On my daily dog walks, I’ve been keeping an eye on a budding and blooming bush in a neighbor’s front yard. It first caught my attention when I stepped past it to get a closer look at a small garden angel. Perched on a low rock wall on a grey winter day, this lonely sentinel appeared to watch for small eruptions of God’s beauty. Its blank statue-stare aimed directly at the bush.
As days and weeks have passed, I wondered if a white capsule enclosed the flower buds before they exploded red. Now in full bloom, this bush has branches of red flowers and more branches of white. The red flowers opened first. The white flowers face the street. Captivating.
This bush makes me think of my two sons. Born of the same root stalk, if you will, they displayed different colors from birth. One exudes vibrant energy while the other whispers witticisms. One moves incessantly; the other sits still. One makes his presence known in every space; the other quietly observes. One follows his fascination into the natural world while the other explores the world within.
This bush reminds me that each son embodies different characteristics inherited, or learned, from his mama. One has my drama and my wonder in the presence of beauty. The other has my cozy-comfortable content-at-home-ness and my compassionate desire to serve others well. Of course they are each uniquely their own person, created in God’s good image, shining forth facets of God’s beauty flashing off their directional mirrors.
This bush causes me to consider that we all contain colors we bloom naturally, colors that explain and express who we are, colors we most easily manifest to the world. We likely also hold other colors, hues that for one reason or another we stifle. I am drawn to shades of blue and green, a calming ocean palette, and occasionally I want to sashay forth in wildly hot pink – not just in my wardrobe but in my laughter. In the things I do that cause me to bubble with laughter.
We are not all one thing or another. We grow. We graft in new experiences, people, thoughts and feelings. We change, in time, with love. As humans, we have freedom – in love, God gives us freedom – to bloom in a full spectrum of colors. Honor the color palette with which you began, but don’t let it define you – or confine you – for all time. If you feel like waving a branch of flowers in a different color, wave wildly. I can’t wait to see. I promise to wave back.
Do you always finish reading the books you start? I read three chapters of Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane – almost word-for-word the one episode of the Netflix series I watched – and returned it to the library. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the show I’d have stuck with the book, but I didn’t want to invest hours into reading about three decades of an unhealthy friendship. Then again, I finished reading two novels this month, both of which were okay, not great.
Good thing I had two fantastic books of prayer to balance it out. Brian Doyle’s A Book of Uncommon Prayer wins my favorite for this month, just by the width of the wild hair that tickled me, causing me to laugh out loud at his respectful sense of humor in prayer. Couldn’t we all use some humor in prayer?
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
My big takeaways: everyone and everything is far more connected than we take time to recognize, and antiracist policy will be the key to making a better world. I wanted to give this a higher rating, except – sometimes Kendi runs away with his words in a way that sounds overly clever, and sometimes the weaving of his personal story with his research feels forced.
“Incorrect conceptions of race as a social construct (as opposed to a power of construct), of racial history as a singular march of racial progress (as opposed to a duel of antiracist and racist progress), of the race problem as rooted in ignorance and hate (as opposed to powerful self-interest)–all come together to produce solutions bound to fail.”
“The history of racist ideas is the history of powerful policymakers erecting racist policies out of self-interest, then producing racist ideas to defend and rationalize the inequitable effects of their policies, while everyday people consume those racist ideas, which in turn sparks ignorance and hate. Treating ignorance and hate and expecting racism to shrink suddenly seemed like treating a cancer patient’s symptoms and expecting the tumors to shrink.”
A friend recommended this book, and I used it as my Sunday meditation readings over the last month. I appreciate that Doyle turns his lens every which way as an appropriate occasion for prayer – to people he knows, or sees, or admires, or doesn’t even like; to hot showers and little brown birds, newts and cell phones; to the Church, and nuns, and Osama bin Laden; to writers, editors, and proofreaders; to sunny and rainy days. I also really appreciated his metaphors for God: Generosity, Designer, Coherence, Breath, Light, Bus Driver, Boss, Publisher, Band Manager, Imagination.
“Influenza delle stelle [means] the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. … I’d never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing.”
Timely, for certain, given that a novel about a global pandemic came out during another pandemic (& astonishing that Donoghue submitted final edits in March 2020 and publishers rushed the publication process, often as long as 2yrs, to just 4mos). And we’re still wrestling with bias issues related to gender and class. And politics and war.
