Sunday, November 26, 2017

Late November

(Internet photo.)

A few notes just to catch up and get going again. . .

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. First, one of my daughters came down from Portland for a five-day visit, which was a blast, and during that time, one of my nieces arrived to stay with me for several weeks because she’s doing a med-school rotation at a hospital here. I love having the company!

Wednesday, I followed my daughter up the highway to the home of my second daughter and her family, where we all gathered for Thanksgiving. Our meal was delicious. We had turkey and gravy, mashed Yukon gold potatoes, “enlightened” green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts with pancetta, stuffing, rolls, etc.— traditional stuff that many Americans eat, and all delicious.

My daughter-in-law made the best cardamom sweet rolls (a Scandinvian treat) that had us all over-eating. When she walked into the house with those two heaping plates of fragrant, beautiful rolls, the kettle was immediately turned on for coffee— fika! Coffee, rolls, and conversation.

I went to a few stores with two of my daughters on Black Friday. We weren’t exactly Black Friday shopping (none of us have that much shopping game in us!); we only went to buy a few little bottle brush Christmas trees for decorations. Anyway, it didn’t seem all that busy in the stores, really. Maybe online shopping and Black Friday Eve shopping have reduced the crowds. Or maybe going at noon had something to do with it. I don’t know. I’ve never shopped on Black Friday before, so I have nothing to compare it to.

The shopping was motivated by Michelle, who, the morning after Thanksgiving, immediately ejected all of her Thanksgiving decor from her rooms and put up just a few Christmas decorations, including a handful of sweet little bottle brush trees— some of them dotted with tiny bulb ornaments, some of them plain. I thought they’d be perfect decorations for my little space because I can’t put up much holiday decor without feeling crowded and overstimulated. I always set out just a few simple items. And now that I’m home and have a few of these little trees sitting around, I see that it was just the thing to do!

While we were in Target, Michelle pointed out some nice placemats. I’m not really a placemat person, but she told me that she saw a lady on Etsy who buys lined placemats, cuts one end open, then fills them with batting to make throw pillows that she sells in her shop. Because I liked one of the linen placemats we were looking at, and it was only $4, I decided to try the pillow thing. Now I just need to buy the filling.

We had a nice family time, and I would have gladly stayed longer, but it’s also good to be home. I just arrived here this afternoon, and after more than a week of having and being company, it is strikingly quiet. The humming of the fridge and the clicking of the heater seem loud in the silence. I love the noise of family time, but I also love the silence of my own small life.

Back at home today, I can think again. But saying that I can think again is not to complain about the noise and busyness that comes with family, company, and holidays. I love that, too! Both have an important place in our lives. In fact, one is not good without the other.

It did feel nice, though, to walk into my tidy kitchen, turn on the kettle, grind my coffee beans, slowly pour water over the grinds through the Melitta, and sit down to enjoy a slow cup of coffee while I readjusted to my own rhythms. My niece will be here later today, I assume, but she’s easy, and extremely pleasant, to have around. I’m glad she’s here.

And now that it is quiet, and I am in my own space, and I am thinking slowly again, I am thinking about the few small purchases I made on Friday. I spent barely over $10, but, still, I ask myself why did I buy what I did? On the one hand, I don’t regret buying the bottle brush trees. They are pretty great, and they are just the right size and type of decor for my house. But did I really need them? Where were they made? Why are they so cheap? Who made them? Out of what? How did these items travel to the place where I bought them? What did they cost someone else (and some place else) in order to save me money?

I looked at the tag on the placemat: “Made in India.” By whom? I hope they were paid well. And for only costing $4, the placemat traveled a fair ways to reach me. How can this be? What is the actual cost of all this, not just in its impact on my pocketbook?

You might be thinking, “Oh, come on! Don’t be a spoil-sport! You’re way overthinking this! Just lighten up and enjoy the fun!” And maybe you’re right. But I do want to think like this. I want to be responsible and frugal, but, for me, thinking about my spending isn’t only about saving money. It is about being very conscious of what I buy, where I buy it, how it is made, and why I am buying it. It is about asking how much I really need. And is cheaper always better? Was the item sustainably made? Are there better options? What about vintage/previously owned? Handcrafted? Locally or regionally made? Or do I need it at all?

These can be uncomfortable questions to ask myself. They are even harder for me to ask in a place like this for all to read. In fact, I am feeling a bit squirmy posting them! I already know how some people feel about this stuff, but these ideas and issues matter to me a great deal, so I can’t avoid talking about them from time to time.

For me, part of being a loving person who cares for the oppressed, the poor, etc., and part of being a good steward of the earth (even while it is “groaning,” as it says in the Bible), is to ask these questions of myself and to live in a way that aligns with my convictions. So these are important questions for me.

