Sunday, October 22, 2017

Handmade By Me

My pillow doesn't look just like this,
but it's kind of similar.

I’ve just begun working again on a hand-sewing project I started two or three years ago and never finished. I started the project because I had a small urge to make something with my hands, just as I had done so often in my way-past.

I had always been undaunted by making things—sewing, planting, designing, crafting, building—but not any more. In fact, I had become so alienated from making things by hand that I had taken to calling myself “decidedly uncrafty,” picking up a line an old friend once said to me: “The only thing my hands are good for is holding a book.”

It didn’t make sense, really, that I had gotten this way. I grew up sewing most of my own clothes. And whenever I moved into a new home, I’d sew curtains for all of the rooms, as well as throw pillows for the couch. This was back in the years when “country style” was popular and curtains were often outlined with frilly ruffles, so I would look at the Country Curtains catalog and replicate what I liked. I didn’t need patterns. I had learned to sew, and I was confident that I could figure anything out.

The fact that I was once so extremely confident in my ability to make and create now makes me almost laugh in amazement, but it was true. For example, when I got married, I found three bridesmaid dresses that I liked (in three different pastel colors), so I bought them. Problem was, I had four bridesmaids. But, really, it was no problem. I would just find the same type of fabric in a fourth, complementary color, and sew another dress! I didn’t need a pattern—it was just me fitting the design to my different-sized fourth bridesmaid, and I promise you that no one could tell the dress I made wasn’t purchased right along with the others! 

In fact, my sister borrowed those dresses for her own wedding (we were way more frugal in those days, and weddings weren’t typically quite the extravaganza they are now) and asked me to make a flower girl dress to match. No problem! I draped fabric over the little girl one evening in my mom’s kitchen and put the dress together that night.

And when my family was stationed at an Air Force base in Idaho, a friend and I had a blast taking classes together in just about everything that was offered. We took a stenciling class and stenciled our homes into suffocating 1980’s country cuteness. We took a woodworking class, and I made cool shelves and decorative items for all of my Christmas gifts. We took a quilting class, and I . . . well, I didn’t even finish our first sampler quilt, but I did learn how to do the four basic types of quilt-piecing from a true expert, and I made a bunch of quilted pillows!

And now one of those four quilting skills—applique— is coming in handy.

It all started when I was visiting my super-creative, crafty, quilting friend one Saturday. I expressed my desire to make something with my hands and confessed my inability to get myself motivated. I think she knew I needed to start with something simple, so she pulled out her yo-yo maker and led me to her fabric closet. I grabbed a bunch of material I liked, and my friend sent me home with a little kit that included scissors, thread, needles, the yo-yo makers, and everything I could possibly need to make something.

I began creating the yo-yos, and I found it sort of relaxing. Making them was easy, quck work, and when the different colors began piling up, I liked how they looked. I decided that maybe I’d applique them to a neutral fabric and make throw pillows for my kids for Christmas. I made the mistake of sending my kids photos on my phone and asking them what color themes they wanted.

Asking them was a mistake because: 1. They got excited about this. (The idea actually had nice potential.)  2. I petered out and didn’t finish.  3. The kids kept asking me when they were going to get their pillows.  4. I had to face myself squarely and admit “maybe never?”. I don’t like thinking of myself as a non-finisher, but I went back to my standard, “I’m just not crafty. I’m just not a maker.” I kept the yo-yos in the drawer, and I looked at them occasionally, unmotivated.

And then I started keeping my morning pages. This sounds really dumb, and I can’t unequivocally attribute my new movement toward making and doing to the pages, but it seems like they’ve helped. In those pages, I’ve just let my thoughts go wild in a way I don’t necessarily do in my other journals. And I’ve discovered some new things about what hinders me. I’ve jotted down ideas, and somehow, as if magically, I started doing things again. In her book, Julia Cameron promised this would happen. And many who have done the pages attest to this, too.

I don’t want to speak too overconfidently here. I’ve just started, really. But I actually enjoy what I’m doing, and here’s the best part—IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT for me to be happy!

How did I ever develop my debilitating perfectionism? I do a lot of things imperfectly, and I’m not bothered by that, so why did perfectionism interfere with my creative productivity? Why did I suddenly start caring when some spoil-sport said, “Your corners are a little off on this one”? Or “I liked it better the way you had it before”? Or, “You know who is really good at this kind of thing?” Or, “This is cute, but you should see. . . “? And when did seeing someone do perfect, professional-looking craftsmanship start making me think I shouldn’t try at all?

This is why Anna’s “so not a perfectionist” was a call back to reality. I have noticed that she really isn’t a perfectionist, and I love it! She is so smart and talented, and her productivity is impressive. But she doesn’t worry about what others will say or think or how she stacks up against them. She’s makes what she makes for the enjoyment of it and for the gift (she donates proceeds of her sales to help people). I totally love that.

