Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

PLACEMAKER by Christie Purifoy

I am currently reading this beautiful book by Christie Purifoy, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace. The book releases in mid-March 2019 and will be a soothing balm for our overly-stressed, multi-tasking souls.

Placemakers is for the home lover. The outdoor admirer. The family gatherer. The story collector. For the past decade I have felt very strongly that one of my biggest roles in life is to create a welcoming home. My regret? That I didn’t embrace this role stronger when my children were young. Perhaps that is a natural occurrence for many of you as well. When your babies are young, there is so much clutter and lack of sleep. As they mature, there seems to be nothing but running and doing. Concerts and sports events. Home tends to be a quick landing spot between the lines of your to do list.

But the older I get, the more I realize the respite that is home. It has been my passion to create a soothing and calm place for Scott to land after a 12-hour day at work. Even in writing that line I am aware of how genteel and old-fashioned it sounds. Perhaps even egotistical. I balk at the pollyanna nature of it, but I know in my heart that it is the mission I have been given. Does this sound anti-feminist? I certainly hope not as I stand here a proud feminist. We too often acquaint progressive women’s rights with doing and becoming. But the true essence of the movement is to create space where women can become anything they wish to become – which does not exclude the role of supporting and encouraging those we love. But it isn’t all done just for my family. Beauty and consistency makes my own soul feel calm and settled.

We plant seeds or saplings in neat rows. We prune limbs, and we tend the soil. We do not make the trees, but we make a place for them.

I did not have a word for the role I play until Purifoy so elegantly termed it: placemaker.

When I was first married and moving into our apartment (my first home ever away from my childhood home and college dorms), I found great pleasure in creating a homey home. I remember one of my friends came over for the first time and as she left she commented: “Your home doesn’t look like you just moved into it. It looks as if you’ve lived here for years.” I considered this a huge compliment – and still one of my favorites.

For friends and family to find a place that evokes feelings of warmth and welcome – that is my greatest joy. I am (…to a fault and the butt of many jokes…) constantly tweaking things around our home. And now, with the California weather, our backyard is merely an extension of our physical house. I am invigorated by dirt and the care of each plant and tree. I grieve when they die and I feel empowered when I can help to save them.

Making and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. It is a holy pursuit. We were never meant merely to consume the gifts of creation. We were made to collaborate. We were made to participate. This book is an invitation to reconsider your own relationship to the ground beneath your feet and roof over your head.

I expected this book to be a pretty addition to our coffee table. How surprised I’ve been to find the girth of insight and encouragement I’ve found between its pages. A book that I could probably ‘whip out in a day’ has become a slow and methodical read – filled with underlined words and many pauses for reflection. And sometimes shouts of ‘YES!, that’s exactly how I feel!’

You can pre-order the book now. I strongly suggest you rush to your favorite book-selling site to grab one for yourself.

Meanwhile, I continue to read…

Can I tell you about something kind of cool that happened to me?…

Let me first say that I’m not posting any of this for sympathy or trumped-up praise. Please know that from my heart.

There are areas in all of our lives where we feel confident and strong – and other areas in which we lack inner strength.

I’m not sure if it’s my personality or the fact that I am a person with a bent toward creativity. Whatever the case, my confidence in my ability to write is always low. I enjoy it. I get the buzz, not unlike the endorphin rush of a runner (I’m told.) People have periodically encouraged me to write. But there are soooo many really great writers in the world. And I don’t just mean famous ones. I am lucky enough to know some extremely talented wordsmiths that work other jobs and fit it in when they can. I truly respect and admire their talent.

So every time I sit down to write, I face two paths:

  1. Be overwhelmed with all the immense talent already out in the world – and sit back and hide, or
  2. Try to be brave, sit down, and write anyway. Just for the discipline of writing.

Again, I don’t mean to sound pathetic. But it is a real and immense struggle for anyone faced with creating something from nothing. And especially when it involves personal reflection.

