Craving Balance

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“His ears were made of real rabbit fur, and beneath the fur, there were strong, bendable wires, which allowed the ears to be arranged into poses that reflected the rabbit’s mood — jaunty, tired, full of ennui.” Kate DiCamillo in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I hunch over the steering wheel, or the sink, or the weedy garden. I bend into a pose that would indicate I carry the weight of the world, when I carry only the concerns of my household and my little family. Why does the small feel so very heavy? I am tired of tasks. I am tired of lists occupying my creative spaces. I am tired of feeling like creating is a luxury, rather than a necessity. When I sat down to write this morning, I found nothing but a heap of single letters scrambled up, lying in corners. One word escaped, and I bent into the curve of it. Ennui.

ennui:a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom

Have you ever felt it? For such an enchanting word, it has the potential to be deadly. It kills Charisma. Joy. Imagination. Originality. Ennui tells us nothing matters. It says, we are the check list. We are the tasks. We are the dead end job or difficult marriage or boredom magnet. Ennui comes from an imbalance, from having too much of one thing and not enough of another.

Sometimes ennui masquerades as laziness. It tells us we must vacate our everyday lives and fill the daily-ness of it, with a lounge chair on the beach and empty spaces on the calendar. Sometimes this is necessary, but often times, it’s not vacating we need. It is adding depth and richness back into lives that have been stripped down for the sake of productivity.

When ennui creeps into my days, I feel the urge to stop everything, when really all it calls for is a shift in my priorities. In my life, this looks like too much routine and not enough rhythm. Too many duties and not enough pleasure. I’m especially susceptible to ennui when I deny myself the enjoyment of art or when I refuse to take a Sabbath.

We are not the tasks. We are the heart and soul flaming behind them. What makes the world come alive in you and through you? My guess is, it’s not finishing a list of tasks or reaching the bottom of your laundry basket. It’s probably finishing a chapter of a good book, or taking a hike, or listening to music, or engaging in a life-giving conversation. My guess is the antidote to ennui is a combination of hope and velvet and sweet tea and laughter.

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Are you feeling an imbalance in your life right now? If so, what is one step you could take to correct it?

Courage to Use Our Voice

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I’m dreaming again. The scenarios are different each night, otherworldly and absurd, but when I open my mouth to speak in my dream-state, the words are inevitably drowned out. In my sleep, my voice is silenced. In my waking, I feel a heaviness that won’t shift. It sits like a thick knot in my throat. In the morning, I re-imagine the knot as a bird, and I hope it will either fly away, or it will wake up and sing.

A friend once told me, if God could fashion her all over again, she wished to be born a singer. She wanted the thrill of notes strung together, words floating on nothing but air. And while I’m not a singer, I understood her desire to experience the world through song. We each need our own voice, our own unique expression, to feel past the curved edges of the earth’s sphere. The dancer’s voice is his body, the painter’s voice is her brush, the surgeon’s voice is his scalpel. The mama’s voice is her hand, speaking love with every swift move to clean or comfort or cuddle. How well I know.

For months now, I have imagined my voice coming across the page in a small project I want to create for my oldest daughter before she leaves for college in a year. I want to create a book of quotes, lyrics, scripture, and a few of my own words, carefully laid down on the pages of a journal, just for her. I want her to leave home with my words filling up the empty spaces all the other voices will fight over.

And despite my deep desire to do this, I feel paralyzed by it. Scared to begin. Worried I’ll get it wrong, or the words I find for her will be meaningless, or she’ll never understand that it is an exercise in releasing my voice as a gift to her. I want her to know that she has a voice too, and there is room for it in this world, no matter what form it takes.

Her voice will expand to fill it, if she has the courage to set it free.

I’m dreaming again. Dreaming the bird nesting in my throat will wake up and sing a song of freedom. Dreaming that my words will find the right form and take flight.

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Is there an area of your life where you feel you’ve been silenced? What’s one step you can take today to rediscover the sound of your own voice?

No Rules in the Kitchen: A Guest Post at Grace Table

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My dad raved about my mother’s cooking growing up. He came to the table hungry and she fed more than his stomach, she fed his soul with the southern fare of his youth. Chicken fried steak, gumbo with a homemade roux, and heaping bowls of red beans and rice. She baked dessert every few nights, so our home always held the lingering scent of chocolate chip cookies or brownies made from scratch. He sipped from a glass of never-ending sweet tea, until it came time to switch to milk. Sweet tea isn’t nearly as satisfying for dunking cookies. Her food was pure comfort, a place to settle in and rest…

You may already know that I haven’t inherited my mother’s cooking skills, much to my children’s chagrin. To read the rest of the story, hop on over to GraceTable, one of the loveliest tables on the internet where you can pull up a chair and meet the most hospitable writers, readers, and cooks. Join me there?