So, now I’m stitching yo-yos to fabric in a pattern I designed to look like a flower bouquet, and then I will draw leaves on green fabric and applique them to my design to finish it. It might not work perfectly, and people may not even know what it is. If it doesn’t look like flowers, it can be a modern piece of work! The colors are bright, cheerful, and pretty, so it will all be good!

I am doing this bit by bit, stitching for a little while each evening, and I’m enjoying it. My girls might actually get their mom-designed yo-yo pillows this year! A gift of love is always better than perfect, right?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Get Hygge!

Thursday evening.

I know I said I would post something else today, but I decided to do this first, instead. Something trivial (but not trivial at all, actually), just for fun (I am inclined to write these kinds of things often, but I never post them.) Hygge (or cosy) is a big deal in my family, and it’s a big deal for me living alone, too. Cosy makes me feel warm, happy, and thankful.

Also, I'll get to comments this weekend. 

Today it stormed, and I stood in the library with a group of kids looking out at that blustery downpour while we were all warm and dry inside. The library glowed with the warmth of our autumn decorations, so watching the wind and rain batter the outside of our large walls of windows made me exclaim, “Oooh! I  love it! It’s so cosy!” The kids laughed, but it really was cosy. There were plenty of books around us, so all we needed was a woodstove and a pot of tea to make it perfect. The kids would love that.

The library is already kind of hygge, but that would have been even more hygge.

At the end of the work day, I came home, and after fielding several welcome phone calls from my family while eating a bowl of hot soup, I brewed my usual after-dinner mint tea in my pink cup, lit the beeswax candles on the pine sideboard in my living room, sat wrapped in a warm blanket on the couch, and opened the book I am reading. I snuggled in, stretched my legs across the ottoman, and spotted my copy ofThe Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living on a little stack of books.

Already feeling warm and cosy, I picked up the book and opened to where I had previously (and randomly) stuck a bookmark. The section was called “Hygge Emergency Kit.” If you don’t know, hygge (hoo-guh) translates to something akin to “cosy,” and it is a Danish way of life.

To the Danes, very specific things create hygge or cosiness, and the so-called emergency kit is for when you just want to stay in at home and snuggle up. The evening was like that for me, and, interestingly, I already had many of the elements of the “emergency kit” going.

Here’s what the Danish author (Meik Wiking) thinks should be in a hygge emergency kit:

1. Candles. Check. The beeswax candles I already mentioned are glowing with hygge behind me as I type. Beeswax is my favorite.

2. Some good-quality chocolate. Yep there, too. I had just eaten two squares of Green & Black’s chocolate before sitting down, and it occured to me that it might make the tea I was drinking taste pleasantly like chocolate mint.

3. Your favorite tea. Well, not necessarily my favorite, but I do have a cup of mint tea (currently Twinings Pure Peppermint) after dinner every single evening. It’s a nice ritual. Later in the evening, I always drink a cup of Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime tea.

4. Your favorite book. Definitely not my favorite, but I’m reading it for a kid at school who loves the book and really wants me to read it. It’s called Bang. (Reading for love of a person has got to be pretty hygge!) I’m not a YA fiction fan, actually, but I don’t tell that to the kids who read it. For my own enjoyment, I’m currently reading the second book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy in the Tina Nunnelly translation, and I’m also reading random selections from Mrs. Miniver. That Mrs. Miniver is eminently hygge. My kids always thought Wind in the Willows was the most hygge book we read aloud during their childhood, and I kind of agree.

5. Your favorite film or TV series. Well, I can’t read and watch a movie at the same time, so I’ll opt for the book. If I was watching a movie instead, I might watch a Jane Austen film or something cosy and fun like that.

6. Jam. This is a good thing to have in the kit! I like a piece of toast with jam some evenings. Peach is my favorite, but I’ll sometimes have strawberry, raspberry, or something more exotic. I usually eat homemade or buy Bonne Maman or Dalfour brands. I also like honey and cinnamon on my toast.

7. A good pair of woolen socks. I think my Woolrich slippers count. They are super warm and cosy, and they are a gift from my daughter and her family. What is more hygge than that? But I also actually like to wear my warm, wool-blend, cushioned REI hiking socks.

8. A collection of your favorite letters. I do this! I saved many letters my Grammy wrote to me. They are in a basket under my little devotional book cabinet, tied together with a string, and it brings me great joy to read them from time to time. (Grammy was funny and awesome!) And this evening, I’ve read the postcard from my son a few times. A handwritten note is special. Super hygge. Write one!

9. A warm sweater. I’m wearing one! I like it, and the kids at school compliment it all the time. It’s a cosy white cardigan with two mustard-colored stripes around the sleeves and grey running up and down the length of the front on both sides of the buttons. Oh, I can’t explain it! But cardigans are my absolute favorite. I have a few of them in my teeny-tiny wardrobe.

10. A notebook. Always and forever. I’m a Moleskine freak. I like the narrow rule and feel of the paper in these slim journals, and my Moleskine planner is a simple, mustard-colored notebook that works perfectly for me! The point of the notebook, for the purposes of this list, is to jot down hyggelig moments. I’m always doing that! My notebooks are always nearby. (I am the hygge queen, I think.)

