Thursday, March 6, 2014

Falling Forward into a Better Story

Photo by matthew_hull.

A few days ago, I ran with the unicorns at Donald Miller’s Storyline conference. I say “unicorns” because we were all in What if? and vision-casting mode for our lives. And because “unicorns” is a word you don’t hear every day. 

Storylines goal is to help you clarify your goals so you can live a better story. 

I came home Sunday buzzing with anticipation. And possibilities. And an eighth of a teaspoon of gumption.

But Monday came. Fortunately, a spare set of boot straps helped me pull myself up to a respectable height Tuesday. But it’s Thursday, and Im groaning into the suds while I scrub pots and pans.

Why the angst after Don and his buddies inspired me so well over the weekend?

I stop washing. Slow my breathing. What is this feeling? I reach around inside and pull up Fear. How can I be afraid? I just spent a weekend in San Diego, for Pete’s sake! Fear keeps thrumming, so I rustle around inside some more and pull out a scrap of paper that reads, “What if I can’t make a great story? Or worsewhat if I dont really want to change?” 

Oh, God. Couldn’t I just have pulled out the flimsier-and-easier-to-deal-with feeling of Apathy? With apathy, you hardly have to feel at all. Status quo. Just keep going. Everything’s fine.

But the groaning continues, so I rummage around again. Dig deeper. I pull out Longing. Longing for more. Not more stuff. Not more money. What then? I concentrate harder. Ah, there it is. Glowing in the darkness behind that broken dream I forgot. The groaning for more Life. Not longer life. Just more packed into what I’m already allotted. I hear an echo in my heart: Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10b).

Normally, Id be whooping it up over a promise like that. Except, the word that catches my attention isnt abundantly; the word that hooks me and reels me in is may. As in, I have permission. I can if I want. But heres the question: Do I really want? Will I really grab life by the throat and say, “Come on! We’ve got STUFF to do, FUN to have, PEOPLE to love”? I want to say You bet! But theres that fear thing tugging my sleeve. Urging me to use wisdom and think this through before making any rash decisions.

Remember when Jesus asked that blind guy what he wanted? I used to think that was a stupid question. Obviously, he wants so SEE, Jesus! Everyone knows that. Pffft. (Insert dramatic eye rolling here.)

But as the “blind guy” myself now, facing the Great Physician, knowing my whole life stands on the brink of Change or Not Change, I get why Jesus asked that question. And I see His kindness in letting me choose what and how much I want. Or how little.

Oh, how I want to want this promised abundant life.

As I drain the sink and watch the bubbles pop, I think about the first part of John 10:10, which says the thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy. 

But what if the devil isn’t the only one causing me mayhem, stealing and destroying all the good stuff God intends for me to enjoy? What if I am sometimes the thief in my own life, simply because I would rather watch from the sidelines than take part? Maybe the devil doesn’t have to show up so often because I do a pretty good job myself just by letting entropy take its course. 

A sobering thought: I help the thief ruin my life.

Um, about that question, Jesus: I wantI choosea better story. Abundant life. Not the path of No Good Story Here. 

So, yes, please. I choose a better story. (Did You hear me over the sound of my knocking knees?)

What about you, friend? Does longing hide behind a broken dream in your heart? Do you long for a more lively, abundant life—a real page turner? As Donald Miller said last weekend, “Pick a direction and move toward it.” It’s that easy. And that hard. 

Come on. We can do this together. We’re sure to make a lot of mistakes, but at least we’ll be falling forward. Together.

(And if your knees are knocking like mine are, do yourself a favor and read Jon Acuff’s article, The Ugly Truth About Bravery.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Simple and Few

 Photo by hotblack.
I've already met one of my resolutions for the New Year--begin the year without stepping on the scale--and 2014 is only several hours old. Success on Day One. I like it.

To keep that feeling of success, my goals for this new year are simple and few:
  1. Blog more, even if that means doing it less purfeckly. (Oh, how I want to fix that word!)
  2. Read a gajillion books minus nine. (That way, I can figure out once and for all--scientifically--how much a gajillion is.)
  3. Spot more wildlife! (The highlights for me this year were spotting a whale off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine; a shrew in Broadmayne, England; an owl, sitting by the roadside at dusk three weeks ago; and a heron perched on a rock in the middle of a frozen creek near our home last Sunday.)
  4. End the year without stepping on the scale.

That's it for me. How about you? If your goals are not simple and fun, would you consider rewriting them? Let me know.

