Thursday, September 27, 2012

Through a Toddler's Eyes: Work

Reese and I walked hand-in-hand toward the playground. To our right, the tiny lake shimmered in the sunlight as a flock of Canadian geese waddled along the shore line looking for the perfect spot to enter the water. 

“Look, Mommy, those geese are working.”

Working? I asked if she meant to say “walking.” She corrected me, confirming that in her mind, those geese were hard at work. Trying to wrap my head around her logic, I challenged myself to answer the question - if they’re not working, what are they doing? Well, they’re just doing what geese do. They're just… being.

It took me a minute to fully process the beauty of her statement. Somehow, she had come to understand that to engage in your “work” is simply to be as you were meant to be, to fulfill your basic purpose.

That moment has completely changed the way I see my daily routine and the way I think about the “work” to be done in my life.

I walk the aisles of the grocery store like an eagle in flight.

I empty the dishwasher like a bumblebee gathering pollen.

I dust my furniture like a rosebud turning its face to the sun.

And I sit at my computer spilling the contents of my heart like a flock of geese waddling along the sandy shores of a shimmering lake.

Now, I can stir a pot on the stove, fold laundry, or pay bills without wishing I could stop and just simply be. And I can read a book, paint my nails, or write my heart out without feeling like I should get on with more important work. In every action I am working, fulfilling my purpose, turning my own tiny gear in the giant wheel of creation. I'm just doing what moms doing. I'm just being.

And when Reese is constructing her tallest block tower, splattering soap bubbles on the mirror as she washes her hands, or picking up her toys at the end of the day, she's just doing what toddlers do. She's just being. But she tells me she's working, and I just smile and agree because I've forgotten that there was ever a difference.

This is a Bigger Picture moment.

Share with us today at Corinne's.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creative Soul

This is a departure from what I typically share in this space, but as a part of a journey so close to my heart, I felt compelled to share it today in the hopes that your dreams will not lie asleep below the surface of your life for even one more day… 

Last weekend I attended the Creative Soul event through Bigger Picture Blogs, my first-ever retreat for women with creative passion. It was my official first step toward the pursuit of my long-repressed dream to call myself a writer. I drove four hours into unfamiliar suburban territory only to enter an even less familiar setting full of people I didn’t know and a day full of activities with which I had no experience - writing on the spot, opening my work up to critical review, and holding a paintbrush for the first time since the paint by number canvases of my childhood. Needless to say, I was more than a bit nervous.

As I entered the coffee house, the quaint setting and soft music reined in my terror. The small, intimate meeting room with its circle of wooden chairs calmed me even more. Then, a familiar face - the unlikely person from my past who invited me. She welcomed me with a warm embrace and I no longer felt like an outsider. The last remaining fears melted away and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

I spent the day surrounded by passionate women and the creative energy flowed freely, inspiring each of us toward a greater fulfillment of our own unique gifts. Bound by a desire to serve God by adding to the world’s beauty, it was easy to forget that many of us were strangers to each other just hours before. Giving voices to the stories within us and breathing life into our talents, we filled each other with encouragement.

That night I drove home with the fruits of my creativity lining the backseat of my car, proof that I am capable of more than I realize. Believing for the first time with every ounce of my being that I am chasing the right dream down the right path, I thanked God for bringing this group together and for His gentle nudges that sealed my decision to be a part of it.

Thank you, ladies, for a refreshing, inspiring, and life-changing day. I am blessed to have experienced it.

Below is the edited version of the piece I wrote during our twenty minute Writing Circles exercise....

The Awakening of a Dream

The Lord beckons me toward the edge. I back away, afraid of the fall. He calls me back, whispering softly, “Come closer.”

I can’t.

Instead, I run. I hide. I push Him away, refusing His call, closing my ears.

But the call of the Lord is relentless and even though He never yells, His whisper stirs my heart just the same. Ever so slowly, I step forward, hesitating with every move. The voices in my head overpower His gentle nudge as I issue myself a warning against the inevitable pain that will surely follow as I plummet into the unknown.

I stand frozen in place, heeding my warning. His whisper fades into the silence and He lets me stay there for as long as I need because He doesn’t shove; He only nudges. Instead, He wraps me in His patient embrace and He waits. As His love surrounds me, I begin to hear a new voice, quiet and weak. A hush falls over my mind as it asks, “What if I don't fall? What if I fly?"

