On the battlefield

perch via kimberlyanncoyle.com

After moving overseas, I was equal parts surprised and perplexed to discover homes in England and in Switzerland don’t use window screens. When you open the back door or the window in the bedroom, you invite the natural world to enter your home with you. After getting over my paranoia about critters flying in, I loved opening the paned window next to my breakfast table and asking the geraniums in the flower box to join me for a cup of tea. I highly recommend it. Screens bother me now that I know living without their gray mesh is an option. How did I not realize this before? I like seeing the sun rise and set without a filter, everything appears more vibrant, more in my face alive, rather than one more step removed.

When we moved back home to NJ we took down a bunch of screens from the windows, and they became my looking-glass into the miniature world of crickets and fireflies and mourning doves. We left a few up for the days when we wanted to catch a breeze without also catching mosquitoes or stinging bees. I have since learned that moving directly next to a horse farm also means moving directly into a fly-infested land reminiscent of the ten plagues of Egypt. I would let any number of people, pets, or my tchochkes go, if it meant I wouldn’t have to live with a fly swatter strapped to me like a weapon. I actually tried to kill a fly with my swatter as it landed on me. I slapped myself with it, people. It’s getting downright crazy up in here.

An unfiltered view of the world is great when you have your eyes focused on something beautiful, but it also lets in a lot of annoying, distracting, filthy critters. I’m really selective about which windows I open. We squeeze in through cracks in our open doors and slam them shut as fast as possible after we enter. We set all kinds of traps outside, and short of moving, we do everything we can to keep the plague from tainting the atmosphere of our home. Lots of days it feels like a losing battle, but unlike the flies, we live to fight another day.

It’s a lot like the battlefield of my mind, where I’ve learned how to carefully screen input from the outside world. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating if only to remind myself how boundaries lead to good mental health. I don’t watch the news very often, I don’t read trollish comments or reviews, I block haters on Facebook and un-follow them on twitter. Life is too short for meany-pants people and braggarts and constant complainers. I avoid gossip and I stay away from Pinterest on days when I think my life only unfolds in shades of monotonous gray. Fyi, Pinterest is also bad when battling PMS or on bad hair days. I have filters set up to keep me from the thoughts and anxieties that enter through the small cracks and plague me. I don’t have enough time to swat away all of the things that make me feel less than or anxious or afraid. Better to set up traps to keep them from multiplying. Better to keep them far, far away.

Today is a good day. I will hit up my favorite bloggers and scroll through my twitter feed, and read some challenging material. But pests beware, I am armed and not afraid to smack myself with some boundaries in the process.

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Do you set up filters in your everyday life to keep frustrations at bay? I’m curious what you avoid or what you add to your life to maintain healthy boundaries.

Speaking of adding things in, join me back here on Tuesday where I’ll share a little about my latest read. It’s a good one, and you don’t want to miss it.

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Asking the right questions and being someone’s answer

linked arms via kimberlyanncoyle.com

The first time she came to my house she barely spoke.

The second time she came to my house she asked me how much my new vacuum cleaner cost.

I fluttered around the answer shocked she would ask, knowing the item was ridiculously overpriced, and too embarrassed to tell her the truth. I knew how many hours she needed to work to make that kind of money.

The third time she came, she asked me what my husband does for a living.

The fourth time, she saw my daughter’s shoes scattered throughout the house and asked if I pass them along when my girl outgrows them. I do, I said, I give them to my nieces. I saw her visibly deflate before rising again to say, “Well, if you ever have too many, can you give them to me? My daughter could use them.”

It took me a long time to get used to her blunt manner and her prying questions. I still feel a little quivery on the inside when I see her, wondering what she will say next. People who ask for exactly what they want make me nervous. I like questions that come with a side-long glance, a maybe, or an upturned voice at the end of the sentence. This is how I ask most questions, any other way makes me feel as if I’m engaged in confrontation. As a result, I don’t always get what I want. In fact, I’m not sure people understand precisely what I’m asking.

I split the shoes down the middle now–my daughter owns more than enough to go around. Half go to my nieces and the other half go to the woman who had the guts to ask for them. I wonder what else she asks for from life, and what she receives as a result. She has no guile, no pride, no reason to think the answer might not be yes. She has needs and she recognizes when someone else can meet them. What is it like to approach life as a question waiting to be answered, and to approach people as the potential answer to my need? I forget how much we depend on each other, how tugging on one side of the rope brings a corresponding tug on the other end.

Whether out of pride or fear, I don’t like to ask too many questions and rely on others to be the answer. I forget my own need. But, I when I really think it through I realize I can’t do the work I want to do without you. I can’t communicate without someone on the other side of the screen reading what I write. I can’t parent well without you coming alongside me, throwing your arm around my shoulder, and telling me you’ve been there too.  I need your help carrying my load on the straight and narrow path of faith. You are a fellow traveler in this pilgrim’s progress. I want to learn how to walk a mile in your dusty, worn shoes and allow you to slip your feet into mine too. I hope I learn to ask the right questions, and accept that sometimes you are the answer. I hope one of these days when you really need me, I’ll be the answer for you.

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What questions are you asking right now? Are you someone else’s answer?

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When life wants to bully you

tug of war via kimberlyanncoyle.com

A friend and I talked recently about a couple we know struggling with significant work/life balance issues. We sympathized and tried to brainstorm a few ways to help them, until we finally concluded that regardless of the amount of help we offer, it’s simply placing a band-aid over a deep wound. Nothing we do can fix the larger issue at hand, which boils down to this: Our mutual friends allow life to happen to them, rather than making decisions that impact the way they happen to life. It’s like watching a bully push around two kids in the schoolyard, and no matter how we try to intervene or encourage them to fight back, they stand there and take it.

