When I was a vegetarian, I still reveled in peeling garlic. Fresh garlic was such a novelty. Giddy is a word that would properly describe how I felt when I was peeling garlic. And chopping it with a big knife? Sigh. It's bewildering to me now, and sweet in a kind of sad way as I look back. The wonder of loosing wonder over a simple thing.
Vegetarianism came at a convenient time. It was cheap. A bag of dry beans can go a long, long way, folks. We ate a lot of beans. Joyfully. Then my gallbladder was removed after our second daughter was born (because Vito's cheesy bread is vegetarian, too. Oh Vito's, how I miss you). My body could not be without meat any more. I tried for months. I was sick, sick, sick. So I ate meat (thereby eating less wheat which was the problem all along unbeknownst to me), and I felt better.
Eating meat again came at a good time, too. Life was settling in and demanding just a little bit more practicality. Have you ever lived through a period that seems to siphon the magic and wonder away. Is it as simple as losing youth? I don't know. What I do know is that it felt like big time loss. The cost of maturation, for a good long time, did not feel worth it. The exchange of what was left of my airy, flighty, tetherless joy for real chops did not feel like a great bargain. Eating meat in exchange for less lively digestion, however, felt pretty easy to live with. It was so easy that I wonder why I didn't start questioning the ideals I'd created for myself in my early twenties right then and there. I didn't. Instead, I wallowed lyrically through their long, slow, dramatic death.
There's been this strange recognition happening lately. The shadows of those magical vegetarian years are dancing in the corners so insistently that I have to remind myself that now is not then, and it's not supposed to be. I mean, this is made clear by the largeness of our children, the stress in our faces, the absolute difference of life now. Oddly, the last ten years, which have been wildly varied and sometimes tumultuous seem to be congealed together, like cold bone broth. One large gelatinous structure. I have to keep the fire on to realize that time is still flowing.
The sacrifice of ideals for action has been a major player both in my thoughts and choices this year. What does it mean when you lay down the dream to build the vision? Is this what's supposed to happen when you actually start working? Is this why people give up and hide out and stay in dreamland? Because I thought the results of the investment of magical positive spiritual thinking would be more. . .sparkly. But what it is is two feet on the ground. Ground that looks like dirt. And it feels like work. Not special, fluffy work. But work. Determined work.
I wish I could say that this hadn't come as a surprise. That when I was reading and studying religious history, practice, and ministry that it clicked and I was expecting life to keep being gritty, but I hadn't understood. I mean, I expected hard. But I expected it to be hard like climbing clouds not like digging six foot holes. So when I made the switch from dreaming to doing a few years ago, and the slow dawn of recognition hit, all of this seemed so unbelievable that I rejected it. I fought life looking different. I fought playing in a different league (it seems to be my way--resistance). I didn't understand this was the service I was looking for. I still don't get it sometimes. I only get it long enough to make the next right move. And you know what? That's okay. Forward motion, baby.
It's hard to imagine my ten-years-ago-self thinking that capability to serve would feel like a most beautiful blessing. These days, it feels like magic. The expectation of spectacle has been replaced with a contentment with steady motion, healing, learning, doing. I was not expecting this. I was not expecting there to come a day when I would thank the Good Lord that someone invented garlic powder, 'cause ain't nobody got time to peel garlic in this house these days. I wasn't expecting pretty much any of what life looks like now. And maybe that's the gelatin in these last ten years. Surrendering expectations in order to step into Life is big holy dirty work.
After my train wreck approaches to living in accordance with Spirit, I'm fairly convinced that God isn't concerned with perfection. All attempts are smiled upon. The initial nudges to course-correct are gentle, and only resort to lapel shaking when the listener is in la-la-land. A place I love to be. If infinity tries and infinity hits of the reset button on Grace and Gentility isn't magic, I don't know what is.
At the end of the day. . .or the decade. . .I suppose trading wonder over garlic for wonder over Grounded Grace is much more than forward motion. Even if there were hundreds of days I imagined myself lost and hopeless, all has been well all along.
All is so well. Resting is that is always a great idea.
Last week I took an extensive look at Fierce Solidarity for the first time since I published it. There is a hope that I'll use this space to expand on the topic and speak more toward young adulthood, and making the transition assertively and with grace. Instead, I've been reading voraciously, working on fiction, and checking my Penn State account every five minutes to see if my evaluation of transferable credits has been posted yet. As of .5 seconds ago, it hasn't been.
