Saturday, April 30, 2011


1: staying in place in expectation of

It came up casually in a conversation recently that we've been at St. B's for a year now.  Conversation went smoothly along, but my mind was jolted.  A year?  Has it really been that long?  I wasn't startled because it's a place that doesn't feel like home.  I feel welcome, encouraged and blessed when I'm there.  But why don't I know more people?  A friend who started attending shortly after us seems to know far more people than I do.  Some of this is circumstantial - she was able to attend the women's retreat and I wasn't.  She volunteers in children's ministry.  I don't.

For a few days, I was unsettled, my wheels spinning as to what I should do to get to know more people.  Should I volunteer in children's ministry?  in some other capacity?  I know from past experience that serving is an easy way to meet people.  Yet each time I consider a way to serve, I feel a "No" in my heart.

In the midst of all of this, I visited with a dear friend that I met during a Waking Up Grey group.  Since completing the group two years ago, I've wondered about leading a group, yet the timing has never felt right.  As I sat chatting with my friend, I kept thinking of people who might enjoy doing this kind of group.  And my heart did not stop me as I contemplated doing this.  In fact, more friends popped into my mind, as did a meeting place.  Will this help me meet more people at St. B's?  I'm not sure, but it's nice to not encounter yet another road block.  Even with these initial promptings, I am still waiting to move on this idea.  I'm not sure it's fully hatched yet, but I'm hopeful if I keep sitting on it, the egg will crack and give me a clear yes or no.

As I look back, I can see I've been in this place of waiting for quite a while.  Since the arrival of 2011 alone, I've waited on several things with very little resolution.  I've tried (with some success) to find peace in the waiting.  I've pictured myself with my hands raised and open, waiting for whatever comes.  Waiting is, in its way, a spiritual discipline.  It's a reminder that whatever I may think, I am not in charge.  I can't control many things that directly affect my daily life - and that is how it should be.

As I drove around the city running errands yesterday, I found myself discontented.  I'm generally very happy with my home, my neighborhood, my life.  Yet yesterday I was looking at larger homes, well-manicured lawns, nicer cars and, quite simply, wanting.  Even in the moment, it was somewhat puzzling behavior.  Why was I feeling so unsettled, so unlike myself?

I suspect this atypical behavior is, in part, reaction to this long period of waiting.  Because while I am trying to find grace in the waiting, it is hard work.  I want to know.  I want to be done with the waiting, even if only momentarily.

Yet the waiting goes on and I find myself hoping that this place of expectation is doing its work in me, the work of unfurling.  Because if waiting makes me unclench my fists from holding on to my own agenda, my own plan, my own ideas, if it helps me become who I'm meant to be and not just who I currently am, that is a work worth doing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


: a musical instrument having steel wire strings that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard

Since our girls were little, J and I have hoped to help them find an activity they love by middle school.  That proved to be remarkably easy with A.  At age three, she started asking to take dance. I finally relented and signed her up for afterschool ballet in first grade and that was that.  She's been dancing ever since.

B, on the other hand has played soccer, taken ballet, played basketball, done an art club, taken jazz funk dance, played soccer again.  She liked most of it, but didn't love any of it (except the art club).  Then, over the summer she told me she wanted to learn how to sing.  She started choir in the fall and never once complained about going on Sundays to sing.  In December, I asked her if she wanted to take piano.  She jumped at the chance and learned the entire piano book between her first and second lessons.  She practices all the time, always without being asked.

I would never have chosen for my daughter to dance.  I have two left feet.  I know nothing about dance.  The atmosphere of most studios stresses me out with the slightly snobby air.  But for all that I don't know much about dance, music is the one thing I understand even less.  I don't even like to listen to music very much.  Music is basically a vehicle for lyrics for me.  I don't know how to read music.  To be brutally honest, I can't even hear the beat in music most of the time.

So I didn't know how I would hold up to have a daughter banging away on the piano.  Could I stand the noise?  Much to my surprise, it's been just fine.  It doesn't hurt anything that B plays almost every song melodically from her first try.  And, honestly, it's just grace that I can enjoy her gift of music and see it as a gift.

