2019

Reach(ed)

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Photo by Slawek K on Unsplash

My word for 2019 was reach.

As the old dictionary says, there are many definitions and just as many applications of those five letters.

  • to make a stretch, as with the hand or arm.
  • to become outstretched, as the hand or arm.
  • to make a movement or effort as if to touch or seize something:to reach for a weapon.
  • to extend in operation or effect:power that reaches throughout the land.
  • to stretch in space; extend in direction, length, distance, etc.

This time last year I was hoping to put myself “out there” again. To stop retreating and re-enter the world in ways that would stretch me and help me touch new things, arrive in new places, and make bigger impacts.

With my word in mind, I started to live differently.

I walked into new networking meetings and said hellos.

I boarded planes to the mid-west and slept on plastic mattresses or in single hotel rooms as a solo traveler.

I led grieving individuals in workshops with words.

I asked for a desk chair.

I learned to put my own words to my needs with trembling hands.

I said yes more and swatted at my fears.

I stretched my stamina and extended my efforts and tried new things.

I had a good year.

What if, however, my reaching was instead grasping and my attempts to stretch were pushes (to press or urge to some action or course)? I was pushing myself outside of my comfort zone, pushing myself to take up space, pushing myself to live again when parts of me still feel the pins and needles of coming awake after loss makes your limbs turn to dead weight.

My kind yoga instructor often walks around her studio and places her warm palms on my shoulders, reminding me to relax the shell of protection I’ve created as my muscles inch closer to my ears. As we move our limbs into the next posture, she returns, same palms on the small of my back inching me closer to the floor in a forward fold.

Pushing would suggest success. A clear tick mark in the empty box.

You can’t push past pain to get release. You have to ease into it.

In recovery programs, people repeat “progress, not perfection.”

This year, I made space, I stretched, and I extended.

I made progress. I did not arrive.

I reached.

Our society waits at the end of that sentence and in the pause asks, “For what?”

At the end of this year, I’m still not sure.

Awakening wasn’t found in my accomplishments. Emptiness still lingers in my limbs and my ever-tight hips suggest I still have work to do. Healing isn’t found in over-extension. I’m still easing into my pain.

Deep breaths expand my life force lungs. I learned in my reaching, I’m still here.

Push, grasp, reach.

Move, hope, release.

The journey continues. What a beautiful thing.

Mary Wasn’t Ready Either

“Nine days til’ Christmas!” the radio announcer proclaimed in a voice much like a Who in the 2000 version of The Grinch.

I imagined his tiny teeth and coiffed hair proclaiming the minutes ticking by to the Big Holiday as I turned the corner on to the major highway on my way to work.

We’ve been hustling and bustling with packages and bows. Dodging Suburbans in parking lots and honking at stop lights. Just like the travels on their way to Jerusalem for the Census. Right?

Christmas is coming and I’m not ready.

I’m not ready for the waves. Waves of excitement. Waves of grief. Waves of anxiety that come with the planning for pulling people who love each other together in a room for a purpose we easily forget in a gift giving world.

As I drove and listened to celebrities sing about holy nights, I paused and thought of Mary. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t ask for this baby at all.

I didn’t ask for grief. For missing. For aching. For the need for reinvention and the embracing discomfort to push through to potential. I didn’t ask for the mystery of the “What the heck – this wasn’t quite how it was supposed to be” moments.

Mary didn’t either.

And yet, Jesus came.

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Hope in the form of an infant, on a cold dark night and with him came the angels and the promise of healing and restoration and wholeness. Can you imagine witnessing all that potential just laying in scratchy straw?

A woman surrounded by men in awe. Probably telling her what to do – how to swaddle, where to sit, what to consider next.

And in the confusion, I’d like to hope peace came to her that night. In some form or another as she sat and wondered, “How will God use me in this?”

I’m not ready for the mysterious of mix of hurt and hope and sparkle. I’m not ready for the shadows looming, his empty chair, the small talk at holiday parties.

I’m not ready.

And yet here we are. “How will God use me in this?”

So, I start to pray.

I’m praying for the miraculous possibly found at a home-made table surrounded by beautiful, broken, seeking, healing people. I’m praying for peace as we sit among the fallen nettles of a tree-farmed pine tree under twinkling lights.

I’m praying for toasts and witnesses and a squeeze of my hands or shoulders or a kiss on the cheek. I’m praying for the Holy to come and be with us and those who can’t or won’t be in my living room.