11. A nice blanket. How about a soft grey throw (from Target’s Threshold line)? I love to wrap up in it—every morning during my quiet time and every evening when I read, talk on the phone, write in my notebooks, or do another sitting activity. I gave my very favorite cosy blanket to my granddaughter this summer— a creamy white fleecy one— because she snuggled up in it every morning—she loved it!

12. Paper and pen. Isn’t this redundant? I have my notebook already (see #10), so of course I also have a pen. I’m picky about the way my pen feels on the paper when I write. I want it to roll smoothly and easily.

13. Music. Oops. I’m not very hygge here. I like silence. But I do occasionally like some classical. Most often Bach or Arvo Part. Melissa said she would make me a copy of a worship mix she created and plays often in her car. I love it and would listen to it often, I think. While my daughter cooked me breakfast and made coffee in her Portland apartment last weekend, she played Frank Sinatra. It felt pretty hygge in her cute, sunny kitchen that morning.

14. A photo album. I don’t have a photo album, but guess what? I have a whole wall of photos, and it is where every visitor to my house beelines and hangs out for awhile. The wall is 2 1/2 feet wide (or so), and the whole thing is covered from the ceiling to the carpet with unframed photos of family, of trips, of adventures—photos new and old, and some national park postcards, too. I just taped them up there so I could enjoy them, and I call it the Wall of Fame.

That’s it?! There’s a lot more that is hygge, but I guess an emergency kit is not an exhaustive thing.

For my part, I also ate a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin this evening. These get an A+ in seasonal hygge. I have made these for years in the fall, and I still love them. I took a big plate of the muffins to school last week, and they were such a huge hit that word spread around the school about them, and everyone came looking for one—teachers included.

The soup I ate tonight was really hygge, too. A hot bowl of tasy soup on a rainy day is pretty nice. And the soup was already made—leftovers!— so I didn’t have a mess to clean up after I ate. More time for hygge! But I think, when done in the right spirit of appreciation, calmly cleaning the dishes with warm soapy water can be hyggelig, too!

Also hygge this evening—I can hear the roar of the ocean’s storm surf. Waves this evening are supposed to be 25 feet! I love to go out to the rocky cliffs of a nearby state park to watch the waves crash. It is a famous wave-watching place, and it is an amazing sight to watch those waves explode into the air when they hit those rocks. I grew up on the coast, and this roaring, rumbling sound of the stormy winter surf is super hygge for me.

All of this could just stand in for a gratitude list. I realize how very blessed I am to be able to have these things and to enjoy a pleasant evening like this, and I am deeply grateful. In today’s world, I do not take this for granted, and I will enjoy good gifts as long as I have them.

And now I’ll be honest and say that this is simply a material list of things (albeit a fun list), but the real spirit of hygge would not depend on particular items. In my non-Danish opinion, hygge is really a spirit of love and gratitude and warmth, and I think it could exist in the poorest of material circumstances or fail to exist in the midst of a wealth of every “hygge” item imaginable. Hygge, just like everything else that matters in life, is not created by what we own. Hygge is really a matter of the heart.

Well, back to my hygge evening! What’s hygge to you?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Your Own Center

Lofoten, Norway. Where Aaron & R were.

“Find your own quiet center of life
and write* from that to the world.”

(Sarah Orne Jewett to Willa Cather, who asked for advice)
*this is not necessarily about writing— it is about whatever gift God put in you to share with the world, and we all have one

It’s funny how a little thing can jar you back toward reality.

I got a postcard in the mail yesterday evening from Norway. Aaron sent it from way north above the Arctic Circle where he stayed with his wife for a few weeks in that isolated place with its massive granite rocks, birch trees, wildberries, and northern lights.

The photo on the card is magical. Snow falling on the town below those gigantic granite rocks. Everything white except for the cosy red cottages along the water. It’s the spirit of Christmas, and I can’t stop looking at it.

The message, written by Aaron’s hand, touched me deeply. It was a simple message of his enjoyment of that isolated place, but somehow his words made me feel loved, thought about, and included.

It’s the sweetest card I can remember receiving, but I think I’ve forgotten a lot. I think I’ve lost a lot. I think in going (necessarily) in my new direction in life, I’ve lost touch with something essential. Somehow, I’ve lost touch with part of who I am. My quiet center, I think.

It didn’t need to happen, but it did, and now I want to regain that center.

I can’t explain well what I mean without first sharing the words Aaron wrote. They aren’t private or personal. They just deeply understand me—who I am, what I love, what fills me up. My quiet center.

Hej from Norge!

I know you already have some sense of this, but I’m going to start off by saying Norway is your kind of place. Especially these remote areas. Coffee is great, incredible views are impossible to avoid (a three mile hike can lead you past a chain of mountain lakes surrounded by birch, waterfalls, granite cliffs, and tons of wild berries), seafood is spectacular, air is clean, and the accomodation quite cosy. Both N and I have had a wonderful time, and I thought on numerous occasions how much you would enjoy it. We should come back here with you in the future!

