These Miraculous Days

Some days are picture perfect–big and bright, colorfully nuanced, blooming like a show-offy prize-winning rose.

Those are the days when you wake three minutes before the alarm, energetic and enthusiastic to take on whatever-may-come. The days when the sunlight glints on every surface and the temperature is just right, not too warm or too chill. The days when one steaming mug of coffee or bone China cup of Darjeeling is all it takes to get you going and the whole grain toast pops up at exactly your preferred degree of doneness. The days when even your dog keeps in perfect rhythm with your step the whole jog around the block, foreshadowing good things to come.

Those are the days when your clothes don’t need ironing and they fit better than the last time you wore them and the color of your blouse enhances the rosy blush in your cheeks. When you catch every green light on your way and everyone you pass smiles and even the conflict you knew to anticipate dissolves into nothingness. When you find an unexpected check in the mail alongside the oh-so-fun Etsy package you ordered as a birthday gift for your neighbor, and your kids have managed to prepare a simple meal that you don’t have to salvage.

Those days are miracles. You fall into bed three minutes before bedtime and breathe in and out a deeply contented sigh, “Miraculous.”

Other days are simpler, quieter, like an uncomplicated autumn yellow chrysanthemum.

Those days you might wake up with the alarm. You might also hit snooze a time or two. You down two mugs of coffee and put on an extra layer before leashing the dog who yanks hard toward every other bush, which makes you slightly late so that you have to cut your route short.

Those are the days when you try on three outfits before settling on the one that needs ironing but to save time you toss it in the dryer on the “wrinkle release” setting while you take an extra slurp of coffee. The toast doesn’t exactly burn, but it’s disappointing–and you know life is too short for disappointing toast–so you chunk it in with the dog’s food and grab a yogurt cup instead.

Those are the days when, like your dog peeing on every other bush, you hit every other red light. When your preoccupied boss doesn’t smile but that might not mean anything and your work requires more concentrated effort yet you find yourself daydreaming out the window while the warm breeze tosses the leaves like fun-size candy on Halloween. When the mailbox contains bills and political ads and the kids are squabbling and no one can agree on what you should prepare for dinner.

Those ordinary days aren’t bad. They are most days, typical, unexceptional, average days…and they’re still miraculous.

How are you? No, really…

How are you? she asks, a simple question requiring an easy answer. But do we really have a simple answer?

I could tell her I’m tired, weary in my bones and soul. So weary that sleep plays hide and seek through the dark hours, slipping through my grasp each time I think I’ve caught it. And I understand, of course, that hide and seek was always more fun to play after dark. Still, I do all the right things: I go to bed at what they call a reasonable hour with a book soothing, not scintillating. I read until my eyes flicker and then, ready to slide down sloping fatigue into sleep, I turn out the lights. Timed to the flick of the light switch, my eyes snap open, staring into the dark interior of my sleep mask, which I now shove onto my forehead because I am instantly wide awake.

I could tell her I’m tired because, on those rare nights when I less eventfully hop aboard the sleep train, when its chugga-chugga forward motion lulls me into slumber and its choo-choo doesn’t rouse me, it speeds ahead of schedule to reach its destination before I’m rested. Or it breaks down with a screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks as I am knocked meanly backward into my seat, clutching the arm rests for dear waking life, desperate for the slow-and-steady rhythm of safe passage to morning.

I could tell her I’m tired from my nightly boxing match versus my comforter, not doing its comforting job–I should spitefully call it “duvet,” or less fancy and more plain-spoken “bedspread,” or even “hot mess” except that more accurately describes me–as I fling my limbs free from the tangles of its stranglehold in search of the air flow from the oscillating fan. Until my foot or knee or elbow ice over and I yank them back to center, only to fight another round, and another, the fight cycle as endless as the fan, and the minutes on the clock, oscillating through the hours of the night.