This is my Genesis, the beginning of my voyage. This is my Exodus, the escape from my fear. This is my Revelation, the journey toward that to which He has called me. Finally, my ears are listening, my heart is accepting and I am ready to answer His call. I am ready to step over the edge, to let Him carry me on His wings, and to discover if I really can fly. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Five Minute Friday: Wide

The glass tipped on its side, spilling sticky orange liquid all over my kitchen table. Reese’s cries erupted from the other room as I reached for a towel. Forgetting the mess, I headed for her room where I discovered a wet bed and an even wetter kid. I stripped her sheets and threw them in the wash, cleaned her up and changed her clothes.

I finally returned to the kitchen to pour her some cheerios and paused in front of the table. The small puddle of spilled juice now spanned the width of its surface, soaking into the fabric placemats, dripping over the edges and pooling on the floor. A mess that originally required a few paper towels had now become a much bigger project.

I reached for the cleaning supplies, wishing I had tackled the spill sooner. As I wiped the table clean, I thought about the other “spills” in life.

Bad habits.

Negative thoughts.

Repressed anger.

Each begins as a tiny puddle, a slow drip. Left unaddressed, the puddles spread, spanning the width of our being. Creeping closer to the edge, they threaten to mar the other still-clean surfaces of our lives.

Our messes in life are best cleaned as we go.

Because the longer they’re left, the wider they grow.

Five Minute FridayFive Minute Friday is a blog link-up where everyone writes for five minutes on the same prompt. This week's prompt is "wide" and this is the product of my five minutes.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Dream in Disguise

I'm a terrible singer.

Ask my nieces who, upon hearing my "Rock Band" rendition of Taylor Swift, offered me a permanent seat at the drum set. Ask my daughter who yells from the back seat every time I chime in with the radio, "No, Mommy, don't sing!"

Seriously, I'm awful. Arguably the worst. Ever.

Still, I always wanted to be a singer despite the full knowledge that I am totally and completely tone deaf. Even the best of singing coaches would not have improved the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound resonating from my vocal chords. Even so, I signed up for chorus and sang off key in the back row of the alto section all through junior high and high school. I performed for screaming fans of stuffed animals with my hair brush microphone and gave acceptance speeches for imaginary Grammy awards. But deep down I always knew I would have to find a different dream.

Oh, how I envied the golden voices of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. To have a voice that carries people to another world and to share it with a passion that tugs at the heartstrings of the deepest cynics is to truly be blessed with a gift. What I would have given for their gift to be my gift! But deep down I always knew I would have to make a different wish.

Even though I always accepted the reality of my limitations, I still felt that once-in-a-while sting in my heart when I witnessed a moving vocal performance or caught the sound of my own warbling in my ear at church. How I wish for a beautiful voice…

In all those years, it never occurred to me that my wish might come true through a different path; that maybe I was pursuing the right dream in the wrong way.

Eighteen months ago, I launched a blog in a desperate attempt to reclaim my identity and have something, anything to call my own after almost a year as a stay-at-home mom without any personal outlets. So I opened a blank page and I started to write.

And wouldn't ya know it? It turns out I do have a beautiful voice.

If you have a dream that hasn’t come true, step back and look around. Maybe it has and you just can't see it from where you're standing. Maybe you're pursuing the right dream in the wrong way. You, too, have a beautiful voice inside you. You just have to find it and set it free.

This is my 100th blog post. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for hearing my voice.

This is also a Bigger Picture moment.

Share with us today at Brook's place.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

[Breaking] The Rules of Baby Talk

At our house, we eat mashed pee-toes for dinner

and bluebelly yogurt for breakfast.

Our favorite color is lellow

and our favorite animals are aff-lants.

We put checkup on our chicken nuggets

and we eat cereal with a foon.

A child development “expert” probably would have told me to cut the baby talk two years ago because infants begin to differentiate individual words in speech at six months of age (true) and the incoherent babbling and mispronunciation of words can inhibit language development (really?).

Well, if that’s the case, my kid should be way behind the curve because I am a baby talkin’ fool. I babbled like an idiot well into her second year (and I even still do it on occasion). Since the day she spoke her first word, I have absorbed her pronunciations into my own vocabulary, laughing every time I say one of my favorites.

People who subscribe to the “no baby talk” philosophy probably think I’m holding my kid back with my misuse of words and incorrect grammar. Well, today I have a fully conversational two-year-old and her language development hasn’t suffered one bit as a result of my unwillingness to stop saying “foon.”

In time, she picks up the right words and when she stops saying them, I stop too. Every now and then, we have one of these conversations:

“Do you need a foon?”

“No, Mommy, it’s a spoon.”

“You’re right, honey. It is a spoon.”

