Bloom Your Beauty

Between the seasonally-grassy yard and the narrow porch walkway facing our NorCal single-story ranch-style home we have a border of three white floribunda rose bushes, Valentine’s Day gifts from my Guy many years ago, that bloom May through November, spring through fall.

Every summer, as blooms explode among the greenery, I commit to bi-weekly dead-heading; every summer I fail and trim them back only once a week, often less. I believe if I had more discipline I could keep them from getting leggy and they might fill out and produce more.

However, by the time I remember that my sweet roses require attention, often they have grown taller than my head, some of them top the roof line, and many sky-high branches hold handfuls of buds. I’m a sucker for rose buds; no matter how tall and spindly the bush becomes, I will not cannot trim back rose buds. I have to wait for them to bloom, then wither, before I reach for my pruning shears.

The other day I glanced out the kitchen window and gasped: a watermelon pink rose had bloomed on one of the reaching-for-the-(finally blue again)-sky canes, with an equally pink bud next to it. Pinker than pink roses on my white rose bush, standing up tall as if to demand my admiration. Did the Queen of Hearts arrive in the night with a step stool to carefully apply nail polish?

I know it happens sometimes, probably something to do with pollination. And these white roses have had a rebellious pink streak for a while, some of them pinkish-white in bud still bloom snow white while others bloom mostly white with a single pink streak, like a blonde teenager who dyes a neon stripe into her shoulder-length hair. Prettier than that, though, as natural variations outshine our mimicry.

As much as I adore our white roses, I am grateful for these pink surprises. They stand out. They delight me and make me laugh. They remind me to take care of the plants my husband purchased and dug into the ground.

They also remind me to bloom my own beauty, my own Siv-style of watermelon pink on a white rose bush. I don’t have to be like anyone but myself.

Bloom your beauty, friend. Be you, your one-and-only glorious self. The world needs what you have to offer. You don’t have to fit in. Cast off whatever holds you back, including your fear. The spotlight is yours and we’re waiting to cheer you on.

It Takes Courage to See Eye-to-Eye

In this fast-spinning gyroscopic world, society clings to hard-and-fast categories.

Black or white
Red or blue
Foreigner or citizen
Us or them

Categories give us a handhold to grip, something to steady us as we try to make sense in the dizziness. These days, we’re holding on for dear life.

Not for their dear lives, mind you, but for our own.

We should recognize, though we often don’t, that people don’t precisely fit into categories. Individuals fit into multiple categories all at once. We are all of us out-of-the-box, bursting through barriers, blurring the edges. No one neatly fits the stereotypes. Labels itch in the wearing; the only accurate one-size-fits-all = HUMAN BEING.

It takes courage to look into someone’s eyes and see them for who they are rather than who you think they should be. Face to face, eye to eye.

We say “eye to eye” to describe our agreements, when we and others see issues from the same perspective. But how often do we actually look someone in the eyes? Especially someone with a different background, or someone with whom we disagree, or a stranger?

How long do you think you could sustain eye contact with anyone, even a loved one?

A 2016 study at Stony Brook University discovered that four minutes of sustained eye contact increases intimacy. Amnesty International recreated the study in Germany, arranging strangers, many of them recent immigrants, seated across from native Europeans. The results feel tangible. I dare you to watch it without emotion.

I asked my husband to sustain eye contact with me. I set a timer on my phone and for four minutes we sat facing each other on the edge of the bed. Even after almost three decades of marriage, those four minutes felt strangely, uniquely, intense. I chattered like a talkative preschooler almost the whole time (I didn’t read any rules about not talking, and I couldn’t help myself). Even with the safest, most loving person in my life, it took uncommon courage to intentionally look into his eyes.

No wonder we prefer categories, boxes, stereotypes. Eye contact fosters intimacy and intimacy requires courage. Intimacy requires more from us; it might ask us to change.

Most of us prefer to view others from a safe distance. These days, that distance has gotten wider, so much greater than our newly-required six feet. We’ve physically and emotionally entrenched ourselves…and others.

Obviously it would break all social norms to recreate this study throughout our days with each person we encounter. Talk about awkward.

