How to Live with Contradictions: Embrace October

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“All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.” ~Thomas Wolfe

It took me forty years to unearth this truth: Everything I hunger for is satisfied by October.

It is a study in contrasts:  warm and cold, wet and dry, blooming with life and sliding towards decay. It is glorious in its turning, changeable by nature, and I can feel the heft of it bearing down on my shoulders. It is weighty.

Each day is unknowable from the beginning and yet satisfying in its end.

October reminds me to set my face towards home. It is a returning to all the disparate, changeable sides of myself, and acknowledging that I can welcome all parts of me to be at home here. Like you, like October, I am a study in contrasts too. I am a homesick wanderer. An artist mother. A dreamy pragmatist. A lazy runner. A skeptical believer. A wise fool.

It has taken many years for me to learn the beauty of complexity and accept that this complexity is ok. It’s ok to hold all of these things within my body. It’s ok to give them a flesh and blood home.

If you find yourself struggling with some of the contradictions in your life, wondering how to feel at home within yourself again, step outside and take a deep breath of October. Take note of the warmth of the sun carried by the sharp bite of the autumn wind. Listen for the crunch of leaves beneath hibernating branches. Recognize it as a wealth of riches, a homecoming, a ripeness.

Find yourself at home within the contradictions, not in spite of them. Welcome home. Welcome October.

Faking it since 1975

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My oldest daughter is guiding me through a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. She read and analyzed the novel for English class in the spring, and initially, I promised to read alongside her to keep her company among the pages. Life intervened, and three months and a rather large library fine later, I’m finally sitting down to read the book long after she finished it. Saturday night, I texted her while she was on a date: “What is the significance of …. Is that just a weird detail or is it meaningful?” She replied that it was important, and it is a “known thing”. Known to whom, I’m not sure. Certainly not to her mother with the questionable education in English Literature.

My child is sixteen and far more educated than me in many ways. This causes no end of internal conflicts for me as the “authority” figure around this joint. In conversations with her about her school work, I find myself standing in the kitchen holding a greasy spatula or an over-flowing laundry basket wondering what I have to offer her. I often feel as if I’m missing the “known thing”, and I’m winging it on the general knowledge of spot removal, one thousand ways to cook chicken, and how not to tend a garden.

I told a friend recently, “I’m not above faking it,” and I realized this has unexpectedly become my rallying cry.  So far, my faking it has kept most of my former patients out of the morgue, three kids thriving across three countries, my marriage and home (mostly) intact, and my relationships breathing oxygenated air. Inexplicably, faking it has also landed me in a master of fine arts program for creative writing. Apparently, they are unaware I spent the better part of the ’90’s reading questionable novels with a healthy side of People magazine.

I find myself faking it a lot on this journey to discovering the “known thing”. As a kid, I naively believed that once I became an adult I would know everything–I would draw closer to flawless wisdom with age. And the more I age, the more I realize how far from flawless, how far from wise, how far from knowledgeable I truly am. The answers I once held fast, unravel with a swift tug. The facts and figures once memorized, drift away on a constant stream of new information. The dreams and plans I made, continue to shape-shift like shadows at sunset.

My hope is that faking it will eventually lead to doing it. And doing it will eventually lead to mastering it–mastering the mystery of the known thing. It takes humility to let my children lead me into the knowing, but I believe I’m better for it. And certainly more well read.

……

Are you learning anything in unexpected places?

On Leslie Knope and Wholehearted Living

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Most mornings, I run on the treadmill in my basement rather than leave the house at an ungodly hour in the biting cold. The basement is dark and cold too, but it has the added advantage of a small shelf where I perch my iPad to watch tv. I’ve run through Breaking Bad, Modern Family, Scandal, Frasier, Gilmore Girls, and Friday Night Lights, to name a few. Good stories are a powerful motivator. So is cake.