Love from N & Aaron!

P.S. The Northern Lights rank in my absolute top experiences of nature.
(fish burgers: white fish, potato starch, leeks, cream)

When I read this note, I felt a big welling up of sweetness and happiness. And I realized that this is a little masterpiece of thoughtfulness. Aaron is telling me about his trip and what he loved, but it is also about me and how I would love it, too. He knows me. He was thinking of me. And his words show it through and through.

Every item Aaron mentioned is what I love deeply. In fact, his words almost define me, and he knows this because He knows me. And he is like that, too. In this, we are deep kindred spirits. Others may love all of the things on this list, too, but Aaron gets how fundamentally meaningful they are to me. He knows my mind, my heart, my needs.

“Remote. Coffee. Views. Hike. Mountains lakes. Birds. Waterfalls. Granite cliffs. Wild berries. Seafood. Clean air. Cosy accomodations. Your kind of place.” It’s not that these particular places and things encompass and define all of me, but they capture the spirit of who I am.

I know Aaron, and I know he was not thinking, “How can I encourage or bless Mom?” The letter is not contrived like that because Aaron pretty much despises anything contrived or set up to evoke a response. He was simply being thoughtful in sending this particular card and message—one that feels natural, spontaneous, and real—because he knew that my kindred spirit would be fed by spending weeks (not days) in that remote, quiet place, too.

Here’s the thing. I read the card, and I smiled. And then I got hit with a sense of deep thoughtfulness on Aaron’s part that brought tears to my eyes. And then there was a profound sense of loss that made those welling tears fall hard.

I couldn’t help but wonder what made it so powerful to me? Why did I feel so understood? So included? And why did it break my heart? First, it is what I just said. Kindred spirits are rare, and, in this, Aaron and I are kindred spirits. Second, I cried because I was jarred back toward reality.

I’ve lost touch with my beautiful quiet center. I’ve lost touch with what fills me up and gives energy and bubbling joy to my heart, mind, and gifts. Honestly, I thought back to the high desert, where I was very much connected to my quiet center. I haven’t quite had that since. At first, the center was still in sight, and I was able to keep hold of that spirit, but the trajectory got off, and time took my orbit further and further away from that center.

This is not a matter of me needing to accept being in a new location or a new life situation or living a “new season” of life. I do that already. It is a matter of me needing to insist on living the kind of life I need to live, even if others do not understand (more on this later). Because lately I feel almost unauthentic, not me—like I am a square peg trying to fit myself amiably into a round hole so that everyone around me will be comfortable and happy.

Let me briefly say that I am not even slightly unhappy or discontented with my life. I believe I am where God wants me. But I have long felt a disconnect from my old self, and I’ve explained it away by a need to live in this new reality. That explanation missed the key. The key is that I’ve lost touch with my quiet center, and that center never changes. It is what makes me me.

I am not writing this to cry or mourn. I am not writing it to get encouragement or commiseration. I don’t need advice. I know what my quiet center is. No one can guide me (or you) in finding this because they will always lead us toward their own center. We find our own quiet center, and it is what fuels our particular life—the creative, joyful, convivial life that is our unique gift to the world.

Do you know your quiet center?
Obviously, the real center is Jesus. It all emanates from His life in me, in you, in all of us. This is what makes us authentic. This is what makes us beautiful and  wonderfully different from everyone else, like a snowflake.

Our particular interests, desires, fascinations, ideas, delights, tastes, artistic inclinations (and we all have these!), our view of what is cool, fun, beautiful, etc. all emanate from the way God made us. These are not trivial or disposable. They are what makes us us. This is holy.

The quiet center is what fuels the life, and the life is what feeds the quiet center. It is a self-perpetuating circle once it gets going.

No one is like you or me. We all need to share our unique perspective and our unique gifts. When we do, we make God more fully known. It is from our own quiet center that we are our truest selves and gain impetus, creativity, and inspiration to share our gifts with those around us—the whole world!

Do you know your quiet center? Do you know how to find it?

I have more on this already written, but I don’ t want to share it all at once. I will share more tomorrow, and perhaps even more the next day. This is super important to me right now. My aim is to clear away the noise and clutter, as well as the misunderstandings and opinions of others that have unwittingly led me away from my most fundamental center, and to reestablish the kind of life I need to live to stay connected to my quiet center. I need to find that same old center in this new place. I’ll talk more about this because I think it is important.

(Thank you so much, Aaron! I’m glad you have always insisted on maintaining your own quiet center, even against the opinions of others. It makes you so different and wonderful. I love you!)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Scattering Seeds

Pic not mine (but I love the cake!),
and it has nothing
to do with post except that I bake
food for the kids all the time,
and they LOVE it when I do!

Yesterday, at work—

Student (T): Hey, Susan! Which Potter house are you? I’m a Gryffindor.

Me: I have no idea! What are the houses?

