Hope

All Matters of Perspective

An email came through this morning from the public library. Like receiving a note from an old friend, I smiled when the familiar subject line showed up in my inbox.

“Reminder from the Poudre River Library District” – the note sat for just a minute and then I sighed. Remember the library? The travel guide book I had checked out at the beginning of March is due tomorrow. I wanted to get tips about traveling to Canada.

I haven’t gone to the library in months. I won’t be going to Canada – not this year. The time has come to return the book filled with notes on wonderful other places to its shelves.

Instead, last night I sat cross-legged with my laptop nestled in the tiny pocket of skin and carpet and scrolled Overdrive for new Kindle picks. Maybe this static place of scenery – aka my living room – will be where I stay to travel to different places as I read from home this year. I picked out three new titles and clicked download.

The reminders of the life we wish we could live tend to linger. Grief taught me this. The moments where the ache of what could have been needs tending. The holes need breathing into.

I remember, a few months after Dad died, I was texting a friend who also lost her dad and I said, “How do you ever get through this?”

“You don’t.” She said. “For awhile, you walk around the gaping hole, present in everything you do. Then, after a bit, a beautiful rug covers the hole, and the gap changes shape and size, and you walk around it more easily. But you know, no matter what covers it, that hole is still there.”

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The pandemic is stealing time from us, it’s stealing people and travel, and places we once loved. We need to honor the gaping.

We also need to nestle in and we get to choose how we tend to the holes presented to us.

Last night, on our walk around the neighborhood, we approached the last two houses on the block and was greeted by one of our youngest neighbors. A little boy with floppy brown hair stood up against the white porch railing. Wearing miniature rain boots, he swirled his legs deep in the grass and kept talking to the older gentleman leaning across his porch, leaving six feet of space.

As we got closer, the little boy looked to the street and exclaimed, “John! They have a dog, just like you!”

The old man raised his eyes to us and winked from behind his spectacles.

“Hi!” waved the little boy. “I like your dog!”

“Thanks!” I replied with a smile. “Our dog kinda looks like the dog on your shirt.”

The little boy paused, looked down, and quickly retorted, “Yeah, well that’s not a dog. That’s a tiger.”

“Oh,” I said, still smiling. “He looked like a dog to me.”

Nothing like being corrected by a three year old.

We kept walking and the two kept their conversation going.

Grief and loss.

Hurting and hope.

Wishing and acceptance.

Travel and exploring from home.

Dog and tiger.

All matters of perspective.

Beautiful things to me.

 

Was It Risky? Yes.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Anxiety seems to be a best friend to me these days. I’m swatting at my fears while sipping on homemade coffee, still here, working from home.

The glow of the computer screen fails to make up for my missing companionship, as I haven’t seen friends in close to 100 days. Almost a third of the year.

I don’t know how long we’ll be here, nor, I realize, do I have much control over the comings and goings of others who want to be out buying coffee from shops and swallowing down cocktails on outdoor patios.

The anxious ones are hurting here in this pandemic space.

This weekend, we drove down to spend time with my in-laws, a few of the people we’ve marked allowable in our pods of hopefully healthy people we love.

We have to have some connection. Father’s Day had arrived and while I woke with sadness in my chest, I needed to get my blood moving in different ways. Mix up the places we sit, the sidewalks we walk on, the conversations we’re having – variety is a great distractor.

Dylan locked our bikes to the roof of the car and the dog jumped in the back, panting heavily, as she always does when we transport her from here to there.

I’ve felt heavy for months. Laying on the ground helps. So do fresh flowers, and sourdough cookies, and sticking my hands in the dirt. I was hoping a drive may lighten the weight I seem to take on from the perceived painful energy of others.

As we drove, I looked west to the mountains and counted the snow capped peaks. Counted the cars in line for drive-up Covid tests. Counted the number of deep breaths I could take to let the grief and fear move through my tired body.

As the hour passed, we pulled up to the familiar intersection near the house, and a man about my brother’s age sat resting at the stop light. His back was arched, his face down, and he held a sign that said, “Can’t you just spare a dollar?” This man was someones loved one at some point. How long has he sat, ignored, unseen, unsure?

I pulled out my wallet and counted again, pulling crumpled bills from my purse that hasn’t been properly used in months.

I handed the cash to Dylan and said, “If you’re willing to risk it, we should give this guy cash. You can wash your hands when we get there.”

He rolled down the window, and we handed the man a few bucks. I didn’t make eye contact. I just wanted to help.

If I feel heavy, he may too.

We drove another block and scrubbed our hands clean, right after walking in the door.