My mom came up to visit recently and she loved seeing B play the piano that was my grandmother's.  B comes by her musical gifts honestly.  My grandmother played the piano, sang in and led her church choir for years.  J's grandmother has perfect pitch and it was pure delight one Christmas to have her visit and play any Christmas carol I named without hesitation. It does make me happy to see B carry on the gifts, but even more I am happy to see B for who she is.  I'm not happy because she's inherited this gift, but that the gift is hers.

Just like A shows a crystal clear version of who she is when she dances, B's piano playing is part of her.  She plays when she's happy, when she's sad, when she's mad, when she's bored.  And as much as she loves that piano, I love her more.  I love seeing who she is and imagining who she'll be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


1 : exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness

A Good Friday at a Great Place

Today, Easter, marks the end of Holy Week.  This special week started with Palm Sunday one week ago and included Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday services, Easter vigil and today's Easter celebrations.  It has been a week - and season - chock full of events that have been thought provoking and encouraging.

Palm Sunday was busy.  B sang in a children's choir at a church here in town that offers a children's choir.  She had to be there at 7:40, so I dropped her off, headed to our church for service and then met the rest of our family plus my mom to hear B sing.  B had spent weeks learning the songs she sang and it was moving to hear her sing praises.

Maundy Thursday found me at St. B's alone.  J met me there and headed home with the girls, giving me the chance to experience the quiet seriousness of this evening alone.  At my silent retreat several weeks ago, I spent time in the passage in John where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, so it was meaningful to get to participate in having my feet washed and washing the feet of someone else.  While part of the mandate of Maundy Thursday is to serve others, I think I am in a season of learning to receive, not just give.  We've been at St. B's for a year now, and I feel like we would know more people and be able to give back were I to volunteer in a ministry.  Yet every time I try to think of a place to serve, I feel like God tells me to stay put, keep doing what I'm doing and try to graciously receive.  Thursday's Holy Week service was about me remembering we are called not just to give, but to receive.  If we spend all of our time and energy giving, we'll run out of time, energy and things to give.

Good Friday was a good day for our family.  It started with sweet treats from our favorite neighborhood bakery.  J had to work, but he made a quick sweets run before heading south to TSC.  This meant the girls and I got to start our day with ginger peach crumble, chocolate cinnana coffee cake, hot cross buns and more.  The girls celebrated by watching a movie on TV and I had a few quiet moments to start my new bible study.  Then we headed to one of our favorite places in Nashville.  After all, what better way to celebrate Good Friday than in a garden?  We packed a picnic lunch and ate by the ponds.  While the girls lunched, I read to them about Good Friday from a library book on the liturgical year.  The first sentence I read was, "Good Friday is a day of bitterness and mourning.

"Wait a minute!" B said.  "Bitterness and mourning?  This has been a great day so far.  We got to have breakfast from Sweet 16th, watch a movie and now we're at Cheekwood.  This day isn't bitter."  We talked about why the book might describe Good Friday in this way - and why it's called "good" if it involves bitterness and mourning.  They each offered very thoughtful responses and we finally decided it was a bittersweet day, not a bitter one.  After an eventful time at Cheekwood that included the first (but probably not last) slip into the pond by one of my daughters, a tour of the herb gardens and a look at the lily mosaics, we headed to St. B's to walk the stations of the cross.

I'll be honest that none of my daughters were especially excited to head to church on a Friday evening.  B was especially vocal about this, but we went anyway.  I thought an outdoor church service that involved walking and hearing the story of Good Friday at each station would be something new and different.  The weather was beautiful and the girls did enjoy it far more than a traditional service.  We went out with friends for pizza after the service, which will hopefully make it easier to get them there for next year's service.

As we've approached Easter and Lent's ending, I've had bittersweet feelings about this season ending.  B and I chatted Friday evening about what grade we would give ourselves for how well we fulfilled our Lenten vows.  (We both agreed we probably merited a B or so.)  As we broached this subject with the rest of our family this morning on the drive to church, J reminded the girls and I of a point I made near the beginning of Lent - that Lent should lead us into ordinary time.  We should not start Easter morning by shrugging off all of our Lenten vows and go right back to being who we were before.