T: Have you even read Harry Potter?!

Me: No.

T: Susan! What kind of librarian are you?!

Me: ?

T: Okay, let’s have you take the Potter house test. Google it.

I obediently Google the test. The questions appear, and I start to click my responses. One of them stumps me.

Question: Which of the following traits do others value most in you? (There was a list of four traits that I don’t remember now.)

Me: I have no idea!

T: (After scanning the list.) That’s easy. It’s your intelligence. (Pause.) No wait! It’s this one—warmth! Absolutely your warmth!

Me: (Thinking, but not saying aloud, “Yay! I would way rather be valued for warmth than for intelligence.”)

 * * *

This morning during my quiet time, I remembered this conversation. I thought about the way I always pray for the kids I encounter at work—that they will sense my warmth and care for them, that they will know they are seen and loved, and that their day will be better because of our interaction, however brief. Mostly I pray that they will sense God’s love in me (in spite of me!), even if they can’t articulate what it is.

Then I read something in my Bible that made my big picture come into focus a little bit better, giving me a very simple, renewed sense of vision. I didn’t have a huge epiphany. I didn’t even learn anything that I didn’t already know. It was just a plain, simple, fresh reminder.

“He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself, the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’” (Mark 4:26)

My job is to scatter the seed. That’s all—just scatter the seed. The real work is not mine. The seed germinates and grows as if all by itself— not because I know how to argue for the truth of the Bible, not because I can convince someone that Jesus is the way, not because I can outwit those who oppose the Lord, but because the Lord makes the seed germinate and grow!

I don’t have to be Ravi Zacharias or Alistair McGrath or some other wise apologist to these students when they have deep questions or arguments. The gift of Zacharias and McGrath is to eloquently— but humbly and lovingly—argue intellectually for Biblical truth. It is not my gift, although I have conversed at times with students about some of these hard questions when they have come up.

Mostly, my part is to scatter the seeds of God’s love via the gift He has given me. Warmth. This is the thing He has put in me— true, honest warmth that cares deeply about the kids. This is what they value in me, according to T. This is the seed I plant in their hearts.

And when I scatter warmth, the kids respond. They come around me more and more, sharing their lives, asking for advice, and sometimes asking pointedly about my spiritual beliefs. (When they ask, I tell.)

It is amazing that the seeds we scatter in the hearts around us every day are nurtured by God to bring these people to a knowledge of Him. God is working all the time, unseen, quietly, whether we see “results” or not. He does the real work, and He doesn’t need us to try to force things along for Him.

We just need to keep scattering seeds of Love— in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our churches, in our work— and be always on the lookout for the one who is ready to receive Him.

“Be kind and merciful.
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or happier.
Be the living expression of God’s kindness;
kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes,
kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. . .
Give them not only your care, but also your heart.”
~Mother Teresa

Monday, October 9, 2017

Leaving High Desert Home

I’ve been out of town since Friday, and when I walked back into my apartment this afternoon, it happily felt like home. And I was struck by how content I am there. When I was preparing to leave my high desert home in 2009, I felt so lost and had no idea where I was going. I didn’t know what my life would be like. It turns out that it’s a lot smaller now, but I really do feel content—like I am right where I’m supposed to be.

As I thought about this, I remembered a post I wrote when I first started this blog in the summer. For some reason, I haven’t been able to bring myself to post it. It’s not at all because it’s hard for me to do so or because I feel vulnerable. I don’t know why I keep pulling it back when I’m ready to post. Partly, I think I just wanted to leave those old blogs behind and carry on from where I am now.

But a lot of you have been around from the beginning, before I ever knew I would be leaving that home in the high desert. (We were all surprised about it together!) This is a little bit more of my story of leaving. And I put it here for one reason—I hope it will be encouraging. Because what happened was difficult, but God’s goodness was far greater than the difficulty!

* * *

(July 2017)

Earlier this week, I ran across a short, simple response paper I wrote for a Religions of India university course I took in 2013. For this paper we were studying Buddhism, and the essay was a two-parter. The second part was to reflect on a personal experience or book that made us aware of the role of suffering in transforming human life. I am modifying the second part of the paper I wrote, and posting it here.

The day our professor returned our papers, she asked me to stay after class so that she could speak with me. After all of the other students were gone, she told me that when she read the paper, it stopped her in her tracks. She said she was struck by it and was moved and honored to be reading it. She asked if we could meet for coffee later that week, and I said I would love to.

I don’t fancy myself a writer, and my essay wasn’t the beautiful craftsmanship of a wordsmith. My words are always simple and plain, but I believe that what I wrote touched my professor simply because the power of God’s love and goodness were calling to her.

What I wrote in that paper is what all of us who are Christians and have gone through deeply trying times knows: that God gives us deep peace and joy when we yield to him.

As my professor and I sat together over coffee, we talked for a long time about finding peace in life, about letting go, about faith, values, morals, finding joy, and all sorts of things. Suddenly, she said something that took me totally by surprise. This woman, a well-known Gandhi expert, told me she wanted to write a book about Gandhi and happiness, and she asked me to help her write it.