It’s risky out there. Being human just is. One risk after the other.

Loving one another. Witnessing pain. Having hard conversations. Going grocery shopping. Driving in cars. Breathing in air of joggers who we don’t know if they are healthy. Facing the truth.

It’s all so risky.

And if we can choose to show up, over and over again, with our aching backs and light in our eyes, and hope in just a few dollars, our fears can be alleviated by miniature efforts to step into the truth.

It’s risky, yes. And beautiful too.

So we’re washing hands and weeping and hoping and praying and pleading. And still driving, and counting, and wondering how to apply the balm we all need to our wondering and waiting hearts. How can we find beauty in this risky space, too?

 

Bread of Life

“You and everyone else,” she said through her little square box framing her face on the Zoom call.

“It’s delicious. I have plenty of time to practice the craft.” I said to my friend from college through the computer connecting us.

On Sunday last, I spent an hour talking to six women who walked through college with me. We haven’t connected as a group in four years. A pandemic brought us together as schedules opened and boredom crept in. From screens on kitchen tables in Denver, in Brooklyn, and in Spokane, we spent an hour catching up during the oddest life pause we’ve experienced.

She was making fun of me and the seemingly thousands of others in quarantine who have discovered the joy of making homemade bread kitchens world wide.

Starting bread is simple. Flour, water, salt. Cover in dampness and let the air do its magic.

Mix.

Let it breathe.

Add heat and watch it crisp and bubble and morph into sustenance.

Three weeks ago, I was given a jar of white goo from a friend who had kept her starter alive for decades. The building block has grown and multiplied over the years and by miracles of community and connection, parts of the original landed on my doorstep in small glass mason jar.

In my dark kitchen on an unremarkable week night, I pressed connect to launch another video call. My mom walked me through the steps to make a scraggily dough. I called again after the overnight rise for guidance on amounts of flour, moisture, and time required to make something edible.

I’ve followed the steps on my own four times now. Bread is in the oven as I type.

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This week, a friend received another jar of the same white goo from the same legendary start. On another unremarkable week night, she called me via video chat to walk through the same steps my mom taught me just days prior.

The dough, and the love, are multiplying.

My friend sent pictures of her process. My incorrect direction to add extra flour caused her mason jar to overflow. Excess bubbled over and marking her counters with sticky residue.

In my small community, we’ve been texting recipes and getting on video calls and cheering from our kitchens far away.

This bread is connecting people.


Last night, Jesus ate the Last Supper of bread and wine.

Flour. Salt. Water. Grapes.

Simple ingredients connecting us through history.

They tell me Jesus is the Bread of Life.

While I slept and my dough rose, Jesus knew what was coming. Prophecies of betrayal and sacrifice and death led us here to Good Friday. Things we fear and want to avoid came to fruition.

From my home, I’ll sit down and watch a church service online. Maybe dim the lights to get the theatrical effect mega-churches seem to have mastered so well over the years.

“It is finished,” he’ll scream this afternoon and I’ll break my bread in remembrance of Him. I’ll sip my wine and feel the tannins gloss my throat as I swallow down the pain.

We must wait three days until everything changes.

Things feel finished. I feel sad and broken and scared for the ones I love. I know this is going to take more than three days to resolve.

And yet, what is finished in death rises on Sunday.  Even in quarantine.

I can’t help but thinking there’s something to this powerful resurgence of sourdough.

Dough rises. It’s connecting us.

This mix of simple things give rise to something powerful. New life with a crusty chew.

Beautiful things.

 

Day 17 – 52 Good Things

And the list continues.

104. Mousse made in a blender

105. Old movies

106. Baby photos

107. Melted cheese

108. Jon Krasinski’s Good Things segments

109. Phone calls

110. Offers of help

What simple, beautiful things did you encounter? Let’s keep this list going for as long as we need to.

As a reminder, send me a note with the good in your world at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com or a DM on Instagram. Keep em’ comin.

 

No More Braces

A few weeks ago I found my notebook from January 2016.

In black ink, I had listed the things I was hoping for in the empty pages of a new year.

I had just started a dream job. There were 363 days to fill with goals and books and friends and growth opportunities.

In March of that year, my optimistic self was whacked to the knees with loss.

My world contracted and my goals mixed with tears in a confusing, sloshing slurry.

I threw out my resolutions and sat and stared at walls. 

Recently, I sat in my dark basement reading my old words, my heart ached for my younger self. Ambitious. Hopeful. Unscathed by the flickering cold flames of loss.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed of my previous positive outlook. Foolish for hoping in a hurting world.