The bulk of our time is lived in ordinary time.  And that's the challenge, isn't it?  To live holy during the ordinary days, not just Holy Week.  What does this look like?  I'm not sure except to say that I won't be returning to caffeinated coffee in the mornings (my headaches were surprisingly lower in frequency, if not severity without caffeine) and I hope to be more committed to making time for creativity and self-care in my life.  I've seen its importance over the last forty days and I've also seen how easy it is for me to let it slip off of my to-do list when more pressing tasks vie for my attention.

Lent isn't usually a season that we want to extend.  We're eager to get back to our Cokes, our lax habits, our less intentional way of living.  But Lent has been a sweet time for me this year and instead of being grateful to have it end, I'm hopeful that its lessons will do their work to make me more holy over time.

Friday, April 22, 2011


: a policy of national isolation by abstention from alliances and other international political and economic relations

There are many things I like, even love, about homeschooling.  But the part I hate the most is feeling like I am an isolationist.  Not because I am isolated or because my children are isolated, but because it is a policy of disengagement with others, specifically with our school system.

When we listened to the Story of the World, volume 4, I found myself talking out loud to the CD when we reached the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.  As the French, British and Americans decided to heap the responsibility for WWI on the shoulders of the Germans, I said aloud, "Don't do it.  You have no idea the evil incarnate that will come to power because of this treaty."  But the Americans wanted nothing to do with Europe and their problems.  Let them figure it out for themselves was our attitude.  This line of thinking is what allowed Hitler to invade several countries before people said "No More."  It's what kept our country out of WWII until Japan forced our hand by bombing Pearl Harbor.

 I'm not saying that my school system is undergoing WWII, but it's in a sad state.  I saw this for myself when A took her TCAPs last week at the middle school our children are zoned to attend.  The students spent their time in the bathrooms chatting about who they were and weren't afraid to fight.  The teacher routinely spoke to the students in a tone of voice that was bullying, disrespectful, disinterested and unkind.  I don't want my children at this school.  I can't imagine how it would change them and harm their souls.  Yet I can't shake the feeling that I'm part of the problem.

J and I had dinner with some dear friends a few weeks ago.  Over a meal of shrimp and grits, hushpuppies and crab cakes, we talked about the state of middle schools.  Our friend teaches at a high school and said that while there are any number of good elementary schools in Nashville, it's in middle school that families begin to opt out, leaving the system for greener pastures.  I'm not sure I'd classify my dining room table as fertile fields, but we have decided to opt out for now.  And when that happens cumulatively - when middle class families decide to homeschool, when one income families become two income families to fund a private school education, when neighbors flee our community for the suburbs - what happens to the schools?

It honestly breaks my heart to be a part of the problem.  I spent most of my elementary, middle and high school years in public schools.  My mother taught in public schools for more two and a half decades.  But my children are not science experiments.  I will not sacrifice them for the sake of my conscience.  Because the problem with our neighborhood middle school isn't really the teachers, the facilities, the absence of children like mine in the classroom.  The problem is poverty.  And while poverty breaks my heart, I can not solve it on my own.

I talked about this with some friends this morning.  Friends who share my ideals, my faith, my problem of conscience.  Friends who have also chosen to homeschool their daughters.  We talked about choosing not to accept things the way they are, but one friend said that it's inevitable that we are a part of the problem in some ways.  I don't disagree, but as I drove around later in the day, my heart was hurting as I thought about children who need to attend school so that they get a free breakfast and lunch.  Children who are sent home on the weekends with backpacks full of food so that they don't go hungry for two days.  These kids don't have the option of learning at home.

Homeschooling is almost exclusively middle class.  Upper class families send their children to private school without a backward glance.  Lower class families don't have the luxury of losing one parent's income to teach their children.  It's families like mine that make this choice.  So is it the wrong choice?  Am I harming others by choosing to take care of my children first?  I honestly don't know.  Here's what I do know - or believe I know: if homeschooling wasn't the right choice for our family right now, I would not have peace about the decision.  I would not feel like this is the path we've been lead to.  I would not have the joy and contentment that I have in sharing knowledge and acquiring new knowledge with my girls.

Isolationism isn't perfect, nor is homeschooling.  But for now, I'm going to do the best job I can to educate my girls.  Maybe one day, they'll start a company or a ministry or a foundation that will help to ease the pain that poverty inflicts on our world.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


3 a : something learned by study or experience

What have I learned this Lent? I’ve learned that Lent is a time of God making things new, but I’ve also seen, felt and experienced the grief of Lent. It’s a time of waiting, a time of preparation, a between time spent looking both back at where you’ve been and forward to Easter morning and the unfurling of God’s promises kept all over again.