And, honestly, it has been a lot of fun, and very satisfying, to learn how to live in harmony with the best answers I can give to these questions. I have been working at this for many years, and I am growing. Yes, I am a bit slow; it’s been an up and down, back and forth, two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. But, overall, doing this is simplifying my life, and my simpler life is a logistically easier, more peaceful life.

It is a life that allows me to preserve, and then share, more of what I have— spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and fiancially— with others. My “resources” aren’t much, but if what God can do with five loaves and fishes is a picture of what he can do with my little bit (and I pray that it is!), then it’s all good!

I just want to love Him in the way He says He wants us to love Him— by caring about the situations and needs of others as much as I care about my own.

Well. Once again, I seem to be carried along by writing wanderlust. I just start going, never knowing where I’ll end up! Or, I should say, never ending up where I thought I was going.

At any rate, I hope you had a super happy Thanksgiving with your families! And now have a lovely week. Talk to you again soon!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Two Books That Are Making Me Think

Two or three weeks ago, a girl at the school came up to me and said, “Susan, have you read Crazy Love by Francis Chan? Because I am working through this book with a group at my church, and I keep thinking of you. I think you would really like the book.”

“Yes, I’ve read it!” I answered. “In fact, I have it on a little stack of books that are beside my Bible right now. I read Crazy Love a few years ago after finding it at Goodwill, and I loved it because it so aligns with the way I want to live my life.”

I told her how cool it is that she’s reading the book and that she thought of me. This, of course, prompted me to pick up the book and flip through it when I arrived home in the evening. As I did, I ran across a little feature Chan did of an author/speaker I’ve meant to read for a long time but never have. Her name is Marva Dawn.

Here’s what Chan says about Dawn and her book Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society: “(it) specifically address what a faithful response looks like in our culture. Her life is a reflection of her belief that seemingly small acts of faithfulness can have a profound and significant impact on the world.” Sounds good to me!

I made it a priority to order the book the next time I was online, and now I am loving it. Where Francis Chan’s writing is simple and the reading level is easy, Dawn’s book leans more toward dense(ish) academic writing. It’s not a breezy book to fly through, but it is well worth any little bit of effort you need to make.

Here are the first few lines of Dawn’s dedication, to give you an idea of what she will address:

"This book is dedicated to

"those enmeshed in the technological milieu who reject its paradigm; the wealthy who search for meaning in a  culture of commodities; those who resist society’s benumbing speed and emptiness; those seeking to be engaged in relationships of caring; [and so on. . .]"

Dawn addresses hunger, deprivation, suffering of all kinds, what technology is doing to us, and a lot more. She contrasts North Americans with the rest of the world. She quotes research saying that 3/4 of the world lives under inhuman conditions; that 6 million children in developing countries die annually, mostly from hunger-related causes; that the amount of money those in the US and Europe spend on pet food would end world hunger; that 600 million people (mostly in North America and Europe) are overnourished and overweight (close to the number of people who have died of starvation in the past 50 years); and a lot more.

She quotes Bill Rees, from the University of British Columbia as saying, “in order to bring everyone on the planet to the same general level of consumption and well-being as the average Canadian, we would need four or five more Earths right now!”

That stops me in my tracks and bothers me. A lot. The whole point Dawn is making in her book is that we are living wealthy material lives, but we don’t even see it (and we keep wanting more and more), while the vast majority of the rest of the world lives in depraved conditions. (See Isaiah 58.)

Funny, but I wrote a post on making life simpler a while back, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to post it. It’s not a confrontational post at all, but I worry about unnecessarily putting a burden on someone.

Reading Dawn’s book will likely embolden me to post what I wrote because the book makes me feel so sad and frustrated and challenged. This move toward becoming vastly simpler (there’s a big “why” involved; it isn’t just simplicity for its own sake) is the main spiritual thing that is going on in my life right now, so it feels silly for me to be posting about everything but that.

: : : : :

The other book is one I’ve already mentioned, so I’ll keep this short, but I have to say that reading Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation has me thinking. As you know, if you’ve read my posts on living almost off the e-grid, I really do live primarily tech-free. I don’t have internet or a smartphone (and I’m now happier than ever about it and more determined not to go there), but I do have the capacity to text on my dumb phone. (The kids at school say my phone isn’t “dumb.” “It’s dope, Susan! It slides!” Haha. Not “dope” enough for them to want one, though!)

And even with texting, I tell people all the time that I’m the worst texter in the world. I have my phone on mute most of the time, and I might not even know where it is. Sometimes I’ll get right back to people and go back and forth with them a few times, and other times, it takes me hours (or even a day. . . or two. . . cringe) to reply.

But still. When I do have the sound on, and the phone is visible, it is a constant, low-level distraction. And Turkle describes just how much of a distraction this really is. She claims that even if a phone is merely visible (even if it never goes off) during a gathering, meeting, or dinner, conversation is altered. Turkle’s commentary and research-backed arguments are so compelling that I am now leaving my phone in my car when I go somewhere. When I am talking to someone, it is not near me, it definitely isn’t visible, the sound is not on, and I refuse to check it.