‘Silly girl, you didn’t know what was coming,’ the bad voices said. I knew it was bad out there – it just wasn’t bad for me. Not yet.

I can now see I did, in fact, fill 2016 with books and I learned about my friendships and I grew tremendously – just not in the ways I expected. Grief tore things, and stretched, and re-arranged my definitions of success.

As the sun set and rose on repeat, I’ve welcomed four more January 1sts. At the start of each year, I’ve made lists to direct my efforts, and set goals to move myself into new places. I carried forth optimism and an appreciation for aesthetics. Yet, even with my devotion to hope, I moved with clenched fists and braced myself for more.

For resolutions were my buffers and achievements were my shields. Chinks in armor. If I do enough, then this won’t happen again.


When I was a toddler, I had to wear braces so I could learn to walk. I don’t remember much of the plastic structures that covered my ankles and went up my tiny calves into Keds sized large to accommodate the extra support. I have one blurry memory of blue gymnastic mats and afternoon light as I put heel to toe, heel to toe, heel to toe across the room towards the voice of a physical therapist.

The braces gave me support, structure, and a permanent bend in my big toes.

They also, eventually, got to come off.

In my grieving, my braces – preservation and structure – have looked and sounded like many things.

… isolation

… no-thank you’s to invitations

… doubts and fears and the I couldn’ts, I shouldn’ts because walking without leaves one wobbling

… I’m not ready, yets

Some were healthy. Others I’ve outgrown. As a result of the spiritual supports, I’ve got a permanent bend in me now – a wound – a wonder – a missing.

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. – SemiSonic

I sat under bad lighting at an oak kitchen table in a cabin in the woods as December turned to January in one minutes time. A decade slipped from one to the other in a split second.  There was no Ryan Seacrest and my young cousins had never heard of Dick Clark. No confetti. Just falling snow and the flick of a switch and we arrived.

Scrolling with my thumbs, I missed the moment the ball dropped. Two minutes into the new year I turned to kiss my husband on his forehead.

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Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

This year, I’m removing my braces of fear and of worry. I’m kicking aside the lie that accomplishment protects me from all that could be coming round the corner.

There’s a voice calling me to keep at it.

I’ll be seeking the magic and believing in the good.

I won’t be ashamed to hope. I’ve just learned to carry my humanity differently.

I’m moving heel to toe, heel to toe, tentatively in the new year, with my braces kicked to the side of the room. 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.

For Sarver

I went to a show last night. We entered a big dark room filled with eager fans. I shuffled to claim my space and looked up to see rows of massive speakers suspended overhead. Lucky for me, my friends were keen to lean against the grubby wall with torn purple wall paper. How do you know you’re old at a concert? You wear tennis shoes for support and seek out hidden spaces to rest your legs already aching from eight hours at a standing desk.

As the singer screamed with passion, I nodded along in the back hiding from the rays of yellow flickering from the wands of light on stage.
It felt good to be in that room.

As the musicians emoted and the twenty-somethings jumped to the beat, I stood with my feet planted to the concrete floor. I swung my arms and let the intensity pulse through my body causing my knees to bend and shake. With each drum beat I absorbed the reverberations and welcomed, over and over again, the pounding reminder – I am beautifully alive.

There were times the audience’s screams of admiration caused me to plug my ears and I felt, once again, embarrassed to be an introvert in a loud space. I reminded myself it’s a radical act to care for oneself and while I left my ear plugs in the car, I pushed my hands to my head and my fingers in my ears. Sometimes, the noise and the darkness became too much.

While the band may not have been my first choice, they are my husband’s old favorite and I knew he was standing behind me, screaming well-known lyrics and smiling ear to ear.

This morning, my ears are ringing to prove it. I’ll never again get return to yesterday’s base level of hearing capabilities.

And this morning, I woke up and scrolled through my Facebook feed and found out again someone we knew, someone my brother loved, has died.

There is too much darkness haunting our young people. Hurting kids are turning to the wrong things to help ease their pain. And I swear to God it never gets easier to hear the truth that people we love will leave us. That one kind, searching kid just did.

Peace be with us.

We stand in darkness, there are flickering rays of light, and we bend and shake with the magnitude of our choices. We can lean on walls, hold hands, show up to support the ones we love. We can shake our heads and scream and pound and let the pulse move through us. And we can weep when people hurt.

A swirling mess of fog and noise and joy created in big, emotive sounds exists – this is what the world asks of us. I want to be affected. I refuse to go numb.

For we are still alive and we can choose to move toward the light.

If you know someone who is struggling, reach out.

If you are fighting demons, get help.

