I have always loved the ritual of creating New Year’s resolutions. As my childhood friend Sarah can attest, I’ve jumped at the chance to recreate myself every January since we were in junior high together. I would always commit to something extraordinary like: “This year I will change my personality!” “I will practice perfect posture!” “I will memorize at least one poem every week!” I put so much emphasis on the magic of starting a brand new year, like a do-over, I thought the slate was wiped clean and I could remake myself. Back then, I wanted to be the shy, quiet type that the boys seemed to like. For those of you who know me, you immediately recognize the grand feat necessary for me to “change my personality” and the unlikelihood of which not even a miracle could supply.
Twenty-five years later, I still relish the notion of starting something new and fresh; re-examining old goals, naming new ones. But my “resolutions” are no longer plural. I followed the lead of a friend who challenged us a few years ago to bear in mind a single word or phrase to guide us throughout the year. I’ve adopted that habit and found it to be freeing and focusing at the same time. Not to mention, it’s easier to keep instead of abandoning by the end of the first month.
I was very intentional last year in declaring my word as “Abundance.” Tired of settling for the norm and what had become mediocre, I wanted to know the abundant life promised in Scripture (John 10, Ephesians 3). I spent a long time in January crafting a large art piece that would consistently remind me of what I had prayerfully set out in the beginning of the year to find.
I clung to that word “abundance” looking for evidence of it anywhere and everywhere. But by the end of October, I was beginning to think that God misunderstood my message.
2015 began with a colonoscopy in January and ended with a double ear infection and thrush in November. Peppered in between those health concerns the year held injuries and nutrient deficiencies. Job, asset and relational losses were also among the wreckage. I literally thought to myself that the signals of prayer to the heavens were crossed and the message was heard that I wanted 2015 to be a year of abundant…burdens!
I am still trying to make meaning out of the past 12 months. But there was a moment in August after I had endured a vocational crisis where I was able to experientially grasp the concept of Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” During that month of mourning, Karl was there at every turn to comfort me and literally hold me together. I would wake from terrifying nightmares at 2 or 3 in the morning and beg him to just put his arms around me tightly so I could feel safe again. On the weekends when I still couldn’t break the chains of anxiety, I would weep and ask him to rub my back. I called him or texted him numerous times each day asking for reassurance or the chance to process my feelings. In 15 years of marriage, I never needed him like I did then. And when I needed that desperately, I was finally comforted in an abundant way.
Never before have I ever been the touchy-feely type. I didn’t understand what was so special about giving and receiving hugs, or snuggling or hand-holding. But after a painful year of desperate need, I found comfort in the human touch. Now, Karl says with a wink that I’ve gotten a bit greedy in my need for his comfort. “Hold me? Snuggle with me?, Scratch my back?,” I say daily. I know where to find the soothing I need. And he offers it to me in spades. But it took an abundance of need for me to find the source of abundant comfort.
And as I look at other instances from throughout the year, what becomes clear, in hindsight, is that there was an abundance of trials, to be sure, but for the first time in my life, there was also an abundance of comfort. So, maybe the wires to heaven weren’t crossed all along and God understood my message perfectly.
My daughter’s name actually means “bringer of light.” However, I’m wondering if I should have named her something that means “bringer of love.”
Before I embark on this week’s story, I’d like to share with you just a couple of ways Lucy loves. Whenever she sees a baby, she says “Aaaaaaawwwwwww!” for an unusually long amount of time. When I criticize our elder dog because he is snappy and grumpy and barks obnoxiously, she is quick to his defense and reminds me that I am hurting his feelings. Every school day she is roaming around the house looking for various things that she promised to bring for a friend: a new pencil, orange duct tape, minecraft creations made from Perler beads, candy for someone who couldn’t go trick-or-treating, to name a few. The last day they had off of school, she hand created a scroll letter and mini vase of felt and pipe-cleaner flowers to surprise Karl and I with breakfast in bed and was nearly heart broken when she woke up to find Karl already gone for his morning run. She is constantly carrying Gizmo around like a baby and then gently tucks him into his bed when its time for dinner. And whether out of fear or affection none of us in the family leave her presence with out a hug, kiss, “I love you,” and sweet good-bye. She is conscientious and kind; her compassion has deep roots already. Perhaps that in itself brings light along with love to everyone she meets.