Ironically, these last few years have seen changes in our family that rival the upheaval of my early twenties. Just for the record, the formula for maneuvering through change during times of unusual stress that I wrote about in Fierce (relying on trusted advisors, trading pressure for grace, maintaining fierce boundaries. . .) works as well for a thirty-something as it does for a twenty-something. Also for the record--it's just as hard now as it was then. I get no points for having woven my way through the obstacle course of life thus far, or even for writing the book (ripoff-right?). The challenges are different, and they demand that I use muscles I didn't know I had. At this point, though, I'm going in knowing I'm not the only one. Struggle is universal. That's something I couldn't feel in my bones when I was 20.
I feel it now.
Back in my early twenties, when I was pregnant with our youngest daughter, I had this dream that has guided me for nearly a decade now. When I get lost, it gets me back on track, and it went something like this:
I'm in an empty house (I love house dreams). It's all grayish white like the buildings at the North Pole in the movie Elf, only it's very minimalist. In my peripheral vision I keep catching glimpses of a person walking. In the dream I know this is God, or a messenger come to speak for God or something, and if I just catch this person he's going to tell me all the secrets of the universe. Suddenly he's right beside me, and he answers every question I ask. Through the whole lengthy dream I know I'm not going to remember what was said when I wake up, but as I'm dreaming, I have complete and total peace. I know all the things, and I know all really is well.
Then he says this, "Now, this is the only thing you're going to remember, and it's the only thing that really matters right now. Just pick a brown spot and make it green." Then we kind of have it out over callings and what I'd been expecting and my confusion over what I was supposed to be doing with my life. He just kept repeating, "pick a brown spot and make it green." It doesn't even matter which brown spot or what kind of green. Just cultivate something. Stop waiting for guidance that won't come until you start doing something. There is no big thing. All the somethings matter, and it doesn't matter which is picked.
This still boggles my mind. OF COURSE IT MATTERS! (It really doesn't). BUT OF COURSE IT MATTERS! (It really, really doesn't). This is a tug of war that exists inside my head every day. The days I actually get things done are the days that I listen to the little voice telling me the truth. "Anna, this square foot of brown that you're making green today is enough."
Someday, some sweet day, I will forever shut down the yelling liar in my head who tells me to wait for something more important--the one who says, "This is not important enough. Wait for the real calling. Try harder. You're not ready yet. Scrap this and do something bigger and better." Someday, I won't let my voice speak to me that way anymore.
But for now, on the good days, I'm cultivating. One inch at a time, beginning with what I've already made. Maybe even with peace in my heart. . .maybe.
I've been feeling about as worthy as an earthworm to be the person carrying the message of Fierce Solidarity out into the world. That's not going to stop me from doing it. Now that I think of it, earthworming is absolutely how Fierce happened. I ate life and digested it into fertilizer. Humble, but useful. Not a bad role to play in the world, really.
So anyway, if you're feeling small, you're not alone. Your efforts don't have to be massive to matter.
And if you're feeling lost, find a tiny brown plot to make green. It always sets me to rights. It's often the answer to finding my way through everyday struggle.
Examples of "Everyday Brown Plots"
Stressed out Mom Friend
Neglected of Discouraged Self
Literal Unused Gardens
Unfinished Work Project
Organization Lacking Volunteers
Examples of "Greening"
Make Something Beautiful
Pay a Compliment
Lend a Hand
Do an Amazing Job on a Work Project
Clean Something Filthy
Do Something for You (What hits the reset button? It's not a waste of time.)
PS--The very most important thing is acknowledging that you greened today. You might be greening all day long and still feel bad at the end of the day if you don't give yourself some recognition. ;)
PPS--Other people probably won't notice, but that's okay. It's not about applause. It's about good mental health and good living.
PPPS--Health > Being Praised. I promise.
Publishing Fierce Solidarity has brought a whole lot more storytelling into my life. I'm hearing many stories, and this I expected. Your stories are always safe with me, and they are always welcome. Story keeping is sacred work.
All of this story keeping and the work that is rolling out from letting Fierce go prompts a lot of thought. I've heard so much from the generation of women before mine. They're having strong responses to this book, and their responses are helping me see more clearly what our generation inherited from them.
