Snapshots of a Snow Day

snow day via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I can hear the two youngest through the ice-cold window panes. They shout something or other into the muffle of snow, their words bright spots of color against a backdrop of quiet white.

The oldest is over it–the cold, the white, the endless storm. She comes out of her room for chocolate chip pancakes. That is all.

The dog curls up on the sofa and lets out a deep sigh. His ears flop over and I want to snuggle into the curve of his back and stroke them.

The husband flies home today after five days away in Prague. I check his flight status obsessively throughout the day. All week, I try not to envy him while I sit at home snow-bound in New Jersey. I don’t succeed, especially on the day I turn forty. I wonder how he will make it up the driveway through the thick layer of fluff. I imagine him stuck at the bottom, dragging his suitcase behind him, leaving two snake-like trails all the way to the front door. He will wear shoes entirely wrong for the weather we’re experiencing.

I sit at the kitchen table in my pajamas, computer open, pretending I’m “working”. I realize the only work I’m fit for is personal shopping. I drink six cups of tea and start to feel the jitters. I look up a recipe for making a whole chicken in a slow-cooker. I gather the ingredients then empty the dishwasher. This is the extent of my work today–dishes, phone calls, and a few loads of laundry while the scent of garlic and wine fill the kitchen.

Most days this does not feel like enough, but today, I decide to release the feelings of never-enough. I open my hands and I let go. Today, while the skies sift powder like a sieve, may the filling of bellies and the practiced work of my hands and the warmth of my presence be enough for them and for me.

……….

I share most of my everyday snapshots on instagram, but in an effort to shake loose the knots in my creativity, I thought it might be fun to share a few here in word form too. I love reading about other people’s everyday. Would you share a snapshot of your day in the comments?

On Turning Forty and a Few Things I Learned Along the Way

side by side via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I grew up three turns and around the bend from a tiny, local zoo. I wrote a little about it here. It housed your standard petting zoo critters, along with a strange array of everyday animals like raccoons and owls, in cages close to water buffalo enclosures or your scary “big cat”. As a tween, I volunteered at the zoo mucking out cages, feeding mice to the birds of prey, and dodging animals with a cage-crazy look in their eye. I experienced a few near misses with a vulture, a raccoon, and a monkey, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but is actually the beginning of a series of stories which no one believes but me.

How I, a lover of books and all things neat and tidy, ended up volunteering to handle dead mice, shovel poop, and dodge crazy animals remains a complete mystery to me. Somehow, I managed to make it through multiple seasons of do-good-ism in spite of a few hairy situations. It turns out I have a fairly high tolerance for things that disgust me. Rather than manure, it was a set of cue cards that did me in. The end of the volunteer season coincided with a special program for community members at the zoo. The staff lined us up, handed us a few cards with random animal facts written on them, and told us to fan out throughout the park to answer visitors questions.

I read through the cards and realized I could answer exactly zero questions posed to me by unsuspecting visitors. I could recite a few facts about the groundhog habitat, but going off script? Impossible. I wanted to know all the answers before I attempted to answer even a few of the questions. I wanted to stuff my pockets with bullet points full of them. I knew nothing but what my experience taught me–the groundhogs hid at the slightest tremor, the llama spit if you looked it in the eye, and the donkey keeled over, as if dead, with no warning.

I felt certain these were not the facts people came for–they came for real answers to honest questions. I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I saw other volunteers and visitors striking up a conversation. I walked from habitat to habitat, cue cards crumpled in my hands, hiding in plain sight.

This week, I will turn forty, and I recognize I no longer have the excuse of youth when it comes to not having the answers to life’s questions. I’m no longer a young woman, I’m just a woman, middle-aged, still afraid of giving the wrong answers, still hiding in plain sight. I thought by now I would know more, I’d have a mental file of cue cards for every relational dilemma. I’d have a pocket full of bullet points on faith and parenting and successful living, whatever that means. I’d have a career or a ministry or an advanced degree from which I might plumb the depths for wisdom.

I have none of these things, but I can offer what forty years of experience has taught me–I can’t distill life down to a few facts on cue cards. There are very few black and white answers. When raccoons attack, they go for the leg first. Love God, love others. Tea tastes better when sipped from bone china. Grace wins. The sun rising over the mountains is hope unfolding in light. We become our parents. Skinny jeans forever or baguettes forever is an either/or dilemma. Children are a heritage from the Lord. Beauty matters.

There are a few other things I could share, but that would require time and cuppa. Would you share a bit of your wisdom gained from experience with me?

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.

…………..

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.

………..

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?