Yesterday I wrote a book review post on this blog. I posted a condensed version of it on my Instagram. I wrote it the day before, posted it early in the morning, and then went on with my day.

A few hours later I popped back on Instagram while waiting on a load of laundry to finish drying and found a message from Jon Cohen, one of the authors I mentioned in my blog post regarding his endearing book, Harry’s Trees. In his message he pointed out a section of text I wrote:

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.

He commented:

I like the cogency and rhythm of your words, particularly, in the paragraph that starts, “This book celebrated . . .”

It’s just a little line. A line that instantly brought fat tears to my eyes. (Not a usual reaction for me.) My throat clenched shut and I sunk back into myself.

I reread the line. (And in 2019 style, I did a quick screenshot of it on my phone as if it could disappear into the ethers at any given moment. Like perhaps I was imagining it.)

It wasn’t a spouse or a parent or a friend online saying it. It was a published author I respect, commenting positively on my writing. I cannot find the words at the moment to convey the significant importance I felt while reading it. I had a small, but brief, moment of feeling like Sally Fields at the Oscar’s. Or more recently, Kalen Allen’s reaction when Oprah commented on his Instagram post.

He could have said, ‘Thanks for the great review’ and I would have been impressed he even found my post and glad he commented on it. But after thanking me for the review, he took it a step further and returned a small amount of praise to me as well. It was a quick comment that left a big footprint on my squishy, self-effacing heart.

I have so much to learn about writing as well as finding the confidence enough to push ‘publish’. We are so accustomed to seeing articles and reading online posts nowadays that it is easy to dismiss the immense amount of bravery it takes for the writer to go public with their words. It can be a suffocating and stifling fear.

—–

What an amazing moment of pure, unadulterated joy. Especially because when writing, I particularly like the flow of words. I edit when a sentence seems to lack a particular rhythm and musical cadence. That’s something that’s very important to me.

And yesterday, a published writer commented specifically on that trait. 

I must tell you. It felt really, really good…

If you get the chance today – encourage the Creatives in your life. They need it more than you’ll ever know. It’s not easy being them. Their mind is always at battle with their ability. They need your affirming words.

♥️

Rain, rain, go…away?

We are preparing for rain, here in Northern California, not unlike our preparations for snow in Missouri. Bringing in the delicate items, the lamps and tchotchkes that shouldn’t get soaked. We conjured up a lean-to to cover my succulent garden, as @inspirelovely would suggest. ⠀

My friends know how much I do not like rainy days. They mess with me. I so wish I was the person who grabs a book and a comfy spot for reading. I used to have a friend who felt creatively inspired on rainy days and could produce content ten times faster. But my spirit lags in overcast weather. I have to work a little harder to keep my mind and heart buoyed. ⠀

Obviously this is a huge benefit to living in California. Each and every day the sun comes out, the skies are blue and the clouds are fat and fluffy. Every. Single. Day.⠀

I’ve learned a valuable lesson, however, in our two months living here. Everything – sidewalks and porches and cars and plants and highways – everything is dusty. When a bird relieves himself on your sidewalk, it stays there. The smog and dust of living builds up in deep layers. ⠀

There is an importance in rain. A washing away. A starting again. A renewed and fresh shine, left in its wake. Rain serves the purpose of watering and feeding nature, sure. But it also gives our everyday surroundings a much-needed facelift. ⠀

This particular rain is an important one. The wildfires have caused so much damage, even far beyond the point of burn. Our atmosphere needs cleansing so our lungs can breathe fresh clean air.⠀

Rain as rejuvenation. As renewal. Washing away the ugly. The discarded. The build-up. Leaving behind a squeaky clean new beginning. ⠀

So instead, I will lean into this rain with a new understanding. And when low-spirits lurk, I will check on the succulents in their safe tent and know we are all going to be just fine.

Faster and faster!

She climbed the stairs two at a time, racing against the clock. Her breath was labored and her heart was beating far too fast. She paused for only a second on the landing but knew she must keep going. Red-faced and exhausted, muscles screaming and pulse racing, she pushed herself further. There was a goal at the end. A pleasant experience that would make up for all of this heart-pounding climb. She must. She can! She WILL!