One by one, each word will take its place in my memory. But for the rest of my life, every time I pick up a foon, I will smile to myself and remember these times.

And some day when she’s all grown up, she will take a seat beside me in the kitchen and I’ll pour the coffee. She’ll ask for a foon and I’ll hold in the tears as the memories flood back. Then we’ll have the same silent exchange my mom and I have when I walk into her kitchen and ask for a sawamy sammich.

Don’t stop the baby talk. I promise their language development won’t suffer. Only the memories will.

Life is short. Grab a foon.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Five Minute Friday: Focus

So much to do. All the time. Everyday.

Wash this.

Dust that.

Pay bills.

Birthday gift for Mom.

Grab bread, milk, and stamps.

Make plans for dinner.

So often my head is in the future, my thoughts wrapped up in what is yet to come, what must be done, what can’t be forgotten.

Suddenly, forgotten is the present moment. Now lost forever in a whirlwind of future plans for future moments that will no doubt be equally wasted. Because the future never fully arrives.

Forget the list. Forget the plan. But never forget the moment.

Breathe in. Be still. And focus.

Five Minute Friday

This is my first attempt at a new blog link-up. Everyone writes on the same prompt (this week is "Focus"), which given each Friday morning. The goal is to write a post in five minutes or less. No planning. No editing. Just five minutes straight from the heart. Click the icon above to read more Five Minute Friday posts from other bloggers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lessons from a Random Stranger

Sitting alone in a booth intended for four, I drizzled heavy white cream over my coffee. The spine of my new book creaked slightly as I opened its cover for the first time. I had one hour until I had to pick Reese up. One hour of total peace and quiet. One hour with the pastime I enjoy far too infrequently these days.

An old man shuffled past my table, leaning heavily on a wooden cane. A regular customer, I assumed from the waitress’ greeting. He settled into the corner booth and ordered a hamburger. I wondered how that would pan out since his tight sunken lips suggested the absence of even a single tooth.

I quickly returned my attention to my book. Old people make me uncomfortable.

Minutes later, I looked up just as the old man was lowering himself onto the padded seat across from me. My eyes searched the room, confused.

Is he lost? Does he think I’m someone else?

The uncomfortable-around-old-people part of my brain encouraged me to bolt. Quick! Excuse yourself and leave. Or at least tell him to leave. Or at the very least pretend you don’t see him.

He either failed to notice my discomfort or completely ignored it. After a long awkward silence he finally spoke, “My name is Bob Smith. Would it be alright if I joined you?”

I felt my face flush red. People at other tables were staring, expecting a scene. Suddenly the manager peeked around the corner, “Bob, are you bothering this lady?” Then, turning to me, “Everything alright, ma’am?”

Here’s your chance. No I’m not alright. Check, please!

The thoughts fizzled before reaching my lips. I could tell from the manager’s tone that this was a common routine, an unwelcomed addition to his job description – steering Bob away from annoyed customers. Customers like me who want to read their books and drink their coffee and not be bothered by lonely old men.

“We’re fine, thank you,” I surprised myself with my own response. The manager turned toward the kitchen with a shrug. Bob continued talking as if there had been no interruption. He said he was a hundred years old. His sunken cheeks and toothless grin gave me no reason to doubt it. He said he had been living alone for the past 15 years, walking here several times a week. I wondered how long it took him to shuffle himself over from his apartment. Even if it were next door, the trip would likely take most of his day. He had the slouched posture of a weary traveler. The heaviness in his eyes hinted at the depths of his loneliness.

Pretend you don’t see him. The guilt threatened to swallow me whole as I wondered how often he gets that reaction, how often people brush him off as if he has aged out of the rights to dignity and respect. What makes my agenda so important that I can’t take an hour to validate the existence of another human being?

Closing my book, I cradled my coffee mug with both hands and forced myself to make eye contact with the stranger at my table. Bob continued to talk. I started to listen - not the way I often “listen” when Reese shows me the same toy for the tenth time, or the way I “listen” when Matt interrupts a writing session to get my opinion on a landscaping idea – but really listen with the kind of intent that whispers its message through the silence, “your story matters.”

He talked about the many decades of changes to the local landscape and how “none of this was here 50 years ago.” He bragged about his swing dancing skills and offered to take me for a spin around the diner. I said I wasn’t sure I’d be a very good partner, standing to reveal my baby bump. We shared a laugh as he asked what my husband would think about his pregnant wife’s impromptu date with this strange old man. I promised to keep it between us. We laughed again.