I was touched and flattered by the request, but I told her that I didn’t know if that would be possible since my view of happiness comes from a Christian orientation. My professor, who is Hindu, thought that we could find common ground and make it work because we valued and believed so many of the same things. I told her I would think about it, but, after praying, I didn’t feel that I could do this. The book would be informed by Hinduism (not Christianity), and even if there are aspects in common with Christianity, I didn’t feel comfortable having my name on something that wouldn’t take an explicitly Christian perspective.

Anyway, when I found the essay recently and read through it, I decided to put it up here in case it might be encouraging to one of you who read here.

God’s ways are always, always loving and good, even when life is turned upside down and the rug seems to have been pulled from beneath our feet. When we are unstable and dizzy, God is sure. He has us in His hands, all the time, whether we feel it or not.

* * *

Here’s that essay, modified for this post (I’ve deleted a few lines and added more overt spiritual descriptions):

In the space of just a few months between late-Fall 2008 and Spring 2009, my father died suddenly, my marriage fell totally to pieces in a devastating way, and something pretty huge happened that would entirely end life as I knew it and put me on a very difficult path. (I don’t feel at liberty to talk about this here.)

Instantly, my life was turned upside down and shaken out, and almost nothing that existed before remained. Gone were our cars, the country home I loved, all income and retirement, and every conceivable thing that would help me fund a transition into whatever would come next. There was nothing to sell except for a few household items, and my job prospects weren’t good—I had not worked outside the home for thirty-one years.

I was overwhelmed and reeling with pain from all that had hit so hard and fast, and the suffering of my children compounded my own. Feeling suddenly alone and vulnerable—with absolutely no idea of where I should step next—was frightening.

I was soon to walk out the front door of the home I dearly loved for the last time ever and head off into the virtual unknown. At the time, I didn’t have a dime to my name. I didn’t even know how I would pay the phone bill or put gas in the old car someone loaned me.

But one hopeless night, I cried out to a God who seemed far away. As I numbly packed household items into boxes, I got quiet. I began to contemplate my situation and see that all of this “stuff” was nothing. It didn’t matter. I began to see how absorbed I was in my problems and that this was magnifying my suffering. I made a decision then to let go—just let it all go. The house, the cars, the money, my sense of security and control, the status we had enjoyed, everything. (I say that I made a decision to let go, but, honestly, it felt like a miracle; the Lord gave me the heart and desire to do this.)

I decided instead to be thankful for my blessings, to notice the beauty that was all around me, to appreciate the wonderful relationships I had, and to see my situation as an opportunity to change my perspective and grow. I knew I didn’t want to marinate in pain and negativity. I didn’t want to live in fear, worry, and dread. I wanted to forgive so that I could be free of resentment, anger, and bitterness. And I didn’t want my possessions to hold power over me.

So I quit trying to grasp for what was lost and instead embraced what was, bleak as it may have seemed at the time. Changing my thinking transformed the nature of my experience.

In spite of my wavering faith and swinging emotions, I recalled everything I knew about the loving, strong, faithful God—Creator and Sustainer of the universe—who had always been with me, and I chose to entrust myself to that God.

When I chose to really let go, I suddenly felt free of an oppressive weight; I even felt light-hearted! My suffering and emotional pain didn’t end overnight, but letting go of everything I knew and loved to walk with God into the unknown put the process in motion.

Letting go, trusting God, and, by His grace, embracing the new reality of my life situation not only got me through a difficult time, but it profoundly altered me. Four years later (eight years now), I am grateful for the painful opportunity I was given to glimpse the fleeting nature of material things and the instability of financial security. I had been through life upending situations before, but this time was different, harder, and brought deeper lessons.

The Lord set me free from a desire to maintain my old lifestyle, both in form and in quantity. I like living a small, simple, and less encumbered life. I may not make much money or drive a fine car or have a beautiful house, but I love my apartment, and my car and clothing are far more than adequate. I don’t need money, possessions, or prestige to feel a sense of worth, peace, or joy. I see clearly that my life is expansive and rich. I am blessed and content.

It wasn’t easy to start down this new path, but I never felt alone. God was with me in the most tangible sweet way. I spent two years sleeping on people’s couches—the first year in the home of a daughter, and the second year at my sister’s house—both times right in the middle of their living rooms. I never had a door to close behind me or any space or privacy of my own, but the Lord gave this introvert the ability not only to survive this but to feel joy and gratitude for what these people were doing for me. They just totally included me in their families until I could finally live in my own home. This was a huge gift!

I want to mention that, in those first difficult days, just when everything seemed as bleak as it could be, a very dear friend who lived across the US, sent me a check of such a large amount of money I had to ask my daughter to read the number to me. We were so stunned and heartened that we both began to cry. This was a gift from the Lord, and it was what paid my rent in a little apartment in Portland and got me through a very healing summer and autumn.