But what might change if we made it a point to always look people in the eyes?
What might we do differently, practically during these days of pandemic panic, to increasingly look through the eyes of others?
How might our perspective change, shift, alter?
How might we see others, and the space of the planet they inhabit, differently?

In movies I’ve heard the battlefield order, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!” In other words, don’t react too early. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we all put down our weapons and looked into the eyes of those we suppose to be our enemies?

Brene Brown continues to remind us, “Courage is contagious.” It seems to me, especially now in this increasingly divided world, that contagious courage is exactly the virus we need to spread.

In the comments, share one practical way you have or will look someone in the eyes. Let’s enCOURAGE each other!

This is Day 3 of a 7 Day Writing Challenge with Hope*Writers. Follow me on Instagram for more.

Cover image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

Getting Crafty: Working and Playing with Creativity

Do you have a craft, a skill you exercise regularly to make something?
Do you consider yourself crafty, making things for fun or profit?

Yes, I know, “crafty” also means deceptive, but that’s not this post.

My craft is writing. I work at it diligently most days of the week. I employ different techniques depending on the time of day, the day of the week, or the purpose of the writing.

I journal, more like a brain dump of everything on my mind and heart.
I blog, intentionally putting together words to encourage others.
I write letters, sending a little sunshine via the USPS.
I write prayers and Bible studies to connect with God.
I write to work through my thoughts and feelings on various issues.
I write notes and reviews about books I’ve read.
I write for organizations and individuals who pay me to write for them.

I practice writing. I read good writing, fiction and non, to learn from others. I take writing classes (a new class begins tonight – eek, I’m both excited and anxious).

And sometimes I need to do something differently crafty to differently spark my creativity.

Occasionally over the last year, I’ve spent a Sunday afternoon creating a collage. Just for fun, just for me, just because.

I set a timer for 20 minutes and quick-cut scraps from a colorful magazine I’ve read. I look for colors, words, images that grab me for whatever reason. When the timer beeps, I shuffle the cut pieces, looking for connections. Sometimes colors work together. Other times, words bump up against words to create new meaning. I trim edges and shuffle some more. And then I grab a glue stick and a piece of paper to use as a foundation and arrange the snippets into something new.

It’s not rocket science. I’m not attempting to win an art prize. I’m just having fun. And sometimes, fun matters most. It breathes fresh life into my lungs and returns me to my writing craft with new things to say.

In the comments, tell me a little something about your craft. Or tag someone whose pursuit of their craft you admire.

This is Day 2 of a 7 Day Writing Challenge with Hope*Writers. Follow me on Instagram for more.

Reading: August 2020 Pt2

You guys, it’s serious… My right thumb swelled up. It hurts to bend it. I don’t remember bumping it on anything; could it be from practicing yoga? It has no visible bruising, but it shook so that I have to put it under my Kindle while I’m reading and use my left hand to swipe…to swipe?…I usually use my right thumb to swipe… Oh. My. Goodness! I DEVELOPED A REPETITIVE STRESS INJURY FROM SWIPING ON MY KINDLE.

Sometimes you just have to laugh! And, of course, there are much worse ways to handle life’s stresses than reading too much. What are you reading and enjoying? And how are you keeping up a sense of humor and laughing at yourself?

One more thought: two of these books’ titles begin with “Dear…” and those two plus one more all include writing letters to someone as a literary device. During this time when we’re not seeing as regularly, if at all, the people who once populated our days, why not send someone a letter through the mail? Sure, you could text or email, but who doesn’t love receiving something personal in the mail? Let someone know you’re thinking of them.

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of the most uniquely vivid characters I’ve encountered in recent reads, and another mind-bending illustration of how our lives can be so incredibly intertwined even without our recognition of it.

“…and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color.”

