Monday, July 30, 2012


1 : to do the first part of an action : go into the first part of a process : start

Today was our first day of school for the 2012-2013 year.  When K walked out of her room this morning (after reading in bed for who knows how long), I said, "Hi, third grader."  She gave me a big smile and a hug before heading off to find some breakfast.

Our first day was a bit rocky.  By 9:30, two of my three students/daughters had cried.  B cried out of anger and frustration that school was actually starting, that she really had work to do and that she didn't know exactly where every book was.  K cried because I wouldn't let her read her Nancy Drew book and she was afraid she won't get enough reading time as a homeschooler.  I explained, as gently as possible, that without rules prohibiting us from reading during school hours that's all any of us would ever do around here - read and then read some more.

By noon, all of the sentences had been written, all of the math problems completed, all of the research done.  So we watched the previous evening's Olympics together for a few hours.  B has been dubious about the Olympics ever since I announced we were going to start school by learning about the games through a unit study.  Yet as she watched women's gymnastics, she turned to me and said, "You're right, mom.  This is fun."  I refrained from doing a victory dance and instead breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

Were it not for the Olympics, I might not have started school so early.  Our summer has been abysmally low on down time - a mere shadow of the summer I envisioned having.  But I have felt that we are ready to begin.  Ready to reimpose order and routine.  Ready to have something bigger to give our days shape and meaning.

You might have noticed above that only two out of three daughters cried today.  The third (and firstborn) was raring to go.  When I came downstairs at 7:30, she was showered, breakfasted and had started her daily work.  Even having only ended her summer ballet on Thursday, A was ready to begin.

There is something difficult, yet satisfying, about beginning.  The difficulty lies in breaking away, starting anew, shifting from what is known to what is unknown.  The satisfaction comes from having finally done what is anticipated and perhaps feared.  It was easier than ever to begin school this year.  While I still feel like I am swimming in uncharted waters, I enjoy the freedom of it.  I even enjoy the work of it.  Doing math with K this morning was alternately frustrating (working on math facts) and encouraging (the girl can see patterns).  She is a willing student, if a sometimes distracted one.  B, for all her huffing and puffing, enjoys learning and agreed this afternoon that it was a good day, filled with just the right amount of work.

If the beginning is hard, staying the course is even harder.  I was quite willing to make chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast this morning.  I will not be so willing later this week (or even tomorrow, after tonight's insomnia).  I didn't struggle to let B vent her frustration and anger today, but there will come a time when I want her to simply agree and go along.  When those moments and more arrive, I want to remember that on our first day of school, three of the four of us were in pajamas until noon.  I want to remember laughing about K's puddle of syrup and how A kept getting songs stuck in B's head - which only tormented all of us because B then sang or played them for hours on end.  I want to remember to begin again when it gets hard, impossible and discouraging. 

I want to not let fear, anger and shame paralyze me and instead reach for the joy that awaits just on the other side of beginning.

First Day of School - 6th grade, 3rd grade, 7th grade

Friday, July 27, 2012


3: used as a function word to indicate the continuance of an action or condition

Sixteen years ago, I woke up ready to face the day.  I'm not a morning person, but this day was different.  It was busy, with nearly every moment scheduled out, but I didn't mind.  Because at half after six that evening, I was going to marry J.

I'd met him three and a half years prior, while studying for an art history exam.  Truth be told, I liked him right from the start.  He was focused on passing the final (very focused, since he'd bombed an earlier test), yet kind, welcoming and engaging.  We studied slides together for a few hours.  I pointed out the things I thought would be on the next day's final and made sure I had the important images fresh in my mind.  I was disappointed when it was time for him to head back to his dorm room and for me to keep studying.  I left the library that night hoping I would see him the next morning at our exam.

Nearly twenty years later, I still look forward to seeing him in the mornings.

J and I have changed a lot over the time we've been together.  When you meet your mate on your twentieth birthday, I think that's inevitable.  I was an art history major when he met me, a girl who felt like a fish out of water in the preppy, wealthy environment of Vanderbilt.  I was never quite sure who I was during those college years.  As someone who's never been good at deception or pretending, the artifice of Vanderbilt was intimidating for me.  Yet J was himself during those years - unassuming, friendly, fun-loving.