I want to be all about doing my part to reclaim conversation.

So. What are you reading? Something challenging, stimulating, funny, warm, cosy, or dramatic? This fall weather is so perfect for reading, isn’t it? Lots of rain here!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Let's Talk!

“Without conversation, studies show that we are less empathic, less connected, less creative and fulfilled. We are diminished, in retreat. But to generations that grew up using their phones to text and message, these studies may be describing losses they don’t feel. They didn’t grow up with a lot of face-to-face talk.” ~Sherry Turkle (emphasis hers)

* * *

This morning, I’m sitting at the little green table where I keep my laptop. I’m dressed in jeans, a plaid button-down shirt, and my grey Woolrich slippers. A grey throw blanket is wrapped around my waist. I sip my second cup of coffee and glance through the window at a deep grey, fluorescent sky that promises rain.

The house is silent, warm, and cosy and makes me thankful for Saturday mornings— the part of the week where I feel most like my real self. This is the time when I take it slow and quiet. I don’t need to go anywhere— there’s no work and no church today— so I read and think and pray and think some more and jot thoughts in my journals. I really value this time, even more now that it is a sparse commodity. (Hey! I just realized it’s Friday, so— yay!— I get another one of these days tomorrow!)

This morning I’m thinking about a lot of things.

Let me start with the book my friend Tonia (if you don’t know her yet, her Instagram is @_fernwood_) recommended to me in comments: Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle. I’ve read other books by Turkle— Alone Together, for one — and I recommend them all. Turkle is a sociologist and a clinical psychologist who writes about how technology affects society.

I have a sociology degree that I completed several years ago. I chose sociology partly because this course of study was the quickest path to a degree after not completing my social work degree in my early college years (I had intended to move on to a masters in counseling, so it was a matter of getting that piece of paper, pronto). But I also knew that sociology would allow me to read and study the very kinds of topics and ideas I had always gravitated to anyway. Some people like studying psychology because it is more about how individuals think and develop, but I had always been more interested in social groups (including the family) and how various factors affect society.

Turkle writes about the very things that draw my attention, so her book is compelling, but it is not just this book that has me thinking. There is a whole perfect storm of other things I’ve encountered recently—in boxes of my old writings and in my current observations, practices, and thoughts— that make this book resonate so much with me.

First, the reason I limit technology in my life, as I’ve written about before, is because I see the problems and trends that Turkle addresses regarding the loss of conversation (and other things), and I know that I am inclined to be right in the middle of the distraction when I have access to digital tools. In limiting my access to them, I am merely fleeing from temptation.

Second, for years I have written, spoken, and shared about the vital importance and power of conversation in the life of a child and for all of us! Nothing has made me sadder than seeing the decline of real, deep, lengthy conversations with no digital devices around to distract.

But I certainly don’t sit around judging people about this, and I definitely don’t feel superior. I’m not one of those people who wants to complain about it, either, because it is not only unnecessary to complain, it is curmudgeonly, pointless, and decidedly unhelpful. Attention is dominated by digital devices every single day, almost everywhere I go, and disapproving or commenting while in those actual situations is not going to help. So, I just carry on, happily doing my own thing without focusing on that.

In her book, Turkle effectively addresses common objections to her thesis that texting and online communication is not a true conversation. She agrees that there is certainly good value in texting and online communication, but not when it replaces face-to-face, spoken conversations. Without these face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversations, empathy does not develop (read the book to understand how this works and why it matters).

I am not going to summarize Turkle’s whole thesis, especially because I am only in chapter two of the book. But I already know where it’s going to go. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about these ideas. But Turkle writes brilliantly, supporting her ideas with solid research, and I will surely be exposed to new ideas and perspectives as I read. So I am loving this book.

So, what is so important about conversation?

  • It develops empathy, as Turkle clearly demonstrates, and without empathy, we are lost.
  • Non-didactic conversations are one of the most potent means of becoming educated. I have written about this over the years, including here.
  • Conversation is a way to a person’s heart, and the heart is who we are. It is what matters. Combine conversation with warmth (another pet theme of mine) and Love, and the world changes.

I witness the power of conversation daily in my job. Every single day, in the midst of a hundred “light” or funny interactions, many different students ask me pointedly for advice, share their victories and joys, tell me about their struggles and problems—both small and devastating— or share things that matter to them. They read me their poems and stories, which are revealing.

One girl recently told me about a situation with her parents and asked me for advice. I listened and asked some questions (mostly listened), and then, though I am reluctant to advise, I did, and she came back the next week and told me that it changed everything. She said, “You’re brilliant!” and I said, “No I’m not! You’re the one who had to do the hard work of changing your attitude and behavior to make this happen. And you’re the one who’s going to have to keep making it happen. I didn’t do any of it. You’re the brilliant one!”

