Monday, April 29, 2013


:a period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year

We leave Saturday for Wisconsin.  This won't be a quick trip up to see family, but a longer affair.  We'll stop in Milwaukee for lunch with the in-laws and then keep driving another few hours to Fish Creek.  From what I've read, Fish Creek is a quiet little town on the Door County peninsula that juts out between Lake Michigan and Green Bay.  I imagine spring will just be getting ready to arrive there.  Instead of the gradual transition to sandals and sundresses, our wardrobes will revert to layers of long sleeves and light jackets, maybe even hats and gloves.  I also imagine quiet - birds chirping, trees swaying, neighbors out of sight and sound distance.

This trip isn't exactly a sabbatical since no one in my family is a college professor, but it is a much needed break from the regular routine of our daily lives.  It's a chance for us to be together and experience life in a small town, surrounded by nature in a way we don't get here in Nashville.  It's an opportunity to combat the loneliness that the busyness of daily life brings.  I hope it will be a time of rest, relaxation and exploring.

After I wrote my last post, I was talking with a (highly efficient and productive) friend and I asked her how she manages to do so much and not feel lonely in the doing.  She asked me what makes me feel most connected: "When do you feel the opposite of lonely?  What does that look like for you?"  I didn't answer right then since the conversation moved on without requiring an immediate response.  But I pondered it for days until realizing that when I feel least lonely is when I have time alone for quiet, time alone with God, time to connect with my own soul.  This is why work can leave me feeling isolated and alone - because I feel disconnected from my soul - split apart inside into the real me and the one who is getting the work done.

At a certain point, I do need interaction with other people to not feel lonely, but I think what I've been experiencing lately has not been a social loneliness so much as a soul loneliness.  I interact with people quite a bit in the work that I do.  I just haven't had space or time for soul care over the last few weeks.

I am hopeful that will change starting Saturday.

We don't have much planned for our time away - that's sort of the point.  My only firm plans right now are for the girls to make their own breakfast every morning, so that I can have an hour or two of quiet time before joining them in whatever our day will hold.  Beyond that, I hope for walks in the woods, swims at the nearby YMCA, explorations in the parks nearby and visits to some of the lighthouses in the area.

Last night, we enjoyed a fire on our back patio.  As we sat there, I asked the girls what they were most looking forward to about this trip.  My middle daughter (who is so different, yet so like me) said she is looking forward to days where she doesn't have to go anywhere at all, days when she can stay in her pajamas all day long, days where there are no scheduled activities.  We seem to be on the same page, she and I.

The irony of time away from home to cure loneliness and burnout is that we will miss out on things.  My evite inbox already holds five events someone in our family has had to decline regretfully.  There will be other things we'll miss - a friend's dance recital, the run of a play we'd like to see, birthday parties and casual dinners with friends.  But my hope and prayer is that this time away will leave us better equipped to love, serve and engage with our friends when we return.  I hope we will come back with stories to tell, pictures to share and hearts that are full after feasting on rest.

I nearly ended this blog post right there.  But I would be telling only half the story if I did not mention that I am also afraid of the next month.  Afraid of unmet expectations.  Afraid of bored children.  Afraid of feeling unworthy of this respite.  Fear and shame have swirled around in my heart in recent days as I have asked myself over and over, "What was I thinking?!"  There is much to be done before leaving early Saturday morning.  Beyond the actual trip preparations like packing and cleaning, there are e-mails to be sent, schedules to be set, meetings to be attended and arranged.  I feel so overwhelmed that I have been trying to take it one hour at a time since a full day at a time seems daunting.

But I keep coming back to the idea that I am thirsty - for rest, for God, for something more than my everyday life affords.  And I get the sense that this thirst is one I should tend to - one that was given to me as a gift.  I enter this sabbatical time fearful and excited in equal parts, yet hopeful that this time away together will change us all in ways we can't anticipate from this side of the adventure.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


2: without companions; solitary

The last seven days have been busy: filled with the work of homeschooling, scheduling volunteers for May and June, driving my dancer daughter back and forth to rehearsals, ordering curriculum to finalize plans for next year's tutorial and scheduling everything that needs to be done in Nashville before being out of town for a month.  As I've moved through these busy days, I've tried to be aware of what I am feeling and one thing I'm noticing is how lonely I find work to be.