I want the pulse and the verve to continue on through me and through you. Lean on walls if you must. I want your ears to continue to hear the beautiful music. Please continue to live loudly. To see beauty. To run towards the flickering light mixing with the screeching feedback. Get on stage and help find your voice to sing.  I’ll be with you to help plug your ears when it all feels to much.

Here’s to the ones

To the ones who pick up the phone, send the texts, check in and ask how you’re doing.

To the ones who whisper and tell us on repeat, “We are ok. We don’t have to accomplish anything.”

To the ones who are seeking validation and a space to share your story.

To the ones aching for community.

To the ones who want more, better, beauty.

To the compassionate ones crying in your cubicles.

Our world makes you small when your heart beats so big you don’t know how to handle it.

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To the ones listening and leaning in.

To the ones who are haunted and hoping and hurting and here.

To the ones who bend and smell the roses and fill your arms with blooms in the garden, sorting weeds from the tiny blossoms of potential.

To the ones who buy themselves the peonies and bring their friends bread.

Caring for ourselves and our friends is a radical act.

To the ones who sit on blue benches whispering this just sucks.

To the ones who have loved and lost and to those who are waiting.

To the ones swirling to make sense of things.

To those who want to be seen.

Tonight, you are beautiful to me.

Joy on Jumbotrons

I spent over eight hours at the ball park this weekend. Sitting in the stands as the sun beamed down on my shoulders, memories of ball games past flooded my brain. I’ve been going to the same stadium for over twenty years.

Each summer my family set aside one or two afternoons for a day in Denver.  If we got lucky, we ventured out for a night game. I sat in the squeaky green seats watching the sun set over the mountains and only occasionally track the score or notice the activity happening on the actual field.  I was often busy people watching. We’d buy ice cream and foam fingers and my brother would convince my dad for just one plastic container of nachos overflowing with gooey fake cheese.

Over the years, my tastes have matured. I’ve gone from asking for Dip-n-Dots and cool lemonades to cold beer and peanuts. My obsession with foot long hot dogs shrank and I now can stomach a mini-one (they still cost over five dollars) without too much pain.

Now, more than ever, I miss my dad in those squeaky seats next to me. We’ve started a tradition and go to a game as a family near his birthday. Our new memories mix with the absence of him and I come home fingering the stitches sewn on my healing heart. Red thread, white skin, circling over and over like a pitcher readying to throw the ball.

Despite my aging, his absence, our new stories, and my awareness of caloric consumption possible in one afternoon as a fan, some things about baseball games never change.

The concrete stairs and metal stands. The smell of onions and spill of mustard on my white t-shirt. The thwack of a ball hitting a bat. The announcers voices, deep and booming. Fountains launching foamy water into the air after a home run. The joy found on the jumbotron.

Spectators of all ages light up when they find themselves on the gigantic screen at the back of the field. Older women with expensive blow-outs nod their heads along to the music. Dads holding babies start dancing and flail their offsprings chubby legs to the beat. Young boys wave their hats. Old men raise their beers to the air and slug their buddy or son sitting next to them. Young women in too-short of shorts flick their hair, kiss their partners, or blush and wave.

Spectators caught on screen may pretend to be embarrassed. Really, they’re delighted. They’ve got their phones out to capture the moment. They tag a friend.

If you’re feeling down, think of all the ball parks all across the country and all the baseball games happening at any given time. Then think about all the people who will be highlighted on those mega-huge screens and all the joy those appearances will create.

Hold that positive energy  in your palms. Capture their smiles.

Tuck that beautiful delight into your heart pocket and beam.

It’s not all bad. Think of all the joy found on jumbotrons. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

 

Twenty Things I Learned in My Twenties

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Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Today I turn 30. The ‘big birthday.’ When I started this blog I was 23, unmarried, and unanchored. A lot has changed in the last seven years and I’m eager to see what the next decade brings. Thank you, dear readers, for watching me grow up.

Reflection brings its own kind of wisdom and before I dance into the next new decade, I’m sharing my love letter of lessons I’ve learned about myself in the last ten years. Enjoy.