I still value that J is who he seems to be and that I can be myself with him, just like I could all those years ago.

While I was out of place in college, I've found my niche in East Nashville.  Here I have a neighborhood that lets me blend in without requiring that I put on camouflage each morning.  I've gone from being a girl in a jean wraparound skirt with a button down shirt to one in a flowing skirt and boots.  J's fashion evolution has been milder.  When I met him, every shirt in his closet was blue.  There are sprinkles of green, yellow and even (gasp!) purple now, but the style of shirt remains classic.

The clothing may have changed, but I would still choose J to share my closet and my life.

I think when I married, I imaged that J and I would always be basically the same as we were on our wedding day.  I've found that to not be true.  We've sought different careers than we imagined back then.  We've changed outwardly and inwardly.  We've grown - sometimes in the same direction, sometimes in different ones.  When I woke up on that morning sixteen years ago, I thought I was choosing my husband once and for all.  What I didn't know is that marriage is really a series of choices to have J as my husband.  Every day, in countless ways, I have choices.  I can choose a book I know J would like, make a dinner he will enjoy, watch an episode of Warehouse 13 with him.  Some times selfishness wins and I choose what I want over what he might want.  This ebb and flow in marriage is inevitable (and perhaps necessary).

This fact remains: I would choose him still.  After sixteen years of marriage, three children, job changes, wardrobe changes and oil changes.  I do love him. Still.

Monday, July 23, 2012


1 b : to find amusement or pleasure in something

There are few people who can make me laugh as much as the women pictured above.

This weekend, I went home for a visit and met up with my high school friends for dinner at the best local seafood restaurant around.  I arrived with a headache, but left having laughed it away.  I haven't been in close relationship with these women for two decades, yet I have so much fun when I'm with them.

I don't know if this is a phenomenon related to having shared so much laughter years ago or whether these are just my funniest friends.  (I suspect the former, although some of them might claim the latter.)  Friday night we laughed about everything from Christmas gifts given in poor taste to the right saying at the wrong time to the desire to be quotable. 

During dinner, I mentioned that my daughters really wanted to meet these friends of mine. (I think there's a mystery to my high school days.)  So my friends made a quick trip to my mom's house to meet A, B and K.  My extroverted K loved all of the attention from five extra people.  She sat in my lap for a moment and said to me as she watched my friends plop down on the floor, relive old stories and catch up, "Are they still teenagers?"

Not quite.  But you might wonder yourself if you saw us together.

While chatting, one of my friends asked A whether my Nashville friends are like this.  A paused, then said, "No, not really," with a smile.  She's right.

I love my current friends and in some ways feel like they know the real me better than the friends who double-dated with me, slept on my floor and scribbled their latest loves on my sheets.  After all, all of that was a very long time ago.  My Nashville friends definitely get a more serious side of me.  Want to talk about the latest book you've read?  How to teach our daughters to follow their hearts?  Whether the best choice for your soul is the best one for your family?  I'm your girl.  I can handle - and love - serious conversations.

Friday night reminded me that while I am someone who craves talking deeply about heartfelt topics, there is something to be said for just sitting around a table and laughing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


: an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment

It often feels like my time is not my own.  I live my life around appointments, lessons, performances and other obligations.  Even summer - a time that has typically held fewer activities and more time for inactivity (aka rest) - has been full.  I wouldn't necessarily change these things.  Our summer schedule has, I believe, been a taste of things to come.  With my children getting older and our city's school system gradually shifting to a year round calendar, summers are not what they used to be.  Even while we are homeschooling, our schedule is set for us in many ways.  Camps must be crammed into an 8 week period.  Opportunities for enrichment with other children are shrinking.  Travel takes valuable white space off the calendar. 

To be honest, I mourn this.  I love summers with my daughters - time to do fun things together, to stay in our pajamas all day, to do anything - or nothing.  I can still have these things - this time - but in smaller doses.  So I am trying to adjust and accept that time does not always move at the pace I would choose.