I reached a point about six months ago, where I didn’t want to hear about the pushing and shoving anymore. For goodness sake, I wanted to say. Take a stand, make a change, do something, anything different. But, because I love these people I said something far more gentle and Jesus-y. “I’ll pray for you,” I said, and I left it at that. Then I judged them up and down and all around for allowing themselves to be slapped around by life all the time.

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Every night for the past week, I woke up with a start. Dreams straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel come to visit in the dark. They are weird and violent and make absolutely no sense without cliff notes. I try to tease out the meaning come morning–why did my daughter’s face unzip right in front of me? Why am I crunching caramel popcorn between my abs (this could clearly never happen in real life because what abs?) Why is there a man standing there watching me refusing to move even when I threaten him with physical harm? It’s so bizarre, but in each one I sense a common thread of helplessness and vulnerability, of people watching me in impossible situations, situations in which I fail to deliver.

I think I’m afraid life is happening to me, rather than me happening to it.

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I refuse to allow life to bully me, so it’s resorted to scaring me witless in my dreams. I won’t let it to win. Can we talk straight? I’m not going to give you gentle Jesus today. I’m going to say what I should have said to my friends–if you’re struggling with a situation in your life, one you have some control over, exert your right to change your own circumstances. I’m going to give you straight up Jesus. Pick up your mat and walk, friends. Decide that you’re not going to be bullied by life, and then do something, anything about it. Sure, you should pray about it too, but for goodness sake. Jesus didn’t tell the lame man to think it over, ask his friends what they think, and intercede for a while, he told him to get up and put those legs of his to good use.

Use your brain and your opportunities and your friends and your God-given desires to push back on the bully of life. Stop trying to place a band-aid over the deepest wounds, and take a step towards healing. Yes, it requires vulnerability. Yes, you will fail to deliver. Yes, you will be afraid. Take a step, however wobbly, towards freedom anyway. Push back a little on your life, the one filled with promise and potential and orchestrated imperfectly by you. I will stand here and cheer you on until you see it through.

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Growing pains

planted via kimberlyanncoyle.com

It is Friday of the first “week” of school, if one can call it that after only two days of class. The quiet here sinks into my bones. It builds me up again after a long summer of  squabbles and hard days and incessant machinery chugging away outside my back door every day, all day. The kids leave and I miss them. The port-o-potty and piles of dirt disappear too. I don’t miss the rank odor that assaulted me every time I opened my door this summer. Port-o-potty plus humid summer heat equals death by deep breathing.

I sit inside the house and take deep cleansing breaths–fresh air only. This is September, a time to hit reset on the button, to re-evaluate our plans and schedules for the next school year. Already my inbox bulges with requests and reminders. I sigh to myself and the dog, who ignores me. The quiet sinks into his bones too. I confessed to my kids that I shed a tear or two every year on the first day of school. Watching your heart walk out the door, another year closer to leaving you, is no small thing.

After sending off my youngest for the fifth year in a row, I cried for a different reason yesterday. I realized that I’ve had four years of school days to myself. Four years of stay-at-home mothering without the children present for much of it. I let my mind wander all over that, and I started to feel a little anxious when I also realized how little I have to show for it. Sure my house is clean and the laundry gets done, but shouldn’t I be out saving the world or something? Cue the mid-life crisis.

My husband reminded me that two of those years involved international moves and the other two I spent largely single-parenting in a foreign country. So, mid-life crisis narrowly averted. Once the last page closes on the story of a year, I tend to forget how much effort went into surviving and thriving in it. This is the first year of real stability for us, the year we will let our roots grow deep, and I need to find new ways to grow along with it. Growing pains don’t subside with middle age or mothering or staying put. Regardless of how still we stand, there’s always room to grow deeper. Here’s to another year of moving in one direction or another.

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Do you have big change on the horizon? If you’re staying put, how do you keep growing? I’m very curious!

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Singing each other home

island of joy via kimberlyanncoyle.com

We saw them swaying on the dock, arms locked, mouths open in unison. As the boat pulled closer to the edge of the island, their voices floated across the water reaching our ears. Girls of all ages, t-shirt-clad and pony-tailed, sang us a welcome and a benediction. They sang my camp-bound daughters home to the island with words about God’s grace and compassion. They sang of making memories together and finding Jesus there, in the middle of them. Jesus present in their everyday on the island of joy, wooing, speaking, and walking among them. Jesus present for the swim test, the archery class, Jesus written into the letters home, his love woven into the fabric of their days.

Are you surprised to hear it made me tear up a little? I want so much for my girls to grow up surrounded by a chorus of other girls and women who sing them home. I want them to feel the camaraderie, affection, and sense of belonging that we too often miss, rushing from one thing to another, at the expense of our relationships with each other.

This summer, I had a few  difficult and vulnerable conversations with friends that reminded me how much we need one other. It reaffirmed my belief that we’re all in desperate need of a friend to link arms with, one who looks us deep in the eye, and calls us back home to our true center. The best of friends remind us that Jesus is woven into the fabric of our days, into our shared memories, our sorrows and fears and joys. Over the past few years of travel and moving, I forgot how necessary we are to one another. How much we need the women who go before us, who stay the course, and walk the path a few steps ahead, who call to us to join them and say, let’s journey together.

Come, let us journey together. Let’s grasp hands and sway to the music of time, the music of angels, the music of our own lives. Let’s look each other in the eye. Let’s listen. Let’s tell our stories to each other and to the girls following in our footprints on this journey. Let’s laugh and shout and cry and make the sound of warriors fighting for friendship and for faith. Let’s raise our voices and sing each other home.

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Do you have women who lift you up and carry you with their voice? Tell me a little about them in the comments.

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