On Thursday, I came home from driving K to golf, A to ballet and making a quick stop at the library in preparation for World Book Night to find that B had cleaned the house in my absence.  The books that cluttered the dining room table were gone, the kitchen counters were clear, even the dishes had been magically moved from the sink to the dishwasher (isn't it always magic when that happens without your own two hands doing it?).  I nearly wept with relief at the thought that perhaps not every step of my work must be done alone.

I tried to explain to B how meaningful this was for me.  I told her how lonely my work makes me feel, that I feel the burden of people's expectations and the desire to not disappoint them.  To illustrate, I referenced the most recent Project Runway episode we had watched together.  I reminded her of how one contestant wanted to be totally in charge of her team - she wanted to own the vision, but not do all of the work.  Her own dress was 100% her creation, but her teammate's was 50-50.  Unlike this person, I don't desire to take all of the credit - if all of these jobs in process are carried through to completion, I am happy to blend into the background.  But if something goes wrong?  That's all on me.  I bear the burden for every detail that goes undone.

This is a lonely feeling.

And as I sit with my loneliness, I am realizing how lonely I am in various aspects of my life.  I spent the last hour or so typing words and erasing them.  I'm inclined to tell you about my various responsibilities and how they make me feel lonely, but I think more important to share - and see clearly for myself - is the reality that responsibilities and carrying them out make me feel lonely.  In short, I find work lonely.

I suspect this is because I feel inadequate to the tasks before me.  Since inadequacy = shame on my feelings chart, I'm sure there's an important kernel of truth for me here.  Sadly, I can't find a few simple words to convey this truth since I'm not even fully sure what it is.

What I do want to ponder further is how to do without feeling lonely.  If work makes me feel isolated from those around me, how can I use my work to connect with God?  A book I am reading talks about how when the author tries Brother Lawrence's way of finding God in the small, mundane tasks, she is able to do so, but finds she is slower and less productive.  Am I forfeiting intimacy with God because of a (self-imposed) pressure to manage all the details myself?  Or a (again, self-imposed) pressure to do everything on-time, as close to perfect as possible?  Am I still a perfectionist, not a recovering one, as I like to believe?

Or am I just in over my head?  Have I taken on too much?  Frankly, this seems like the easy way out for an Ennegram 9 like me.  I am only too willing to admit I can't do it all.  Even as I type the words, "Am I just in over my head?" my heart constricts - I do not think the solution is to start dropping responsibilities.  This might ease my loneliness short term, but I don't think it is where God is leading me right now. Instead, he is encouraging me to leave the safety of the known pasture for the intimidating freedom of the open road.

I don't know what awaits me.  I could fail miserably in any of these ventures and find myself lonely in failure instead of lonely in competency.

What I do know is that I don't want to remain the same person I have always been.  I want to find a way to work within my gifts and stay engaged.  I want a path to being present even when my mind is task oriented.  This feels like hard heart work for me.  But maybe the hardest, best work is always lonely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


1. pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory

Certain words have burrowed their way into my psyche, taking up residence there, shaping the things I do and say for years before I stop to examine them.  Once examined, I may try to uproot them, attempting to rid my mind of an influence better left unplanted.  One such word: nice.  For years, I have longed to be nice, been exhorted to be nice, been told that nice was important.  In order to be seen as nice, I have set aside my own thoughts, feelings and desires.  I've swallowed words, turned the other cheek and melted into the background.  All for the elusive nice.  I say elusive because can we ever really be nice?

Only recently have I begun to ponder the contrast between nice and kind.  As a parent, I encourage my children to be kind, but I rarely admonish them to be nice.  The difference in my mind is that nice refers to outward appearance and perception by others, while kind is about the heart.  One word describes an action, the other sees the motive behind the action.

The definitions of these words bear this out.  If nice is pleasant, agreeable and satisfactory, kind is having a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.  Nice is about how others see you.  Kind is about who you really are.  I want to be kind.  I'm not so sure I can continue to try to be nice.

If I am going to learn to sit with my feelings, I can't be preoccupied with what others think about those feelings.  I can't be unwilling to feel something that is unpleasant or disagreeable.  In fact, as I've begun to examine my feelings, I often find them less than satisfactory.  I have far more fear than I ever would have imagined.  Have I been repressing that for so long because it wasn't received well by those around me?  Perhaps.