When my daughters visited their grandparents in Wisconsin earlier this summer, they came home with heirlooms.  A brought home a 1970s ladybug tunic and shorts.  B loves her cut off jean shorts and summer top.  You should see K model her father's old Brewer's jacket.  And they brought something for me: J's kairos cross from a retreat he went on in high school.

The first time I remember seeing this kind of cross was in Washington, DC in 1993 when J and I visited one of his high school friends.  I saw this necklace hanging in his friend's dorm room and asked what it was.  J's friend looked at him in surprise that I hadn't seen it before.  J shrugged while M explained it was a kairos cross.  If he gave me any further explanation all those years ago, it is gone from the mental stores I have available to me.

So when I opened the box with the cross in it, I decided to see if I could find out more about it.  Wikipedia to the rescue:
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.

I don't have a seminary degree.  I don't speak ancient Greek.  But here's what I think: We all live in chronos time, but not all of us live in kairos time.  Time will move on, whether we mark it or not, whether we spend it well or squander it.  That's why it's important to mark the moments of import and notice them. 

I've only had the kairos cross for a few weeks, but I've thus far tried to intentionally wear it when I need to be aware of time.  Not aware of my schedule, but aware of the moments that matter.  I don't know this, but I suspect that if I were better able to see, seize and enjoy kairos time, then chronos time would not feel like the burden it does.

All of these things are more heavily on my mind precisely because my life is so busy.  J and I decided about a week ago that we want to put our house on the market.  Having lived here for ten years, this is no small task.  We aren't exactly pack rats, but we have the blessing/curse of a basement.  The basement is a place best described as the locus of apathy and accumulation.  In all likelihood, there are items in that basement that have been boxed up since we moved here ten years ago.  I can assure you that when I come across said items, they will be discarded.  But it will take lots of work to get there.

I do think this is the right thing for us for now.  This is the time for this task.  But with school starting in ten days, I am feeling pressure to pack fighting a desire to create a quiet space to dream, pray and plan about our school year.  The pressure to pack will almost certainly win, meaning that our school year will start whether I am ready or not - and we will just have to do the best we can to enjoy the Olympics and learn while we enjoy.  (We are starting our year with a unit study of the Olympics, which does relieve some of the pressure to plan right now.)

The last two days have been particularly full.  I told a friend yesterday, "You know I'm overwhelmed when I keep fantasizing about not leaving my house for week.  And that's all I've thought about all morning."

It's unlikely that week will happen any time soon (or ever?).  The best solution I can think of is to remember kairos, to mark my time and pause to enjoy the right and opportune moments when they arise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


1 a : being without company : lone

Yesterday, I drove A and B to Kentucky for camp.  This is A's third and B's second year at Barefoot.  I first heard about Barefoot at the church we used to attend.  Each year, they would play a video that showed this fabulous camp with kids of all shapes, sizes and skin colors doing art, sports and learning about God.  It made me cry every time.  I remember thinking, "I can't wait until my daughters are old enough to go there!" 

I blinked and they were suddenly old enough.

Last year, B went with a friend.  But that friend is a grade below B, so she was slated to attend a different session this year.  I tried to find another friend to join her.  I checked with two other families that I thought might enjoy the Barefoot experience, but I couldn't find anyone.  So I signed her up hoping that there would end up being a familiar face or that she would quickly make a friend.

When we arrived yesterday, K and I walked her sisters to their cabins.  We dropped A's stuff off first and then headed over to B's cabin to help B put the sheets on her bed.  B's cabin was mostly full when we arrived - or it seemed so because all of the bunks near the door already had occupants.  The counselor was there and remembered K from Barefoot Day Camp, where she coached K in soccer.  B was very quiet as we made her bed up.  I could almost see her folding in on herself, like a box that folds up when not in use.  When we stepped outside, B looked... I have trouble finding the word for it.  Was she stunned that she really was there without a friend?  Wide-eyed at doing this alone?  Or was my nearly fearless child afraid?

"It's going to be OK," I reassured her quietly.

"But I'm the only white one," she whispered.

"I know," I replied.  "Maybe some other girls will arrive that look more like you.  But E, the girl in the bunk below you, has a very kind face.  Maybe you should try talking to her.