The book is well written, but I didn’t like it. I kept turning pages much like I hit “next episode” on Netflix hospital shows, reading because it’s entertaining enough and I’m in it now. The last chapter contained a sensational twist that felt unnecessary, like it was added either for shock value or for contemporary relevance – neither justification made it necessary.
“Maybe all relationship journeys are messy and complicated in one way or another, products of two flawed people coming together to form a flawed but, one hopes, stronger union.”
I chose this book because I hoped for a light before-bed read. Sadly, my favorite part was the pop culture references early on – TV shows and fashion trends that set the scene. The relationship issues were long and winding, frustrating and eventually predictable. Note: many reviews I read felt that Giffin made light of the 9/11 tragedy and profited from the suffering of others. While it didn’t bother me as I read, their perspective clearly has merit.
A brave, bold, beautiful book containing prayers – leading and worshipful, gentle and prophetic – and meditations on prayer. This book won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will quench the spiritual thirst of anyone who wonders if prayer is still for them. Yes, prayer is for you – because God is for you, always. In the introduction Sarah prays for this book: “May it be hope for the grieving, tenderness for the hurting, challenge for the comfortable, a kick in the ass for the lethargic, a permission slip allowing rest for the overwhelmed, an anointing for the work ahead, and a sanctuary.” I finished reading the last prayer Sunday and started again from the beginning Monday…
As much as I love books, I don’t often post cover pictures. Partly because I’ve been reading on my Kindle, and it’s difficult to take a picture of a digital bookstack. And partly because I don’t post until I’m done reading and know what I want to say about the book(s).
However, I have no hesitation recommending these books, my spiritual reading during Lent. They’ll be my Lenten companions at least until I finish them and have to find new book friends for the journey – the three in the middle aren’t dated, so I’m plowing my way through them.
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
Bottom to top: Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne – This will be an all-year book for me. I started reading it last year when the pandemic shuttered in-person church and it’s been a welcome addition to my morning routine.
Native by Kaitlin Curtice – I heard her interviewed online and before it was over I’d ordered the book, the story of a young woman raised between Christian and Indigenous faith and culture and how she is coming to terms with all aspects of her identity.
Dakotaby Kathleen Norris – I picked this book from the suggested reading list for a writing class I’m taking since I already had it in my bookcase, unread. Some chapters have been more compelling than others (I may drive through, but this book has convinced me that I have no intention of ever living in the Dakotas), but the unintentional conversation between Native and Dakota, both spiritual autobiographies tied to the land in middle America, has been interesting.
A Rhythm of Prayer, edited by Sarah Bessey – As with my choice of Common Prayer, I’m finding myself drawn to praying written prayers, sharing in “the prayers of the people” during a time when gathering with people has become fraught.
Where the Eye Alights by Marilyn McEntyre – That writing class I’m taking? Taught by this author! This lovely book offers a meditation for each day of Lent that I am savoring like one melty square of dark chocolate oozing goodness into my whole being.
Three of the stack are my morning reading, Native and Dakota are my afternoon reading, and I sip on a cup of tea and a novel before bed.
Do you have different books for different times of day? For different seasons?
“…Lent is a speed bump in the church year, inviting us into reflection, confession, and prayer as we approach Holy Week and Easter, a time when we remember the profound costliness of God’s abundant love for us.” –Susan Phillips, PhD, Executive Director of New College Berkeley
I love the image of Lent, the 40 days before Easter (Sundays not included), as a speed bump. Even in this strange pandemic time when I go nowhere to do nothing and see no one, apparently I’ve still managed to speed my life along and oh wow here comes Lent and – wham – I’ve hit it too fast. I need to slow down. Lent will help.
Often Lent involves giving something up (chocolate) or taking something on (acts of service) as a way of identifying with Jesus as he journeyed toward his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Yet I’m already daily working my habit tracker, and let’s be honest, this has been an unusual year to say the least. Which calls for an unusual response.
Last week when I encountered a list of words related to purpose in writing, three leaped off the page: Explore. Play. Practice. They get along well together, and I believe I will enjoy watching them frolic in the long green grass of this Lenten season.
I want to Explore. To strike out on an expedition. To take twisty-turning side roads and unexpected paths in the deep forest. At one time I might have felt afraid, but I’m leaving timidity behind. I have confidence that my soul will guide me with yes or no responses along the way. I welcome everything, everyone, every occasion I encounter today, because I trust it will be for my healing.