Little bits of money came in from here and there, sometimes in the most amazing ways, helping me through until I could get some traction and move forward. Honestly, the Lord did one impossible thing after another, providing for me and showing me His love—most often through others, but also through situations I can’t explain except to say they were miraculous! I saw his love and profoundly felt His care!

Also, as I was packing up my old house, feeling quite alone out in the boonies by myself, my entire family (Mom, siblings, kids, etc.) and a whole bunch of friends just showed up for me again and again, day after day. They helped me clear out the house and barn, hold a garage sale, move things to storage, take things to the dump, and on and on. I felt so loved and lifted up. It brings tears to my eyes even now, eight years later, as I remember all of this love and care. And it reminds me to be there physically when others go through their own hard times.

Going through this enlarged my view of God and helped clarify what really matters. But having done this once doesn’t mean that every future difficulty won’t be just that—difficult. Having once seen the goodness and grace of God doesn’t mean that I will coast through the next hard thing. I need the grace of God every single day, for every single thing I encounter, big and small. And as my very faith is tested again and again, I can’t depend on any false sense of strength I think I have, but only on the faithfulness of God. It will require His grace, again and again, to get me through each challenge.

But if one thing is true, it is this:

“Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5)

That is amazing!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Other Side of the Story (of Living Almost Off the E-Grid)

I am at my daughter's home in the Willamette Valley,
and the leaves are so pretty here that I feel like this little girl!
Love the crisp air, the color, the fun!

In fear of romanticizing a life that is lived somewhat off the e-grid, I need to say that there is a another side to this story. As you know, I am not anti any of it. I just don’t trust myself to leave it alone as much as I should, so, for now, I’m leaving it alone almost entirely. Flee from temptation, you know.

I’ve had internet in my home before, and I did fine with it, but my kids were at home then. Now, I live alone, and it’s easy to fall into unhealthy patterns with online stuff without even realizing it. Until I feel the emptiness and am jarred back to my senses.

But I already told you why I have chosen to live the way I do. So, now I want to say. . .

In living “almost off the e-grid,” I have not reconnected with some lovely old way of living in the world. I don’t necessarily read more, connect more— or better— with others, write more letters, or get more cool things done. It doesn’t make me more thoughtful or give me more insight into myself or the world. It does give me more (forced) free time, but it is entirely possible not to use that time well.

Unwise use of time has always been a human problem, way before digital devices existed. There have been the idle, busybody women of the Bible who went gossiping from home to home (I Timothy 5:13); the women of my early adulthood era who talked on the phone literally all day long; the ones from many generations who have watched far too much TV; the women who have shopped their days away; the ones who putter too much or fiddle with their house excessively; the ones who are just plain good at not doing much; or any number of things.

There has always been something to obsess over, and there have always been endless ways to waste time. Every era has had its own ways of using time unwisely. I can fritter away time with or without having internet to distract me. 

Digital connectedness is simply another temptation (albeit a pretty huge, relentless one) that can keep our minds, lives, and hearts distracted from what matters. We should know what matters—loving God and loving others. Anything that keeps us from making this our number one focus stands in our way, and we should consider what to do about that.

For sure, the digital world has presented us with new problems and has totally changed the way we connect with each other and live our daily lives. But I’ve gotta be honest and say that living off the e-grid is not even close to being a sweet, old-fashioned lifestyle or a panacaea for the ills of living in a digital world.

With or without internet, I am still me, with all of my sins and flaws and failings and obsessions and compulsions and distractable tendencies. This is ultimately a heart-problem, and a heart-problem is not solved by making external changes. So I don’t want to seem to demonize the internet or smartphones. They are neither innately good nor bad. You already know this, but I still need to say it.

Furthermore. . .

I miss having Google. I miss searching the internet for good books that I wouldn’t find out about otherwise. I miss looking online for recipes when I don’t know what to do with a little stash of ingredients I have on hand. I miss reading some of my favorite writers and thinkers. I miss the legitimate inspiration I find on the internet. I sometimes wish I could Skype (or facetime or whatever it is called) with my kids or grandkids (my grandson tells me he wants to do this with me). I am not getting emails written or sent. (I’ve met some pretty great people online, and I lose touch with them when I don’t have internet.)

So, yeah, I miss the internet, but for awhile it's been best not to have it. The life choices I make are simply the ones that seem best for me as I think and pray about the issues surrounding them. I don’t have any hard, fast rule about internet, smartphones, or digital tools except to try to follow the path that is currently wisest for me. Any of it can change, any time.

However we choose to live with electronics, or with anything else, we should neither parade nor defend our choices. We should feel neither self-satisfied nor guilty. There is no inherent right or wrong or good or evil, in this. And there are no patterns to follow. The Lord leads, and wherever our different paths take us, He always leads us into freedom and joy—into His best life for us right now.


Monday, October 2, 2017

Morning Pages and Projects (An Update)

Not my shelves, but they gave me the idea.