Lent has been an unfurling for me, although not in the way I imagined. I’ve not felt like a tulip whose petals are gently opening to reveal great beauty. Nor have I been whipped about like a flag atop a pole, a sail aboard a boat. But my grief coupled with learning to truly care for myself has begun an unbinding, an unraveling, a snipping of threads, a ripping of seams. An unfurling.

I’ve most often seen Lent as a time of giving up. A time of self-sacrifice, self-denial, perhaps even self-flagellation. But God has used this Lent to talk to me about receiving. Have I managed the self-denial portion? Mostly. Just two cokes since Ash Wednesday and no caffeinated coffee. Have I cared for myself? More consistently than in the past, yes. But with perhaps less success than I’ve given up caffeine. I say I’ve had less success with self-care because I’ve watched (or not watched, but woken up to find) my attitude towards self-care morph from one of pleasant anticipation to self-care as one more task to do in a busy day. I’ve seen how abruptly an altered schedule makes me set aside taking care of myself. I’ve seen the ugliness of control sneak its way into my thinking. I’ve willingly let go of things that bring me great joy. Because I feel I don’t deserve them? Because it’s easier that way? Because I think I’ve learned my Lenten lessons? Perhaps all three.

So I'm fighting to remember, to remind myself that Lent is supposed to be the start of ordinary time.  It's not a forty day sprint, but a season designed to set the stage for my life after these forty days.  The purpose of Lent is last until Easter morning.  My Lent would mean little if I have a double espresso for breakfast Easter morning and chug Coke for every meal following.  Easter is not the finish line, but the starting point.  Self-care isn't a lesson I can learn in one short season.  It's an ongoing conversation between my flesh and my spirit.  It's a constant choice between the things of this world that do not satisfy and the short sips of water that truly quench a thirsty soul.

As I contemplated writing this post, I had visions of a series of collages I'd like to complete for friends, along with a blog post or two that have been percolating.  I long to create.  It satisfies me and feeds me.  It is an integral part of unfurling.  And if I want to be unfurled, if I want to be not just who I am right now, but who I can be, I think creativity is the double line along the center of the road.  No passing allowed.  Linger here.  Take time for yourself.  Make your ordinary life less ordinary.

I want to be made new. I want to unfurl and stretch like a cat in the sun. To be comfortable, content, thankful in my own skin. Not just during Lent, but always. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011


2 b: to have power over : rule

It seems only right and fair to acknowledge after a post on routine that my love of routine and my comfort in it is merely a symptom of my continued love of control. Routine allows me to believe - however wrongly - that I am in control of my life, that I can survive what life brings, if only I can anticipate correctly.  It is a way of living with my hands clenched around my own ideas for what life should be - even more damaging, it is a way of living with my hands clenched around my  idea of who I should be.

This is a besetting sin for me.  Do I cling to control less now than I did years ago?  Yes.  But its hold on me sneaks up and surprises me, disguised as it is by other things (like routine).

In talking with a friend last week about homeschooling, I realized how far I have come - even in just a few months - about adjusting and adapting.  I shed some of my preconceived notions because another way worked better for A and I.  Others I dropped because they weren't working.  Or were too restrictive.  My approach to literature?  Loose at best for this year.  I've basically provided good books - and lots of them - for A to read.  The books often link to the history we are studying at the time, but I don't require book reports, papers or projects very often.  Grammar?  That curriculum is on the shelf, lessons half done.  A hated it.  The fact that it's called "analytical" should have tipped me off - it's just a bit too much like math.  Math itself we've stuck with, but progress has been in fits and starts with testing upon us.  I've seen my willingness to be flexible, my lack of resistance to improvisation as evidence that I am less controlling than I used to be.  And perhaps I am.