I find it interesting that without even realizing why, I gravitated as a parent to encouraging my children to be kind rather than nice.  It's not that I don't want them to be nice - I do.  I want them to be pleasant to be around.  I want others to find them agreeable.  But I want these things to flow from who they are, not result from a pressure to conform to an outward standard.  When I get right down to it, I would far prefer that my daughters be honest and true to themselves than be nice.  I love it when the two things converge, but they don't always.

A friend recently said, "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice."  Pause and think about that for a minute.  Do you conflate nice and kind?  Are you one but not the other?  Which do you want to be?  Jesus was not worried about what others thought about him.  He did not fear being judged different or outlandish.  But he was kind - oh so kind - to those who least deserved it, to those who needed it most, to those overlooked by the higher-ups in his world.

I want to be kind - to others and myself.  I want to allow those around me the space to be who they really are, without fear that I will judge them or belittle them.  I want to be generous with myself and allow my feelings room to expand and be seen without overtaking my rational thought.  I want to be someone who is unafraid of being kind and unconcerned with being nice.

I want to plant words in the hearts of my daughters that allow them to grow into who they are.  I don't want to leave vines labelled "nice" running up their hearts and constricting them when they should be free to beat away with kindness, generosity and abandon.  I want words that are about who they are, not just what they do, to be the ones that burrow in to stay.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


1: an emotional state or reaction

I don't know about you, but sometimes fear can point me to areas I need to think about.  

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend whose counselor suggested she journal her feelings daily.  My immediate thought was, "I would hate to do that!"  I was honest and shared that thought with my friend, but I also set it aside mentally for some further consideration.  

I know this about myself: my emotions are buried deeply and my emotional reactions to situations are often on a time delay.  If I encounter something unexpected or traumatic, it takes me about 24 hours to know how I actually feel.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing - I think it's just part of who I am and it does enable me to be calm in a crisis because emotions aren't getting in the way.  That being said, delaying and stifling are two different things.  It may be a natural part of me to not feel my emotions until later, but not feeling anything at all should be a red flag that encourages me to look deeper.

As a part of my conversation with this friend, I told her about a list of emotions that another friend uses in her spiritual direction.  I told her it's easier for me to know what I'm feeling if I have a list of emotions to choose from. I offered to send her the list, which I did this morning.  Here it is:

Human emotions are neutral and guide us in knowing God and ourselves.  We experience emotions as movement either away from God or towards God.  Each emotion is listed below preceded by (impaired version) and followed by (gift of each emotion):

(depression/resignation)  ANGER  (passion/healthy boundaries)

(anxiety/control/rage)  FEAR  (faith/wisdom)

(resentment)  HURT  (courage to seek help or forgive)

(apathy/boredom)  LONELY  (intimacy with God and/or others)

(self-pity)  SAD  (acceptance, honoring precious loss)

(paranoia) GUILT  (freedom)

(inadequacy)  SHAME  (humility, empathy, knowing limits)

(indulgence)  GLAD  (hope)

Take time to notice your feelings.  Feel your feelings.  Tell the truth about your feelings.  Invite God into your feelings.  Stay with your feelings.  Let your feelings lead you to God.

After sending the e-mail to my friend, I sat and prayed for her.  I tried to notice what I was feeling as I did so and I felt sad - sad that she is hurting and walking through a difficult time.  I also knew what my heart's desire was for her and that was for God to comfort her in her pain.  Not because I want God to "fix" her, but because I want Him to meet her where she is and I want her to feel loved and valued.  It was worth noting that I knew what I desired for my friend as I prayed.  I don't often know what I was for myself, even when praying.  But I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for her.

Tears rolled down my face during and after my prayer.  As I sat there in my bedroom, I looked over at the piece of paper listing the emotions. What was I feeling?  In that moment, I could only feel the sadness for my friend, but hours later I sat outside my daughter's ballet school waiting for her rehearsal to finish.  It is a lovely day, so I was sitting in the shade with my eyes closed, trying to quiet my mind.  In that quiet moment, I asked myself what I was feeling.  I decided on sad, angry and lonely.  Sad for how broken our world is.  Angry with myself for not being in touch with my feelings (although this might better be named shame? I'm not very good at this, so I'm not sure.).  And lonely.  That one was a bit of a surprise since I was in the middle of a day with my family - a day filled with lunch out, a spring football scrimmage and sunshine.  But the loneliness was there.