I'm also hearing a lot of, "What about the guys?" This is where my heart starts to clutch. This is where my experience gets me nowhere. This and many other limitations surrounding what I can do with Fierce is what is sending me back to school. . .again. But before that and in the midst of that, there is still knowledge to be mined for. Stories to tell. Wisdom to dance around and draw out.
So, I'm going to use this space to do just that. My most fundamental belief is we can do better. We can do better than dysfunction. We can do better than judgement and hate and fear. We can do better. Light years better. We are made for light years better.
Doing the better thing so often feels like standing alone, but that's an illusion. We're only alone when we scatter out of fear. That's why the Solidarity element is so important. For many of us, solidarity is much more difficult than fierceness. I can do fierce till the cows come home.
Stand alone? Oh, yeah. Watch me. Stand together? Where's the barf bag?
Hello social anxiety, old buddy, old pal.
Solidarity is my challenge. Showing up. Staying present. Listening and holding your story is easy. Bringing my fierceness and sitting it next to your fierceness? That's a work in progress.
Mantra for sanity:: Practice makes functional.
Have you ever wanted something so badly, and then when you got it you realize that it was yours all along, it just needed some tweaking? Oh man, am I having one of those days.
Teeth have been a lifelong struggle for me. First there was the teething. I don't really remember that part. After watching my daughters grow teeth, however, I've decided that it's a struggle. Then there was the losing of the teeth, which was softened by the sheer delight people took in me looking like a happy homeless beggar. It happened a little late for me, as many things did. I was still losing teeth in late high school. And one of them never grew back in. It was exceptionally handy for drinking through a straw. The teeth that decided to show up for class battled for space. It was guerrilla warfare, people. And I felt the sting of those unsightly suckers so deep.
One day we were at a baseball game (go Mud Hens!!), and some drunk joked that our daughter had more teeth than her mother. That guy was conveniently standing at the railing of a balcony so I chucked him over the ledge. No, I didn't. I'd never do that. But I wanted to. I also wanted to cry a river to drown in.
My teeth were my shame factory. They should not have mattered so much. They're teeth. I told myself this all the time. No one cared about my teeth. Well, the people who mattered didn't care about my teeth. The people who didn't matter judged my teeth hard, and vocally.
Staring strangers. Snarky smirks. Anyone with teeth anxiety will totally relate to this, I'm sure of it. It's so tender a topic that we just don't talk about it that often. Or ever. Also, it's easy to feel ridiculous for being hurt over the visible part of your digestive system.
Anyway, after years of shame and sadness over my totally embarrassing, but exceptionally healthy teeth, I had the opportunity to get braces. It was so hard to choose to get them. There were worthiness triggers and a whole lot of anxiety over spending so much money on myself. It took months and months of hearing my husband say, "This is so much more than okay. You deserve this, even though I'll miss your beautiful crazy smile." My longest term friends all told me I needed to do this for myself. I don't think there has ever been a decision I've made that I sought more reassurance for than this. And they're just teeth.
Well, the braces went on. There was surgery to make the stubbornly antisocial tooth join the party. There was teething at age 30. There was pain and blah, blah, blah.
And today they came off. I was so nervous this morning. For weeks I've been having these weird visual anxieties where I bite into an apple and my teeth fall out. Or I look in the mirror and my lips are all deflated. Today while the orthodontist was grinding off the adhesive I started giggling, partially because I was happy, and partially because I was imagining myself with no teeth at all. What a shame to spend three years with braces just to end up toothless.
I wasn't really nervous that my teeth were going to fall out this morning, though. I was nervous about receiving. This has been an enormous gift. This is burying those old sad stories. And maybe my teeth wouldn't be pretty, but they'd be all there. I didn't know if I could stand being so blend-in-able, which was all I really wanted. I wanted people to look at me smile and not go, "Egad!" I wanted to be able to smile without feeling small or weird. I was nervous about receiving the gift of a smile that blends in.
Could I bear it?
I wish I could say that it's not a big deal. That in the end I was bigger than my teeth and that I learned that it doesn't matter, like a highly evolved person would. But it so matters to me, and I am so happy with this smile.