Suddenly I realized I was no longer nervous; no longer annoyed; no longer counting down the minutes. Eventually, I did have to excuse myself. I told Bob it was nice talking to him, and I meant it.

Twenty minutes later, with Reese now buckled in behind me, I listened to her talk about everything she did at Nana’s house. My fascination was genuine, my responses were more enthusiastic. Your story matters.

At home, I greeted Matt. He immediately started telling me about his crazy afternoon with an out-of-control student. My interest was sincere, my reaction was more concerned. Your story matters.

The significance of my random encounter suddenly started to make more sense. I hadn’t simply done a favor for a stranger. We were two souls brought together in a perfectly orchestrated universe, each possessing exactly what the other needed for the moment. I had been searching for peace and quiet with a closed mind and an open book. Instead, I found it through a closed mouth and opened ears. For one hour, my thoughts were quiet, my soul was at peace, and I remembered what it’s like to truly listen and let people know that their stories matter.

Thanks, Bob, for letting me listen.

This is a Bigger Picture moment. 

Join us today at Alita's place.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Another Monday Morning

I snuggled in bed with my pregnant belly draped over my body pillow. Tiny ribbons of sunlight peeked through the curtains. Next to my bed, a rooster crowed. Matt’s alarm. I felt his weight lift off the spot next to me. Drifting in and out of sleep, I listened to the running water of the shower.

Savoring the silence, I welcomed the gratitude that overwhelms me every morning when I wake up with nowhere else to be but here. I wondered what it’s like for Matt to go to work every day while I stay home and build Lego towers in my pajamas. I wondered if he envies my freedom to take walks in the park and meet friends for lunch. I thought about how hard he works to give us this life and how stressful it must be to serve as the sole financial provider for a household. Sometimes I even feel a little guilty.

Is this fair? Are we even?

Thinking I was still asleep, he snuck quietly out the door. Just as the garage door began to close, my alarm sounded on the night stand - a tiny voice over the monitor.

“Mommy? Mommy, I peed in my bed and I’m all wet.”

Nevermind. We’re totally even.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lessons from a Rotten Apple

It was supposed to be a fun evening.

Matt put Reese to bed while I turned our kitchen into a makeshift applesauce factory complete with peeling, cooking, cooling, and bagging stations. Rinsing the first batch, I imagined how we would turn up the music and sing and dance while we peeled and chopped. We would make “someday” plans for our unfinished basement, retirement vacations, and imaginary lottery winnings. We’d throw skins at each other and make a sticky mess and when the last bag was in the freezer, he would chase me back to the bedroom and we’d deal with the pots and pans and floors tomorrow...

His voice brought me back from my fantasy life-before-children evening.

“Do you toss the bad ones?” He asked as he took up his post at the peeling station. He held up an apple that had definitely seen better days.

“Just take out the bad parts. The rest is still good."

Just two batches in, our fun was interrupted by a faint cry down the hall. The hoarseness in Reese’s voice told me to brace myself for a long night as I washed my hands and headed for her room.

Making my way through the dark, I clipped my toe on her miniature rocking chair. I crumpled into a ball at the foot of her bed and tried to take deep breaths between stabs of pain. I forced myself to turn my attention back to my child. Snot ran down her face; her skin was warm to the touch. I scooped her up and carried her out to the living room.

“She’s sick,” I said. Matt stopped the peeler mid-apple.

“You’re bleeding,” he answered, looking at my foot.

I plopped down on the couch, unsure of which problem to solve first. Sick toddler. Bloody foot. Sticky kitchen. This was so far from the kind of evening I had anticipated.

Well, this night is ruined, I thought as the joy of the last hour began to give way to disappointment. But the thought died before it reached my lips and I resisted the urge to grumble about all that had suddenly gone wrong. Those things determined the course of my evening, not the quality.

Just take out the bad parts.

I turned my focus toward making things as right as possible. I wrapped Reese in a blanket, gave her some Tylenol, and handed her over to Matt. Then I hobbled to the bathroom to find a bandaid.

Limping back to the kitchen, I started peeling again where he left off. On the other side of the counter, he rocked in the recliner and she drifted off to sleep against his chest. I peeled. He rocked. She slept. Our eyes locked and we smiled at each other, our hearts speaking through the silence. 

The rest is still good.

Suddenly, the joy returned to the moment. Not the fun, giggly, lighthearted kind of joy I had anticipated, but joy just the same - a quiet, content, peaceful kind of joy.

Just take out the bad parts. The rest is still good.

This is a Bigger Picture moment.
Join us today at Sarah's place.