Making Space

IMG_6778 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Papers. Everywhere papers. Notes for work, essays for school, examples of book proposals for writing. The wood pulp of my life scattered all over the floor of the room we use most. Every time I open the door to the library, my daughter sighs and gives me the side eye, then slowly shifts herself off the sofa to leave the room. There is only so much space to spread my things out, knowing I must gather them all up again by the end of the day.

My friend Ann suggested I read the chapter “Arrange” in her book On Being a Writer. If you’re not a writer, stick with me. We’re going somewhere. At the end of the chapter, Ann and co-author Charity Craig, suggest identifying a writer whose writing life we admire, and writing an essay about the feelings of jealousy or envy it creates in us. It took me less than one second to identify the writer whose writing life I most admire. So I pulled out my trusty silver glitter journal and wrote down exactly what it is about her life that I don’t see in my own.

It’s never healthy to dwell on feelings of envy, but the point is to move closer to the life I admire, rub up against it like a cat on tree, scratch the itch, observe what moves me. As I wrote, I found myself writing the word “space” over and over again. This writer has a space of her own to complete her work. She has space in her day to think, to process, to create. Bookshelves make space for her work, readers create space for her words. As I wrote, I realized it’s not so much her life I want, but rather a Kimberly-shaped space in the world. I want to know there is room for me.

Life can often feel like a game of musical chairs, where we all find ourselves scrambling to find the one last seat when the music stops, claim the one last space. As a kid, I often found myself standing on the outskirts of the room, having lost to the silenced music and the rough shoving almost immediately. Sometimes we can claim all the space in the world for our desires and goals, only to be pushed out of the way and told there is no chair, no accompanying music, no room.

I would love to tie this up neatly with a peppermint-striped bow, and say things like “There’s always room at the table” or “You just have to want it enough”, but I don’t know that those things are always true. I know women who’ve wanted a child or a life partner or a gig or a job or a ministry role with a kind of desperation I will never know. And the space created by their own desire remains open like a wound. We have a sacred space within that longs for a sacred space without.

Madeleine L’Engle says in her book Walking on Water, “How many artists, in the eyes of the world, have been less than whole…The great artists have gained their wholeness through their wounds.” I would say, how many of us have been less than whole?  The great women I know, have gained their wholeness through their wounds. How many of us are a space waiting to be filled, or want a space to open up in the world for us?

Moving in the direction of desire, opens us to our wounds. It just does. So as I seek to create space in my life, I know I’ll have to plumb some of the depths I prefer to ignore. Maybe there is a Kimberly shaped space, and maybe there isn’t, but identifying my desire for it is the first step in it coming to fruition.

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What has envy or jealousy taught you about your desires? Who do you admire and why? What wounds do you need to address?

On Letting Go

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I watered the flowers in the dark last night, by the light of the waxing gibbous moon. I shivered in the cool air, realizing for the first time that Fall is coming soon. My hands are a sieve and time is passing through them. Summer slipped through the cracks and crevices, and a few big memories remain, but the rest dripped down and out, making room for the next season.

Fall will be a season of schedules and work and preparing for our oldest’s future. I’m afraid I will miss something. A friend asked me a medical question a few days ago, and I realized after 15 years out of the nursing field, I no longer have any answers. I told her I don’t know, I don’t have room for that, the answers poured through the sieve many years ago. I had to let them go in order to make room for all the other bits of information and memories and tasks of my real life. I don’t have room to hold onto the former.

When the cool air hit my face last night, it slapped me awake. I don’t want to miss my favorite season, or the children growing into themselves, or me growing into myself either. I want the stories of our life to wrap themselves tight around my wrists, and to wind themselves into my hair. I hope the scent of things to come will cling to me everywhere I go, rather than the scent of what’s already lost–the parts of my life that have already passed through the strain of time. There is so much clinging to me that I simply must let go. Expectations, abandoned desires, failures, residual sadness, knowledge that no longer serves me well.

It’s time to let them pass through, rather than cling to the summer me, it’s time to embrace the next season, to tighten my focus on the coming Fall.

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Is there anything you need to release as you set your face towards the new season? What is one new thing you hope to learn, grow in, or experience in the Fall?

Unqualified

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I chose the word “Embrace” as my touchstone this year–it’s the word I return to when the view through the lens of my life grows scratched over and shadowed, when everything looks dim. I chose Embrace to walk beside me as a guide of sorts, and I hung a watercolor of my word on the wall where I’m sure to see it daily, and then I promptly forgot all about it.

Or rather, my fog-filled brain forgot, but I buried the word in the deepest parts of me and my soul remembered Embrace, my deeply-rooted guide. In a series of life-changing decisions I still don’t entirely understand, my heart beat to embrace this year and all of its opportunities, without waiting for my brain to catch up.

I often wake up before the sun and I force myself to jump out of bed at the first alarm because I know a single thought will press in and keep me bound to bed if I allow it. The thought is this: I am wholly unqualified in every area of my current life. I literally have no idea what I’m doing most days. I don’t know how to manage the calendar or the demands or the people. I don’t know how to capture the words or give good advice or read a book purely for pleasure. I don’t know how to make the hands of the clock tick slower, slower so I might have more time to look my people in the eyes and really see them.