What is the most shocking of all is that, not only is my smile blend-in-able, my teeth are the ones I always wished I had. Can it be? When I'd look at someone and think, what a nice set of chompers, I had no idea that my teeth (once forced into a peace treaty with each other) were exactly the kind of teeth I wanted. Oh, happy day. I got home and took a good look and then couldn't settle down for hours. I thought it'd be hard to bear. No. There has been literal heal clicking joy in this house.
And the thought that has hit home brightly and definitively is so cliche it has me rolling my eyes so hard they might fall out of my head: I had what I wanted all along. They just needed a little tweaking. Click your heels, Dorothy. Voice what you want. Say what you know. Open your arms. It's already there. You're already there. Show up. Let it be what you want it to be.
Allow Goodness to win. For Goodness sake.
Can it be? Yes, it can.
While there is certainly a whole lot of happy going on about my teeth, there is also this enormous sense of relief. Today, I know that I can receive exactly what I want, what I choose, what I fight for and work for, and even what is gifted to me--with joy. Maybe odd for lots of folks to even think that receiving could be challenging, but not all of us.
To those, like me, who sometimes think receiving is a game for someone else, but not for you:
It's safe for us to receive. It won't make us jerks. It's safe. It's safe. It's safe.
Love to everyone,
Especially to people with crooked, crazy smiles,
ps~ Don't think I'm out of the crooked family. My orthodontist didn't know whether to align my teeth with my nose or my chin. There's still a whole lot of crooked going on. ;)
Ever since Fierce Solidarity was published--only three weeks ago--I've been thinking of it as a beginning woman's book. My initiation into womanhood was unexpected motherhood. As I've said to many of the emerging women in my life, "It was exactly what I needed, but I wouldn't recommend it." Motherhood was absolutely my invitation to mindful living, though. It catapulted me toward what I wanted to be, and through it, I gave myself permission to learn the things I wanted to know; experience the things I wanted to experience.
In a way, Fierce is an invitation to all young women to embrace the power they have to create the life they want. As a young woman I felt limited in so many ways. Looking back, it's disheartening to realize that it was all in my head, or rather, in my thinking. Well-established systems of control, limiting ideas, fears, and trauma had all worked together to build a pervading sensation of inability and even hopelessness. They were not stronger than the messages of encouragement and empowerment I was also surrounded with; those messages did win in the long run. They gave me the audacity to face the things that were damming up my river. It took a solid decade.
Writing Fierce was a journey into the how of my experience. How exactly had I maneuvered through that early minefield of choosing a partner and emerging into womanhood? How could that transition have been made better if I had known then what I know how? Now that it's finished, I'm beginning to think a lot about the why again. Why do things happen the way they do? I'd thought this through a lot in the micro sense, for my own situation and through my own healing. But now, I'm looking at the thinking that was holding me back. It was much, much bigger than my personal situation. It was systematic. Sure, it was the micro-culture, but it was also the macro-culture.
It wasn't just me. And it wasn't just people like me.
That little truth has astounded me over and over. Every time I realize I'm not the only one I'm overwhelmed with relief and grief. What's really astounding, though, is being able to walk through life feeling so alone when we're surrounded by people.
It's not hard to see why. Throw a hot-button issue into a crowd and the wagons will be circled in their opposing corners in a jiffy with a war of ideas engulfing the middle--everyone shouting so loud they can't hear themselves think. If thinking is even a thing at a moment like that. In those moments the only value of the cultural togetherness is the swelling pseudo-power. The crowd dances to the beat of I'm right, I'm right, I'm right. And puts someone else in charge. Someone they can throw stones at later when things don't work the way they thought they would. Anyone that doesn't love the I'm right rhythm starts feeling freaked out by the crowd, and after the wave of rightness has passed, the participants have to dig their faith a little deeper into the cause to quell the insecurity that wells up. Nobody knows who is who when we're all thrown together out here in the world, so there's a lot of tiptoeing and courtesy. The louder of us have bumper stickers and t-shirts to clear things up a bit. But, connection?
Hmmm. . .
Who's gleaning the real benefits of the community, these days? Where is the big human system that works?
It could be argued that the system that works is everywhere. Little micro-systems. A community here, a family there. Leaders and teachers everywhere. They are everywhere doing their thing. Living for Goodness Sake. With the loudness of macro-dysfunction ringing in my ears, I forget all the time. The voice I'm supposed to be listening to is still and small as it ever was. It led me through the micro-questions. And it'll lead me through this.
