Happy New Year

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Once or twice a year, I pack up my baskets and get away. Camera, candle, teapot, snacks, journal, pens, books. Tissue for when I'll inevitably cry. I try to do it around New Years, and I was able to sneak away before Christmas this year. (If you're in Whatcom County, Stillpoint is an undiscovered jewel. They offer a little cabin for retreatants and spiritual direction if you want it. It has been one of the biggest gifts in my life this year.)

The point isn't to take care of business, necessarily, but to reflect on my life and see what comes up. I spend so much energy and time doing, and some of that doing is because I'm actively trying to avoid sitting with what is. The first time I took a solo retreat, probably a dozen years ago, I was nervous. My anxiety was connected to shame--if I sit with myself, what will I feel bad about? What will I feel guilty about? What giant, odious mandate will emerge? Now, after years of practice, I look forward to them. I like being with myself, I like seeing what messages of love will break through, and I come home ready to take up my obligations and roles with a clearer sense of who I really am.

This year, I sat down with a piece of paper, drew a grid, and almost instinctively put these 8 headings in:

  1. Release my grip. These are things I'm trying to hard to control, areas of my life where expectations are too high. I tend to expect a lot of friendships, for instance, and am trying to be more outcome to outcome.
  2. Press in. Relationships, projects, or callings I've been avoiding because they're complicated or scary.
  3. See Differently. Patterns or relationships that benefit from a different perspective. One I put down was kids' sports. Instead of seeing them as big calendar hogs, view them as opportunities to be together, get exercise, and meet other families.
  4. Batting Practice. Disciplines I want to keep doing or implement--daily meditation, exercise, etc.
  5. Fortieth Birthday. Still six months away, but thinking about what I want the day to look like and represent.
  6. NO. Boundaries I want to draw, like "Don't give unsolicited advice" (really hard for me) or "Don't commit to volunteering that doesn't involve my children."
  7. Investigate. So many things right now--Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, piano lessons, Nonviolent Communication.
  8. Nurture. Good people, opportunities, and rituals in my life that need nurturing to grow or stay part of my life. Art time with Loretta, biking with Wyatt, blogging time, spiritual direction, some precious friendships.

I won't lie--it can be a Herculean effort to take a day off from your life. You might have to take vacation time or arrange a complicated childcare situation for your kids. You might get there and just take a nap. (Which is fine.) But I'm more convinced than ever that we won't get transformation and stamina from external sources. We have to find it in ourselves, in that deepest part of ourselves that is Love, that is God. You don't have to have 8 categories like me. You don't have to rent a cabin. (A friend's house is a good option. You won't be tempted to do laundry there.)

Whatever 2013 was like for you and whatever 2014 holds, I wish you love, companionship, insight, and engagement. I wish that you'll have exactly what you need--not too much, not too little. Thank you for being here with me.

Epiphany 2014: Voice of Blessing

Christmas with Cox Fam 2013

Christmas with Walkers 2013

Christmas with Cox Fam 2013

I have two nieces and a nephew. I was intent on getting a couple good photos over the holidays. Ezra, my nephew, must have known how badly I wanted the perfect shot of him because he resisted it like nobody's business. I had to settle for these mischievous little eyes peeking over the pillow.

Without going into detail, it's safe to say I've had some low-level anxiety the past few weeks about work, loose ends in a few endeavors and relationships, and uncertainty about what 2014 holds. My question to myself is, "How can I attend to my anxiety in a way that makes me a more compassionate mother, wife, friend, and consultant?" The worry is there--there's no virtue in ignoring it. But there's wisdom in noticing it, having some little talks with myself, and praying more than normal.

Emily posted this Henri Nouwen quote:

The real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing--that demands real effort.

It's funny how anxiety sends me right back to square one about whether I'm a worthy competent person or not. Nouwen reminds me about the voice of blessing that's trying to be heard.

And being around kids? That reminds me, too. Today, Loretta asked if we could stop playing Cash Register (absolutely her favorite game) and snuggle instead. Yes, please.

Epiphany 2014: Making and Growing

Christmas with Walkers 2013

My sister-in-law Kelly brought a dozen of her chicken's eggs to our annual white elephant gift exchange, grabbing them on the way out of the door. Of course the kids traded their gifts for other things (silly socks, toys) but I fought for these.

When we grow, make, or share things, we're giving an intimate gift. And it doesn't have to be perfectly wrapped or presented like Pinterest would have us believe. If you make a batch of cookies, take 2 over to your neighbor on a napkin. If you bought a huge brick of cheese at Costco, cut off a chunk for your friend. For a hostess gift last night, I rinsed out a little bottle that my hair serum had been in, went outside to cut a few sprigs of juniper, and tied a ribbon around the neck of the bottle. What we want most is to be thought of. There are lots of ways to do that without getting out a credit card.

Epiphany 2014: Look Up

Christmas with Walkers 2013

This week, I've heard several media sources quoting a study that says people who are on their phones constantly are more anxious.

That makes sense to me. Too much stimulus, too many things we're supposed to like or not like, too much urgency and not enough nuance. The great big world reduced to a few inches.

The epiphanies can't happen unless there's an observer, a participant. On one of our Christmas walks with family, Katie took my camera for awhile. I always love downloading photos after my camera has been with someone else. She took this photo right before the light left. In our five hours together that day, I don't recall one person on their phone. Three cheers for looking up.

Epiphany 2014: There Must be Some Mistake!

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From W.H. Auden's Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being:

For the garden is the only place there is, but you will not find it
Until you have looked for it everywhere and found nowhere that is not a desert;
The miracle is the only thing that happens, but to you it will not be apparent,
Until all events have been studied and nothing happens that you cannot explain;
And life is the destiny you are bound to refuse until you have consented to die.

Therefore, see without looking, hear without listening, breathe without asking:
The Inevitable is what will seem to happen to you purely by chance;
The Real is what will strike you as really absurd;
Unless you are certain you are dreaming, it is certainly a dream of your own;
Unless you exclaim -- "There must be some mistake" -- you must be mistaken.

What do those annoying English majors call it when they dissect a poem? Explication? Don't do that with Auden's masterpiece. Maybe just say it out loud to yourself, see how it sounds. What sounds beautiful to me is the last line: Unless you exclaim--"There must be some mistake"--you must be mistaken. To have so many blessings, so many companions, and a camera to capture them with this Christmas? There must be some mistake.

For you liturgical folk, we're entering into the Season of Epiphany. Epiphany means "manifestation" or "striking appearance," and the Church feast day commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Baby Jesus and thus Jesus' physical manifestation (God in human flesh) to the world--skeptics, magicians, rulers, shepherds, and lepers. Whether that's your thing or not, these 12 days between Christmas and January 6 can be a time of manifestation if we let them--What's trying to happen in our lives? What are the things we need to say "yes" to? What needs a firm "no?" What miracles are already happening?

For the time being, as Auden would say, here are some Christmas moments:

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