But today I've been face to face with the fact that my desire for control may have lessened its grip on my heart, but still lurks around the corner, waiting to weave its way back into my thinking.  I started writing this blog post between dropping B off at one church to sing and attending first service at our church.  I knew I'd chosen the right topic when I opened the bulletin and read this:
As we continue our Lenten journey, we focus on stewardship.  For followers of Jesus, stewardship is our outward expression of His discipleship: an ordering of life that puts all that we have under Christ's rule.  As you prepare your heart for worship this morning and for this Holy Week, consider how you are responding to Christ's blessings.  Are you allowing God to have a voice in your life as you manage your time, your talents and your money?
Or am I instead clenching my hands around Christ's blessings, trying to wrest control away from him?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


1 a : a regular course of procedure

Roller Coaster Kitchen

I am a creature of habit.  While I love the carefree days of summer or the occasional snow day where the calendar is open and you go where the day leads you, I like routine.  It keeps me sane.  This is brought to my mind this week because our routine has been turned upside down.

Mondays are normally our best day to get school work done, but A had a wildflower field trip that morning at a farm outside of town.  It ate up nearly all of our day and set the tone for our week: a week that would leave me off-kilter, unsettled and a tad frazzled.  TCAPs aren't helping matters any.  Both A and B are taking our state's standardized tests Wednesday through Friday of this week and next Monday.

For B, this means her school will stop running boot camps for the test and actually let her just take the test.  For A, it means going to an unfamiliar school and unfamiliar classroom to take a test that doesn't accurately reflect what she's studied this year.  You can blame the latter on her teacher - I wanted to do real history, not social studies.  I care far more about Henry VIII and the course he set for England than I do about which Tennessee university is name for which local hero.

Hours of testing each day has meant a change to our morning routine and, quite frankly, a real loss of self-care opportunities for me.  When I'm spending three hours in a classroom during a test, I can't collage, work-out or take a long bath during that time.  And I can't do those things when I get home because I feel pressure to clean, do laundry and catch up on the other tasks that went undone during the morning hours.

This has taught me a few things:
1) I would never describe myself as a morning person (just today I told myself I didn't want to talk because it was before 7 AM), but I value my mornings and my days go better when I have more control over them. 

2) It's easier to make self-care a priority - to actually make it happen - when it's built into my routine.  Because without routine, I am falling apart all over the place.  I normally work out on Thursdays, but unless I can muster the energy to hit the treadmill after school today, I'm not sure it's going to happen.  I know it's good for me - body and soul - but some days it's tough to make it a priority.

3) Homeschooling has, in large part, offered me the freedom to build a routine and schedule that I enjoy - one that helps me not only function, but thrive.  I haven't liked having to work to someone else's timetable this week and I'll be so glad to be in charge again starting next Tuesday.  (I'm going to remind myself of this benefit to homeschooling when the waves of anxiety wash over me as I contemplate teaching two students next year instead of just one.)

Is it wrong that I need routine?  I hope not because it's unlikely to change anytime soon.  But I hope I'll learn from these few crazy days to hold my schedule more loosely without losing myself in the process.

Monday, April 11, 2011


2 : to promote the growth of
3 a : to furnish or sustain with nutriment : feed

During a Lent devoted to self-care, I've been trying to discern the difference between the things that numb me and the things that nourish me.  As I said in another post, it's not always easy to distinguish between the two.  Something that feels like "me" time can actually just be a mild anesthetic that leaves me more tired than I was before I took the time off.  After some soul-searching and last week's experience with time for myself that left me drained instead of refreshed, I have a short list of the things that nourish my soul - that promote my internal growth and sustain me for my other everyday activities.

Creating: whether it's writing a blog post, jotting a journal entry, doing a sketch or making a collage, creating tops the list of things that nourish my soul.
Art: a trip to the museum, the botanical gardens or even a flip through a magazine chock full of art gives me almost the same mental jolt as creating.
Exercising: I've learned this the hard way.  My body needs to move.  My mind needs my body to move.  Of all the things that nourish me, this one is the hardest.  I'm not a natural at exercising.  I'm no athlete and I prefer to work out alone.  But everything else in my life falls together a bit easier when I make myself get on that treadmill, do the sit-ups, lift the weights.
A Long Bath: it's simply soothing and it's an everyday luxury I can and will indulge in.  It also gives me time and space for...
Meditation: this is more than prayer time for me.  It's time to actually be still physically and mentally.  To set aside what I think, what I want, what I need to do and just listen.  I don't always hear something, but I can feel a difference - it's like taking a deep breath instead of breathing shallowly.