So, imagine this girl’s concern when we drive all around Seattle and at many, many intersections, stoplights or off-ramps, we encounter members of a large homeless population. They sit in the in the rain and the cold holding signs and pleading for help. For the longest time, I didn’t know an age-appropriate response to her inquiry of why we didn’t give them money. I worked with this population for three years in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. The general consensus is that giving them money is not particularly helpful. However, food, warmth, kindness are allotted in spades. So, with that explanation, Lucy then asked why we don’t give them food. That was another question I had a hard time answering. Until finally I said, “We could and we should. I just need to remember to keep granola bars and water in the car.” Subsequently, each time after that when she witnessed someone sitting at a stoplight with a sign, she would remind me.
Then, one day we had a surplus of protein drinks that we couldn’t fit on our shelves with a new load of groceries (the irony is not lost on me). Those drinks then became the base for what would be Lucy’s new project. That night she asked if we could go to the store to buy the rest of the supplies that might be helpful. We brainstormed what we could fit in a gallon ziplock bag and she included needs and possibly wants, pleasure and something to pass the time. Her kits include: a water bottle, a granola bar, a protein drink, a mini maze game, a sucker, and some Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
Walking back from the store with our loot, her energy and excitement was palpable. She rushed in the door and began opening up packages and created a sort of mini assembly line. Every minute she enjoyed arranging the bags, making certain each one had every time. Lining them up in a row, counting how many she produced. There were 16 bags in all. We then decided to divide them up; 6 in my car and 10 in our van.
Since the genesis of her project, sadly, she has not gotten to hand out any of the bags, yet. We live in a city where we don’t have to get in the car and go very far very often. But, this week, I had the privilege of handing out two. During my first experience, I noticed the awkwardness first. Pausing too long at the stop sign. Handing someone a bag that they may or may not appreciate. For certain, they have no idea what’s inside, and may feel confused. But after the pleasant exchange, I found myself looking in the rear view mirror. I was delighted to see them opening the package and begin perusing its contents. The second time, the awkwardness still lingered, but the kindness triumphed in the end.
I recognize that this gesture is not grand. But it is more than anything I’ve ever done on my own accord. To remind oneself, plan, prepare and package something for the mere chance of an opportunity to be kind requires more faith, hope and love than my numb heart allows for. Someone wise said, “A little child shall lead them.” My 10 year-old daughter, with her fresh spirit and fierce tenderness, softens my hard heart and leads me to kindness, compassion and action. And that is just one of many reasons why I love Lucy.
Last week, I discussed how I have found extra free hours in my schedule recently by not watching football games. I am certainly in the minority as it is projected that over 110 millions people will be watching the Super Bowl game this Sunday. However, I am pleasantly surprised at the personal discoveries I’ve made during those free hours. Having time to spend without guilt or pressure allowed me to explore my creative side.
I can’t recall loving arts and crafts as a child. I wasn’t a burgeoning artist who could draw at a young age. I didn’t glue random objects together as makeshift dollhouses or rocket ships. While I took piano lessons, I didn’t have a great ear or exceptional musicality. I never went to ballet, tap or jazz dance classes. I wasn’t a voracious reader who would then pen my own poetry or lyrics. The only thing that resembles any childhood artistic expression was my love of dressing and redressing my Barbie dolls. Each week I received a $2 allowance and knew exactly how I was going to spend that money. We lived just a few blocks from a small shopping center where among Furr’s Cafeteria and May D&F, there was a local drugstore was called Duckwall’s. My brother and I would hop on our bikes and speed to that store where I would promptly spend $.99 on a new outfit for my Barbie’s wardrobe collection and the other $.99 on a box of candy. I had the clothes and the shoes and the purses and relished creating outfits for every make believe occasion. Later, that interest would turn to magazines. I would feast on Seventeen’s fashion editorial spreads and collect every black and white perfume ads to tape on my wall. In the end, I dabbled in amateur fashion photography in college and family portraits in my twenties and toyed with Photoshop into my thirties. I thought that medium was the extent of my artistic expression until recently.I
I currently live in a house that is over 100 years old. The closets are uniquely designed in that they are far more deep than they are wide. This architecture makes it a very inefficient use of space. In order for Karl and I to fit our clothes in one room he takes the dresser I take the closet. I hang most of my clothes, and use plastic drawers for everything else. Frustrated with not being able to see in the back of the unlit closet, I decided I would take an old dresser from the basement and make room for it in our bedroom. This meant several pieces of furniture were going to shift throughout the house. After one move and then another and I realized things would fit, but they wouldn’t match. Like my Barbie doll’s outfits, things needed to “go” together. And unlike my current allowance, though not $2, still does not afford the luxury of buying new things. Hence, I began the work of making everything “go” together.