One girl asked me yesterday if I had a lot of boyfriends when I was in high school. I said, “Nope. I chose not to date.” She asked why, and I told her. She said, “Wow, that’s actually true, and it’s really smart.” This particular conversation comes up a lot, and at least one girl stopped dating last year after we talked about this. I don’t push. I am not on a no-dating crusade. I don’t even necessarily think there’s anything wrong with it. I just share my thoughts and experiences and let them make their own decisions. Mostly, I listen and care. They talk, they ask questions, I answer, I ask questions back, and so on. Face to face.

I have a lot of basic, everyday interactions like that, and then there are the really heavy ones. The depressed, sleepless, demoralized, or super-anxious. The ones who have been abused and crushed in various ways. The suicide attempts. The ones in counseling and on medication. I get a lot of these, and often-times I would never have suspected them.

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with a boy that just broke my heart to pieces. I listened. I cared. I came home and cried hard tears, and I’ve been praying ever since. This boy comes around all day, every day. My desk is his home at the school, and he’s not the only one. (And don’t worry— if I need to report something that has happened, or might happen, I do!)

This is the tiniest tip of the iceberg, you guys. Please pray for me. No, pray for them! I have been entrusted by God and by the kids with knowing the truth about them. I have been entrusted with their hearts (some of them). I have never said much here about what I do at work, and I won’t in the future. I need to keep it to myself. Private. It is a trust, so you won’t hear about it often. (In fact, I’m super-hesitant to post this, anonymous as I’ve kept it.) But this is a daily thing.

The kids don’t come to me because I am super-cool or super-hip. (I’m definitely not, and I don’t want to be.) I just care. I just listen. God just gives me His love. Oh, for sure, I laugh and joke with the kids all the time, but I try to pay attention to a kid’s face and demeanor and adjust to it so that I am not brushing over what is needed. For sure, sometimes I miss what is going on, but it tends to come around again. Mostly, I just listen. Face-to-face, eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart. I see them. I hear them. I read them. My heart is in it.

This is conversation. This is what Turkle is talking about. This can’t happen on devices or online like it can in real life, face-to-face. When we talk, I see your heart through your eyes. You see my heart through mine, and we can share on a deep level, and make a deep connection, that isn’t possible by any other means.

I am not trying to hold myself up as a model because I seriously fail and fail and fail some more in paying attention. Thankfully, though, the Lord usually brings the opportunity around again. And you all know what I’m saying anyway. You already know the importance and power of conversation. You have stories you could tell, too! (And you’re very welcome to share your thoughts in comments.) I’m just reminding us again because it matters so much!

We all have conversations every day, and one is not more important than another. Today, let’s look our loved ones (and the ones God brings to us) right in the eyes and really listen with our hearts.

* * *

(This post—as they usually do— took on a life of its own and went where I didn’t think it was going, which is why the beginning of the post doesn’t seem to match the rest of it. But I’m keeping it there anyway! Haha. I really don’t mean to keep commenting on this kind of thing, but it just happens, so I leave it. Also, thanks so much, Tonia, for recommending the book!)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Do You Have Enough Money?

Random pic from internet.

(I’m going to post a few things I wrote in the past few months but didn’t use. Here’s something I wrote in the summer.)

More money does not = more happiness.

It’s not just me saying this. Research bears it up, revealing that the only time more money makes more happiness is when household income falls far enough below the poverty line that basic needs aren’t being met (food, clothing, shelter).

For sure, it’s hard to be carefree and bubbling over with constant joy when you aren’t sure how you’ll pay the bills and put groceries on the table and pay for gas to get to work. When you’re hoping the money will last til next pay period and you’re scraping and scrimping to make it happen. When you’re crossing your fingers that the brakes on your car won’t go bad, a belt won’t squeal, your tire won’t blow, or that mysterious warning lights won’t appear on your car dashboard. You try to be grateful instead of negative, but it’s on your mind now and then that you hope you won’t become really ill or injured because how would you pay the doctor?

You can’t decide if you’re angry or want to cry when someone complains about being broke or needing to pinch pennies and that they don’t know how they’re going to make it financially, and then they go out and buy a bunch of new clothes because they “desperately needed them” or take a long trip somewhere cool, or purchase a new couch because they had no choice—their old one was just getting shabby. When they go out to eat, and you’re with them, and you sit there not eating, saying, “Nah, I’m not hungry!” you hurt inside because the truth is, you really and truly don’t have the money. Not an extra cent. Literally. You’re going through pockets and old bags and looking under cushions so that you can buy eggs to help you make it, well-fed, til payday.