I’d like to say I’m packing light, but that’s not true. Even if my backpack contains little more than snacks, a sweatshirt, and a flashlight, my head and heart are overstuffed. That’s part of the point, of course: I need to get lost to be found. To empty myself and create space for what may come.
Exploration will tuck new tools into my backpack I didn’t know I’d need. It will fill my eyes with breathtaking sights I could only extrapolate from travel books, imagination, and dreams. It will fill my heart with experiences that amplify my joy. I will encounter prophets and teachers, leaders and fellow pilgrims who swell my love to overflow. I may come home weary and changed. I expect to come home grateful.
I want to Play, and I’ve traveled enough to know that exploration can be hard work and playful, too. In my tendency toward contemplation, I naturally find myself alone, deep in thought, immersed in words – mine or others as I move between writing and reading. It can get a little heavy, and my mental muscles grow weary as my physical muscles grow itchy from sitting too long in our overstuffed recliner.
I need playful movement. I want to skip along new trails, and also to crouch low and watch the fascinating tiny creatures I’d miss otherwise. Maybe I’ll pull out the crayons and draw as I observe them. Maybe I’ll journal with colored pencils. Maybe we’ll find a deck of cards and play together, right there in the woods.
After all, I am walking toward Good Friday, not racing. There’s no rush. I need to move slow enough to remember Jesus, my companion. To walk hand-in-hand, noticing what he points out about this lovely world he made, about my life in this time, about his love for me. What’s coming will be devastating, though not paralyzing: Sunday always comes after Friday; Easter always follows Good Friday. Joy in the morning means I can play joyfully now.
I want to Practice. When I first read Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in the early 1990s, it was life-changing. Foster advocates for ordinary followers of Jesus, not just spiritual giants, to engage everyday disciplines that help them connect with Jesus and add joy to life in the midst of laundry and lawn-mowing. Disciplines such as meditation and study, simplicity and solitude, confession and celebration. I became something of a spiritual discipline junky, and as I type those words I’m not sure how to feel about being addicted to paths that connect me to God… Is that healthy addiction, or inappropriate metaphor?
Yet these days I find myself substituting “practice” for “discipline.” Discipline feels exacting, harsh, rigid. When I practice yoga, I listen to what my body needs. Some days parts of me feel strong or wobbly, and tomorrow will be different. Some days, certain poses require modification because I can’t bend that way; it hurts, I need props, gentleness, maybe a slight wiggle to ease into place. It’s a practice, not a perfection. And it’s my practice, not up for comparison with others. It’s communal and personal, imperfect and improving. As with physical practice, so goes spiritual practice. Even the wobbles find acceptance so long as I keep at it. The practice itself imparts grace.
I can’t tell you today, on this Ash Wednesday as Lent begins, what this season will hold. I will read and write for sure. I will engage solitude and time with others. It may look a lot like life in any other season. I can tell you, however, that I will listen for whispers of invitation to Explore Playful Practice and follow where they lead.
I awoke this morning from a terrible, vivid dream. Obviously, the dream’s dystopian events are fictional, but the feelings it evoked linger like creepy-tingling nightmarish fog fingers from a supernatural horror movie.
I know exactly what the dream meant: I feel like I’m failing. I feel helpless to do anything more or differently than we’re already doing, and all our efforts might not be enough.
After years of being told I’m too sensitive, I’ve come to recognize my sensitivity as a gift. I’ve learned to trust my gut. So while the dream may have been awful, in the waking light I hear what it said: this particular struggle is causing an inordinate amount of stress.
I’m not a failure, and I could slough off the bad dream with the bed covers. Yet I’m choosing to pay attention. To study this feeling, turning it this way and that as I examine it from new angles. I’m leaning in to receive any wise whispers while rejecting any shaming nonsense.
Here’s a neat trick: while I refuse the shame-label “Failure!” I’m actually a fan of failure itself. To have failed means to have taken a risk that didn’t play out as you’d hoped. Failure means you’ve tried – try, try again. The only way to move forward is to try new things, and as you try things you’ve never done before, you will most likely be bad before you get better. Beginners are meant to be bad, and it’s always worth it to be a beginner if you find joy in the process. Try, fail, try again, fail again, get back up… Persistence is the name of the game.
