Wednesday, March 28, 2012


1 : to strengthen by additional assistance, material, or support : make stronger or more pronounced

That message from this weekend about me needing rest? I think maybe God thought I wasn't opening that gift to the fullest, so he thought he'd reinforce the message.

Yesterday, while lunching with a friend, I got a call from K's school saying she had a fever of 101.  I didn't take her temperature within the next hour or so, but I can tell you it surely climbed.  Her tiny little body was positively radiating heat.  She had an up and down night and I ended up sleeping with her from 2 AM on.

So today finds us all resting.  A, B and I had several things planned for today: an annual check up for A, mid-day liturgy at St. B's, followed by a trip to the zoo with friends.  Since we knew all of that was coming, we did today's school work on Monday to free up today.  Around 8 this morning, I gave the girls a choice: take today off as planned (but to read instead of taking a field trip) or do tomorrow's work and take a field trip tomorrow.  The verdict was to spend today reading.  And resting.

Each of my children is more extroverted than the previous:

A (age 12) is a pretty classic introvert.  She would choose time at home doing quiet things over nearly any activity.  She enjoys people, but they wear her out.  We know to plan for downtime for her after she's been around a lot of people. 

B (age 10) is similar to J in her introversion/extroversion mix.  When J took the Myers-Briggs assessment, he was right at the border for I/E.  Both of these people I love need to be around others, but they long for time alone as well.  Their challenge?  Because they are in that space that bridges introversion and extroversion, they sometimes struggle against resting even when they need it.  They crave stimulation, but don't want to seek it.  B in particular will let herself be satisfied with nameless, faceless interaction instead of seeking real relationship, which would be far more fulfilling in the long run.

K is a classic extrovert.  The worst punishment possible is to send her away from other people.  In first grade, I suggested to her teacher that instead of removing playground time if K misbehaved, she should put her at a desk away from the rest of the class.  I think she only had to do this one time.  Over the last day while K has been sick, I've had to remind myself that she doesn't want what the rest of my family wants while sick:  she does not want to be left alone.  She wants me to cater to her, sit on her bed, rub her back and just be near her.  I think it delighted her to wake up beside me in bed.  The gift of having someone to talk to the minute you wake up!  Yet I have been thankful to see as K as grown that she does have a teeny tiny introvert in her.  She loves to read.  And, like her sister A, K is learning to listen to her body and soul.  She knows what she needs.  So she is reading in bed right now, getting the rest her body needs to heal.

I think it's interesting that the paragraphs I just wrote about my children got longer the more different the child is from me.  I find it easy to explain the level of interaction A needs because it's so similar to my own.  But I  have to work to see what B and K need because it doesn't match my own experience.  It takes me more words to say the same thing because I'm explaining it to myself and trying to understand.

Maybe that's the way it works with rest as well.  I need to understand that the amount of rest I need is not based on the time I have available to rest.  It's based on the need I have, regardless of how easy it is to set aside my own agenda for that hour, day or week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


1 : repose, sleep; specifically : a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities

I went away on a silent retreat last weekend.  It was not what I had expected.  In the past, these retreats have energized me.  I've generally slept well, but have often found myself awake earlier than usual from excitement at the idea of spending the day in silence.  Not this time.  Friday night I went to sleep around 9:00 and slept until 7:45.  Saturday, I was like a two year old: I took a morning nap, an afternoon nap and went to bed again around 9:00.  I knew I was tired heading into this retreat, but I didn't know just how much my body and spirit were craving rest.

So instead of spending intense time with God, I rested.  I walked the grounds. 

I sat on a blanket by the pond.

I watched the geese - and wild turkeys and squirrels and butterflies and deer.

I marveled at how early spring has arrived and the way it's impossible to keep nature from asserting herself.  Flowers pop up in unexpected places, just waiting to be seen and offer their little blessing.