You do what you can. You don’t use credit cards or go into debt. You don’t eat out. You don’t go to movies. You take the bus or walk instead of driving. You don’t have internet at home or use a smartphone. You cut your own hair, and it’s looking a bit shabby. You wear your only pair of jeans to work literally every single day for an entire year. You buy your clothes (and all household items) at the thrift store. You wish you could drive out to the beach more often because it’s free and amazing, but you don’t because you have to conserve the gas in your tank to get you through the work-week.

You scrape together whatever money you can to put into savings each month, but little things inevitably arise that require you to take most of it out again, bit by bit. You feel like you can’t get ahead. You can barely stay caught up. This is when more money seems like it actually does = more happiness.

And, oh yeah, let’s be honest. You aren’t perfectly virtuous. Sometimes you spend a bit more freely than might be prudent. Payday comes, and you get giddy and order some Thai takeout. You enjoy every bite, too. Then you think you might as well buy that good coffee that you crave every single morning but can’t usually afford, and when you drink it, it sure tastes amazing. It seems worth it. You pick up a couple of shirts and maybe a few books at the thrift store. You desperately need the shirts, and the books might feel necessary, too.

And now is when you start to furrow your brow and feel guilty. You beat yourself up a little bit for being irresponsible. “Man, I wish I hadn’t done that. Next payday’s not for three weeks. Now I need to knuckle down and scrimp again.” But the family’s getting together for a birthday, and you never get to see the family, so you dip into your food budget to purchase a super-cheap gift (though you’d rather buy something wonderful instead), put gas in the car, and drive up the freeway, hoping and praying the car will continue to run well because if it breaks down, what are you going to do? And that trip wasn’t free, but it sure was wonderful and worth it!

I’ve been there. I’ve done all of that. It’s not always comfortable to live at or below the poverty line. I’m so thankful that my situation has improved, and continues to improve, but my point is that I know that this life doesn’t have to be anywhere close to miserable. In fact, it can be pretty darn great. 

Not being admired or applauded for your station or financial and social status in life—and maybe even being criticized for it—does not make you a moral or spiritual failure. It doesn’t mean you are less industrious, less motivated, or less capable than anyone else. There are myriad reasons for not pushing for the All-American goal of financial status and “success.” You’re simply focused on other things. You believe you are exactly where God wants you to be. And you’re content. You know that an abundant life doesn’t consist of what we own, achieve, or do.

But you don’t have to explain yourself. Don’t defend yourself. If people don’t understand why you aren’t chasing their values, or if they condescend to you or try to give you unsought advice, just let that go. They are not your shepherd; the Lord is. Carry on because you know you are rich.

You feel profound gratitude to the Lord that you have a roof over your head, that you have never missed a meal (that, in fact, you eat very well); that you have hot running water (the shower feels so good!); that your thrifted furnishings somehow came together to make a very pleasant homespace; that your low-rent apartment has windows all around, letting in sunny warmth and cheer; that you have wonderful friends and family who bring great joy to your life; that your engine turns over when you start the car in the morning (and that, if it didn’t, work is less than a mile’s walk away); that you are healthy and full of energy; that God has filled your cup with joy and your eyes with light.

The beauty of the sky is free. The warmth of the sun is free. The fresh, lovely sea breeze costs nothing. The song of the birds is their gift to you. The joy you feel when you take a walk is free. You can leave the library with a pile of new books to enjoy at home, and you don’t have to pay a cent for them (this is how the not-rich can go shopping!). Sharing laughter and conversation and warmth with those you love is free.

The cool thing about all of this is that not only is it free, but it makes you richer and happier than  money ever could.

In fact, I think you might feel more grateful than people with more money. You realize so fundamentally and profoundly that everything is a gift. You realize that you aren’t suffering anything close to what some other people are suffering. You bubble over with gratitude for small blessings, small gifts. Tiny things make you literally shriek with joy and do a little happy dance, like finding a bar of really good dark chocolate in your desk drawer when you thought there was none left. You’re truly thankful to be alive, well, clothed, housed, and fed. Anything beyond this feels like positive wealth!

Be grateful. Do the very best you can with what you have. Find ways to give, and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading in this because, really, isn’t it His money? Trust Him. Whether we are rich or poor, He gives and takes away. For all of us, no matter how much we have, He is always the one Who provides. True security is found in Him, not in how secure we think we’ve made ourselves.

So, just keep following Him and trusting Him. Because when we have Him, we will always have everything we truly need— and so much more! 

(Disclaimer: Yes, all of this was me, but I wouldn’t have posted it if it was still totally true. I don’t make loads of money, but I definitely am in a much-improved situation! I have what I need for sure (and more) and am at the point that I need to be careful because I don’t want more income to automatically mean more spending once I have “enough”—and what “enough” is for me has been radically, and joyfully, recalibrated, but that is a whole ‘nother post! Just, please, don’t think I’m struggling away here to keep my nose above the water. The Lord really is good to me! I can go to the beach whenever; I buy good coffee; I take trips to see my kids; a lot has changed. The reason I post this is in case someone out there struggles to make ends meet. It can be so difficult and lonely sometimes. I just want you to know that I get how psychically hard the struggle can be sometimes, and I pray the Lord will bless you in the best way possible for you!)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Nature and Home Life

Melissa had a poster made of one
of the photos she took of a hike we
took in the North Cascades.