All I know how to do is open my arms to the day, and allow Christ to enter into this day with me. I ask for daily bread and the miracle of loaves and fishes. Surely, He can multiply ability and talent. Surely, He can multiply the hours and minutes. My job is to stand ready with open arms, to fill up on the bounty and embrace it.

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Where do you feel unqualified? How are you letting Christ step into that space?

Simply Tuesday: A Book Story and Giveaway

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We spent last week sitting on a beach surrounded by surf, sand, and good books. We had a great big sky above us and a deck where we could sit and listen to the birds chatter in the marsh while the sun lowered behind them. I held every good thing from the tip of my fingers–my people, my journal, my books, even a steaming mug of tea to take the edge off the morning. Unfortunately, there was nothing to take the edge off of me.

I showed up a day later than my husband and kids, fresh off ten days away at my graduate school residency. I was all sharp edges and singed emotions. The criticism of my work and the pressure to perform well and not appear as smalltime as I really am, left me sharpened to a precise point. The better to prick you with, my dear.

I couldn’t relax or let go or turn my brain off for more than a few moments of time. I worried I’m in over my head. I worried my life is too small to write a compelling story. I worried about all the writing work and church work and family work waiting for me at home. Each brilliant sunset across the bay brought me one day closer to stepping into a life I’m not sure I have the capacity to hold.

I found myself sitting across from my husband in our favorite pancake house, tears threatening to fall, while I tried to explain how meager are my abilities and how great the desire to answer the call to work and write and parent our kids well. I may have said something like, “I can’t freaking do it all!” while smearing tears across my face with a chocolate stained napkin. Later, on the long drive home, I remembered what Emily Freeman said in her book Simply Tuesday, “To know that the work will be completely by the Spirit of God and not by my effort means I can sit down on the inside even as my hands are fast at work. It means I don’t have to keep pace with a fast-moving world even as I am engaged in the activity of it.”

I needed to remember these words on the first day of my vacation. I needed the message of this book at graduate school when a fellow student called my essay “ordinary and mundane” TO MY FACE. I needed to remember my smallness, my inability, my reliance on Christ when I sat in the driver’s seat with a car packed full of the remnants of beach memories I didn’t have the presence of mind to make.

If I had internalized the message of Simply Tuesday before my head ran away with me, I’d have remembered this, “Tuesday teaches me that part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty.”

I am home now, and as I thumb through the underlined sentences and dog-eared pages of Emily’s book, I remember my smallness is not a curse. It is an opportunity for me to allow Jesus to step into his rightful place in my life. I can rest in my inability to get it all done, and done well, while trusting in the sufficiency of Christ. I can give myself the gift of this day and allow my heart and mind join me in true rest.

Update: Amanda Holland is the winner of Emily’s book after leaving a comment on my FB page! Thanks to all who left a comment. Get yourself to a bookstore, stat:)

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If you find yourself in a similar place–in need of rest, wanting to embrace your smallness rather than fight it–I’d love to give away one copy of Emily’s new book. To enter to win a copy, leave a comment here or on instagram or my Facebook page. I’ll choose a winner in a totally unscientific manner of drawing your name out of hat.

If you just can’t wait to read the book, by all means get yourself a copy! Check out this page for more info and freebies from Emily.

Making Room for Old Plans Made New

dale roberts via kimberlanncoyle.com

Two years ago, I asked an artist friend to create a painting of Switzerland for my husband’s fortieth birthday. I took photos of my favorite view, one that belonged on the face of a postcard, and someday I hoped, on a painting. I sent the artist the photos, he sent me some sketches. I congratulated myself on a job well done.

My husband is now 42, and we live in America, and until a few days ago, we still didn’t have the painting. For 18 months we had a blank space above the sofa, left open and waiting. Eventually, we found another painting from the same artist and used it as a placeholder. But the placeholder grew on me, every time I look at it I forget it wasn’t meant to permanently steal the show. I see it as an unexpected gift, something I never knew I wanted or needed, but that fills a blank space not only on the wall, but it fills a part of my soul.

When we heard the Swiss painting was complete, we couldn’t drive there fast enough. The artist and his wife revealed it to us with a glass of wine and the light arranged to capture every nuance, every color, just so. We teared up because it’s simply that beautiful. It captures a sliver of time in our family history that was so difficult and charming and beautiful in its adversity. It’s a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. It was worth the years we spent wondering and waiting.

When we arrived home with the painting we immediately put it in the space we originally intended, removing our placeholder painting. And to my surprise, it doesn’t fit. It belongs here in this home, just as much as the memory belongs in my heart, but we need to find another place for it. The temporary art claimed its space. The new painting will find a Swiss-shaped space all its own.

I’ve discovered this kind of shifting of plans and dreams and spaces applies to more than works of art. Like you, I dream of what if’s, I plan for what could be’s. I set aside a place in my heart for the dream I imagined, and the image fits perfectly. But life comes along and fills those empty spaces with other things, good things, often times, even better things than we ever expected while dreaming.

Sometimes I feel guilty when I realize the dream has shifted, and the space filled with something good, but unexpected. I feel guilty when the things I planned for and dreamed of don’t fit exactly where I thought they should be. I’m learning that when time takes over, desires shift. Something unexpected arrives, and I must learn how to make room. Make room for the new, make room for the old, make room for dreams fulfilled–both hoped for and unexpected.

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Are you making room for something in your life? What dreams have been fulfilled? What has unexpectedly come your way?