And in the process, I discovered what makes me happy: I love color. Thumbing through paint samples was a highlight. I found such delight when the gorgeous color I chose was first deposited on the wood. I enjoyed the specificity of measuring resin and its activator to create an epoxy coating. I relished the order of placing pennies in rows of tails first, then heads. And even the blemishes or mistakes that resulted from my amateur work were fun to attend to and remedy. Being able to display my success in our living room and share with the world on Facebook and this blog adds to the pride of my creation. But more than pride, I experienced pleasure as I painstakingly took on this challenge. And in the process, I discovered just how much I enjoy transforming things that don’t work into something like a beautiful work of art.
What brings you pleasure? What are you creating right now? What medium do you use? I’m curious to hear what makes you happy and why.
There’s been a lot of body talk going on in our household this past week. No…not the resolutions kind of body talk. I would guess that we talk about bodies, on average, more than most families anyway, but the subject has been even more present in our recent conversations. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Bodies growing and changing. As of New Year’s Eve we officially have two teenagers in the house. Lord have mercy. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Bodies hurting and healing. Bailey, our second oldest who just turned 13, has been suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome since last August and just recently began experiencing relief from near-constant headaches. Faith, sprained her ankle in soccer (yet again!) this past week and Krisalyn even tweaked her foot when we visited the giant trampoline during winter break to combat the cabin fever that started to settle in. Bodies, bodies, bodies.
“Mommy? Why does there have to be pain?” Krisalyn asks me every time she gets hurt. That poor girl was made with the lowest pain tolerance in this family of accident prone, perpetual toe-stubbers. But her questioning eyes long for an answer that will help sustain her as she copes with the pain.
“I don’t know baby girl.” I respond. “But I do know that pain reminds us of our limitations. It reminds us of our humanness. It brings our attention to our bodies.” These reflections are never enough for her 10 year old mind. I don’t think they’re enough even for my 35 year old mind.
We celebrated Briella’s 2nd birthday on January 3rd. I wonder if there will ever come a day where her birthday can stand alone as the beginning of her story or if it will always feel interconnected to the second act of my own. Will I forever associate her 10:47am exit of the womb with the nearly-fatal pouring out of my lifeblood? Her entrance meant my near, yet spared departure. It was also the beginning of a five month struggle with pain, vulnerability, brokenness and dependence like I had never known prior.
Bodies, bodies, bodies. January 3rd. We were celebrating Briella’s birthday with family, all the while praying for comfort and peace as a friend was in his final hours of life on this earth after a year-long vicious fight with cancer. Images constructed by the descriptions of his body, beaten and abused by the disease continued to invade my mind.
Why must there be pain? I went to bed that night with a heart of desperation. Sleep was well beyond reach, so I drifted as I often do on nights like these, to wherever the thoughts desired to travel. Bodies, bodies, bodies. Images of pain collided with images of pleasure. Memories of days where I would take three different baths because it was the only place I could find relief from the pain would be overtaken by memories of tender moments like when my sister spent a night in the hospital massaging my swollen legs and feet. The imagined picture of our friend lying in a hospital bed fading away while his wife held him and offered words of comfort were broken up with the recollection of the photos I received earlier in the day of him affectionately pinching her behind as they hiked trails in the breathtaking beauty of Beaver Creek. Unwanted memories of abuse were replaced with reflections of the most intimate experiences of love and connection.