She…….stops.

That’s the way I have felt for the past two months. They have FLOWN by. Our move was a whirlwind filled with waiting and hurry-ups. It was inevitable that the true me, the Greta who knows better, would eventually stand up tall and yell, ‘Enough!’

I do not sustain on a fast-paced tempo for very long . I need downtime. I need time to think. To consider. To pause. The mottos I have adapted over the past few years began rising to the top of the hurried heap.

Do one thing at a time. Do it slowly, deliberately, and completely.

We had just a few weeks to wrap things up in Kansas City before making a quick cross-country drive to our new home in northern California – a concept we hadn’t even considered just a few short weeks before. Then we needed to hurry up and find a place to live. There were the inevitable snags and close-calls and more than a few late-night panics. After finding a place to live we then needed to organize the moving of our belongings – from 7 states away.

It was all for a good ending – the prize at the top of the stairs. But my mind and soul were growing more and more weary.

I fell back into the trap of ‘needing inspiration’. I regularly (read: compulsively) checked Pinterest. Made new Pinterest boards based on our new housing specifics. I scoured Instagram for ideas and launching pads of home style creativity.

But one day recently…….I stopped.

This isn’t me. This isn’t the life I have tried to cultivate and edit these past few years. The racing mind was keeping pace with the racing life. It was too much. I needed to stop and RE-re-evaluate.

If it feels overwhelming, simplify it.

For two months I have ignored my gut instincts. Those internal signals that try to point you to who you really are, not who the world is telling you to be. Not unlike a child lost in a busy shopping center, I eventually heard a familiar voice and knew I would be safe and that I was nearing home.

My days have looked a lot differently lately. I went back to my familiar routine (with a few modifications for our new location.) I wrote down the basics on a piece of paper and determined that those things came first. If I got the rest of the moving to do list done, then great. If not, it would be there tomorrow.

And it feels so good. Like taking a deep breath and letting the oxygen penetrate your muscles and joints and expand your lungs to full capacity, I am finding my footing again.

_______________________________

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the word that has made its way into our social media vernacular: ‘influencer’. It seems there isn’t a post that is not talking about the benefits of buying this or the benefits of buying that. These are sincere people that I enjoy following, but have had to step away from because of the internal nudge I feel to ‘buy this’ or ‘buy that’. (aka: they’re doing a good job at their job!)

As hokie as it might seem, I wondered what it would be like to be an ‘influencer’ of something intangible. Like slow living (my particular passion) or encouraging words. Maybe I am just bitter, some would say. I am not in the SWIPE UP category of social media. But I don’t really think that’s what it is. I want to surround myself with slow eating, slow fashion, and slow thinking. And I want to help you find a corner of respite from all the BUY HERE NOW pressures that you experience as well. Let’s slow down a minute, okay? Will life be just as chaotic? Most likely. Will pressures and deadlines still need to be met? Absolutely. But maybe we can navigate those time crunches with a little more grace (to ourselves and others) if we learn how to take some precious time for ourselves every day.

I recently re-read something I wrote in the front page of my Bible years ago but this time I wondered if there are moments in our everyday lives that could use a little Sabbath time as well:

God didn’t need to rest but He rested because He wanted to enjoy His masterpiece and He wanted to give us permission to do that as well.

The Sabbath: a day to refocus your heart, quiet your mind, and to be aware of God’s warm embrace.

The Sabbath is no longer a set of laws needed to be governed, but a condition of the heart that needs to be guarded.

I would encourage you (as I am resetting my own thinking as well) to find a moment of Sabbath in your Tuesday. And your Thursday. And your Saturday. Find moments of Sabbath to slow down, take a breath, and refocus your mind on what is important – not what is pressing.

We’ll get this right yet. How do you find time to slow down and gain your footing? I’d love to hear your ideas – both logistical and metaphorical.

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?
~ Mary Oliver, Westwind