Nine days ’til Christmas!

Turning left, I pulled into an icy parking spot at the local King Soopers.  I rushed in to buy green pears and soft cheese. Simple offerings for the Holiday lunch at the office. After paying and slipping on wet linoleum, I started to fumble for my keys in my pit of a purse. Looking up, I caught sight of something special.

Both wearing printed pajamas and snow boots, two small children walked hand in hand with their tired- looking mother. They stomped and they hopped and they wrestled for a cart. Children in pajamas at the grocery store. Beautiful.
Whispered prayers and wondering hearts. Beautiful.

Incomplete to-do lists, anxieties, hopes and healing. Beautiful.

I’m not ready for Christmas – I’m guessing Mary wasn’t either.

What a beautiful thing.

Good enough for this year.

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Photo by Miroslava on Unsplash

I walked in the door to grief group tonight with my arms full of bags – the worn canvas stretched as I turned to open my arms and hug the once-strangers who I now consider my friends. I bent at the waist and removed my clogs and turned and slid my mismatched socks towards the table.

Twelve courageous women laid out crackers and creamy cheese and plates of cookies to frost with store-bought frosting. We swiped crumbs off of islands and sprinkled flour on the clean counter. Relying on our resourcefulness we used a pepper grinder to roll out the dough. We cut shapes and dunked morsels in chocolate and shook green, red, and white sprinkles over pre-made cut-outs. We sat around a table and said their names and shared the multitude of complex things we feel during the holiday season.

And I stopped and thought, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

And earlier this week, while taking my turn at a four-way stop I apparently cut off a car coming round the blind corner. The horn shook me out of a something-thought and I proceeded to find a parking spot. I walked gingerly to the favorite kitchen store in town and met Mom to wander through familiar aisles.

Looking up from the shortbread display I grabbed my mom and I hissed, “Pause here.”

Around another blind corner, old acquaintances stood eyeing their own gifts and goodies. We pivoted, avoiding the unnecessary moment of awkward eye contact. Running into “before people” in stores on holidays earns you a pity tilt of the head and a sympathy sigh. If they are really unsure, you may get a pat on the hand as well. We turned towards the tea pots and moved through aisles to make our purchases on the other side of the store.

We had planned to spend hours together shopping, just like we used to, and instead we spent three hours talking at a new taco shop in town. At a small table in the back, next to the kitchen, we wept and we wondered how we can let go of the old and create something new.

New traditions. New expectations. New hopes and new chances to shape togetherness because the old holiday traditions will never be the same.

And as we paid the bill and walked into the winter sun, I stopped and thought, “Yes. This is good.”

Good enough for this year.

As I held my mom’s hand and looked her in the eye she said to me, “You know, we never started baking gingerbread snowflakes with the intent of that being tradition. We tried them. They were good, so we did it again.”

I’m borrowing loosely from holiday expectations this year. Different formats for making cookies. Different time spent shopping on Amazon rather than in stores. Different routines and expressions of grief and making space for the sadness our culture demands we package away in pretty red bows.  Maybe we’ll do them again. Maybe we won’t.

I spent year one through three trying, pushing, forcing the holly and the jolly and it was horrible.

This year I’m stopping and thinking, “Yes, this is good.”

Good enough for this year.

What a beautiful thing.

 

“Maybe”

Nichole Nordeman’s got a new Christmas album out and the whole thing is giving me chills.

I know this is a tricky time of year. She captures the spirit of the season – all components – the joy, the hope, the light, the hurt, the ache, the promise of Christ – so well in these songs.

Listen to the whole thing on Spotify and listen to this song for the brokenness in you and others this season.

Let your heart be light.

December Favorite Things – 2019

I wrote my Christmas card this weekend and thought to myself, “Wasn’t it just August?”

You too?

Welp, here we are at the end of the year and the end of a decade. Hard to believe.

Here are a few of my favorites as I decorate my house, buy gifts for others, and blow my nose continuously because the winter cold has hit me.

Merry Merry to you and yours.