New Every Morning
Susan Coolidge
(1835 - 1905)

Every day is a fresh beginning,
Listen my soul to the glad refrain.
And, spite of old sorrows
And older sinning, 
Troubles forecasted
And possible pain,
Take heart with the day and begin again.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight

Photo by pschubert.

When you pay attention, you can find neat things spattered all around the space you occupy. Taking a closer look is what makes "old" or familiar things seem new or more interesting.
 When I flew round trip to Detroit last year, I spent considerable time in the Chicago airport there and back. On my return trip, the layout of the airport was more familiar, so I decided to kill time by "seeing what I could see."

As I meandered from gate to gate and from shop to shop, I discovered five previously unnoticed things:
  1. A currency exchange bank. Instead of buying a cup of coffee, I might have been able to buy rand, real, or ringgit. Imagine that!
  2. mental_floss magazine. Want to laugh and learn fun stuff at the same time? This is the magazine for you. I hadn't seen one at the Kansas City or Detroit airports' newsstands. 
  3. A shoe hospital. Evidently, if your shoes need something more than a simple shine, you can take them to the Chicago airport to re-dandify them.
  4. A Best Buy kiosk! To be fair, I have seen these in the Kansas City airport since my trip to Chicago. But at the time, this was an eye-peeler for me. Did you lose your camera? It's okay. Just swipe your credit card and a shiny new one will drop out of the kiosk before you can say, "What's my interest rate?". You're welcome.
  5. Ruth from Maine. Sorry, but you are highly unlikely to find this one in your travels as she is a one-of-a-kind and is prone to moving about the country. I bet if you try, though, you can meet someone just as interesting. I dare you.
No travel plans in the near future? Look harder and closer right at home. Challenge your family or friends: "Whoever pays attention and finds the most interesting thing in their day today gets to...." (eat the first piece of dessert, choose our next fun night activity, decide what we're eating for dinner, etc.).

There's a whole year of neat stuff hidden in plain sight. Go ahead and be the one to win first dibs on dessert tonight!


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Here she is, just as I promised. 

Isn't she lovely? Look at that smile, those friendly eyes, and that gorgeous natural silver hair. (My dad refers to his as platinum blond.)

When I first spotted her, she was walking in the opposite direction way across the concourse in the Chicago airport. I did a double-take. Hey! That's the same kind of naturally gorgeous silver locks I'm trying to cultivate! 

Then the battle:  

Should I track her down and tell her I like her hair? 

Don't be silly. Walking up to a stranger in the middle of the Chicago airport on a Thursday just to tell her you love her silver strands is ludicrous. We do not do ludicrous. 

Oh, okay. 

So I steered myself back to my gate, stuffed my ears with earbuds, and listened to Switchfoot's Gone. Tried to concentrate on blending in to my chair. But on my second time through the song, when they got to the part that says, "She believes in living bigger, bigger than she's living now," I hoisted myself off the plastic and went in search of that particular silver-haired woman. In the midst of a swarm of hundreds.

Against many odds, I finally found her in the food court. She looked so pleasant that introducing myself and telling her I loved her hair wasn't so hard after all. Although I was nervous and didn't learn as much as if I'd been a braver version of myself, I did learn these things:

  • Ruth and her husband Dave raised their three kids in Chicago. Since Dave is self-employed, they decided to cut loose seven years ago and make a move based on pure fun.
  • So they up and moved to a little town called Norway, Maine, and bought a house with three acres on a lake.
  • Their kids thought they were crazy.
  • Ruth and Dave are having the time of their lives.
I want to be more like Ruth--silver hair, crazy moves, and having the time of my life. 

What if I hadn't renounced my airport chair and gone in search of the silver-haired lady? I would have been fine, but I also would have missed out on exercising my brave muscles. Even worse, I would have missed inspiration in the flesh. I'm so glad I did it. Even if it took me a year to tell you about it.

How about you? Do you have an "airport chair" you need to break up with? Think what you could be missing! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Chains That Bind You

Photo by mconners.

In 2011, I posted about grief--to help me move through mine and hopefully help someone else move through theirs. Then I trumpeted 2012 with a January prescription to Take Joy. And fell silent for 11 months.

What happened? March came, and I meant to post about a lovely silver-headed woman I met in the Chicago airport. Her hair was so stunning that I spent 15 minutes of my layover trying to find her so I could tell her how beautiful her natural silver was. When I found her, she answered all my questions and graciously gave her permission for me to write about her on my blog.

Which I never did. Never even posted her picture.

Big deal, right? It's not like anyone died because of my procrastination or fear or busy-ness or whatever it was. Right? Right.