B nodded, unconvinced.  K and I started to leave and B said, "Can I come with you?"

"No," I said.  "We're going to leave now.  I think you should go back into your cabin.  Try to find someone to talk to."

I am not a parent who lets her children get out of their commitments.  But I came oh-so-close to telling B, "Call me if it doesn't get better.  I'll come and get you."  I did not say it aloud, but my heart said it.

On the drive back to Nashville, I was pondering the whole situation.  Should I have sent B a different week?  Was there another friend I could have asked after the first two couldn't go?  I felt like as my heart was breaking, God whispered to me that sometimes the hardest things in my life have been the things I learned the most from.  While this is absolutely true, it was less than comforting to hear this in relation to my child.  As much as I want my children to grow into who God has made them to be, I would love for that to involve less pain, less hurt, less wounding than my own path has held.  Yet mere hours before dropping B off, I wrote her a note that I hid in her suitcase.  It said, in part, "Be who you are this week.  But be open to God showing you more of who you are."  Was he going to show her through loneliness?

It's not unlikely.  The day before taking my girls to camp, I had lunch with the women who were in my spiritual direction group last year.  When we stopped meeting officially in May, we agreed to try to meet monthly for a meal to stay connected.  Over lunch, we were talking about friendships that shifted and changed.  One of the women was talking about a party where some people purposely avoided talking to her.  I told her that my counselor once told me that the more emotionally healthy you are, the more likely you are to be lonely.

"Why is that?" she asked.

When she asked this, I realized that I'd never asked why.  I think I didn't ask why because as soon as I heard it, it rang true in my heart even if I didn't know exactly why.  So I did the best I could and told my friend that what I've experienced is that the more closely I listen to what God is telling me, the more I veer from the prescribed, common path.  This makes me lonely because there are people who don't want to journey with me when I am not going where they want to go.  This loneliness I feel makes me lean in closer to God and listen more closely, which creates this cycle of being closer and closer to God, but perhaps without company on parts of my journey.

B is more self-aware than most ten year old girls.  She knows who she is and who she isn't.  I suspect that some of this emotional health she has does make her lonely at times.  I don't know the right way to parent her through this.  Thus far, I've tried to affirm who she is, give her tips on building friendships when she asks and, above all, love her.  This last one is easy because I think she's an amazing girl - one of God's best creations (alongside her sisters, of course).

And while she may be lonely at times on her journey, I am praying for God to send her people who see how lovely, strong and amazing she is.

Monday, July 9, 2012


2 : to fall as water in drops from the clouds

As I write this, it is raining outside.  It's not done nearly enough of that lately.  Even two weeks ago, the grass was crunchy.  That normally happens around here - in August, not late June.  What started as a very mild summer has turned into one that has left us feeling parched.  I can't recall a time in my life when I've prayed for rain before, but I have done so at the sight of a gray cloud or the sound of booming thunder in the distance over the course of the last few days.  So I am thankful for the drops hitting our roof right now.

Rain is like so many other things in our lives: we don't notice it unless we receive too little or too much of it.  A friend was telling me today about a farmer she met who explained that his job was to take care of the soil.  Because if the soil is properly cared for, the crop in that soil can withstand a bit too much rain or not quite enough.  There are limits, of course, but it was fascinating to think about this continuum of acceptable rain that the soil can adjust to accommodate.

This seems an apt metaphor for my spiritual life in so many ways.  I can't control the rain or the crop.  I can only make sure the soil of my soul is in the right condition.  And once it is, it's not about how much or how little I do.  Although my soul (as the soil surely does) will crave more nourishing rain once it tastes its goodness.  We sang this morning about tasting his goodness, knowing his presence and feasting until you must have more.  Once we are well-watered, we feel the drought more intensely when it comes.

