One Small Way to Steward Your Life Well

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“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~Prov 29:18

Some time ago, Christie and I met for lunch in a little village in the middle of Pennsylvania. After lunch, we strolled through an eclectic street fair selling afghans with huge dog faces printed on them, hanging next to cheap t-shirts and dreamcatchers with trailing feathers. It wasn’t really our scene, so we made our way to a garden center filled with the scent of soil and growing things.

Gardening tools, bags of bulbs, and books on planting lined the shelves inside. As we browsed and ran our hands over the garden gnomes, Christie told me that she planned and dreamed of her garden well before she knew it would exist. She gathered books, studying the care of flowering trees and the best time to plant bulbs. Long before her garden existed, the vision for it took root in her heart. She gathered garden stories like the trees gather the wind in their leaves.

Today, she tends to the garden of her dreams with a back bent toward the earth and dirt beneath her fingernails. She continues to imagine what it could be, but there is growth now, it is alive today because she dreamed and planned and read it into being.

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I’ve been on a entrepreneurial bender lately. I’ve listened to multiple podcasts on starting one’s own business, and I read a few books like #GirlBoss and Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It. At first, I thought this sudden interest in being a self-employed artist was an attempt by my subconscious to avoid doing housework or writing (this remains a very real possibility).

I don’t have any entrepreneurial leanings, nor do I have any skill set that might lead one to believe I could create and sell something. I make a wicked lop-sided coconut cake, but that’s the extent of my creative abilities. But, lately I find myself continually drawn to these concepts about using one’s gifts, setting goals, sticking to a path, and using one’s time well.

Listen, I do dirty dishes and laundry for a living. My sudden interest in running a business doesn’t make much sense in the context of my current life situation, until I began to see a recurring theme in all of the information I consumed. It sounded like a bell ringing in the distance, and it rang with the word Stewardship over and over.

The Parable of the Talents has popped into my inbox and my earbuds lately, and it’s so familiar, I tend to brush it off. However, the heartbeat of the story is stewardship–stewarding our gifts well so that we receive a return on our investment. All of this brushing up on time management and using creativity to actually create something of value doesn’t seem to have much of a practical application for me at this stage of my life. But, when I view it in terms of stewardship, I see how easily the smallest choices of how I spend my time, what I think about, and how I steward my writing and my relationships have an impact on my hope for the future.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of now. I don’t have a garden now, so why study the seasons? I don’t have a business now, so why learn how to manage my time better? I don’t have my dream now, so why stir up my belief in it? I want to live in the present, but I also want to plan well for my future.

Over the years, I’ve learned to lean into the direction of my interests and whims. When I find myself drawn to a particular subject, I lean in, I read, I study it. In doing so, I often discover useful nuggets of wisdom, and I plant them like seeds for the future. This is how a vision takes root, and grows into something alive and life-giving and fruitful.

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What are you drawn to today? What are you reading and listening to, and what themes do you see emerging? How does it fit in with your future vision? How are you stewarding your gifts and your time?

For the One Who Isn’t Wonder Woman and Never Will Be

FullSizeRenderIn my twenties, I attended a company Holiday party hosted by my husband’s then-employer. It was held in a dimly lit ballroom with a dance floor and wandering balloon artists creating phallic symbols to be worn as hats. I was nervous about meeting his colleagues for the first time because of my small-talk allergy, so I tried to make myself as pretty as possible, to offer at least the appearance of being put together.

Had I known about the pen*s-shaped balloons, I wouldn’t have worried so much. I wore an ankle length, velvet dress in a deep shade of burgundy, and around my waist I wrapped a rhinestone belt that circled once, then dropped into a long line of faux jewels hanging down like a string of glittering diamonds. The first co-worker I shook hands with looked at the trailing rhinestones, and asked if I was wearing a Lasso of Truth that evening.

Obviously I wasn’t, otherwise when I asked him if he was insulting me, his reply wouldn’t have been a hasty “No” and a fast exit. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what a Lasso of Truth was at the time. I didn’t read comic books as a girl, and so my knowledge of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth was rudimentary at best. I knew she was a superhero, but I didn’t understand why.

Before I left for my MFA residency in England last month, I quit my day job. You aren’t surprised, and neither was anyone related to me. The twenty-five hours a week I spent working as an admin assistant for five (yes, FIVE) campus pastors, became unsustainable with my husband’s new work schedule and my desire for sleep, sanity, and seeing my kids (and grad school, and running a busy household, and writing projects…). I have entered retirement, effective immediately.

I also discovered administrative work makes me feel as if I’m wearing restrictive undergarments at all times. Is this what Spanx feel like? If so, no thank you. I found myself expending an enormous amount of mental energy trying to hold everything in–the schedules, the expense reports, the emails, the to-dos, along with my own internal crazy. I’m far too relaxed about the details of life (and especially the administrative tasks related to life) to sustain that kind of work long-term. Being “organized” is a totally different animal than being administratively gifted. Lesson learned, and as usual, I learned it the hard way. Thanks, office job, for teaching me I have no future in, well, anything but the creative.

For six months, I pretended I was Wonder Woman, managing tasks at the office and managing life at home. But, one can only ask their family to eat so many take-out dinners and wear the same pair of dirty jeans on repeat so many times, before the illusion begins to wear off. In my case, it wore off pretty quickly. I wish I had it all together. I wish I could work outside the home and take care of a family and finish grad school and write in my spare time, but I can’t do it all and do it well. I just can’t. It’s very hard to admit this to one’s self, let alone admit it to the internet. But here I am, bleeding a little from my wounded imperfections onto this page, because I suspect some of you feel the same way too.