This resting has continued, albeit in a less pastoral setting, in the days following the retreat.  I had planned to join friends for dinner and a movie last night, but realized by midday that all I really wanted to do was have dinner with my family and read my current (very good) book.  So I cooked an easy meal, sat with my family at the dinner table and then retired to the couch.  My regular Tuesday bible study gathering was canceled for today, so I am claiming it for more rest.  I hope to catch up on some writing, do some reading and take a nap.

Our culture does not encourage us to rest and I have struggled internally to accept that rest is what I need right now.  As I was walking this morning, I was thinking about how God can heal us while we rest.  That's true, but I also believe we don't always need an additional reason to rest.  Sometimes it's just what we crave and where we need to go.

As spring arrives and summer looms on the horizon, I hope you will take time to rest in whatever form you need.  If that translates to evening strolls with your partner, an extra cup of tea in the morning or a good book on the weekend, take it.  Claim it as yours.  Enjoy it.  Soak it up.  Leave refreshed.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


: the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, amongst other books

Around 6 tonight, my husband came walking through the door with the mail in his hands.  With a small smile on his face, he handed me a cream colored envelope addressed to A.

I didn't recognize the handwriting, so I flipped it over to see the return address.

Then I gasped.  "He wrote her back!" I said to my husband.  "It has actual handwriting on it.  And it's postmarked from San Diego, not New York.  I think he really wrote her.  I can't believe it." 

A was at ballet, so we had to wait two hours for her reaction.  Is it bad that I wanted to open the letter right then and there?  Maybe so.  But I didn't open it.  I waited.

As J started to leave to pick her up for ballet, I told him to be sure and take the letter.  "Don't you want to get to see her open it?" he asked before leaving. Well, of course I did.  I just didn't want her to have to wait one minute longer than absolutely necessary to see this.  So I picked her up from ballet. 

As soon as she got into the car, I turned on a light and handed her the letter.  She turned it over and started to open it.  "A," I said, stopping her.  "Do you see who that's from?" 

There was a slight pause as she looks at the handwriting.  "Selznick?" she said, trying to place the name.  "Oh! He wrote me back!" she said and literally started jumping up and down in her seat.

She opened the card and read his words to her, though I think ultimately they matter far less than the fact that an award winning author of books that our family loves took the time to write a note to a twelve year old girl.  She will, I imagine, never forget this.

As we drove home, I told A that I've learned a lesson from this experience of hers.  I explained that while I've read thousands of books in my life, I have never written a single letter to an author.  "Really?" she said with amazement.

"I've always assumed they wouldn't care what I have to say," I explained to her.  "When I saw that Brian Selznick wrote you back, I wondered whether I should write Markus Zusak a letter and tell him how much I love his book."

"And how much you cry every time you read it?" she asked with a smile.

One thing I have been learning this Lent is that I don't see myself very accurately.  I am quick to assume that no one could possibly want to hear what I have to say.  That might not be true.  Markus Zusak might need to hear that his book is the best book I've ever read, that it makes me ache to write, that it captures the truth that the great pain and the great beauty of life often exist side by side.  Maybe I'll get around to writing him because as she ate her dinner, a beaming twelve year old said to me, "God has great timing.  I had a bad day at ballet.  This letter came at just the right time."

I don't know what Brian Selznick's next book will be about.  I do know we will buy it and read it.  We're now lifelong fans.

Maybe you don't have a favorite book or favorite author, but who needs to hear the words you have to offer today?  They could be a gift.

Sunday, March 18, 2012



Lent has just passed the half-way mark.  I would have thought by now that I'd have a better understanding of exactly what my Lenten vow is about and why I am doing this.  I was surprised when I prayed about a direction for Lent and heard the response that I should walk or run every day for 40 days.  I hesitated.  To my ears, this sounded more New Year's Resolution than Lenten vow.  But I continued to feel this was the direction, no matter how much I threw up question marks.  So I began. I thought when I began that I would eventually understand the reason I was pointed in this direction.  I assumed if I just kept walking, I'd see the destination ahead of me sooner or later.