Our immediate next right step meant taking the dogs for a long stroll on a beautiful morning. Along the way, I blurted thoughts related to the dream and asked for my husband’s input. Thankfully, he gets it. He shares my frustrations and feels similarly stymied. Since the struggle itself won’t disappear anytime soon, at least we’re in it together.
A couple blocks from our return home, we encountered a neighbor we’re friendly with but don’t know well. And wouldn’t you know, during our brief chat she offered a balm-compliment that soothed our sore spot. A lovely little grace gift.
I don’t know your struggles, just as you don’t know the specifics of mine. But I know that so long as we’re breathing we have work to do. I, too, occasionally need some spiritual ibuprofen to soothe the aches and pains caused by the heavy lifting life requires. I can make a solid guess that, so long as you’ve picked up the tools you need for today, you haven’t given up. You are not a failure. And I’m cheering you on.
It rarely happens, but my words have stopped flowing. Not entirely, as I have experienced sudden word-gushes that burst in one direction or another. But the regular flow of words that lands in daily 20 minute journaling sessions and twice-weekly blog posts and daily social media posts…that flow has dammed up, leaving only trickles seeping into the muddy river bed.
For the last year-ish, I have been writing and editing a book. Recently, I have been crafting a book proposal that leads me to make more edits. I have written a guest blog post (coming soon) and a couple of articles that I’ve submitted to magazines; one was rejected (still a win, as I heard back from an actual editor that I was on the right track), the other is pending. I have joined two small writing groups in which we offer mutual encouragement and editorial suggestions, and I am taking another writing class for the next six weeks. All good for my writing and my soul, and would be better yet if I could actually get down to writing.
I suspect I’m distracted, so many good word-related options before me that I’m not sure where to start. Or the energy of being in editorial mode has redirected the flow. Or I may be suffering from a minor case of burn out. In any case, I hope it’s temporary.
I wonder: might you, dear readers, help me unbrick the dam and let loose my words?
What would you like to read? How might I serve you with my writing?
I write about a variety of topics on this blog. I’ll list a few, and some questions, and I welcome your questions.
Christian faith & practice. Everything I am and do starts with my love for Jesus. While Christianity might be my heart’s first language, I try to write in such a way that if you are new to faith or even wary of Christian faith, you will still find encouragement here. Something of a misfit in any circle, I’m in a particularly misfitted stretch of my spiritual journey, a place I never anticipated being. Still, my lifetime of faith whispers that I might be in this place so that, now or later, I will be able to guide others on similar paths.
Health & wellness. I am a vegetarian (leaning vegan-ish). I walk my dogs every day. I’m big on encouragement – Yay, YOU! – and self-care, including taking consistent, gentle care of our whole beings: physical, mental, spiritual, and social. I believe we have to get past the societal taboos surrounding mental health issues in order to be well and love one another well. Gratitude, the pursuit of joy, and time outdoors keep me grounded. And all of this flows from my belief that God created us and everything we see. That life is a gift we get to unwrap and enjoy every single day. That we have the responsibility to care not just for our own wellness, but for the wellness of others, including our planet.
Creativity. Creativity could fall under health & wellness since I consider it essential for my self-care, but I write about it enough to make it its own category. Clearly, I create through writing. I also read voraciously, indulging in others’ storytelling gifts. Not an “artist,” I cling to the belief that creativity is good for everybody. That we all have an inner child who longs to express herself. That the product matters less than the process. That creative play adds joyful luster to our lives. Again, my emphasis on creativity finds its source in honoring the Creator.
Alright, your turn: have these topics and questions stirred anything up for you? What questions do you have? Jot them in the comments below or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.
I am not a sports enthusiast. In general, the only sports I enjoy enough to sit through fall in this order: any sport my kids play (especially rugby), the Olympics (mostly for the personal interest stories), World Cup soccer (when we spent a summer in Costa Rica), and figure skating (because grace). Football died for me when my son suffered a severe concussion in high school, and again when the varsity coach shamed him – and asked his players to carry on the shaming – when his doctor advised that he could no longer play. No youth sport is worth damage to a young person’s brain, and no coach ought to shame a player for prioritizing his health.
Tomorrow is the Super Bowl and I won’t be watching, though it will be on in my house. Instead I will cook fun snacks, like buffalo cauliflower wings and deviled potatoes. I will pop in for commercials and the halftime show.