There seems to be a huge shift back toward nature. National Parks are seeing record numbers of visitors. It’s trendy on Instagram, and elsewhere, to post photos of hiking, rock climbing, camping, road trips to beautiful places, and other quests in nature. These adventurers emerge from their tents in the morning, build their campfires, hold up their rustic mugs of coffee in front of a magnificent backdrop, and then post photos that make us all want to go out there to set up our tents and hammocks and sip coffee in the morning, too.

This new trend of going out into the beautiful, natural places God created is fantastic. I do it, and I am in those photos, too. I have been on mountain hikes that so took my breath away I almost couldn’t wrap my mind around the beauty. I will definitely continue to visit these places and be amazed at what God created because, as Romans 1 attests, we see the reality of God in His creation.

I notice the spectacles. I marvel at the orange and red, purple-tinged sunsets across the bay. I jump in my car and speed out to the rocky cliffs at the coastline when a report comes in that waves are at 30 feet because I know they will hit the rocks with a mighty, stupefying crash, and a crowd of us will gasp and “ooh!” and “ahh!” at each explosion of waves into the sky. Then the videos taken by all of those cameras will go online, and even though the videos don’t come close to doing justice to the scene, people who can’t imagine the explosive force a wave can make will say, “Are you kidding me?! I want to see that!” And they should.

I can walk into the botanical gardens along those same cliffs, and I know the name of the puzzle tree and the many exotic plants that are there because they are labeled with little signs. But an important question arises: Do I know the the name of the native trees—the ones that have always grown here— that make up whole stands of trees just outside the garden perimeter?

In all of our love of the magnificence of nature, sometimes I think we are missing an important connection. The nature at our doorstep. Do I know the name of even one native bush or tree or plant in my own yard? Do I know nature near to me? Do I know the birds and the trees where I live and why they thrive here? Sometimes yes. Mostly no.

In my high desert home I knew the nature outside my window, in my yard, and in our sky. Nature was simple on our property. We had sage and lupine, juniper and Ponderosa pines. There were jackrabbits and coyotes, foxes and mule deer. There were signs of cougars and bears, but we never saw them alive.

We got to know the birds as they dropped by our feeders on their migratory routes, but we fell most in love with the ones who lived there all the time— like our California Quail— and got to know their habits. Those adorable little quail babies were my favorite. They ran around like little overwound toys, scampering right across our feet. No fear. Until their sentinel cried out, and then they all tore into the wildgrass and formed their protective little circle.

My family visited national parks and preserves. We explored national monuments. We camped in some amazing places. We’ved hiked mountains and forests and explored caves and tidepools, and I am all for this. I’ve written before about the amazing physiological, psychological, and mental benefits of being in these places.

But, mostly, my kids grew up in nature that was close at hand, and I think this was far better for them than the magnificent sanctuaries of nature we visited for hiking and for a whopping sense of wonder. I believe we lose something fundamentally significant when we aren’t intimate with what is close at hand, in the everyday nature of our own backyard.

Researchers at MIT and elsewhere have shown that for kids to grow up with a deep sense of wonder and a love for nature that makes them protective of it, they need to know nature close at hand. One researcher states that it is everyday, close-by nature that has by far the biggest impact on a child. In fact, according to the literature, even a simple ditch behind your house or an empty lot next door is a perfect nature-setting for a child.

A kid getting dirty, digging with a stick, watching birds, picking wildflowers, collecting rocks, and following insects for hours in his own backyard, is developing a relationship with nature that can’t be made anywhere else. They need to become intimately acquainted with their own, everyday place in the natural world far more than they need to see big beauty. It is what is close to home that impacts their lives the most.

You know what I am thinking this afternoon as I type? That this is literally true, and it is also a metaphor.(And here is where the post doubles in size!)

The internet has made us part of a global community, so to speak. Through beautiful photos, we see what others are seeing, doing, wearing, buying, experiencing, making.

We know where they go. We peek inside their tent and at the view outside of it. We watch them roast marshmallows over the fire in a little circle of camaraderie. We see them in front of the Eiffel Tower or in the remotest parts of Iceland or on a beach in Fiji. We see what is going on out there in the world beyond us, and it is lovely. It appeals. It calls to us. It gives us wanderlust. And wandering and exploring can certainly be good.

Or maybe we’re the type who loves the online peek we can get into the homes of others. We will likely never know these people, but we see their lives, their new curtains, their family eating dinner with friends on the garden patio on a perfect evening with lights strung from tree to tree. And maybe we want to create that scene, too, because it is sweet. Or we like their new linen bedding or the succulents and fiddle-leaf fig plants that decorate their space, and we want those, too.