Bodies. Bodies. Bodies. These awe-inspiring soul-capsules, being-carriers, life-vehicles allow each of us these full-spectrum EMBODIED experiences. Would it even be possible to experience one side of the spectrum without the possiblity or experience of the other? I don’t know. That’s a question for a far more skilled philosopher than my wanna-be self. The power and beauty of pleasure may not cancel out the horror of pain. But maybe it redeems it. Or maybe it can sustain us. Bodies. Bodies. Bodies.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has taken every available opportunity to point out large birds of prey flying high in the sky or perched on telephone wires. We might be driving down I-25 from Littleton to Colorado Springs and see a number of falcons or hawks circling open fields looking for their evening dinner. Most people cruising down the six-lane highway would be oblivious to these remarkable creatures or mistake them for mere crows or vultures or even ospreys. But my father would rather easily be able to tell the difference between a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon from a distance. Among other strange talents my dad has acquired in his lifetime, being a falconer is quite possibly one of his favorites. The story about how he trained to become a licensed falconer is one for another time. Suffice it to say that if we ever wanted to get my dad something for his birthday or Father’s Day, it would be some kind of bald eagle ornament or statue. He grew quite the collection of his favorite bird of prey.
This picture circa 1970s is of my dad with Omega, the official bird of the US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Because he so readily admired great birds of prey, their majesty and splendor, I too have taken to appreciating them as well. So, on our summer road trip, Karl and the kids often heard me shout that I saw some kind of hawk or falcon flying in the sky just out our window (though I didn’t know the difference unless I saw the fanciful tail feathers of the red-tailed hawk, I knew that one). We even saw one dive into the brush and come out with a snake dangling it its grip. It’s quite amazing what you can witness when you have particular eyes to see and know for what you’re looking.
Now, living in the Pacific Northwest, I find it both a privilege and an honor to see bald eagles regularly. In fact, there is one who frequents Green Lake, the neighborhood I live in. Perched high above the water in an amazingly ancient evergreen, you can see him from nearly halfway around the lake. Yet, even though I get to see these incredible birds far more often than I ever did in Colorado (in fact, some may never get a chance to see our national bird up close), the sighting never ceases to take my breath away, pull my car over and take a picture if I can, and just soak in the grandeur of the magnificent creature.
Unfortunately, it is illegal to pull my car over where I last saw a bald eagle.
The east side is to the city of Seattle what the Denver Tech Center is to downtown Denver. Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland are meccas for technological industries like Microsoft and Nintendo. Once a week at 4:00 PM, I drive from my home on the west side of town across Lake Washington to contract at a location other than my neighborhood office. That time of day is the worst time to be on I-5. Traffic is backed up even on the ramp to get onto the highway. Cars move at a ridiculously slow pace and one might find herself listening to the same CD over and over and over, just in one mind-numbing commute. And isn’t it odd when traffic is so slow, you imagine there must be an accident up ahead, only to find out there is zero reason for the painfully sluggish pace?
But once I hit the 520 going east, traffic speeds up and there is a sort of pleasant rhythm driving on the bridge passing over the concrete seams and whipping by the street lamps. I enjoy that part of my commute. There is something about watching the water that is soothing. When it is windy, you can literally see white caps on the waves to the south side of the bridge, and absolute calm to the north. Last week, I saw two people kite surfing on my left while the waves were aggressively chasing each other on my right. And up ahead, perched high above the road on top of a large streetlight, was the unmistakable white head of a bald eagle. I spotted it and gazed at it just long enough ahead of me before glancing in my rear-view mirror to see it one more time. The moment felt akin to seeing a shooting star. Maybe it was nostalgia. Or, perhaps it was relief coming off the stress of previous traffic. Maybe the feeling is what you get when you witness something that takes you by surprise. Whatever happened in that moment, seeing that wonderfully splendid bird felt like a gift – one that I strove to see as long as possible without veering off the road or causing an accident. I wonder how many other thousands of drivers were crossing the bridge at the same time and saw that glorious creature? Did they miss out on a moment of wonderful? Or are they just better drivers? I suppose both are possibilities.
But I conclude that I saw that bird because I wanted to see it. I look for birds of prey. I spot the differences between commonly found fowl and those that are rare and resplendent. How I learned to identify these creatures was just osmosis, something I picked up from my dad. But now, I see because I want to. My heart longs to witness the mysterious, surprising, unpredictable beauty that is all around but we so often fail to see. I desire to be captivated by the unusual, random acts of wonderful that are available for each of us to experience. But where are we looking? Down? Up? Ahead? Behind? Across? What are we looking for? Are we afraid to look because we will be so disappointed if we do not see?
Well, guess what? Later that night when I was returning to my home in Seattle, I was hoping, wishing and maybe even praying for a glimpse of that bald eagle once again. And wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t just see one, I saw two.