I've learned a few things about myself so far:
  1. I am more inclined to give myself grace and walk more, run less when I am doing it every day.  I see this time as less about the workout than the discipline of doing it.  So if I only run 10 minutes one day instead of 20, I'll think, "Well, I'll be out here tomorrow morning.  I can just run 10 more minutes then."  I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad trait of mine.  It's just what I've observed.
  2. Our mornings have a different feel to them when I am up and out the door by 6:15 and back by 6:45 or 7:00.  K is often up and dressing by the time I get back, but even if she's not, I have time to wake her and point her in the right direction with less rush and intensity.
  3. I am not finding this easier as the time wears on.  Do I enjoy the time?  Yes, I honestly do.  But I miss sleeping in.  I miss having the energy to stay up past 10 in the evening and I found out Thursday morning that I don't do well without a bit of accountability.  That was the first morning that J was out of town and I woke with a sore throat, which I used as an excuse to not get out of bed.  I regretted it all day.

Yet if I am completely honest with myself, I might have learned more from that one morning of failure than I have from all the previous mornings of obedience.  I learned that I miss my morning walk when I don't take it.  Thursday I felt the absence of having that time alone, that time to listen to God and wake up slowly.  I was distracted, less at peace and more hurried. 

I shared with a friend via e-mail that I didn't walk Thursday morning.  Here's part of what she wrote back:
I also want to say about you not walking/running yesterday? I get it. I am beginning to think Lent is really about realizing how weak we are and then in that space of us seeing "failure" or our weakness God brings new life... I heard you say you broke your Lenten vow. But I think God uses Lent to break us and then in those freshly exposed spaces show us in whole new ways how beautiful, how loved, how valiant we are.
I needed to hear those words.  I needed to hear that even my failure was part of what I am supposed to learn this Lent.  As I walked this morning, I pondered the difference between being broken open and being broken.  I am definitely broken, but I've realized lately how much time and energy I spend protecting myself.  What might happen if I left the broken places cracked open and exposed instead of trying to plaster them over and move on?

I also needed to read the words of Richard Rohr last night as I finished reading Everything Belongs:

[W]e have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality.  All transformation takes place there.  We have to move out of "business as usual" and remain on the threshold (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between.  There, the old world is left behind, but we're not sure of the new one yet.  That's a good space.  Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible.
I've struggled to explain why I feel it is a part of my Lenten experience for the walking or running to be done first thing in the morning.  My schedule has some flexibility.  I could run in the evenings after J gets home.  Or go for a walk with A and B during the day.  But I've felt in my heart like that wasn't exactly the right direction.  The passage above was like a light bulb.  Morning walks are walks in liminal space.  I'm betwixt and between sleep and wakefulness and able to hear clearly, before putting on my daily armor for the world.  I'm more vulnerable, fresher, ready to listen - and far less inclined to talk.  If prayer is about being quiet and waiting to hear from God instead of throwing requests his way, my morning walks are definitely more like that.  Often, I can't even think very clearly until I've been outside moving for 5 or 10 minutes.

Bit by bit, I've seen a few things about my Lent with more clarity over the last few days.  Going forward, I hope to embrace my failure(s) and live as much as possible in the space where I am listening expectantly.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


2 a : the work in which a person is employed : occupation

Over the course of the last two days, my girls and I have encountered two people who truly enjoy their vocations.  The first was a park ranger at an area park.

As a family that has been doing the Fun Jar for nearly a decade, I didn't think there was a Metro Nashville park we hadn't visited.  I was wrong.  Beaman Park is lovely - it has a nature center, several trails to choose from and, best of all, a creek that runs along one trail and is perfect for playful children (and their mother).  When we arrived, we headed to the nature center and went straight to the outdoor map.  We had barely started looking when the ranger came out the door of the nature center and asked if we needed any help.  I explained that this was our first visit to his park and he went on to offer his suggestions for the best place to start, all the while patiently answering questions from K about star moss, orchids and owls.