So for the rest of the day, I will be listening hard and soft to the stillness. I will pay attention to the tiny things that are functional and good and helpful, even if I have to carry around a horde of magnifying glasses and otoscopes. I see goodness and pull it to the spotlight, just for today.
Leap years are great. Who doesn't love an extra day? This time of year has always been one of my favorites. Winter still feels cozy. Fresh fluff is welcomed with open arms. Everything is visually softer. The mounds of snow cushion the landing--whatever your eyes are falling on. Winter is lived in, not crispy fresh, but turned over and over; settled in, relaxed, and not going anywhere anytime soon. Tire tracks crackle brown snow over white, a steady stream of snow boulders make a promenade of the alley, lively snow families distinguish the lucky yards, planks of snow curl off the roofs here and there. There seems to be a universe for the snow itself. No flake or formation exactly like its neighbor, but they're comfortable enough living side by side.
Winter isn't the best time of year for lots of folks. I was fairly concerned when we moved up here about how we'd survive the long, dark winters. It's been the least of the transitions, though. Not one of us has struggled with it. We do candles, sometimes real, but the pretty plug in candles are always, always on from October at the latest until at least March. We do vitamin D, which makes a significant difference. We exercise and eat root vegetables and get fresh air. It all matters.
Knowing that in a couple of weeks I'll likely be in a completely different frame of mind is making me sink into the coziness as deeply as I can. I'm already starting to feel the pull toward a late winter clean and purge. For now, though, mid-February is giving me the warm embrace that I'm so used to now.
That little recharge of rest to push me through the later and sometimes more tiresome weeks of winter. But it's okay. I play tricks on my mind in March that keep it happy and ticking. These are the perks, I think, of having lived with yourself long enough to know your quirks and weaknesses. You know when to pat your own head and say, "there, there," and when to give your self a rousing talking to. In March, I am my own leprechaun. For now, though, I'm keeping things as soft as a snow bank.
Usually we get along. I smile condescendingly when other people post Monday whiner posts. Well, Monday, you got me. You're on steroids. Stop taking yourself so seriously.
Actually, after two hours of getting nothing accomplished I'm starting to feel leveled off. They did, in fact, make it to school on time. Appropriately dressed. Even though someone grew five inches last night, and the tights crotch was down to the knees and the dress hem up to the hips. All three dress hems, in fact, that attempted to parade out the door after the parade had been sent upstairs to put on some jeans--twice. Apparently they're all in the pile of dirty laundry lying on the floor next to the empty hamper. Pink corduroys were found. Too short and too big around the middle. But better than saggy tights.
I can remember literally nothing else that was stressful about this morning, and this seems funny now. I take it back, Monday. This letter is not to you.
Mondays are never your enemy. They are transition. You had a really great and messy Valentine's Day, and that's why everyone was so tired this morning. It was messy in all the ways. This is what you like about life, remember? The mess. The challenge. And the way that the joy and sunshine burn almost unbearably bright after the struggle. So what if you think joy should not be so hard to bear? Too bad. You're joyful. And raw joy hurts. Say thank you, thank you, thank you until it feels like peace and light in your arms and your belly. Then gear up, because life slows down for no one, and you have work to do.
Sincerely & With Sincere Love,
I'm torn today. I want to work hard and get lots of writing done before it's time to bake all the birthday and Valentine party treats that will be heading out the door tomorrow morning. I also want to drink coffee and watch Gilmore Girls and lay around like it's 2005. On top of the usual desire to hang out at Luke's, I just now found out that Gilmore Girls is coming back as a miniseries on Netflix. First Full House, now this? The nostalgia is strong. It takes little to please me. This is just over the top. I'm going to skip all day.
It's cold here, folks. Negative teens cold. My face hurt by the time I made it back to our house this morning. Even with the frigid temperatures, I love that morning walk down the alley. Whether sunbeams guide the way, we're trekking through a frozen haze, or snow bits are pelting our faces it's always delightful once I'm actually out doing it. I love the crooked fence that's barely standing up to the weight of this year's snow, the crunch of snow under our feet, and following the tracks left by the critters. It was too cold for the birds this morning. They were huddled up somewhere thinking of their happy place, wondering why they didn't make the trip to Florida this year.