I could tell her I’m tired from not sleeping because I’m a middle-aged hormonal woman. We could shrug and laugh and oh well meshuggenah at this sleeplessness. I could also explain that my anxious mind spins all night long through the circles of aching grief hell from the losses we have suffered this year, the loss of jobs, the loss of freedoms to be out and about at the theatres and the malls and the concerts and the parties, gathering with friends and family in countless numbers since the more the merrier was always the open invitation. The loss of travel, of vacations planned and cancelled. The loss of so much that added fun and celebration and punctuated the mundane, while the fatigue mounts from trying and flailing to sprinkle sparkle over days that recur with such similarity that we have lost the days of the week, the weeks of the month, the months of the year: I keep opening my calendar-planner to March, confused…

Pause: Let us now pause to mourn the colossal loss of the freedom to grieve through the rituals that allow and support and move us through grief. We have lost the freedom to be with our loved ones who are sick and dying; we have said our goodbyes in this life through plate-glass windows and computer screens. We have lost the freedom to hold memorial services and graveside gatherings. We have lost the freedom to gather in remembrance, for Memorial Day, 9/11, and Veteran’s Day is coming right up. We have lost, and perhaps just recently regained while perhaps to lose again, the opportunity to worship together in person, to worship and praise and lament and just be in process in this moment, side-by-side, right now.

I could tell her I’m tired from the heartbreaking loss of friendships because apparently some friends were truly occasional acquaintances and, without our regular joyful meetings in our ordinary joy-filled places, the colorful palette of our once-vibrant conversations dried, faded, flaked in the plein air breeze of months we thought would be weeks, leaving behind a faintly-hued shadow I hold tight as a memento. My gut aches and my soul quakes from the loss of friends who turned toward a different view from our place on the trail and wandered away to hike with others, new friends or those who share similarly-firm beliefs that leave us behind in the dust wondering how we could have seen things so differently when we once paced so steadily shoulder-to-shoulder?

I could tell her I’m tired of listening to and, in turn, shielding myself from the spits of anger bubbling and boiling in almost every cauldron-conversation, in person, online, on screen. The news I choose to read because the vitriol voices need no additional amplification. The pummeling lies that beat us to dust-level to sift through more and more foolishness piled up in more and more sources until, muscles sore from shoveling piles and digging mine deep, we strike a vein of truth: Eureka! Only to recognize that we will need to repeat the process, digging, sifting, digging, rinsing, hi ho hi ho, in search of diamonds and precious gems and 24 karat gold while smacking fool’s gold from foolish fingers.

I could tell her I’m tired of the ear-piecing voices that puncture the present to “get back to normal” ASAP, right this g’damn minute if not yesterday or last week already, that the restrictions meant as safeguards against which many fought and didn’t follow ever, you do you American individualism at its worst, be lifted for everyone everywhere. That theatres and malls and concerts and parties roar back to life, that workplaces open and freeways and BART trains fill up as commuters resume their daily to-and-fro trudge. That schools for students of all ages open immediately.

I could tell her I’m tired because the pandemic has worn me out, too. Just like everyone else, I’m tired of making all the meals for all the people and washing all the dishes and planning all the menus so we can stagger all the shopping trips or find ourselves again, unintentionally, offering the pet rabbit or the compost heap the produce that has gone off before we got to it. I’m tired of competing in the Pandemic WiFi Olympics with everyone under our roof and in our neighborhood on Zoom work and Zoom school all the freaking hi ho hi ho day long.

I could tell her I’m especially oh so tired of monitoring online school and emailing teachers and skirting parents who want me to agree with them, though I don’t and I can’t for the sake of my individual and particular struggling child, who likely represents more children than I or we know personally. The screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks sting my ears and burn my brain as I realize that this time I’m the one throwing the brakes and I’m the one throwing my body over my child tied to the tracks as the train hurtles toward us… We’ve finally committed and settled in to our place on this track, as we thought required and necessary, and now that we’re here we discover wide-eyed that we’re stuck and left behind while others nimbly switch tracks and the train set in motion by life and pandemic and school board and caution and all those squeaky wheels might actually mow us down.

I could tell her I’m just as tired as every other K-12 parent from empathizing with the myriad losses my son has and will experience, losses common to all our kids, the games and sports practices and dances and lunchtime rallies and spirit days and concerts and plays and gallery shows and in-class support and Scouts and youth groups and parties and budding romances and old-fashioned face-to-face friendship and, oh yeah, Halloween which shouldn’t but probably will happen anyway in 2020, as this strange school year in this strange pandemic year unfolds bit by bit, a map we didn’t chart and don’t know how to follow toward a destination on which no one yet agrees.

I could tell her I’m tired of feeling anxious about a virus we can’t see and don’t understand for which there isn’t yet a vaccine–and patients in vaccine trials keep getting sick which halts vaccine trials and maintains our place in this holding pattern. I’m tired of having to think so intentionally about how to do differently all the things that once filled our days with normalcy, like a quick grocery trip on the way home from a day at the office to pick up a fresh ciabatta loaf so we can make a Tuscan pressed sandwich for dinner tonight with the fragrant basil and glorious tomatoes growing in our garden.