Or maybe we’re drawn to the simple lives others seem to live, with not too much stuff— but what there is, is gorgeous. We want to make all of this happen in our lives, too. It looks so quiet, so peaceful, so sweet, so perfect, and our lives do not feel like that.

Beauty that exists, or is created, in other places, or by other people, can call to us and unsettle us in our own, everyday lives. It can make us itchy. It can make us feel that our lives are dull and drab. So, we work to make our own lives more like what we see out there. We love the beautiful, the stunning, the spectacular, or even the simple beauty of other lives, but we fail to know and appreciate what we have in our own everyday homes and lives.

This is true in the spiritual as well. We read writing that shakes us, stuns us, moves us to tears. We read words that are crafted exquisitely. We read depth and beauty that stirs us to our very core. And suddenly we feel shallow, ordinary, or plain— maybe “less than”— as if we have nothing much to give or share. We are not experiencing or doing those extraordinary things. We are just struggling to get through our days and tasks with love and grace and vision. Our families don’t look like those other families.

But the homes and lives we create shouldn’t mimic anyone else’s. We can learn from others and take simple inspiration, but if we feel discontented, have an urge to buy stuff, or suddenly want to join these causes, jump on those bandwagons, reshape our daily life and interests, all because of what we see or read, we are not wise!

Following the mere trends of an ever-changing zeitgest (and in this image-driven digital world, it changes unceasingly) shifts our vision away from what is truly important.

I see what others are doing with their families, and it looks beautiful, but do I know my own children, in my own home, so intimately that I know what makes them grow and thrive? (Or for myself, if I live alone?) Do I know how the “weather” or atmosphere of little things in daily life affects different ones in my home? Do I let the kids have the freedom of those little quail babies but know when to give the sentinel call that pulls us all into our little circle of protection and care?

Just as I know about the exotic plants in the botanical garden because of the little signs beside them, I see what the families of others are doing because it is posted and labeled on social media, but do I know the name of that stand of trees that grows in my own home? My children and their gifts, their interests, their needs? Or my own gifts and calling? I can’t let the exotic take my view away from the everyday reality that I live and the everyday needs I am called to meet.

Do I know the physical, emotional, spiritual environment in my own little place so intimately that I can respond to it well for the sake of my family? Do I understand each family member and what is going on in their life? It takes some “slow” in life to know these answers because finding them requires observation and attention. It takes staying near the home circle enough to be able to see and deal with inner reality. It is in what is near, in our own spaces, that the important happens.

When there is Love in you, your life is never plain. When you love your family, create a home that suits you and yours perfectly (your own habitat that makes you thrive), cook food that nourishes and pleases your own gang, celebrate everything in your own crazy way, and really settle in to cultivate and enjoy the gifts God has given you, you are right where you should be, doing exactly what you should be doing. It may not always look glorious or gain 100k followers on Instagram, but Love makes your whole life perfectly beautiful!

So go out and enjoy those amazing spectacles of nature, and gain inspiration and enjoyment from the images and stories you view online, but protect what is at hand. It is here— where you live every day, in your own, unique home and your own patch of nature—  that you and your children get what you need the most.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

You Matter

There is no small life.
There are no little people.
There are no small acts.
There is no age too young or too old.
There is no hierarchy of spiritual gifts or roles.
There is not one place, one job, one life better than another.

God doesn’t see that way.

When we turn our omelet in the pan, like Brother Lawrence in his kitchen.
When we sing, like Paul, in prison.
When we change diapers and love fussy babies, all alone and lonely.
When we deal with tiresome, cranky customers all day long.
When we cook the dinner, exhausted, while children bicker and toddlers screech.
When we drive a stinky garbage truck in the dead of night.
When we deal with needy, depressed, anxious teenagers at work every day.

Whatever we do,
If we do it for love of the Lord,
to hold forth His Love and Light,
it is HUGE.
It is eternal.
Its spiritual power breaks through barriers and reverberates through the universe.
Even if we don’t see it happen.
Even if we can’t calculate how.

Because God’s power is beyond our comprehension,
and Holy Love is behind His power,
and with all of His Loving Might,
God makes our small things incalculably large.

The gift of a few loaves and fishes feeds thousands.
The pouring of a little bit of wine serves countless guests.
The poor widow’s mite is more valuable than the wealth of a kingdom.
The sweet spirit that changes a baby’s diaper plants God’s own Love in the heart of a little one.
The faithful prayer of the bedridden warrior moves the very heart and hand of God.

We give little.
He makes Infinite much of it.

When Love makes you move,
What you do matters.
With God in you,
You make an eternal difference.