  1. Career may not fulfill your soul.
    I spent my early twenties bouncing from job to job searching for the perfect fit. I had nine jobs in ten years. There will be conflict at work. There will be days that feel tedious and boring. It is important to find people you can learn from and environments to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to make a switch, and ok to fail. At least you tried. There’s more to your worth than what you do from 9-5.
  2. Ask for that raise sooner than later. 
    You’re worth it. Practice negotiating and communicating how your skills bring organizations different value. It takes practice and it pays off. The least they can say is no, not right now.
  3. New paint makes a big difference.
    Make your spaces your own. Your house can be a reflection of you. Paint is affordable and it takes just a few hours to reclaim space for rest and rejuvenation.
  4. Planning a wedding is fun. Planning for marriage is improbable.
    I got engaged at the age of twenty three and walked down the aisle at age twenty five. That was young. We did marriage counseling, had dated for six years, and talked about many things. We weren’t prepared for how unemployment, unexpected death, and financial uncertainty would change and shape our young marriage. You can’t plan for all of the scenarios. You can, however, pick a partner who will fight for you and hold your hand when things fall apart.
  5. Pick up those shoes.
    Really, I leave them all over the house. Weekly shoe round-ups should be a thing. I’m messy. Tough.
  6. People will die.
    Yes, your people. They will die. Before your heart is ready with things left unchecked on bucket lists and words left unsaid. This is the worst truth of the universe. Surviving the death of my dad has rearranged me leaving gaps for compassion, empathy, and tears. Death sucks. Grief sucks. People die. It sucks so frickin’ bad.
  7. Say I love you every chance you get.
    The last time I saw my dad, he left my house without me saying good-bye. I just assumed I’d see him the next day. I didn’t say ‘I love you’ and I regret that. Life is short. Tell people how much you love them every chance you get.
  8. Friendships change.
    As you grow and change, so will your friends. Give others grace, stand up at weddings, cheer when they announce they are going to have a baby. Honor the space of sadness when the people you could always count on don’t respond as much as you’d like. Hold space for new relationships. Be the friend you want to have.
  9. Metabolism slows.
    Damn. Buy bigger-sized pants. Eat a few less french fries. Get back to the gym and love your body.
  10. Stop resisting when they offer to do the dishes.
    For a long time, I’d be mortified when my mother-in-law would do my dishes. It made me feel like a horrible host. She’s not silently commenting on the state of the kitchen. She’s instead using her gifts and sharing her time. People will show you their love in all kinds of ways. Stop resisting and say thank you.
  11. Having a dog is beneficial.
    They’ll pee on the carpet and destroy a few of your favorite things. But the little creature will warm your heart, absorb your tears, and take up space on the bed when you’re cold. Eye contact with an animal will soften your soul.
  12. Get a few stamps in your passport.
    Planning a trip and traveling abroad will give you confidence and joy in unimaginable ways. Gelato in Paris is delicious. Kidney pie in London is not.
  13. Graduate from an amaretto sour.
    Try different alcoholic drinks and explore how your tastes evolve. Know a few classic cocktails to ask for in a bar. When you order a shot of Fireball with your brother’s friends, they will laugh at you. Don’t let shame shape your choices. It’s ok to like what you like.
  14. Softball is not fun.
    I’d just rather not spend my summer evenings on the ball field. Practice saying no to the things that don’t bring you joy so you can say yes to the things that make your heart beat a little faster.
  15. I’m sensitive. So be it.
    My awareness of others suffering is a gift, not a weakness. Refuse to let others squash the sensitivity out of you. Continue to give the homeless woman a granola bar, make donations to charity, and cry at the news.
  16. People want to read these words.
    I must believe this every time I click publish. Your voice matters and you have every right to share your thoughts. Not everyone will resonate and likes and comments don’t qualify my words as worthy. Keep typing. It doesn’t have to make you money … though that would be nice.
  17. Family is complicated.
    It gets tricky when pain trickles through long-standing relationships. Keep trying. Keep praying. God’s grace can fix holes in family tapestries. Where we come from matters. Hold onto the good stuff, let go of the crap.
  18. You can take care of yourself.
    Of course I want others to take care of me. Bring me soup, vacuum the dirty carpet, offer tissues for the mountains of snot grief creates – yes please. More empowering though? Learning how to care for myself. Take space to sit and be sad. Invest in good shoes, honor your body with clothes that fit, and pay for a therapist to help process. Accepting help is self-care. Putting things in place to meet my own needs – even better.
  19. Money is a tool – let it flow.
    While I prefer to sit on my savings account for fear of not enough, I’m learning money is a tool for joy. Using funds responsibly can create positive, life-changing experiences. Travel. Save for the car. Get a haircut. Sponsor a child. Trust you have the capability to make more money and believe God provides.
  20. Hope lives in the relentless search for beauty.
    The gifts God gives are in the small and ordinary. Keep seeking good and you will find beauty. Clean water, fresh flowers, a kiss on the nose. Bubbles in sparkling wine, puppy breath, baby toes. Suffering and beauty co-exist. We won’t live in a world without both.