I've also discerned a few gray areas.  Things that do nourish me, but can also be used to avoid life rather than live it more fully.

Reading: how it pains me to put this in the gray area instead of on the nourishing list.  But if I'm completely honest, I know that I use books to avoid my life, my feelings, my to-do list.  Does that mean I'm going to stop reading?  Not a chance.  That would be like deciding I'll just go through tomorrow without breathing.  My solution (for now) is to be very sensitive to what type of book I'm craving.  If I am longing for escape, I try to determine whether that's a good or a bad thing before giving in to the urge.  Sometimes there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a book to lose myself in.  Other times, not so much.
Time with friends: as an introvert, I don't typically long for time with other people.  But I've recently noticed that even brief interactions with friends can buoy my spirit on a day when it's sagging.
Naps: I'm not ashamed to say that I nap several times each week.  I think it's just a part of my rhythm of life that I need a break during the day to quiet myself.  But I put this as a gray area because there have been days when my schedule should have precluded the option of a nap, yet I've squeezed one in anyway, sometimes with a whiff of entitlement (something I hate to witness in myself).  Is it wrong to grab a twenty minute nap a few times a week?  No.  Should I expect it?  No.  It won't always be possible.
Blogs: reading other people's blogs is inspiring, encouraging and makes me feel connected.  But it can also be a horrible time drain.  I don't plan to eliminate this entirely from my routine, but I think setting aside a certain amount of time daily for this pursuit might be a workable solution.  Will it leave some posts unread?  Yes, but that's OK.

And then there are the more clear cut areas that I might think are restful, but ultimately stunt my growth rather than aid it.

Facebook: there's no way around the fact that Facebook does little other than eat away at the time I have available to actually live my life.  Some days I am better than others about not scrolling through the feed on my phone.  But it's a battle for me to maintain this day after day.
Computer games: while I don't play games on the computer very often (less than once weekly), I inevitably turn to it when I'm feeling restless.  Whether it's a game on my phone or something else, it's a way to distract myself instead of engaging whatever I'm really thinking or feeling.
Television: I really wanted to put this in the gray area.  I don't watch a ton of TV, but I have a couple of favorite shows.  I like to watch Merlin with the girls - a show we can actually all enjoy.  J and I watch Castle together.  Beyond that, I might watch an episode of Torchwood while folding clothes, but that's about it.  Still, I know there are times when I watch television not to connect with my family, but to just turn my brain off for a while.  I'll be honest: that is not going to change.  I'm not going to turn into someone who never does anything that's just fun for the sake of being fun.  Does watching television nourish me or help me grow?  Absolutely not, but I'm still going to watch it.

All of this has me wondering what self-care looks like for other people.  If you're not particularly creative, how do you take care of your soul?  What things in your day, your week, your month leaving you feeling rested, rejuvenated, undeniably cared for?  Do you even know?  If you do know, do you make time to do these things?

I've had a fairly successful Lent.  Most of the time, I don't actively miss the caffeine, but a brief stomach bug on Friday led me to drink a Coke.  I didn't have to.  I just wanted one.  It. Was. Good.  But I've not had any caffeine since.  And the creating portion of Lent?  That discipline of taking on the task to collage everyday? That's going splendidly.  The more I create, the more I want to create.  And it's leaving me undeniably well nourished (even if I did skip my work out on Thursday...)

Saturday, April 9, 2011


: to use again especially in a different way or after reclaiming or reprocessing

After K's soccer game today, B and I went to art and craft heaven.  We pulled into the parking lot of a warehouse, walked inside and were encouraged to take anything and everything we wanted.  At no cost.  This ZeroLandfill event had carpet samples, unwanted binders, tiles, wallpaper and fabric.  It was wonderful.  B and I took turns filling our bags and finally grabbed an empty box to fill with carpet tiles for covering our basement floor in a quilt of carpeted colors.