“In those twenty minutes the war between the races, the Italians versus the Irish, was waged, the two representatives of the black souls of Europe, left in the dusty by the English, the French, the Germans, and later in America by the big boys in Manhattan, the Jews who forgot they were Jews, the Irish who forgot they were Irish, the Anglos who forgot they were human, who got together to make money in their big power meetings about the future, paving over the nobodies in the Bronx and Brooklyn by building highways that gutted their neighborhoods, leaving them to suffer at the hands of whoever came along, the big boys who forgot the war and the pogroms and the lives of the people who survived World War I and World War II sacrificing blood and guts for their America, so they could work with the banks and the city and state to slap expressways in the middle of thriving neighborhoods and send the powerless suckers who believed in the American dream scrambling to the suburbs because they, the big boys, wanted a bigger percentage.”

“They stared at her with that look, that projects look: the sadness, the suspicion, the weariness, the knowledge that came from living a special misery in a world of misery.”

“…all living the New York dream in the Cause Houses, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, a gigantic copper reminder that this city was a grinding factory that diced the poor man’s dreams worse than any cotton gin or sugarcane field from the old country.”

“But then, she thought, every once in a while there’s a glimmer of hope. Just a blip on the horizon, a whack on the nose of the giant that set him back on his heels or to the canvas, something that said, ‘Guess what, you so-and-so, I am God’s child. And I. Am. Still. Here.”

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love! This precious book was so perfectly written that it was like watching a movie, or a really well-done TV series, play out on the page. I binge-read it over a few days and then cried when it ended. The only time I needed to put it down was when I realized I was so fully identifying with Edward that I might actually be feeling his depression (after all, I was reading in bed with coffee on a Saturday morning, that became a Saturday afternoon… I needed to get up and move).

“He wants to know what to do.”
“She taps the center of his hand. ‘That’s easy. The same thing we all must do. Take stock of who we are, and what we have, and then use it for good.'”

“‘What happened is baked into your bones, Edward. It lives under your skin. It’s not going away. It’s part of you and will be part of you every moment until you die. What you’ve been working on, since the first time I met you, is learning to live with that.'”

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book during a week of protests regarding another cop-involved shooting of a Black man and then a white teenager shooting 3 protestors in Kenosha, WI… Let’s say it was timely and I felt angry, sad, confused, heartbroken, challenged. I appreciate that, as the author tried to work out her own questions and feelings about the devastating state of race relations in America, she provided a well-rounded picture of its complexities.

“It’s like I’m trying to climb a mountain, but I’ve got one fool trying to shove me down so I won’t be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave.”

“What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there’s a problem?”

“That idiot ‘pundit’ would rather believe you and Manny were thugs than believe a twenty-year veteran cop made a snap judgment based on skin color. He identifies with the cop. If the cop is capable of murder, it means he’s capable of the same. He can’t accept that…. They need to believe you’re a bad guy who got what he deserved in order for their world to keep spinning the way it always has.”

“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?”

It Is Wood, It Is Stone by Gabriella Burnham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“It is wood, it is stone. It is the end of the road.
“It is life, it is sun. It is night, it is death.”

Beautifully written, this book is like a fever dream: out of place, foreign, characters floating in and out and doing god knows what for god knows what reason. Thing is, I didn’t like a single character in this book. Every one of them bugged the crud out of me.

“He imagined that in the U.S. democracy prevailed, not like the corrupt politicians in Brazil who embezzled government money, or the police officers who shot innocent people on the street.”

“I had caught a glimmer of myself as someone who dug into her life with teeth and let the juice run down her chin. It was worth it to feel sticky afterward, but it wasn’t worth it to lose you.”

I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed other books by Waxman, I was thrilled to pick up another one. This one, however, is so emotionally on-point as it describes a relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter during a spring break college tour, so immediately relatable (my sons are in college/high school) that it became hard to read. It would make for a great mother-daughter book club for daughters in the beginning of high school, or for moms well beyond the drama of having launched their kids.

“Why do adults talk such shit about mindfulness and living in the moment, and at the same time point us all in the same direction and tell us to run as fast as we can to get ahead? Do this, you’ll be able to level up to a good high school, do this, you’ll be able to get into a good college where, if you work hard, you’ll be able to get a good job, where you can work harder and get a better job. When are we supposed to start actually living?”