    1. Advent Devotional by Ann Voskamp
      It’s the season of light and I get excited to remember how we can choose to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives. I read this one every year
    2. Dried oranges – I followed this simple recipe and used the oranges as ornaments on my tree and tucked them in on a home made wreath. I left the sugar off because I know my dog would eat them …. Another recipe suggested tucking whole cloves in the slices. I didn’t have any and dried allspice instead and wasn’t that impressed.
    3. Simmer Scents to make your house smell great naturally

    4. Pair this shortbread with Scotch and toast to Roy

5. “Eight is a lot of legs David.” – the best line from Love Actually


 

In a completely separate request, I’m gathering answers to the question:

As a reader of 52 Beautiful Things,  what do you like most about the writing?

Send an email to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com with your response

52 Thankfuls – 2019

“Gratitude is wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.” – Rumi

52 Things to be thankful for this year. In a sorta particular order….allie-smith-h5K9F-gXr5I-unsplash.jpg

1. Family as we choose to call them
2. Flannel Sheets
3. Whats App Face-to-Face Phone Calls
4. The Dinner Party
5. Keyboards
6. Mentors
7. Donuts in Portland
8. Hot-springs
9. Snow shoes
10. Warm winter coats
11. White mugs full of coffee
12. Vanilla syrup
13. Book Club
14. The occasional steak dinner
15. Beaches in Mexico
16. Sunscreen
17. Access to medical care
18. My job
19. My husband’s job
20. Olive-pants
21. Sandy Flip flops
22. Remakes of The Lion King, Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland
23. Birthday Tea Parties
24. Moms who sew
25. One Hope Wine
26. Gin and Tonic
27. Moscow Mules
28. Paint and Drywall and Wood
29. My general contractor
30. Summer Camp-like experiences
31. Men who play harps
32. Lake Michigan
33. Hiking Trails
34. A clean hot tub
35. My grandmother’s stories
36. Old friends
37. New friends
38. A leaf blower
39. Whiskey
40. Rental Cars
41. Hot Chicken
42. Improv
43. Teachers
44. Music lessons
45. Side hustles
46. The power of the internet
47. My words printed in ink
48. Good night kisses
49. Airplanes
50. Sunday night dinner
51. Walks to the lake
52. Hope

What are you thankful for this year?

Chim Chim Cher-ee

“Winds in the east, theres a mist comin’ in
Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,
But I feel what’s to happen all happened before.”
– Bert – Mary Poppins

It was 60 today. They are saying snow on Tuesday.

It was August just yesterday.  Thanksgiving is on Thursday.

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Here I am, tonight, writing in the now, while and temperatures drop and Christmas lights go up, and lists get written down to prepare for the holiday season. Movement.

I’ve moved out of our safe-zone and into the holidays and I’m thinking of Bert and his cautionary storytelling.

Awhile back, I shared how my grief safe-zone was from the day AFTER Father’s Day to the week before Thanksgiving. As Thanksgiving is a week late this year, I promptly walked out of the safe-zone and into the field of grief triggers last Thursday. Was it 8 am or 3 pm?I couldn’t tell you. But I noticed.

The wind’s blowin’ in.

Mom’s making turkey hats, I’m writing Christmas lists, and I ordered my holiday cards. I bought a wreath hook and gingerbread cookie mix (blasphemy … sorry Mom) and started the joy-filled planning tasks while honoring the Dad-size bubbles of mash sitting on the back burner for the last few months.

The grief, still warm, starts steaming and stewing and mingling with pine and plans and memories of tree trunks and his strong love of going around the table and sharing our thanks for the miracles God provides.

Later this week I’ll share my 52 Thankfuls for this year with you.

Tonight, I’m getting out my wind-breaker to brace for the back and forth blowing all of us humans feel while crafting Hallmark holidays in a broken world.

As my grief moves, I drove through the Target parking lot and stared at the pretty trees glowing yellow with magical space in between bare branches. I stole a taster from the cookie store. I ate brunch with my family and drank a latte with another who gets the scratchy feeling our frayed heart holes have when rubbing up against the Christmas sweaters of others. Beautiful, beautiful things.

Celebrate, yes, and witness the beautiful things around you. Tend your hearts with toasty socks and mugs of something warm, and twinkly lights on boughs of delicious smelling trees.

And bring a friend some tissues, or invite your co-worker to lunch, or take an extra long bath because, while wondrous, magical, and sparkly, this time of year tends to rub on our healing wounds like the scratchy wool socks waiting for your cold toes in the back of your drawer.

Year four. Worn. Familiar. Something that’s happened before. “Can’t put me finger on what lies in store.”