So I sat with it and explored it.  I think my loneliness stems from how overextended I feel right now and how alone I feel in facing down and doing the jobs before me.  I'm a little embarrassed to even write about this because I feel like I do so much less than some people do.  But between wrapping up a year of homeschooling, researching next year's courses, starting a tutorial, planning for a month away from home and managing more than twenty volunteers weekly, I am feeling adrift.  I think each of these things is important and all of them are jobs that I believe are meant for me.  But I sometimes feel like they are meant only for me and that I therefore must do them alone.  All of the doing leaves me lonely.

I feel most connected to people when I am with them quietly - listening, talking, sharing and receiving.  Working alongside someone doesn't give me the same sense of connection.  We are bound by action, not by words, by an end goal, not the journey together.  When working, a part of me is always focused on the task at hand and it is nearly impossible for me to be fully present to the person I am with, much less my own feelings.  I am running on autopilot to get the job done.  I don't think this is true for everyone, is it?

How can I work effectively and efficiently and still be a present, fully alive person?  

How can I feel connected to people and stay committed to the work at hand?

I'm not expecting you to actually have the answers for me.  (Although feel free to offer them if you do have them!)  What I do hope is that I can slowly but surely learn to check in with my emotions and that I can find a way to be present even when I feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.

On my last spiritual retreat, I was sharing with my spiritual director that I had recently been feeling envious.  I felt like I was making a confession, but she was unbothered.  "Emotions are amoral," she told me.  "They are neither good nor bad.  They are just something we should notice and bring to God."  It was news to me that emotions are neither good nor bad.  I definitely think of them as bad - I think I am at my best when I can keep my emotions at bay, either by offering a rational response or by being still, receiving what others offer me without judgment, just holding their words and feelings for them like I am a vessel.

If nothing else, I think I need to explore my relationship to my feelings.  It may sound obvious but I think feelings should be a part of who I am and I shouldn't work so hard to contain and repress them.  What this means practically, I am not sure. For now, I'll look for those kernels of fear that point me to things I need to tackle.  And I'll spend a bit of time each day trying to name my emotions.  Maybe I'll even muster the courage to write them down in a journal.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


: having or displaying a passionate intensity

Are there certain words that are a part of you?  Words that reside deep inside you, that hold a special place in your heart? Are there words that bring to mind a vivid mental image each time you hear them? Or perhaps words that instantly come to mind anytime you see an image?

As I was walking this morning, I happened upon a dead squirrel.  I was startled, quickly adjusted my stride to miss the poor creature and, within seconds, was contemplating the word fervent.  You might rightly be wondering why.  It was because the squirrel was stretched out, like a football player reaching for the goal line with every ounce of his being.  For me, this posture of stretching beyond our natural or safe boundaries will always be equated with the word fervent.

Years ago, I was studying the book of Peter with a group of women.  Being the Word Girl that I am, I looked up the Greek origins of the words of the verses as we went.  There is a verse that says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."  Another version says, "Keep fervent in your love."  I read a commentary that described how the Greek word ektenes means wholly stretched out.  That was interesting - and painted a rather vivid picture of how God wants us to love each other - but I might have only remembered that in passing had the word not been called to my mind later.

At a spring women's retreat about five years ago, I experienced my first moments of silence with God.  It was a directed silence and only lasted a couple of hours.  I can remember leading up to this retreat that I was so excited to try sitting in pure silence with God.  I had a list of things I wanted to pray about and I was ready.  I got my blanket out, laid down in the sunlight, opened my Bible and my mind and heard God say to me, "Those things you wanted to talk about?  You already know the answers to them, don't you?  Here's what I want to talk about.  I want you to love me fervently."  I was not planning on hearing that, I can assure you.

But that conversation with God prompted me to look at my relationship with Him and see how head-oriented it was.  I loved looking up the Greek for the verses we were studying, loved reading commentaries on the verses, loved diving into God's word.  And God wasn't telling me there was anything wrong with that.  He merely showed me how very safe it was.  Because studying something and falling in love with someone are two very different things.

That first taste of silence whetted my appetite in a way I never could have imagined.  And I'm sure it's no coincidence that it was in that silence that God asked me to think about loving him in a stretched out, vulnerable way.  Because that's what loving fervently is - it's vulnerable, it's exposing and it is risky.  I saw that part of it right away and, quite honestly,  I still struggle with that aspect of living and loving fervently.  I want desperately to be authentic, to be real, to be fervent.  But I Do. Not. Like. Being. Hurt.  And when I open myself up to give and receive love, I'm allowing for the possibility that good and bad may either one come - pain or beauty might walk in the door of my heart.