View all my reviews

Cover image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

Letter to the Parole Board: Keep the Monster Behind Bars

Note: After writing and sending this letter at the request of the Knott family, but before hitting publish on my blog, I read that the San Diego District Attorney had confirmed that Craig Peyer is not on the list of those eligible for early release from prison due to COVID-19. Huge sigh of relief! I’m choosing to publish this letter here because Cara’s murder was one of the most significant events of my life, and to this day influences my suspicion of those in positions of power too easily abused. It has shaped my belief that leadership in any position is more important than power, and that the best leaders recognize their responsibility to serve their followers. I’m certain that, if she could, Cara would continually urge us toward kindness—her own kindness was one of her most lovable traits—and she would also remind us to seek justice on behalf of those who cannot seek it for themselves.

31 August 2020

Dear Governor Newsom,

I’m writing to urge you to keep Craig Allen Peyer, Inmate CDCR Number D93018, behind bars where he belongs for the rest of his life. On December 27, 1986, Peyer brutally murdered my neighbor and friend, Cara Evelyn Knott, while on duty and in uniform as a California Highway Patrolman.

I am dismayed to hear that Peyer is even being considered as a candidate for early release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At his last parole hearing in 2012, the Parole Board gave him the maximum fifteen years until the next hearing because of his threat to public safety; his next parole readiness hearing is scheduled for January 2027. He has never admitted his guilt nor has he expressed any remorse for Cara’s untimely death. Peyer is a violent criminal who should never again walk free.

Cara was 20 years old and a student at San Diego State University on the night she died, just two days after Christmas. Before leaving her boyfriend’s home that evening, Cara called her parents so they would know when to expect her; obviously she never arrived. Officer Peyer pulled Cara over and directed her to drive down the isolated Mercy Road dead-end off-ramp. The facts of the case show that he struck her with his police issue flashlight, breaking her eye orbit. He then strangled her with a rope from his car, put her body on the grate on the front of his police car, and drove to the old Mercy Road bridge where he dumped her broken body. Officer Peyer showed Cara no mercy.

When Cara died, I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior. Cara and I grew up across the street from each other in El Cajon, California, in San Diego County. As young girls we made daisy chains and necklaces from the wrappers of Juicy Fruit bubble gum. When she got her driver’s license, she carpooled us to school. Cara was a role model: a good student, artistic, athletic, and a kind and well-respected human being. When we shared the dance floor at her sister’s wedding, she confided that she hoped her boyfriend might propose sometime soon.

Needless to say, I was devastated—my whole family, our whole community, was devastated—to learn that Cara had suffered such a violent death. The devastation deepened when we discovered that her murderer had been an on-duty CHP officer. A reporter interviewed my then-twelve-year-old sister as we crossed the street to share time and support with Cara’s family; as tears streaked her face, my sister cried into the camera, “Who can we trust if we can’t trust the police?”

Obviously that question reverberates with new and different nuances today. Who can we trust…? Calls for police and judicial reform must be heeded. Understandably during a pandemic, non-violent offenders might be considered for early release. However, Peyer committed an atrocious crime taking the life of an innocent and beautiful young woman who had so much to offer. I would like to believe that we can trust you, Governor Newsom, along with the state of California to uphold the will of the people and hold Peyer accountable, in prison for life.

Respectfully,

Siv Ricketts
Moraga, California

You can read the Wikipedia entry about Cara’s murder here.

Cover image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

A New Perspective on the Waiting

Last weekend I noticed myself feeling itchy-irritable. Smoke from the fires in Napa (north) and Santa Cruz (south) settled thick on our slice of the San Francisco Bay Area; if the measure of unhealthy air quality starts at a score of 150, our air measured at a ridiculous 1100+. We couldn’t open the windows, we certainly couldn’t be outside. Add a record-breaking heat wave and no air conditioning and, yah, I did not feel like a happy gal.

We’ve been waiting for the heat to break. We’ve been waiting for the fires to be extinguished. We’ve been waiting for the air to clear. We’ve been waiting for months for the pandemic to end (remember when we thought we’d be home for two to three weeks?), or a proven-safe vaccine to become available. And through most of the summer I sat on my ever-expanding rear waiting for an injury to heal.