So. I have done morning pages for exactly one week now. Remember that these are supposed to help me clear my hyperactive mind? They’re supposed to somehow aid in my battle against perfectionism. They’re supposed to free me of my creative hindrances. And guess what? I think maybe they’re helping.

I know that the tentative results of one person keeping morning pages for one week is not going to be seen as conclusive research, but I do think I’m going in a better direction. I’ll admit that sometimes I’ll be writing away, and I’ll look at what I’m doing, roll my eyes at myself, and think, “What kind of morning pages are these?!”

Or, one morning, I sat there blank, so I wrote, “Nothing. I’ve got nothing. What?! I’ve never known my brain to be lacking a thought to put down! Am I too distracted and monkey-brained to even know what I’m thinking?!”

And then suddenly, I’m writing stuff that makes sense, and sometimes I actually like the way my train of thought is going, so I end up looking at the pages again. (Are these supposed to be useful in a practical way and not just a psychological way?) I clear my mind of distraction, hindrances, and obstacles by putting them on paper. And I talk about what I’m want to do. And I make plans. And then I’m actually doing it!

For example, I have two bookcases in the living room that I’ve owned for more than 25 years. They are stained a warm pine color, which is a nice color, but I got a yen to paint them about six months ago. I didn’t want to paint them all white because I like a super casual house that doesn’t feel polished or pristine or formal at all. I don’t really want a pointedly rustic look, but I don’t want things to look “fine,” either. I like a sort of west coast/California, super casual look—even a little bit rough and tumble. (I have to add that I can’t do without a little bit of English country. It got in my blood when I lived there, and it makes me happy. I don’t really have much of that look in the mix right now, but I will.)

But I’m distracted. Back to the bookshelves. I saw a wall of bookshelves online that were painted white, but the actual shelves themselves were stained (see the photo to see what I mean). I liked the look of wood on white, so I saved the photo to my documents to be my muse.

I actually started the bookcase painting job three weeks ago, but I hit some unexpected roadblocks that made the job much more difficult than it should have been. So the shelves were sitting there, not getting done. I knew I would do them eventually, but ever since I started my morning pages, I really have gotten a fire under me, and suddenly I was eager to get to them.

Feeling a good measure of creative impetus is weird for me, and maybe it’s just that I am super weak to the power of suggestion: Tell me that morning pages will get my creative juices flowing and creative muscles moving, and maybe it’s like hypnosis. It’ll get me moving, and then one day someone will clap their hands sharply, and I’ll snap out of it. Maybe then I’ll sink back into my “I’m not creatively motivated” mode.

Thing is, I am creative, and I know it. (We all are! We’re all not going to want to crochet an afghan or sew curtains or paint cute little sayings on wood, but we are all creative, and we really should exercise this.) I used to sew and make things like crazy. And one day I stopped. And over time, perfectionism grew and kept me paralyzed. Perfection can be the hidden cause of procrastination, lack of motivation, and “disinterest.” I know this has been true of me, and this is where morning pages supposedly help people. I think I believe it.

Since this fire of creative energy got lit under me, I’ve got one of the bookcases painted, waxed, and filled with books. The other one is waiting to be started, and I have a schedule for painting it (time for doing this stuff is brief during the work week!): Primer after work tomorrow. Chalk paint the next day. Wax to finish it the next. Then I’ll put the books and other things back on the shelves, and I’ll be done with the job by the weekend. After that, I’ve got another painting project in mind!

Lo and behold, I have a hand-sewing project in the works, too. This is a project I started three years ago, but I kind of got stuck trying to figure out just the right direction I wanted to take it, and then I let it shrivel up from “lack of interest!” I haven’t had any desire to actually do the work to get it going and finished because I just let myself think that I’m not crafty or creative with hand-made stuff and that I have other skills and interests that I do better. Like cooking or reading or writing too-long, rambly blog posts!

But, inexplicably this week, I walked into my bedroom, pulled out the bottom drawer of my dresser where I’ve kept the makings of this project, and took it out. I planned what I want to do with these materials and went to the fabric store to get the rest of what I need. Now I’m ready to go and excited to make this thing. And if I like it, I’m going to make more for gifts. Christmas!

And when I get a camera, I will show it to you, even if it is laughably amateurish and imperfect. Because a huge part of what I’m trying to do with my morning pages is to develop a mindset that makes me “so not a perfectionist,” like Anna. I just like that perspective, and I think it is right.

I’ll keep going with these morning pages. Even if they aren’t making a difference, they’re a lot of fun to do. But I do think they help.

And now, here I sit at my little green table where I keep my computer. I’ve tapped out this little post while the soup cooked, and now it is done, so I will eat a bowl. And then I’ll drive out to my mom’s house to pick her up so we can ride together to our evening Bible study. If I get out the door quickly enough, I’ll post this from the library parking lot on my way.

Maybe next time I’ll tell you about this soup—a recipe from Nigel Slater’s book Tender. It is one of my two fall favorites. (And, as a bonus, I might throw in my healthy peanut butter rice krispie bars with chocolate chips.)

Have a great Tuesday!