Lots on the agenda today. My work on the Flowchart of Action (my plan to get Fierce Solidarity out into as many real, live hands as possible) has lagged this week. Illness has been making itself comfortable in our house for months now. The last week that both girls actually made it to school every day of the week was back in early December. Tomorrow, there is a birthday in the house. I make it a point to do only absolutely necessary work on days that I gave birth in the past. Seems fair. To account for this, the FlofA needs my attention today. FlofA, cake, brownies, finish drafting amazing chapter about a rug and the issue with the post--all in the next four hours. So doable.
Sigh, Gilmore Girls will have to wait. It's fun to imagine that I'll sit around watching tv all day. Some day.
The last of the Christmas decorations, who must have hid their way through the Christmas clean up, have congregated on my writing table. A glittered reindeer is currently leaping out of a valentine vase. And a streamer of felt candies, made by our youngest and I one day after preschool a few years back, is still hanging behind the sheer curtain. I just noticed it a few days ago, though I sit here every single day.
The leftovers of Christmas aren't overshadowing the valentines around the house, though. I love Valentine's Day. It rises in the ranks of my most beloved holidays every year. I went through this phase where I loathed the exploitation of love and commercialism and blah, blah, blah. Now I'm like, "Whatever. Bring me chocolate. Bring me flowers. Let's dance." Because love is hard, folks, and it deserves a holiday. Besides, during one whole month of winter, red and pink and hearts and flowers make life more colorful. They keep the heart beating when it might want to hibernate. As much as I think bear life sounds amazing, I'm a human, and full on hibernation is not what we do.
One of my favorite books from childhood is The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Jan Brett. LOVE it. I paid a ridiculous amount of money when our oldest was a baby to add the book to our collection of storybooks for her. It was out of print, so I hunted up a used copy which is now lovingly tattered, as it has been read and slept with to the point of softness. A mark of high privilege and praise for a child's book. Lucky for all of us, it's back in print now. I think I'll get a couple copies and put them away for the girls when they're grown.
Mr. and Mrs. Bear know love is hard. They go the extra mile. They show up for each other, even though they're bears and hibernation really is their thing. Mrs. Bear thinks Mr. Bear isn't going to show up, and she's not having it. Valentine's Day is happening. Even though other creatures are still sleeping, or are watching her like she may be crazy...Mrs. Bear is doing this thing. Mr. Bear is, of course, being a prankster, and has prepared for the day, too. They laugh. They hang out. They eat. They go back to sleep until Spring. All of this happens against the backdrop of 1985 earthy softness. The colors are soft and somewhat muted; greys and reds, mostly. The effect is bewitching and soothing and enlivening all at the same time.
This book still delights me after close to thirty years of reading it. I remember my mom and my grandma reading it to me. I read it to myself. I read it to my daughters. I listen to my husband read it to them, too. Now that I have a lived in, weathered love, I recognize this book as the metaphor for seasoned love that it is. A celebration of going to sleep and waking back up; reviving love and letting it rest over and over again. Letting love go through its phases of sleeping and waking is not the easiest part of loving someone deeply for a long, long time.
We were just talking, my husband and I, about how our culture doesn't support this model of love so much. New love? Yes. Old love? Yes. Middle love? Not so much. Old love is romanticized to the point that the dying that's happened over and over is barely acknowledged. We've been together for a dozen years, married for nearly eleven. One marriage made up of dozens of different relationships. We're always recommitting. Recalculating. Adjusting. And every time change comes around, something that was once beautiful is laid to rest to make room for what's coming next.
We held on to new love for ages. We really did. We thought we were winning at life. Beating the odds. Beating the system. Our love will never die. It'll never happen to us. We were so cute. We were so determined. And so foolish.
The first death was bewildering. The second, excruciating. The third, numbing. The day I realized exactly how the couple in Stepmom fell apart, even though they so clearly loved each other, I got seriously scared.
Then, ever so slowly, I began to pick up on the art of rebuilding. Constant remodeling, that's middle love. Standing together and bashing apart something that hasn't been working can be fun. Cleaning up the rubble, meh; it's necessary. Building something new, maybe not as fun as it sounds, but so much better than the alternative. What's going to work to keep us together? How can we make sure we're both getting what we need while we're working so hard to take care of our responsibilities? That's middle love. It is so much work, but the worn in, weathered feeling--the sense of accomplishment--the knowledge that your kids are the ones who are really winning--it's so worth it.