A few things stood out to me as we finished talking to him and headed back to the van to drive to the trail he recommended:  1) he didn't have to come outside and talk to us when he saw us looking at the map.  He easily could have thought we would seek him out if we had questions.  2) he came out and willingly engaged with us because he was proud of his park and what it has to offer.  He likes his job and he likes telling people about it.

The second encounter was this morning at the zoo.  Our trip was a short one since we wanted to get back to our neighborhood in time to meet K for lunch.  So we prioritized.  First up:  elephants and giraffes.  As we headed that way, we passed the lorikeets.  B wanted to stop.  A wanted to wait for us outside.  ("The sign says those birds will bite when provoked.  I'll wait out here," offered my cautious firstborn.)  B and I entered the lorikeet area, where birds were zooming about, sipping nectar from other guests who purchased it, landing on heads, arms and playing what seemed to be a bird version of relay racing.  It was lovely, lively and fun.

As B and I stood there, a bird landed on the head of a little girl who was none too thrilled.  The zookeeper helped get it off and called the bird by name as she took him onto her arm.  Surprised, I asked whether all of the birds had names.  "Yep.  All 67 of them," she replied.  She went on to tell B and I that just like a teacher whose students are hard to tell apart at the beginning of the school year, the birds all look alike at first glance, but that their differences become more apparent as you get to know them.  We learned more in five minutes of talking to her than we could have learned in five hours walking around the zoo alone.

These two experiences had prepared me for an e-mail I received today from a friend who is thinking of starting her own business.  She wanted honest feedback, which I offered, but the thing that stood out the most strongly to me was that this business idea is so much more than a job, a way to make money.  It's an outpouring of who she is.  And I think that's one thing that makes work satisfying.  Makes it more than a job.  Makes it worth doing every day.

Another realization from seeing these three people go about their vocations with joy, confidence and willingness: I feel this way about my current occupation of homeschooling A and B.  Sure, there are days when I wish I didn't have to figure out one more way to explain why it's easier to reduce fractions by canceling before multiplying or make one more reminder about the need to stay focused on the task at hand.  But these are mere moments.  And in the scheme of things, they matter far less to me - they stand out in my mind less - than hearing B say she read more than the assigned number of pages because she was so interested in Nat Turner's account of the slave uprising or seeing A create a diorama of a scene from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I am joyful, willing and confident about this role I am playing.  Like the park ranger and the zookeeper, I am happy to share my work with others and tell them about it.  Not to sway them to my way of thinking, but to share my delight.

I once had a family member try to convince me not to major in art history because it wasn't practical.  I was instead encouraged to choose a major that would lead to a vocation and perhaps see art history as my avocation.  I was uncharacteristically sure of my decision regarding my college major.  Fifteen years out, I would not change a thing.  I suppose art history has become my avocation rather than my vocation, but my decision to major in what I loved was a pursuit of joy.  And I think choosing a vocation should be more a function of pursuing joy than pursuing a paycheck.

A vocation is more than mere occupation.  In fact, the first definition of vocation listed on Merriam Webster is "a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call to the religious life."  A true vocation comes not just from your college major, your skill set or your choices in life - it comes from a seed God plants in each of us.  Which is why it's so very beautiful to encounter a park ranger or zookeeper who love their jobs.  We are, in a way, watching those divine seeds bloom.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


: one whose personality is characterized by introversion (the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life)

Are you an introvert?  Do you know one?  Love one?  If so, I encourage you to take a few minutes and listen to this TED Talk by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.  I've read the book - and loved it.  If you're not an introvert, an entire book devoted to the subject may be a bit too much for you.  But Cain's TED Talk is less than 20 minutes and will help you understand why the world can be a difficult place for an introvert - and why our world needs what introverts have to offer.

Here's the thing: this talk made me cry.  I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the word radiance and why it is so scary for me.  The bottom line?  I equate being seen with being used - and radiant people are generally seen.  That realization has had me grappling with how to feel valued without feeling used.  Cain's talk brought tears because it made me feel valued as someone who is different than what the world tell us the ideal should be.  It also challenged me to not be so afraid to share what's going on inside my head.