J found out about this event a few weeks ago and sent me info on it via e-mail.  He thought it would be a great source for collage materials - and he was right.  I'm especially excited to use a set of sheer fabrics that I found.  I can already imagine using them to hide and reveal certain portions of the image underneath.  B was the perfect child to take with me to this event because she is creative to the core.  While looking through upholstery fabrics, I found a book of tassels and fringe.  She was (as expected) excited and said right away, "I can just picture these as part of a carousel."  We brought home every stitch of tassel we came across and I found myself wishing I had told friends who sew about this event.  It was a quilter's dream: tiny pre-cut squares of every shade, color and texture imaginable.  (Let me know if you live in Nashville and want information on this event.  It continues next Saturday.)

As we sorted through our treasure trove of wallpapers, sheers and fringe this afternoon, I thought about how much I enjoy repurposing items.  I think one reason I've been drawn to collage as a medium is the way it allows you to take one thing and turn it into something entirely new and different.  At its best, it turns something useless into something useful, something unwanted into something desirable, something discarded into something beautiful.

I remember walking through an art gallery with an aunt one time and talking with her about Marcel Duchamp and why his art was important.  If you're not familiar with his work, he was an expert at pushing boundaries and was the first artist to take found materials and dub them art.  He called them ready-mades and while I wouldn't want his infamous Fountain hanging in my living room - or anywhere in my house for that matter - he paved the way for artists today who paint on old window frames, salvage tin for sculptures or turn bicycle chains into jewelry.  Much of my favorite contemporary art involves reclamation items that have been transformed into something new.

I partly like art that takes old things and turns them into something else because it is, to me, the essence of creativity.  To take something mundane and see the beauty in it is not only art, it's an act of faith.  Because seeing the beauty in the everyday makes us see the fingerprints of our creator all around.  It makes us take notice of the deep purple in a bowl of black beans drying in the colander or the glimmering white cloud juxtaposed with a sky of muted gray ones.  Choosing to go through life looking for things to reuse is, at least for me, a spiritual practice.  And it's one way we can all choose to be artists.

I think I'm drawn to this practice because I love it as a metaphor for my life.  I like the idea of God reclaiming me to be used in a different way.  Taking the pieces of my life or myself that could have easily been consigned to the landfill and making them not only tolerable, but put to good use.  I like the idea that just like the discarded materials B and I collected today, I can be made into something different, something beautiful.  I don't think God's going to make a carousel out of me, but I look forward to seeing him take my tattered and torn self and turn it into something useful, beautiful and maybe even fun.

B's carousel (with tasseled entryway)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


1 : devoid of sensation especially as a result of cold or anesthesia

I've been thinking about a blog post - or even a series of posts - about self-care.  I realized part way through Lent that self-care is the lesson for me in this season - a far more important lesson than how to live without caffeine or what to do with 40 days' worth of collages.  Upon realizing this, I've tried to embrace the challenge of self-care.  Because make no mistake, self-care is a challenge for women in today's world.

Whether you're single, working full time and cooking for one or married with children, homeschooling for a living and feeding a horde every night, there are many things in your life that vie for attention - and nearly all of them yell more loudly than self-care.

I've tried for a time to tune out the cacophony of voices calling for me to do this or that and instead ask myself what I want to do.  I've had some small successes, but Tuesday I wasn't listening to the voice of self-care, even when I thought I was.

Tuesdays are the day that A goes to tutorials.  I had a few things to take care of on the computer and an errand or two to run, but basically had the day free.  I took care of the least desirable tasks first, then rewarded myself with a TV show (don't Brits just make the best TV series?).  That felt good, so I proceeded to waste another hour playing Scrabble online.  I didn't collage, blog, exercise or finish my Bible Study.  I did take a brief soaking bath and follow it up with a quick nap, but the day left me exhausted and a bit bewildered at how tired I was.  After all, what had I done all day?

What I'd done, when I stopped to actually think about it, was numb myself all day instead of taking care of myself.  And if caring for myself helps the process of unfurling, numbing is its antithesis.  Numbing encourages an inward curl, a mental (if not physical) fetal position.  While that might feel all right - or even good - for a few hours, it leaves me achy and in need of stretching.  Stretching my mind, my heart, my body with the things I need to truly be who I am.

This is the path to humility, don't you think?  Mentally composing a post on self-care, only to completely forget to actually live my words.  So instead of offering encouragement on the value of taking care of yourself, I hope you'll read this post and choose to not follow the path I trod yesterday: being numb is not the same things as being cared for.