Community Matters

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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. Where kids walk to each other’s house or Ava’s ice cream or Bella’s Burger Shack after school to hang out together. The soaring white steeple of the old community stalwart, the local Presbyterian church, is visible from my front garden. The doors are open to weddings and funerals and piano recitals and communion.

It sounds almost too good and too idyllic to be true, and yet I have sat with sorrow over my fate as a resident of this town. I have felt trapped and angry and petulant as a teenager. I decided some time ago I was fed up with this version of myself. Mothers and fathers across the world dream of this kind of life, while I regularly complained about the soccer-mom sameness of it.

I am forty-one years old, and I am still learning what it means to embrace and belong in community. I’m learning to enjoy the steeple when I wish for the grandeur of a cathedral. To meet the red-breasted robin and the striped-back chipmunk in the local park with the pleasure of familiarity, not with the wish for novelty and surprise. I am learning to anticipate the turn of the seasons and lean into the questions each season brings with it. At forty-one, I continue to learn that it is the people I bump into at the bank and the grocery store and on the bleachers that make up my small circle of influence.

My community matters.

It matters because community helps form our identity and the identity of our children. The way we spend our days, living life, shoulder to shoulder with others, is the way we spend our lives. I have wasted far too many years wishing myself out of this space, only to feel God tap me on the shoulder and whisper “This is where I have planted you. Grow deeper.”

Community matters because we have work to do here. We have children to raise, friends to cheer on, funerals to attend. We have flowers to clip, bank accounts to open, books to borrow and lend. There are streets to walk, neighborhood bbq’s to host, beauty to admire and beauty to offer. I forget this. Beauty is ours to offer–kind words, blooming gardens, shared experience, weekend invitations, the light of Christ.

It’s never too late to bloom where you’re planted. Cliché, yes, but also true. It took me ten years of living in the same New Jersey town to receive my life here, as my friend Marian likes to say. It’s never too late to admit you have something to offer and something to receive right where you’re standing. It’s never too late to call a place home.

The Ministry of a Mini-Van

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My husband sat in the driver’s seat and popped his head out of the window, saying, “Say goodbye, this might be the last time you see your car!” I touched the side of the sliding door and said, “Goodbye, faithful friend.” I tried to summon tears, but really, that’s a bit dramatic, even for me, and he drove away. He was right, he came home from the dealership without the mini-van, without the car stuffed full of a decade of goldfish crumbs and half-eaten lollipops. He came home without the car that carried my three walking hearts for the last ten years, the one that drove us endless miles across America, that captured every argument, every sweaty post-game crowd of kids, every morning goodbye.

My son recently told me when he thinks of his childhood, it’s colored with memories of Splash Mountain, eating at Cracker Barrel, and the smell of despair (his own) from too many hours spent at the mall. When I think of my kids’ childhood, I think of the mini-van. It sat at the heart of everything. I was a mini-van mom, a role I rejected and complained about initially, but one I grew into. I expanded with each deep conversation and each extra carpool kid and each trip to a new, unexplored location.

There is nothing like the ministry of a mini-van to our kids and our community.

We have entered a new season, with two teens and a tween. One kid is months away from driving. The five of us are rarely together in one place, but I still spend most of my time on the road, shuttling each one to their own activities. The mini-van served us well, but we have put that season behind us, before I feel ready. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’re in a new season before you’re knee-deep in the muck and mud of it. We have entered a new season of parenting, with our oldest only one year away from flying from our nest.

It is strange to think I’m no longer the mom wrangling three littles, or shuttling kids to elementary school. I’m no longer the mom who cuts out paper hearts or buys teacher’s gifts or takes photographs at the Daddy/Daughter dance. I’m the mom who cheers from the sidelines of their lives, while they run and run and run towards their future.

This is the goal, isn’t it? To work oneself out of a job. To move from season to season and let ourselves and our children expand into them, and grow with them, rather than fight the change.

The mini-van is an impermanent thing which gave us permanent memories. The lacrosse sticks, school books, and dirty clothes strewn around my house will not litter the floor forever. But the memories are the scent that rises, the one that brings us back to times of love and frustration and growth, this sweet smell is a fragrance we never forget. It smells like sacrifice and permanence and chocolate cake.

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Wishing all of you who love a child, and love them well, a very Happy Mother’s Day. DNA isn’t required for making a difference in the life of a child, and you dear auntie, teacher, mentor, friend, you are. So thank you for mothering our children! I’m sending many blessings and roses and virtual naps to you.