So watch the video linked above and see whether it makes you see yourself - and those around you a tiny bit differently.  Because that would be a gift, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


8 a (1) : difficult to bear or endure

Keeping a lenten vow is hard.  This morning when my alarm went off, I did not, under any circumstances, want to get out of bed.  It wasn't the weather - the sun was already peeking up and the day promised to be a beautiful one.  It wasn't that I was sick or injured, just tired.  So very tired.  By the time my alarm went off at 5:55, J had showered and left for work.  I stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom.  There the internal debate began.  Should I dress or crawl back into bed?  Does God really expect me to be able to do this for 40 days?  Do I expect me to be able to do this?

I did actually crawl back into bed.  But after mere moments, I talked myself (guilted myself? shamed myself?) into getting out of bed and into workout clothes.  I hit the sidewalk still yawning and rubbing my eyes.  And I let myself off the hook and walked with not a single block of running.  (It seemed a small concession to make to the weariness that was enveloping my body and soul.)

Did I enjoy my walk once I woke up and persevered?  Yes.  Did I hear God's voice as I trudged along?  Yes.  Was I obedient and faithful? Yes.  Does part of me still wish I had been able to stay in bed?  Absolutely.  It was hard to do that one simple thing this morning - and there is a lot of Lent left.

I wonder if this is why more Christians don't do Lent.  Not because they believe it lacks a biblical foundation (as one friend told me), but because it is hard.  It's hard to hear God whisper something He wants you to do - something straightforward and simple - and then struggle to do it over and over for 40 days.  It's hard to face the constant tension of passivity and activity in your faith walk.  What is my job?  What is God's?  That's not always clear.

I think some denominations would argue that Lent is not a part of their particular tradition because their faith is based on relationship with God, not abstention or fasting for a marked period of time.  I would say to them that my Lent so far has very much been about relationship.  I've been listening and talking and praying as I walk and run.  I've been thinking about my friendships and what they tell me about the kind of friend I am.  I've been thinking about my desire to remain hidden and what that tells me about my heart.  I've been realizing I am much more gracious with others than I am with myself - and that I feel powerless to change that on my own. 

Starting my day with a walk or a run has not been about losing weight or physical fitness.  It's been about being willing to engage in an ongoing conversation with God about where I am in my life and the hopes, dreams and gifts He has for me.

Back in November, I made an Advent journal.  I used that journal for the entirety of Advent - for everything from planning my birthday party to recording thoughts after Lectio Divina.  I collaged in it, scribbled down quotes I liked and lugged it all over town with me.  When Epiphany rolled around, I wanted another journal to name and mark that season.  So I created another journal (and found I prefer a traditional composition book as a starting point since my epiphany journal fell apart!) and believe it's lovely to mark the year this way.  Here's a view of my journal for Lent:

On the inside cover I've copied down a Mary Oliver poem.  I've been reading Oliver's poetry for a few months now and thoroughly enjoy it.  Her love of nature and willingness to search for God and His heart in creation is moving, inspiring and challenging.  I started with the volumes Blue Iris and Thirst.  (Thirst is exceptionally good - start here if you're unfamiliar with Oliver.)  After finishing those, I checked to see what else the library had available.  I smiled when I saw the volume called Why I Wake Early.  Only days before, I'd been surprised to hear God instruct me to walk or run every morning for Lent.  So it seemed like a gentle nudging - and a kind gift - to read Oliver's words:

Why I Wake Early
Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety - 
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light - 
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Perhaps words like these should make it easy to get out of bed each morning.  They do not.  It is still hard.  Yet I am doing it. So far.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


: a piece of land used for and usually equipped with facilities for recreation especially by children

This morning I drove past a playground where a mother was pushing her young daughter in a swing.  The sight of it made me smile and simultaneously made me realize that I am well past that stage of life.  I have fond memories of bringing my daughters to this playground.  Of packing snacks for them and a book for me.  Of knocking on the door of the church to see if I could bring potty-training B inside to use the restroom.  Of sitting at the picnic table while they played.  Of pushing them in the swings.