I have an idea for you, though. As you’re shopping for your own Super Bowl munchies, how about throwing some extra items in the cart? You could add some cans of soup (soup-er bowl?) or other nonperishable foods. And then donate those items to organizations that meet the needs of our more vulnerable neighbors.
Or you could add some toiletries. During the pandemic, our local Rescue Mission has doubled the number of clients it serves. In response, our church invited the entire community to create hygiene kits for the rescue mission’s clients.
We got the whole family involved. My husband shopped, and the kids and I created Valentine’s cards, made an assembly line, and filled gallon-sized Ziploc bags with items such as: soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, Band-Aids, face mask, hand sanitizer, shampoo and conditioner, comb, socks, a note of encouragement, and love.
Most of our items came from Dollar Tree with the addition of socks and a box of face masks (five wrapped packages of ten masks) purchased at Costco. Not including the shopping, we were all done in less than 20 minutes. We estimate the total cost to create four hygiene kits at about $50. Less than half the cost to order a take-out dinner for our family, that’s $50 and 20 minutes well spent to provide new and necessary supplies for people who likely have been doing without.
Whether you’re watching the game or the commercials, by yourself, with your family, or with your pod, you could use the time to assemble hygiene kits for your local charity. The pandemic has increased needs around the world, so wherever you are, some organization would be glad to receive your efforts.
My reading year started strong with two non-fiction books that offer important, striking social criticism, both 5 stars in my opinion. I finished out the month with four novels, the best of which was a book I hadn’t expected to read (Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld).
What books have surprised you recently?
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
“…our simplistic definition of racism–as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals–engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem…”
This book is so clear, with so many applicable examples. If you’re open to self-examination, this book is a must.
Ask: Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true? How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics? How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making? Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see? Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?
“…alcohol is addictive to everyone. Yet we’ve created a separate disease called alcoholism and forced it upon the minority of the population who are willing to admit they can’t control their drinking, and because of that, we’ve focused on what’s wrong with those few humans rather than what’s wrong with our alcohol-centric culture or the substance itself.”
Eye-opening. Big Alcohol is guilty of marketing the way Big Tobacco is no longer allowed to because our society has fully bought into alcohol as a good thing, a proper and helpful – even healthy – way to unwind and celebrate. Society has blamed the victims rather than accepted appropriate responsibility. And AA, which obviously has helped many people, was created by and for white Protestant men; it has defined what alcohol abuse means, what those who abuse it look like, and it has become widely accepted as the only viable treatment option…even though it doesn’t take into account the real and different needs of marginalized people, including women.
This book takes on everything we think we know about alcohol and addiction recovery and turns it on its head in helpful, practical ways. It should be widely read beyond those who suspect they might have a drinking problem. Because almost everyone drinks, and many people have addiction issues in other areas – eating, bad relationships, technology, etc.
“It’s about the kind of love that doesn’t ask you to be anyone but who you are.”
That about sums up the theme of this book: love accepts us as we are. Good point, well told. But the book didn’t rock me like When You Reach Me.
Stead is a fantastic writer, so I wanted to like this book more than I did. I adore Bea, but her character also confused me. I wish the author had been clearer about the nature of Bea’s struggles – I think that would have helped readers identify with her and feel more empathy for her. Beyond her family, the adults surrounding Bea are total tools and that frustrated me. But I think this story will be helpful for young people living through anxiety, divorce, remarriage, and having a family that looks different from others.
“For the rest of her life, when asked to recall her earliest memory, Kate would remember watching [Peter] run around the side of his house with a red ball in his hand and already knowing his name.”
This multi-generational story of two families, beginning with two young men who meet in the NYC police academy, is chock-full of every family’s struggles while being completely unique. It’s pain-full and that alone took me two tries to get through. In the end it wants to tell us that we can survive most anything life throws at us. But if you’re reading for a fun, literary escape, this isn’t your book.
This gothic-styled book, haunting like a bad fever dream, is mostly just strange. The characters aren’t fully fleshed out. The events feel disjointed and like they should have meant more than they do. Even the climax, predictable as it was, I just didn’t care. All the while I kept thinking, “John got himself into this mess and he can just as easily extract himself.”
I didn’t expect to read this, but it was available when I was looking for something to fill the gap between other books. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, as I’ve felt hit-or-miss about Sittenfeld’s books. I’ve had mixed feelings about Hillary for years – pity, confusion, ambivalence, respect.