Monday, April 4, 2011


2. : a place of privacy or safety : refuge
3. : a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director

It is a difficult
  lesson to learn today,
to leave one's friends
  and family and deliberately
practise the art of solitude
  for an hour or a day
    or a week.
For me, the break is most difficult...

And yet, once it is done,
  I find there is a quality
to being alone that is
  incredibly precious.

Life rushes back into the void,
    more vivid,
      fuller than before!
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My retreat this weekend was lovely.  If you've never been on a directed silent retreat, I can't recommend it highly enough.  It is more than self-care.  It is soul-care.  And our souls desperately need care.

Upon return, a note from K was waiting on my pillow.  It read:

Dear Mom,
We miss you so much! We LOVE YOU! We have something that we want to say to you, and this is the thing we want to say to you.  You are the best mom in the whole world!

They were words I needed to hear and the fact that they came on the heels of time away assured me that I don't have to take care of myself at the expense of my children.  I can take care of me to take care of them and leave us all healthier, happier and more whole.

Friday, April 1, 2011


4 : to have or establish a rapport

Last weekend, we took B and K to one of B's favorite stores.  She loves this place.  It's an eclectic mix of really cool things - jewelry, clothing, soaps, candles, purses, even puzzles.  While there, B found a puzzle of Alice in Wonderland.  It was a perfect puzzle for her: 500 pieces, challenging imagery and a cool box that looks like a book to hold all of the pieces.  We bought it for her and she and I worked on it over the span of two or three days until it was completed.

When we first started the puzzle, I was ready to quit.  This is a hard puzzle.  All of those cards that border it look remarkably similar unless you spend lots of time looking very closely.  I spent a few minutes on it that first day and wondered whether we'd bitten off more than we could chew.  Then I walked away.  But B didn't walk away.  She worked on the quote first, then Alice's body.  Meanwhile, she tackled the border in chunks, which made it more manageable.

After B had made some progress and it was clear she wasn't ready to give up on this puzzle, I joined her again.  I picked one area to work on and was encouraged to see some progress.  That kept me going.  B and I work puzzles well together.  While we were working this time, I told her that on my last silent retreat, I did a puzzle and it was the only time I felt a little lonely.  I felt lonely because I rarely do a puzzle alone - I always do it with B.  She smiled and asked whether I would do a puzzle on my retreat this weekend.

Puzzles are a natural fit for B.  She's highly visual, great a spatial concepts and mathematically minded.  While two of these three descriptors might fit me, I am legally handicapped in the area of spatial concepts.  It literally hurts my brain to try to figure out how to mentally flip and rotate figures.  Yet I like puzzles.  And I found with this puzzle that it was a joy to lose myself in it.  To look very closely at the box and see that the Queen of Hearts has quite a few differences from the Queen of Spades.  Who knew?  Did I have to move the pieces around to get them to fit?  Absolutely.  Sometimes it was absolutely comical to watch myself find the piece that I knew belonged in a spot and work to turn it the right way.  But instead of shaming myself for this, I smiled inwardly and thought, "I should probably do puzzles more often. Maybe I'd actually get better at this."

We finished the puzzle yesterday before school.  While we were on the last few pieces, B said, "The sad part will be taking this puzzle apart when we're finished. Let's leave it for Daddy to see when he gets home from work."  It's still sitting on the dining room table, but I've told B that we can take it apart and do it together one more time, then seal it and hang it on her wall.  (I also bought the Wizard of Oz puzzle by the same company for us to do before tackling Alice again.)

I'm leaving for a silent retreat momentarily.  As B headed out the door with J this morning for school, I told her I'll think about her as I work on a puzzle.  She gave me a hug, smiled and headed out without so much as a backward glance.  (This was in sharp contrast to K, who is nearly devastated any time I leave and had to make sure I knew it.)

Later this morning, I thought about how much I enjoy puzzle time with Bekah.  While we connect the pieces of the puzzle, we connect with each other.  And this daughter of mine loves connecting.  She can be prickly.  She wants connection on her own terms.  But that makes me all the more happy to seize the moments when they appear.  Perhaps I should start searching now for the perfect puzzles to complete during those teenage years when she hardly wants to inhabit the same room as me.  Nah.  I think I'll just savor the moment and look forward to the next puzzle that helps us connect.