I want the strength and courage to die like that squirrel I saw this morning - stretched out to give and receive all that life has to offer.  I don't want to live and die curled into a ball, safe and secure - but I fight these tendencies every day.

I have been feeling overwhelmed this week, day after day, moment after moment.  My mind has been skittering from item to item on my to-do list.  I have worried about everything from scheduling time for my daughters with their friends to scheduling a parent meeting to what I should do about standardized testing.  I have felt stretched thin, but not stretched out in an "I claim this life as mine" kind of way.  

This morning, my daughter A read to us from the Jesus Storybook Bible as we ate our breakfast.  She read us the story of the Israelites and the parting of the Red Sea.  After she finished, I read the girls one of my favorite verses from this story, Exodus 14:14. It says, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."  

I think this might be the key to living fervently: letting God do it for me.  On my own, I am hesitant to stretch myself out, fearful of being not enough, afraid of being hurt.  Sometimes I need to just be still and let Him doing the fighting for me.

Monday, April 1, 2013


1 a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

What do you think of when you hear the word joy?  Do you have a mental picture that personifies joy? When I think of joy, I get two images.  One is of a person standing in the rain, arms stretched out, face up to catch the raindrops, laughing.  She may be wet, but her joy is not dampened.  The second image is of a person getting on in years - her hair is silver, her face creased.  But she is engaged and interested in those around her, listening intently, delighting at each new thing she sees, hears or experiences.  Laughter comes quickly to her and she nods along eagerly as others share their life and views with her.

For a while now, I've thought joy isn't really something for me.  Last fall, I went away for a weekend to hear Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson talk about Grace and the Enneagram.  As I was preparing to leave for that, I was thinking about two other women in my life that are also Enneagram Nines.  I could see some similarities between each of them and me, but they are both funny, lighthearted people in a way that I am not.  I shared this observation with a friend during the conference and was able to articulate that I feel like I'll never be able to be joyful - I'm just too scarred, too wounded to ever recover the joy you see readily flash on the faces of children.  I cried as I told her this, both out of sadness for this thing I do not have and out of fear that I am not worthy of joy.

Before Lent, I was talking with a friend who said she longs for joy.  She longs to enjoy her children more, to delight in them and alongside them.  To this end, her Lent was about learning to stop at regular intervals in her day.  She was learning to make space for joy.  

I don't actively long for joy like this friend of mine.  If anything, I long for peace and contentment, things which I suspect are vague shadows of joy.  I settle for these rather than risk seeking the real thing and falling short.  Yet I think peace and contentment are companions on the road to joy because I envision joy as more pervasive, more persistent, less mutable than happiness.  I imagine joyful people have an inner peace and contentment that their circumstances can not ruffle and can not take away.

I picture joy as something nearly tangible, something you can grab and hold on to and feel it alongside you, underneath you, beside you.  And when I think of it this way, I wonder about how closely joy and the Holy Spirit are interconnected.  Because when I think of the Holy Spirit, it's as a swirling, comforting presence all around me.

The Holy Spirit is the aspect of the Trinity that I most long to be like.  I don't want the responsibility or inspired devotion of God the Father.  Nor do I long to be the ever present teacher that Jesus is.  But a soft, encouraging presence that points others to God, to truth, to beauty?  These are traits I want to embody.

Last night as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed the transition from Lent to Eastertide.  We talked about what we learned during Lent and what we hoped to delight in during Easter.  I asked these questions before fully thinking through my own answers to them, so it wasn't until later that I realized that while my Lent did not go as expected, I did make very real progress towards beginning to identify the desires of my heart.  And if joy is evoked by the prospect of possessing what one wants, perhaps this is a good first step towards joy.

Easter day did leave me feeling oddly lighthearted - not as a result of any one experience but from thinking about a series of small truths seen together: truths like the realization that love must be very strong indeed to have defeated death and that our biggest blessings often come just from lingering near God, not from any activity on our part.

Maybe this is how joy is found - by following the trail of breadcrumbs God leaves for us, each one leading us closer and closer to the realization of how much He loves us and how immutable that love is.  Because when we grasp that His love for us cannot and will not change, joy is the only possible response.