I have these memories and am thankful for them, yet I am not sad.  Instead, I am glad.  I feel perhaps a hint of sadness, a whiff of nostalgia when I think of my daughters who were once too small to pump their arms and pull their swing into motion.  But I am glad to see them emerging from the chrysalis of childhood into their almost adult selves.  I am delighted to share books with them, to share meals with them, to have meaningful conversations.

I do not miss cutting their food into small pieces to avoid choking hazards.  I don't miss lugging around equipment for a night away.  I don't long for the days when I could pick out exactly what clothes they would wear.  (At any rate, such days were incredibly short-lived in a home with three opinionated daughters.)  Instead I get to enjoy talking to them about our meal plan for the week and soliciting their thoughts or having them pack their own suitcases for a weekend trip or seeing what outfit they will assemble today.

Yet this phase of parenting does elicit at least one emotion other than gladness: fear.  I am afraid of pushing too hard - or, more likely for me, of not pushing hard enough.  I am afraid of saying the wrong thing - or of saying nothing when I should speak up.   That stage of parenting toddlers is fairly straightforward - keep them safe, teach them manners, feed them well.  This current stage?  Far less clear, with minefields at every turn.

If this morning made me think about the stage of parenting that has passed me by, lunch had me thinking about the years to come.  There, I met my spiritual director's children who are nearly my age.  After she introduced me, she told me what good children they are.  My first thought was that I hope the same will be said of my children two decades from now.  Will my daughters enjoy each other's company and come into town to celebrate a special day for me?

Only time will tell, but today's realization that my playground days are over has me hyper-aware that when people tell you "it goes so fast," they aren't kidding.  My daughters will have gone from half-grown to adulthood in no time at all.  As I navigate this next stage of parenthood, I hope I'll let the gladness of seeing them grow outpace the fear that it is all going by in the blink of an eye.

Friday, March 2, 2012


: a large panel designed to carry outdoor advertising

When we take a trip to visit J's family, I always try to make sure he drives while we're going through Chicago.  Not just for the obvious reason (traffic), but for a less obvious one: I like to look at the billboards.   They advertise different things than you see on billboards at home in Nashville:

They do so cleverly:

And they keep me entertained during the L O N G drive around the massive city of Chicago:

I think Chicago's billboards are a great metaphor for what I love about traveling.  I am a creature of habit.  I love being at home with my family of five and I love following a routine.  I've learned to be more flexible and spontaneous over the years, but I am still a structured girl when given the choice.  At home, I want to do things our way.  Over our fifteen years of marriage, J and I have figured out the best way to manage our family.  I know what time to start dinner, what days I need to do laundry to have the ballet clothes clean and what time we need to depart for school to arrive on time.  We have a routine that works for us.

But when we're away from home, I feel the freedom to let go of our routine.  "I'm hungry.  When's breakfast?"  Right now - just head downstairs to the lobby.  "Can I watch TV?"  Sure (even on a weekday - gasp!).  "Can I finish this book before we go?"  Of course.

Staying in a hotel with 7, 10 and 12 year old daughters is a whole new (and delightful) way to travel.  They love picking which bed is theirs, choosing their towel in the bathroom, opening the little bar of soap and checking every closet until they find the surfboard (that would be an ironing board, but K called it a surfboard the first time she saw one folded up and hanging, so we laugh about that every time we stay at a hotel).

So last weekend as we spent 25 hours in the car on our way to and from Green Bay, I tried to enjoy the new and different.  I tried to not worry about how tired I was or how poorly we were eating.  Instead I thought about how special it was for J's grandparents to have a roomful of people celebrate their 60 years of marriage.  I focused on how much my girls enjoyed visiting Lambeau field, eating out and sleeping in.  I tried to see this new place through their eyes and to enjoy it for all its differences from our regular life back in Nashville.

And if I was glad to return home to our own beds, our own routine and home-cooked meals, it wasn't because I didn't enjoy the billboards.