I often hear from God clearly and distinctly.  So when I go days or weeks without clarity, it's easy to feel unmoored.  Thankfully, I have a dear friend who doesn't hear from God as clearly, yet she longs to do so.  She sets aside time to be quiet and listen.  She makes space for him in her life.  But she is simply wired differently than I am and has a different relationship with God than I do.  When I go through a period of silence in my relationship with God, I think it's best for me to remember that my soul is designed to deal with mild drought and mild over-watering.  God doesn't require that I spend X amount of time in the scripture, offer up Y number of prayers and serve Z number of ministries in order to care for me.  Whether I know it or not, the soil of my soul is getting what it needs from my maker.

When my daughter K visited my mother last month, it rained while she was there.  She and her cousins played in the rain until they were soaked through.  That's what I'd like to do with the moments of clarity and closeness that I have with God - let them soak me all the way through so that droplets cling there even long after the shower has passed.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


2 : full of activity : bustling

How busy are you?  Is your schedule crammed with one meeting after another, activities for your children, tasks that must be done?  Is coordinating your family calendar an Olympic event?  Do you look at what's coming in the next week and sigh at the lack of open space on your calendar, in your life, for your soul?

I will freely confess that am busier than I would like to be this summer.  I will also say that I don't believe my children are over-scheduled - I am the one that is over-scheduled.  They are doing the things they need to do (speech therapy) and love to do (dance, summer camp, piano).  But allowing them to be who they are and grow in their gifts does cost me something.

Earlier this week, my husband send me a link to an article called The 'Busy' Trap.  I wish you could have seen me reading it.  I was sitting in my van, waiting for A to come out of ballet (which is funny enough - that this is when I have time to read an article) and I was nodding along the entire time.  I do not value busy-ness.  I don't want it in my life, but it creeps in anyway.  I'm not someone who is proud of how busy our schedule is.  I'm not trying to raise overachievers.  I just want my daughters to be able to pursue the things they care about.

I have friends who are better at saying "No." Friends who manage to not have after school activities or summers littered with camp one week, travel the next week and ballet sprinkled here and there throughout.  I respect them for having good boundaries.  I just don't know how to water their little souls without letting them do what they love.  I would feel selfish to tell A that she can't dance this summer because I need a break from driving her to and fro.  Yet perhaps the key (as always) lies in knowing my children.

Last week, I reminded B on Wednesday night that she had piano the next day.  She began panicking.  "I told Ms. G that I would have Hey, Jude down pat by the next lesson and I haven't practiced at all!"  I reminded her that we had left for Wisconsin straight after her lesson and that we had only been home for 24 hours.  That did not assuage her concerns.  She climbed out of bed and went to practice the song through a time or two.  I offered to talk with her piano teacher and explain.  That helped a bit.  That night, I realized that B has been taking piano for about 18 months and has never had a serious break.

So the next day I asked her if she wanted to take the rest of July off of piano.  Somewhat to my surprise, she said "Yes" without little hesitation.  Of my children, B is the one who not only craves, but is vocal about her desire for down time.  B is what A has christened a mid-trovert.  While my children haven't officially taken the Myers-Briggs test, I can tell you with absolute certainty that A is an introvert and K as classic extrovert.  B straddles these extremes.  She wants to be around people, but needs time to herself.  This leaves my task as a mother of three a complicated one - they each need different amounts, levels and types of interaction to feel happy and content.

Where do my own needs come in?  As an introvert, I definitely need down time as much as B does.  In my ideal world, a day includes time for me to pray, read and rest.  It doesn't have to be a ton of time, but a few days that are packed too full leave me feeling like I am running on fumes.

I've been pondering the best way to begin our school year and what my expectations should be for next year.  It will be my first time homeschooling all three of my children and I think that will be challenging, at least for a while (and perhaps for the entire year).  But as I've prayed and imagined the year, I know that I want to find time and space for us each to be who we are.  We are all excited about the Olympics, so we will start our year with a unit study of the 2012 London games.  We did a field trip each Wednesday of Lent and loved celebrating spring's arrival with a short day midweek and time at some of our favorite Nashville places.

My goal? To be busy only with the things that matter.  Finishing school by 11:45 on Wednesdays required some pushing and pressing.  It felt busy in the moment.  But those field trip afternoons spent walking in the gardens or exploring the solar system or gazing at art felt unhurried and nourishing.  I'm not sure it's possible for me to parent the way I want to parent and not be busy.  What I can do is consistently stop and assess whether we are busy in a good way (doing things we love and need) or busy in a bad way (doing things everyone else is doing).