But this did happen: In the crack of that broken promise, something sneaky and life-sucking (shame and disappointment in myself) wormed its way in and rendered me motionless. 

So I've decided to fight back. I'm taking up the banner of Better Late Than Never and am going to tell you in my next post about Ruth. She'll probably never see I kept my promise to her, and for that I'm sorry. But I'm keeping my promise to me, and that's a big matter.

Are you blocked in your life somewhere? My experimental recipe might help you: Think back to right before you encountered that block. Did you promise something to yourself or someone else and fail to follow through? Go back and do it. No matter how stupid you feel or how much time has passed or how little you think it matters. And if you can't do it and it involves another person, swallow your pride and apologize to that person if you can. 

Unless you enjoy having a blockage you can't get around.

I'm cheering for you from over here. Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Take Joy

Photo by @jbtaylor

A year and a day ago, I had just stepped into the fresh and unsullied landscape of 2011. Being an ardent supporter and lover of All Things New and Beginning-like, my heart swelled with excitement. And I had plans. PLANS, I tell you!

But January 3, 2011, brought the shocking news of my brother's unexpected death. The world suddenly went grey. My excitement and plans vanished in a wisp of smoke, and I was shoved unceremoniously onto the HMS Uncertainty for my cruise down the Grief Canal.

Exactly twelve months later, I'm standing on the banks again. My legs wobble beneath me; having traveled so long by ship, the memory of land is a distant one for them. What to do now?

When you spend a year keeping company with grief or with some other heavy burden, a dull emotional landscape seems quite normal. You forget what fun is---what it looks like and how it feels. Answering a simple question like "What would you like to do?" might feel like an enormous tax on your brain. Or, at the very least, like a trick. "What do you mean what would I like to do?" The problem doesn't lie in the fact that you have suddenly started keeping company with practical jokers. The problem is simply that you have been piled high with life-suckers such as worry, fear, sorrow, or even over-busyness and that you have become a stranger to your own heart.

If you find yourself in similar emotional circumstances, I urge you to try this remedy: Take joy. Just as you might take two aspirin for a headache or take a nap to revive your tired body, joy is something you must take. On occasion, it might be offered to you through the kindness of friends and strangers. At some point, however, you must learn to take it for yourself.

I learned this only recently for myself. In fact, I still don't have it all figured out, this taking joy business. But I'd like to share with you a few steps I've taken that have helped me. Try them yourself. You deserve to have your joy back.
  1. Spend time every day soaking in some peace and quiet. Even if it's only five minutes. Your nerves might be shell-shocked, and your heart deserves the quiet to refresh itself. I spend my time intentionally focusing on God and reading the bible. I've found the book of Psalms most helpful.
  2. Say no to things that suck the life out of you--even things you used to like very much. Maybe you used to enjoy a weekly book club, but now it feels like so much work to get out the door and go. Say no to it for now. And don't worry about disappointing people or leaving more work for someone else to do. If the people you are saying no to are your friends or if they are the least bit understanding, they will cheer you on your way to finding joy. If they don't, you don't need to spend time with them right now, anyway. And vacating your position gives others who have more enthusiasm and energy to join in and offer their gifts and talents. Tip: Spending time doing Step 1 will help you learn which things you need to say no to.
  3. Bless your heart--take joy--every single day. Not sure what gives you joy? Go on frequent Joy Hunts. Pay attention to what, exactly, catches your interest. What textures, tastes, sounds, colors, or objects lighten your mood? I found out that I love red and purple, candles, hot tea, birds, skeleton keys, antique architectural details, and period movies (Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, Cranford, and Return to Cranford, for example). If I am short on time, but I need to take a dose of joy, I might close my eyes and inhale the scent of a favorite candle. If I have more time, I might go to a yarn store and handle all the soft red and purple yarns. Whatever gives you joy, try to do some of it every day.

Proverbs 17:22 in the New American Standard Bible says this: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones."

In this new year of 2012--whatever 2011 brought your way--I urge you treat yourself well, my friend. Whatever your ailment, take your medicine. Take joy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Brother's Birthday

May 11, 1958, fell on Mother's Day that year. And that's the day my brother showed up. Mom lost so much blood, the doctors thought they were going to lose her.

Mom always told us that Greg was 6 years, 7 months, and 11 days older than me. Even though he was so much older, he was a great brother. Not perfect, but perfect for me. Greg always took time to play with me, he was an amazing artist and taught me some of his secrets, and he always let me tag along with him and his friends. As adults, he always called me on my birthday, and he always ended our calls with, "I love you."

Happy Birthday, Greg. I love you and I miss you.