gap, like me, they wrestled with a fear of mismanagement. Their fear manifested in sweaty palms the night before class, and questionable essays constructed between pizza slices and texting. My fear manifested in sleepless nights and rambling journal entries wondering if I’d mismanaged the past two decades of my adult life…(read the rest here)

Three~ There You Are: A Thanksgiving Welcome

She walked onto the stage with a microphone to magnify her slight Southern drawl. She looked into the eyes of the writers gathered in anxious circles below, and said, “There you are!”

She paused to let the words sink in as she opened her arms, embracing the room in welcome. “We’re so glad you’re here!”

With her words, shoulders around the room relaxed. Lips curled into smiles. We nodded at one another and to the speaker on the stage. “There you are!” she said. And we knew we’d left our homes only to arrive at a new one…(read the rest here)

Four~ When Life Turns Out Differently Than You Planned

Twelve years ago, I stood on the precipice of a decision that would shape the future of my family. Staring into the chasm between what I desired and what God desired for me, I wondered which ledge would hold my weight, or if I’d find myself lost, falling in the echo chamber in the center. Our family had made a home for ourselves in London for almost four years, and the tendrils of roots had begun to take hold. We had extended my husband’s work contract twice–this time, we needed to decide whether to stay long-term or go back home…(read the rest here)

Five~ For The One Who Isn’t Wonder Woman and Never Will Be

In my twenties, I attended a company Holiday party hosted by my husband’s then-employer. It was held in a dimly lit ballroom with a dance floor and wandering balloon artists creating phallic symbols to be worn as hats. I was nervous about meeting his colleagues for the first time because of my small-talk allergy, so I tried to make myself as pretty as possible, to offer at least the appearance of being put together…(read the rest here)