My home and my calendar may be filled with activity and bustling.  But I want to leave room for my heart to be quiet, still and present.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


: not expected : unforeseen

Rock Cross on an outcropping near Lake Michigan
Thursday night, my three daughters and I set out for Wisconsin.  We stopped in Indianapolis for the night, crashing in two queen beds around 10 pm, grabbing hotel breakfast and getting back on the road.  Friday found us fighting Chicago traffic, having missed the correct route to 294 and mistakenly ending up on 90/94 (a mistake if ever there was one), followed by Milwaukee style fish fry and some time with J's family.  Saturday mid-day, after hugs all around, I left my daughters for some alone time with grandparents and departed for a solo retreat in Racine at the Siena Retreat Center.

After a few detours (there seems to be roadwork all over the great state of Wisconsin), I made it to the retreat center.  As one of the sisters took me on a tour of their facilities, I realized I was growing increasingly warm.  While not nearly at hot as the 100 degree temperatures I had left behind in Nashville, it was warm for this time of year in Wisconsin.  I thought I'd unpack my bags and rest for a while.  Once alone in my room, I realized why I was hot: there was no air conditioning.

Having grown up in a hot, humid part of the country, I can't even really imagine life without air conditioning.  Had I known there was no A/C, I would have chosen a different retreat center.  I quickly grew to be grateful for the fact that I didn't know about this facilities deficiency ahead of time.  Because the Siena Center ended up being a place with many unforeseen gifts - A/C or not.

Since this was the first time I've been on retreat alone, I had debated what my approach should be.  I e-mailed both my counselor (who leads story groups) and my spiritual director (who leads the silent retreats I attend) for suggestions.  And as I thought about how to approach this time, it was more and more clear to me that what I really wanted to do was spend time exploring my story.  A retreat would give me time and space to remember events that have shaped and formed me as a person - and the opportunity to explore those memories with God and see what He has for me in them.

Upon arriving at the Siena Center, I quickly found that I wouldn't be able to replicate the silent retreats I enjoy each spring and fall.  The Dominican nuns at Siena aren't silent, so it wasn't always possible to avoid areas where conversations were happening.  I did take my meals to a room separate from their conversations, but I decided early on to give myself the grace to move in and out of silence as the circumstances merited.  This helped me not resent it when people spoke to me and instead take things as they came.

I arrived with a goal of remembering ten key life events and writing about each of those stories.  At the end of each one, I asked myself what lesson that story taught me and where Jesus was in the event.  This was, quite frankly, emotionally exhausting work.  I needed a break after writing each story.  So I spent a lot of time at Lake Michigan, which was less than a hundred yards from my room.  After my first trip down there Saturday night, I made time at the lake a regular part of my retreat.  In fact, I skipped Sunday mass to head straight there after breakfast.

I've always been a bit of a snob about lake beaches vs. the "real" beach.  And by the real beach, I mean any of the beaches along the Gulf Coast.  That's where I grew up and I love that fine white sand and the feel of the salt on my legs as the sun dries the water away, leaving just salt behind.  Over the last few days, I learned to see the beauty of a beach that offered rocks for climbing, collecting and sitting.  I learned to appreciate coarse black and grey sand that did not cling to my feet, but brushed away easily.  And I quickly came to enjoy water that was so cold it made me gasp as I put my legs in it - there was no better or more pleasant way to cool off than this.

When I wasn't spending time climbing on the rocks, looking for stones to bring home or sitting with my feet submerged in the iciness of Lake Michigan, I came to love the craft room at the Siena Center.  There's something really lovely about a room stocked with art supplies just for use.  I collaged.  I painted.  I lost myself in making things instead of remembering things.  Which made it easier to remember when the time came around again.

It was past retreat experiences that made me want to try a few days alone at a retreat center.  But those previous retreats weren't exactly comparable to this one.  I am thankful to have found joy, peace and healing in the unexpected offerings it brought.

Shadow Self Portrait