You don’t feel like Wonder Woman. You feel as if there isn’t enough of you to satisfy all the needs and expectations and desires placed on you daily. Sure, you could squeeze more into your schedule to assume something akin to “productivity”, but you don’t want to. You want breathing room. You want space. Like you, I am tired of this insane frenetic pace we’re all expected to keep, in order to do more. Trying to do more, makes me feel like I am less. Less capable, less competent, and less connected to my inner self.

A friend once said to me, on becoming an adult, “You reach a point in life where you don’t need anyone or anything to tell you who you are. You already know.” This is a lesson I’m learning in reverse. I’ve become more and more undone as an adult. Life experience has unraveled me, but I’m beginning to see myself more clearly with each success and failure. The puzzle pieces are snapping into place, and they tell the story of who I am and who I will become. I will not be Wonder Woman, and even though many of my friends manage to pull this off, this is not me.

Working outside the home wasn’t the problem, but sacrificing the hours I need to write and study, to pursue something I find incredibly life-giving, became too much of a tension for me. Through trial and error, I’m discovering who I am. I have zero employable skills apart from writing. I may not be Wonder Woman, and I may not be able to force others into the truth, but I can tell the truth about myself. Rhinestone lasso or not.

Telling The Truth in 2016

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Hello, Friends! It’s been a while.

I took an unexpected break from blogging over the holidays, and decided to extend it through my grad school residency in England. I have so much to unpack mentally, so much gathered over the last year and the last few weeks, I don’t know where to begin. Writing has become the best way for me to process my life and, ironically, my time away at school didn’t allow for much reflection or writing, apart from specific class assignments.

One of the pieces we worked on during our workshop, was to write a self-portrait in disguise, and in the second draft, introduce a swerve, something that changes the direction of the piece. I chose to disguise myself as a midwife, and then remove her sense of sight. It was weird and wonderful, and reminded me how much a sense of play and experimentation is important in writing, but also in life.

Emily Dickinson said to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…The Truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” This is how I want to live into the next year. I want to see the world, and express the truth I find there from a slant view.

I often live blind to everything but the most obvious.

I want to live into what lies beneath the surface. What is the Truth that dazzles? How can I recognize it, and tell it in such a way that it doesn’t blind us in the telling?

Telling all the truth, but telling it slant requires us to step outside of ourselves. To see the world in ways we haven’t seen it before, to taste it differently, to hear the sounds we usually ignore, to feel the emotions we’d rather bury. To play.

This past year has been all about utility, getting by, doing what needs to be done when it needs doing, practicality. This next year, I want to restore a sense of wonder and play and sight. How about you?

Finding Our True North: Asking the Right Questions to Keep Us Headed in the Right Direction

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One of the wonderful by-products of a MFA program in creative writing is the stack of books I’m required to purchase and read regularly. My husband casts a dubious glance every time another package shows up in the mailbox, and I chirp happily, “It’s for school, hon! Required reading!” It’s the best. The very, very best. I’m considering all sorts of master’s programs in which I can study books after this one is completed. My latest suggestion–French Literature–was met with silence. Apparently, my husband believes he shouldn’t have to pay a fortune for me to receive another useless degree, when I can simply march myself to the library and read for free. Never mind that I can’t read French.

This term, my professor assigned me a great deal of literary non-fiction, mostly memoir. Most of the writers have an incredible story to tell, each revelation more sad or shocking than the last. It makes me wonder what becomes of those of us who have a simple story–a healthy childhood, an average intelligence, a mostly normal family–a treasure trove of universal memories that are meaningful because they happen to most of us over the course of our lifetime. Sibling spats, adolescent angst, first love, the slow burn of spiritual growth–isn’t this most people’s story? I’m far too boring to compete with the orphans and addicts and I-made-it-in-spite-of’s.

While the reading and the writing requirements are wonderful and challenging in the best of ways, I had hoped the MFA program would crack open the door to possibility a bit wider. I am learning and growing as a writer, but the door to possibility feels firmly shut. If anything, the program has made me question even more what I am doing and why I am writing. To what end? Who will read it? What do I have to offer a reader, if not another ordinary story?

I don’t have any answers, and I’m not fishing for comments and compliments here (Mom, you can call me privately:). What I am doing, is trying to flesh out the why behind the what.  I am wrestling with what I thought I wanted, with old dreams and new realities. Wrestling with the path I’ve chosen and wondering what life would look like if I chose to lay down this particular dream and take up a new one.

Does this kind of questioning resonate with you? I suspect it’s universal, whether you want to write or become a parent or start a business or rule the world. Don’t we always wonder what the road not taken would have held for us had we jumped across the divide and planted our feet on a path with something different waiting for us at the end of it?  I used to think this was somehow a betrayal of my choices, but I think it is always good to remind ourselves why we chose this path, this life, this faith, these people. Often, the alternative is so ugly and full of despair, so unfaithful to our own inner landscape, it helps us see the good in what we have right here, today.

But every so often, the question of whether or not we’re walking the right path or dreaming the best dreams, leads us to another fork in the road. Will I choose this way again, or will I try something different? What if I pursued this friendship or gave that one up? What if I chose this career path and not the one I spent years mastering? What if I turned to this form of spiritual discipline and gave up another? What if…?

I have no plans to give up writing or my MFA program, but I do continue to ask myself the questions, always seeking to find the most sincere expression of who I am and how I’m created. I always want to aim for my true north, even if I take a few detours along the way.

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Are you questioning any particular paths in your life right now? Have you ever jumped across the divide to something different?

Stay tuned for a round-up of recent reads later this week.

Making Space

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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?