Up to a point, we know the general outlines of the narrative (I’ll admit it felt voyeuristic to read about Hillary and Bill, yet it served the author’s purpose of humanizing Hillary…). Sittenfeld’s interpretation of what might have happened if Hillary had left Bill takes interesting twists and turns and I couldn’t put it down. Mostly, she paints Hillary in a respectful light that creates empathy – for who she is personally and politically as she faces the particular challenges a would-be glass ceiling-shattering woman must.
“But as much as I wanted to be president, I wanted a woman to be president – I wanted this because women and girls were half the population and we deserved, as a basic human right and a means of ensuring justice, to be equally represented in our government…. Some presidents cared about improving the world, and all of them had egos; but none of them had run because they hoped to gain entry to the highest office of power on behalf of an entire gender. Yes, I was me, Hillary, but I also was a vessel and a proxy.”
Last year I set a goal to drink more water. I wobbled for a while before the habit took hold. Initially, my skinny water bottle needed to be filled 4 times each day to meet my goal and I kept losing track – was I on bottle #3 or #4?
I drink one full bottle before lunch, and another 1-2 after lunch. While making dinner, I switch bottles and fill it with spa water – we keep a pitcher of water in the fridge in which we soak fresh sliced lemons and ginger – and I top it off with a generous splash of unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Apparently, this concoction has a name: Switchel. It’s shocking in a good way, tart and refreshing. It provides a jolt of energy for my evening, as does the happy music I dance to during dinner prep.
After dinner, I finish up whatever’s left in either bottle, and end the day with herbal tea. Add in my morning coffee and evening tea, I’m drinking a gallon+ of water each day. I used to not like the taste of water. I drank coffee or soda, or sparkling or flavored water, anything but clean, clear water. Now I think it tastes great.
What tips do you have for staying hydrated?
One by one, she gingerly removed all the tomatoes from her salad. My eyes must have asked the question my manners wouldn’t, so she explained: she loves fresh-off-the-vine summer tomatoes so much that she can’t stand bland winter hothouse tomatoes.
I didn’t get it then, but having grown my own juicy-explosive sun-ripened tomatoes over the last few summers, I understand now. I no longer add tomatoes to my winter salads.
Seasonal produce = delicious!
Right now I can’t get enough of Cara Cara oranges. I eat them as snacks. Some nights instead of a salad alongside dinner, I slice up several and our family chows down. I put them in smoothies (pictured: golden wellness smoothie). I add them to salad (pictured: spinach and arugula with oranges, tangerines, chopped nuts, pomegranate seeds; before eating I dressed it with peanut sauce).
You can find lists of in-season produce here. What in-season fruits and veggies have you been enjoying? Any favorite recipes?
When I created a habit tracker for 2021, I decided to add or emphasize positive things in my life. I also recognized that I’d be more inclined to stick to the habit tracker itself if, in addition to new habits, I included habits I already had underway (i.e., hydration) and activities that add joy to my life. Writing and reading daily add joy to my life.
My best days almost always include both, lots of both, with variety. I write to understand how I think/feel. To hone my craft. To connect. For work. And I add joy to my writing by stretching myself in new ways, trying new prompts or styles.
I take a similar approach to reading. I read to nurture my soul. To educate myself. To travel the world and throughout history. To live vicariously through others’ stories. To develop empathy. I read for pleasure.
I have to shake things up. Of course there are times when I’m engrossed in a book I can’t put down. Or I get involved in a writing project that demands my focus. Still, my life flows better when I engage with an array of words; my writing flows better as a reflection.
As a child infinitely content to snuggle up with my nose in a book, I required endless encouragement to get outside. When my grandma asked for help trimming green beans, she sent me outdoors. I thought she didn’t want cut bean-ends flying about the kitchen. Not so, my mother explained. Norwegians believe we should be outdoors all the time, all year round. It’s a philosophy known as friluftsliv (free-lufts-liv).
I experienced it for myself when I visited family in Norway. We hiked and swam in rivers. We heard stories of children snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to school. When it rained, we bundled up and went outside anyway.
So I had to laugh when I woke up to pouring rain on the day I’d planned to post “Get Outside.” I also suspected that I could wait a little while. Even on the rainiest NorCal days, we generally get breaks between downpours. And we did.