Often I find myself a good five years behind everyone else in terms of entertainment. I’m a late adopter of everything. I have a weird hang-up about following the crowd when the crowd says read this or watch that. Apparently, the statute of limitations on my crazy is up after five years. I currently enjoy everything the general public loved way back in 2010. This spring, I finally started watching Parks and Recreation. I’ve had quite a few near misses on the treadmill from laughing so hard. Humor and conveyor belts are a tricky combination.

Can I tell you how much I adore Leslie Knope? I do. I find her outlook on life utterly refreshing. She is genuine and charming and  sincere, qualities your rarely see in tv or in real life. Sarcasm, snark, and delving into our own darkness make up the majority of our entertainment these days. They permeate our culture and have become our default setting when interacting with one another. I enjoy a bit of wit and sarcasm myself, but I wish I layered it with more kindness and sincerity.

Leslie Knope reminds me that we can choose to be happy, rather than perpetually disillusioned. We can believe in each other. We can (gasp) have fun at work, and still aim for excellence. Above all, she reminds me that our ordinary lives in small towns and in small jobs within our small circles of influence can be lived out with a great passion.

I want to love my small life as much as Leslie loves hers. When I fire up the treadmill for the thousandth time in the morning, when I rouse the kids from their sleep and we go through the same motions and they are arguing/ “caring loudly at me”, when I sit down to write and all that comes to mind is exploring more about what it means to belong–I want to bring the best of myself. I want to leave the sarcasm and snark behind and live with kindness, openness, and true sincerity.

Until I started watching the show, I didn’t realize how much I need lessons in wholehearted living. Five years ago, when I lived my Swiss fantasy life and “normal” felt like a distant memory, I wasn’t ready to receive it. But today, now that my flag is no longer planted on European soil and it’s firmly rooted at the crossroads of Everyday and Ordinary, I find myself listening.

Learning to live with our whole hearts invested right where we are tells a surprisingly compelling story. How are you living wholeheartedly today?

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

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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?

February in review

February sunset via kimberlyanncoyle.com

Every month, I want to join the “What I’m into” online crowd. Or the “Things I like now” club or the “My latest finds” group. Whatever you want to call it, I want to be a part. Then I remember that I have three children in three schools with a ridiculous number of extra-curricular activities, and the only thing I’m “into”, is staying sane. Occasionally, I might manage to do that with a good book. I feel jealous when I read these posts on someone’s latest musical finds or the ten books they read this month or the twenty posts they curated for our reading pleasure. Where do they find the time? I keep people clothed and mostly fed. End of story.

However, I do love a good list, and I like to reflect on the minutiae of my life every so often. It reminds me that most of life takes place in the mundane details, not in the deeper thoughts rattling around in my head. This month, I’m linking up with Emily and friends to share the “fascinating, ridiculous, sacred, or small” for the month of February.

Here’s what I learned this month:

1. After many years of trying unsuccessfully to replicate the French “r” sound, (I either sounded like I was speaking in German or like I was hacking up phlegm. Which, ahem, is the same thing.) I found an instructor who taught me how to create the sound. It’s a vibration, not a rolling of the tongue like the Spanish, or a guttural noise like in German. I get it right about half the time, which is 50% more than before.

2. When the physical therapist says, “Your pain is our pleasure” he isn’t kidding. And also, after giving birth three times, there is almost no position too awkward if it promises relief from the never-ending pain in my arse.

3. When the physical therapist suggested I may have a hip impingement, a stress fracture, or oddly enough, an allergy to gluten, I balked at the idea of allergy testing. Apparently, I’d rather have a fissure in my bone than give up the cookies.

4. I experienced a new low when I went to the grocery store in sweatpants this month. This is the one thing I swore I would never do. When I told my friends, one of them confessed she left the house in sweatpants sans bra that morning. At least I wore my undergarments, and what with all the physical therapy and awkward positions, I consider myself winning in this situation.

5. I’m a little bit obsessed with the Enneagram, and thanks to Leigh’s post this week, I have confirmed I am a four. Living with me is a real walk in the park. Said my husband never. If you know your number, share it in the comments!

6. The song “Let It Go” from Frozen? Tears, every time. And now I know why.

7. Winter sunsets. I can’t get enough of them.