Waiting, waiting, so much waiting. It’s felt heavy, disorienting.

Did you know there’s a spiritual term for that waiting? It’s called liminal space, from the Latin word for threshold. We’ve left normal behind and, though we throw around the term new normal like children playing Hot Potato, we haven’t actually entered that new normal yet. We’re in between. We’re standing in the doorway. We’re waiting.

Most of us don’t like to wait. We get restless, we want to move on. Blaise Pascal, writing in the 1600s, offered wisdom: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” (do women sit easier? Let’s assume he meant to include everyone). Anyway, that seems a quarantine-worthy quote if I’ve seen one.

Flip those words around: we could solve all of humanity’s problems if we could teach all of humanity to sit quietly alone. Lofty goal for sure, but we can start with ourselves. Right now, when we have been asked – for the greater good and health of humankind – to stay mostly at home by ourselves, we can begin with God’s help to untangle some of our own problems.

Rather than feeling irritable and restless, we can choose to rest. Rather than fighting what we cannot change, we can accept this liminal space as it is and seek to receive the gifts it holds for us.

I’m finding it helpful to imagine a circle drawn on the ground around my house. This is my liminal space, this is my liminal time, and in this sacred space and time God is doing a new thing.

Despite Modern English singing on the soundtrack of my youth, I’ll stop the world and melt with you, we didn’t stop the world, the COVID-19 pandemic did. We didn’t will this change, yet here we are. This in-between time, so outside our common experience, feels dislocating, off-kilter. So let’s just go with it already. Let’s find a new perspective, looking at the contents of our lives from this different angle.

It seems like a good time to reevaluate our priorities:
* What did we do before that we want to keep doing? And what no longer serves us? (I’m thinking of all those who have realized they can ditch the commute and work from home just as well).
* How – or where – do we want to live?
* Among our many acquaintances and friends, who remains in our inner circle?
Tough questions, worthy of time alone in your room to think and pray deeply.

Already the smoke has cleared and the heat wave has broken. A safe vaccine will be found and made available eventually. This waiting time will end, we believe, and the world will have changed. We don’t yet know what those changes will entail, but we can rest in God’s loving work in us and in our midst.

One more thought: in his book Everything Belongs, theologian Richard Rohr recommends making liminal space a regular practice. “Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible….If we don’t find liminal space in our lives, we start idolizing normalcy.” Let’s topple normalcy from its throne and trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t.

Cover image by Pexels from Pixabay

Finding Faith in the Storm

I woke suddenly to the boom of an explosion, my heart-thud echoing the blast. In my sleepy-confused state, I lifted my eye mask and glanced around the bedroom cast in early gray light. Had it been fireworks? A blown transformer?

No, there it was again: thunder crack so loud I shook; seconds later, a charge of lightning zapped the gloom.

In the fourteen years I’ve lived in Northern California I can’t recall a single summer thunder-and-lightning storm. After days of oppressive, record-breaking heat, rain felt refreshing. Unusual heat, followed by an unusual storm; unusual, like most of 2020.

Which got me thinking about other storms, like this one:

23 As they sailed, [Jesus] fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.
24 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!”
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25 “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples.
In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him” (Luke 8:23-25).

The disciples were in the boat because Jesus asked them to go to the other side of the lake. They sailed while He fell peacefully to sleep. Jesus must have been exhausted, because he stayed asleep during their storm-battle. Experienced fishermen among them, it must have been exceedingly bad for them to panic as they did.

They woke Jesus. I would have, too, wouldn’t you?

As I reread this story, I realized I’ve been reading it wrong since forever. Jesus rebuked the wind and water; He didn’t rebuke the disciples. I’ve read His question, “Where is your faith?” as a rebuke, but that’s not what it says.

Jesus calmed the storm, and then turned to calm His amazed disciples, to remind them that He deserved their faith.