Getting outside stimulates the senses. The crisp air felt invigorating, as did moving our bodies quickly to keep warm. The world smelled fresh-washed, like wearing clean pj’s in front of the lit fireplace. We heard flitting birds in the bushes and saw raindrops glistening on winter flowers. I didn’t open my mouth to taste the light raindrops that fell before we returned home, but I did anticipate pouring myself a warm drink.
Which leads me to another Norwegian word: once you’ve partaken in friluftsliv, you come home to koselig, the Norwegian version of the Danish hygge, or getting cozy-comfortable.
What’s your favorite way to spend time outdoors?
Gratitude is one of my favorite habits. I’ve kept a dedicated gratitude journal since January 2017. Most mornings I write at least three things from the previous day for which I can be grateful. I could do this in the evening before bed, but mornings work better for me.
To make this habit stick, I put my gratitude journal and planner next to the chair where I sit to sip my morning coffee. The convenience factor makes it more likely that I will pick up my journal. The reason I keep this habit on my habit tracker is to work on consistency, to record gratitude not just regularly but daily.
It’s such a simple thing to write three points of gratitude for each day. I try to make them unique, for example, not just another walk but the uniqueness of that walk, like the neighbors we greeted along the way. I’m often grateful for beauty that bursts through the days’ sameness, like the now-blooming tulips from the bulbs my husband purchased.
My next step: not checking my phone until I’ve written down my gratitude. Since gratitude is well on its way to being a daily habit, I bet I can piggyback phone-resistance to it and increase the likelihood of both.
What are you grateful for today? Or how could you increase the convenience factor to make a desired habit stick?
When stay-at-home orders last March yanked all routines out from under our feet, I fell hard. Which makes sense: as an Enneagram 4, my creative spirit both resists and requires routine. Any routine, even as simple as the imposed time structure around my son’s school day.
I don’t do transitions well – it takes me a while to settle into new routines as life offers them – and the pandemic presented an unprecedented transition. It took months for me to begin, gently, to get past anxiety-induced insomnia and eventually develop a routine for myself.
When Enneagram and Coffee suggested that my New Year’s affirmation should be “structure,” I recoiled. Someone else commented, “I didn’t expect to be attacked on IG this morning” and I had to laugh. Yes, I know I do better with structure, but the word sounds so hard-edged.
Always with my word play… I reject “structure.” I tolerate “routine.” I prefer “rhythm.” I adore “flow.”
Some years I have chosen a word to guide me, like beauty or creativity. Last year was exhausting and didn’t think I’d choose a word for 2021. And then forward stepped up, a potential antidote to 2020 – let’s move forward and not look back.
Morgan Harper Nichols posted an Instagram video of so many words and their definitions. She suggested people take a random screenshot and adopt that word for 2021. I played along, twice. My words? River, and Onward. Ooh, this word-lover coos, a nuanced version of forward.
The river flows onward. The river cannot backtrack. It flows in one direction, downhill toward the sea (oh, pour me toward the beach, yes please!).
Another river image that has been life-giving for me comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. She rejects the notion of having to “think up” creativity. Like trying to force a plant to grow, forcing creativity doesn’t work very well. Instead, she proposes that creativity flows like a river, and we reach in and catch the fish as they swim past. If we miss the fish it keeps moving, yet another will follow.
That image contains freedom and grace: I am surrounded by the beauty of a rushing river of creativity, filled with fish for me to catch. Each fish is an idea. I will catch some and miss others. The river will keep flowing, and there will always be more fish, more ideas to nourish my own creative flow.
So many months into this pandemic pause, I might actually be thriving within my routine. It’s gentle, life-giving, with just enough sign-posts and flexibility to keep me moving. Just enough rhythm to keep me dancing (a terrible dancer, I try to laugh and enjoy the movement). Enough bank-barriers and current to keep me flowing. When my routine gets up-ended, as it does occasionally, I fall out of sorts, an annoying indicator that most days my routine works for me. On those days, however, I’ve wrapped around a rock, I’m out of flow, and I need to peel myself off this obstacle to get going again.
Forward wasn’t the right word. Because, indeed, 2020 yielded important lessons I ought to hold close. Perhaps they will serve as the life preserver, or better yet the raft, supporting me through the flow of 2021.
This is Day 6 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Rhythm. Follow my Instagram for more.