Now, middle love is no excuse for lack of romance. I used to think that romance was evidence of love, not I think it's love's nourishment. Valentine's Day is our friend, and I am counting down the days. Me and Mrs. Bear, we're making Valentine's Day happen come hell or high water. Pretty sure the mister has some plans, too, because a mystery box showed up at the door yesterday, and I've been ordered to open no packages that come in his name. Ah, romance. I'll take a triple serving, please and thank you.
As a ministerly type of person, I spend a lot of time thinking about what heals us. I've studied herbs and aromatherapy. I've tried all sorts of lifestyles that claim to be the most healthy lifestyle ever. I've dreamed of being a raw vegan doing yoga with my bare feet leveling out my energy with every step. We've done all natural, all organic, all earthy. . .all to no avail.
Sometimes the method is the madness, or the method makes the madness. I don't know. What I do know is that when I finally uncovered the source of my own body's consistent distress and began meeting the immediate needs of myself and my family, life got better. The question:: Is this killing me slowly? was replaced in my mind with:: Will this make me or my daughters immediately ill? This may seem like backwards motion, but I have not experienced it this way.
We still eat healthfully, but in a home with as many food restrictions as ours has, the mindfulness changed from fear to support. I no longer stare warily at foods that are deemed unhealthful, but which pose no immediate threat to my body. I am no longer afraid of white potatoes. I no longer replay the list of warnings in the back of my head when I consume chicken nuggets. When you know that certain foods will make you violently ill, it really puts things in perspective. Food that gives you good energy is good enough.
This is not to say that we run around eating with no sense of discipline, because we are very disciplined. We simply eat without dogma. No hippy dogma. No establishment dogma. I mean, food is pretty simple, and I made it complicated for years by trying to follow all the rules. I just couldn't stop.
I'm pretty sure that the most important rules of all things--food, spirit, life in general--are so simple they're easy to bury under ideas about how we're supposed to implement the simple guidelines that keep us steady. This is where I falter over and over again. I make a plan instead of sitting and listening. I stress when I could be letting some beautiful view soothe my nerves. I chide myself for little treats instead of enjoying them alongside the abundance of nourishment in my belly.
The fruits of the spirit have long been my guidance for a check in to see how I'm doing. Am I producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If not, where am I stepping off the path? Am I living in judgement of myself or others? Am I neglecting to savor nourishment? Am I resisting enjoyment? Am I treating myself and others equally? Is my standard for treatment of myself and others appropriately set? What am I missing the mark on? Most of the time, for me, the miss is that I'm taking an axe to my sense of worthiness. Not worthy because of x, y, or z. X--I used bad creamer in my coffee. Y--I was snippy with that person. Z--I haven't mopped for months.
Do you know that I just now realized that there is nothing anywhere close to "perfection" on the list of fruits of the spirit?
It can be a vicious cycle. Judgement and Perfection are in love with each other. They are in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. The beauty is that we are worthy because we are worthy. You don't need a reason to claim worthiness. The vicious cycle becomes the beautiful cycle when love becomes a practice; when joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become the practice. I forget this all the time. I fall off the wagon and then climb back on again. The way back to producing good fruit is applying the first fruits to my own soul. I love me. I will be joyful today. Peace is the queen of my heart. I deserve my own patience. Kindness comes in many packages, I'll open one from me, to me today. In me is goodness. I'm going to feel it today. I faithfully walk the path that leads to my well-being, which is not even distantly related to perfection. I treat myself with gentility when I step off the path. I exercise self-control to stay on the path long enough so that goodness, and all the other fruit will pour out onto others.
Sometimes, this whole exercise happens over a cup of coffee. They say coffee is bad, and on top of that, I'm using the bad creamer. It's full of carcinogens. . .anxiety builds. . . fear is the opposite of love. I'm going to enjoy this. I'm not going to let anxiety wreck this hour--one I can choose to fill with peace. I'll be patient with my imperfection. Kindness means I won't judge myself. I'm still good even if I'm making an imperfect choice. This cup of coffee does not represent what I consume all day long. I faithfully nourish my body every day. It is okay not to be a perfect consumer, so I'll be gentle with the allowances I make for myself. I'll have the self-control to only have two cups today, just like every other day.
Sounds like a lot, but it's really very quick. It steadies me. The practice, not the coffee. That, I just enjoy. Carcinogens and all.