2020 has hurled all manner of storms our way: a global pandemic; unemployment and/or financial insecurity; political and racial tension; distance learning; the cancellation of oh-so-many celebrations and traditions; isolation and loneliness; mental health turmoil; frustrated and angry people at every turn; devastating fires in Australia, Colorado, and again in California (the NorCal fires resulted from those lightning strikes); I could go on, and you’d have your own storms to add to the list.

We all recognize that 2020 has been a whopper of a year, and I don’t mean delicious. But the storm last weekend reminded me of the storm in Scripture that reminds all Jesus’ followers that Jesus is with us in the storm. We can have faith. No matter what, He is here.

Not all storms are bad, some might even be refreshing, and especially if they send you running to Jesus. Jesus will never rebuke us for running to Him during our storms. He won’t be angry when we “wake” Him, and He never wakes up sleepy-confused. He knows the score: God always wins, even when the game looks like an upset from our perspective.

Take heart, friends. Jesus is with you, a calming presence in every storm. Put your faith in Him.

Cover image: Craig Mole Photography, sfgate.com

Reading: August 2020 Pt1

In January I set a goal through the Goodreads reading challenge to read 55 books this year. Reading four to five books each month seemed doable. Not a pushing-myself challenge, but something to keep me on track.

Here it is mid-August and I have completed the challenge: I’ve read 55 books, with more in progress, more in my to-read stack, more coming each week from the library straight to my Kindle.

Now that the kiddo is back in school (distance learning via Zoom) and I’ve registered to take a graduate course myself, plus some actual paid work coming my way soon, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up this pace. But we’ll see… I’m guessing I’ll get close to 90 books by the end of this year, and that will be one Great Big Good Thing about this otherwise off-kilter year.

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Please comment and share with me a book you’ve enjoyed recently.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A beautiful memoir in verse, tracing Woodson’s life from birth (legend has it that the Woodsons are descendants of Thomas Jefferson) to adulthood. Remarkably, she has dyslexia and still words fascinate her and help her find her place in the world – from her earliest days of learning to write a “J,” to toting around a composition book, to discovering people like her in “easy” picture books, to memorizing stories because they flow like air in her lungs, to writing her own stories. It took me a while to read as I chewed the poetry in small bites.

“I want to catch words one day. I want to hold them
then blow gently,
watch them float
right out of my hands.”

“How can I explain to anyone that stories
are like air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out
over and over again.”

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pete: “It’s just rock ‘n’ roll. None of this really matters.”

At first I agreed with Pete. This whole book is rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of drama over nothing. But it’s entertaining, and of course it’s about people – their dreams and relationships and motivations. And in the end, I loved them.

Billy (about Daisy): “She had written something that felt like I could have written it, except I knew I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that. Which is what we all want from art, isn’t it? When someone pins down something that feels like it lives inside us? Take a piece of your heart out and shows it to you? It’s like they are introducing you to a part of yourself.”

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Clever, entertaining, weird. But problematic. Set in 1950’s Mexico, the language reads too contemporary and I found that jarring. Somewhat predictable, I anticipated half of the reason for the drama early on. And I’m not convinced about the relationship at the end.

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the unique misfit-ness of the characters – lonely deaf girl, shy Filipino boy, spiritualist girl with sidekick young sister, and the stereotypical bully (with enough backstory to make him sympathetic). And Filipino grandma with dream-insight and ancient tales that bear on reality.

But I wanted more. It was okay, but not what I typically expect from Newbery.

“Crying is good for the soul,” said Ruby softly. “It means something needs to be released. And if you don’t release the something, it just weighs you down until you can hardly move.”


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3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series on anxiety. Read part 1 here.

Let’s jump right in. Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in dealing with anxiety:

Routines
The pandemic taught me that I rely on imposed routines. When all normal routines vanished, it took me a while to find my way back to some kind of order. It hasn’t been easy, but intentionally developing consistent blocks of time for consistent activities helps. I also switch up my seating: writing in my recliner in the morning or at the patio bistro table in the afternoon, for example. I can’t control a lot, but I can control how I structure my days.

Well, mostly. Let’s be honest: sometimes life happens and even my own plans go down the drain…causing anxiety. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the mess, and move on, asking What’s my next right step?