You matter. Every single day.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Everyday Ordinary

“Life is not, after all, made up of grand moments, grand gestures, glorious achievements. Life is made up of many days filled with small things. Shopping, going to the post office, using the telephone, keeping house—these make up the chief sum or our days. And to me, it seems infinitely greater to make all the people one sees feel a little happier for it than to paint a masterpiece or be in bright lights on Broadway. After we are all gone down the river of time, the simple kindness of those who fulfill their daily tasks graciously will overbalance any special feat.

“I believe with all my heart that there are people in all the land who have this gift of living. There are people with love enough to give their neighbors, whose bounty is like Juliet’s—the more they give, the more they have, for both are infinite.”

~Gladys Taber, The Book of Stillmeadow, 1937

I ran across this passage as I flipped through this old favorite book of mine last night, and I thought, “Yeah. That is so it for me!” I’m just an everyday, ordinary woman who lives an everyday, ordinary life, who deeply appreciates everyday, ordinary people who are consistent, kind, patient, and pleasant.

Because I live such a simple life (but a happy one!), I cannot tell you how many things I’ve written for this blog that I haven’t posted. I’ll write something and think, “Well, there’s another random thing that can’t possibly be interesting to anyone but me!” So it goes into my documents file.

But it occurred to me this weekend that if I want to blog, I just need to put up whatever inspires me to type out my thoughts, no matter how everyday, ordinary it is. If no one reads it, then no one reads it!

So, if I write about a number of random, disconnected things like living happily on a tight budget, morning coffee, decluttering and sprucing up my second bedroom, a good article I read, my enjoyment of the changing seasons and months, my morning routine, reading old books, living simply, thrifting, what I learned from my grandparents, camping in remote places, and on and on, that’s the way has to be.

I don’t try to craft my posts so that they are awash with spiritual depth, and I don’t try to wrap them up with punchy words of wisdom. I just write what is on my mind, and, implicity, at the center of everything I write and do, even if I don’t say it explicitly, is Jesus. If my posts seem old, tired, or over-discussed or strike people as too precious and cloying in this age of irony and underwhelm, then so be it.

When I read Gladys Taber’s words, which are, to me, a welcome breath of fresh air, I decided that I just need to keep writing about the plain, simple things I think about, live, and encounter every day. 

Like the man who helped me with my car Friday evening:

One of my headlights went out, so I went to Auto Zone to buy a new bulb. Having no idea how to replace the old one, I asked the salesman if he could help me. “Sure,” he said, and then two of them went outside with me and lifted up my car hood.

For some reason, I thought the clear headlamp cover would just pop off the outside of the car, that the old bulb would slide right out, and the new one would slide right in, but, no, that would be waaay too easy! Instead, these men lifted my hood and attempted to squeezed their very large hands into a very thin space to unclip the old bulbs (the bulbs come in two-packs, so we were going to replace both). “Unclipping” sounds so easy, right? “You just have to press this little bit and pull the light bulb out,” they said. But it didn’t quite happen that way.

After about ten minutes of trying to jam his hand down to the headlight to squeeze the clip with his outstretched fingertips, one man gave up and went back inside, but the other, intrepid, one—a large man— was pulling everything off of my car that was in his way, unscrewing and unsnapping things under the hood.

Slightly alarmed by this, I said, “Oh, no, I don’t want you to go to this trouble! I can take the car to a shop or find someone I know who can do it.” He grunted from underneath the car, “I don’t think you want to pay $100 for someone to put in your headlight bulbs, do you?” (“No?”)

But what was he doing down there on the ground beneath the car when the headlight thing was up here toward the top where I could see it? I think he was looking for an alternative route in, but that didn’t pan out, so he went back into the store and came out with more tools. Since his hands didn’t fit in the space, he tried to grab and unclip the headlight thing with these tools, using them as finger extensions, while I pointed his little flashlight at it, feeling somewhat like a dental assistant.

Eventually, the man had the left lightbulb changed and then the right. One tiny plastic piece broke off of something, but he assured me that it was insignificant. Then, suddenly, to my surprise, he was back on the ground beneath my car, rapping hard on something with the handle of a screwdriver.

“Um, what are you doing?” I asked in the most cheerful, trusting voice I could muster. “Oh, a little part fell off and landed on this ledge. I can’t reach it, so I’m trying to jar it off by tapping on the ledge.” Then I heard something clink to the ground, and the man emerged from beneath the car smiling and holding a bolt aloft victoriously. Finally, all screws or bolts were reattached to something (hopefully their place of origin) and the headlights came on when I tested them.

More than half an hour after he started, the man slammed my hood down and said with a grin, “There ya go! Have a great day.” I had just witnessed someone see through to the end a dirty, sweaty, frustrating job that he wasn’t obligated to do, and he did it with great cheer, humor, and determination.

This was no “grand moment” or “glorious achievement,” as Gladys Taber put it, but I was pretty impressed with the man’s attitude, and I thought that if we all did our work like him, the world would be a much better place. It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, you can make someone’s day just by being kind and making sure they get what they need.