Also, adding a touch of ritual to the routine, like a favorite mug within reach during my morning writing or lighting a scented candle during my evening reading, lends whimsy or beauty to the occasion.

Outlets
We need healthy ways to get out the Big Feels. When I wasn’t sleeping, exercise felt hard but also eventually helped me sleep better. Getting outdoors is especially important when exercise has been the only regular reason to leave home. Long brisk walks, running occasional stretches, and yoga locate me firmly in my body and help me feel healthy and strong. I can’t stand “stretching,” but call it “yoga” and I’m in; whatever works! I’m using the Down Dog app and love that it’s fully customizable to what I need.

When I over-exercised and injured myself, I doubled-down on writing. Every day I type fast and furious for 20 minutes, dumping on a document no one but me will ever read. Putting words to what life looks like and how I feel about it gets it out.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m reading more than ever to keep my mind occupied with something beyond me. I’d also like to create more art or put together some photo albums, but I’m wary of pandemic productivity pressure, of comparing what I know of myself to what I see in someone else (especially since what I can see are their curated social media posts); I will get to those things when the time feels right for me.

Interestingly, a synonym for outlet is safety valve, and these regular practices combine to help me feel safer.

Be
I tend to live in my head, either in the past or the future, so it’s always a challenge to be here now. But when anxiety grips me I need to do something – noticing the feelings in my body, walking away and taking intentional deep breaths, stretching – anything that healthfully disengages the immediate cause for panic helps. I also capture a few things each day for which I’m grateful; I have a journal specifically for that purpose.

One recommended way to ground yourself is the 54321 method; this hasn’t been as helpful for me, but naming my feelings and putting them in the clouds that gently drift away has – I may have a cloudy hour or even a few cloudy days, but eventually the sun will shine again.

If you’re a reader, I recommend Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Let it RAIN: Recognize your feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in your body, and Nurture your inner self. She writes that RAIN “awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.” As a Christian, it’s a course on prayer I didn’t get at church. (Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Boundaries
I fell hard down the social media rabbit hole and my scrapes hurt. At first it made sense since a) it was a way to connect when we were all stuck at home and b) everyone had a different news source to share.

But alongside “news” I saw pictures of friends not taking things seriously and posts encouraging “you do you” individualism rather than “let’s all give a little for the common good.” I saw conspiracy theories and rants of many colors. I had to set radical limits.

And since the world is a wee bit scary right now, and everyone seems to be angry about something (I feel others’ emotions so hot they burn), when we can’t easily gather and seeing even a few people feels emotionally risky, I’m resigned to staying home as much as possible for as long as necessary.

To stay connected, I’ve started reaching out by mail; a note in the mailbox brightens someone’s day and often they respond with a text or email that brightens mine. Yes, I could call, but I like the phone less. Don’t even ask me to Facetime; I’ll Zoom only if it’s essential to you.

Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, and my triggers will be different from yours. I’m paying attention to how I feel and giving myself permission to set the boundaries I need. Sometimes I feel guilty – everyone else can [fill in the blank], so why can’t I? – and I’m working hard to let that go. I’m not everyone else; I get to make my own rules.

Love
Jesus loves me, this I know… The fact that I’m dealing with anxiety absolutely does not invalidate my faith. God still reigns in heaven, and here on earth I’m having a rough go. Yes, I pray, and yes, I can pray while engaged in self-care practices.

My family has managed to balance time together with sufficient alone time even in our small home. I’m grateful for the support and joy they add to my life. But I can’t expect them to shoulder my burdens continually. I have to do this work myself.

I’ve been reading about anxiety and self-care. I have saved so many images to my camera roll that remind me to breathe, to be gentle, to tell myself a better story. I’ve asked myself what someone who loves themselves would do, and I’ve spoken to myself the loving words I’d speak to a hurting friend.

None of this is rocket science, and honestly, none of these approaches work on their own or all the time. So far I haven’t been able to banish anxiety from my life; this has become my new normal and I expect I’ll continue learning how to be me – and how to be kind to this version of myself – for the rest of my life.

What works for you? I’d like to know. And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share. We’re in this together.