I could tell her I’m tired and shattered for feeling suspicious of neighbors and friends, those same shrill voices who insist that society and schools reopen, and yet I’ve heard about their summer vacations, multiple trips in fact while so many of us followed the suggested guidelines and stayed home, and I’ve seen their pictures of mask-less hugs gathered in tight for the camera on those vacations or at those restaurants that posted policies of family-only seating. Who to trust?

I want schools to open, safely. I want on-site work to resume, safely. I want stores and theatres to open, safely. I want to see friends and neighbors and family and colleagues, safely. I want “normal” life, whatever that ever meant, to resume, or our “new normal” to commence…safely.

How are you? she asks.

Tired, grieving, frustrated, sad, lonely, I could say.

Existentially and honestly, I could also answer: I am loved, safe, housed and fed, unintentionally funny yet funny nonetheless, smart and talented and engaged, creative and creatively fulfilled, thoughtful and kind and loving.

Grateful, I could say. I am all of this, and also grateful.

How are you?

Quirky and Wonder-full, YOU are the Main Character in Your Story

Think about some of your favorite TV or movie characters. What idiosyncrasies do they possess? How are they uniquely quirky? Like Moira Rose’s voice (Schitt’s Creek). Or Barney Stinson’s suits (How I Met Your Mother). Or Sheldon’s bathroom schedule (The Big Bang Theory). Or Phoebe’s off-key singing voice wailing: “Smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you?” (Friends).

What makes them weird is also what makes them funny, memorable, lovable. They are each their own character. They are eccentrically one of a kind.

And so are you.

Sometimes that inner critic’s grumpamonky voice whispers demonically at me about my quirks except instead of calling them “quirks,” which sounds fun and individual, it calls them “freakish” or “bizarre” or “cringe-worthy.” It asks why I’m so awkward, why I can’t fit in better, why I have to stand out…the thumb is sore because it got whacked with a hammer and do I really want to get hurt? Those stupid, incessant whispers make me want to shrink myself down or run and hide or steal Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

Fire the inner critic and embrace your awkward self. Wear your unconventional traits proudly like an outlandishly fun hat. Everyone smiles at the person wearing an outlandishly fun hat, but not everyone dares to wear one. Moira and Phoebe would wear the hat (Moira might call it a chapeau), and we would smile and love them for it.

Be your uniquely quirky and wonder-full self. You are filled with stardust and magic and miracles. Those things you sometimes wish weren’t part of you? Those are just more reasons for us to love you.

Cover image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Reading: September 2020

I anticipated that my reading would slow down as we progressed into fall. Helping my kiddo manage his school load, plus adding a grad-level writing class of my own, has meant less time devoted to whatever strikes my fancy.

However, there were also a couple of hits-and-misses that went back to the library, one forever (The Wedding Date) and one I might pick up again at a later date (Ask Again, Yes). And you’ll notice that of the five books I read this month, three I wasn’t sure about and yet enjoyed as I hung in there for the duration.

How do you decide when to stop and when to keep reading? Is there a book you’d recommend now that took more than one start to enjoy?

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

Rest in Power, RBG (3/15/33 – 9/18/20)

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute, fun, light. Plus girl power. Easy, entertaining reading.

Edited to say: I’m glad I started with this one. I didn’t realize this was #2 in a series, so I went back to read The Wedding Date…and promptly gave up because it had no plot.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan D. Chittister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So much wisdom! I first read this book more than a decade ago for a spiritual disciplines I took in seminary. I picked it up again since the pandemic erased my daily routines and I thought it could offer a much-needed perspective. Amazing that Benedict’s rule, written in sixth-century Italy to establish order among monastics, and Sister Joan’s meditations on it written 30 years ago, still have so much to say to life in 2020.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The early relationship between Lillian and Madison was so gross I almost gave up, classic rich-girl // poor-girl at boarding school nonsense; poor girl takes the fall and rich girl gets the good life she hasn’t worked for or deserved. But then, wow… I didn’t want this book to end.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What makes for a good fairy tale? And who deserves one?

This book grew on me. It’s light, fun, and culturally timely: a Black, queer girl growing into herself in a predominantly white Midwestern town. When I finished, I immediately texted the title to a friend I thought would enjoy it.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this one. It’s a fairly simple story, and the title character – at least at first glance – also seems a fairly simple guy. An Everyman, even a fool.

But it won the Pulitzer, so I suspected there had to be more to it. There is and, in the end, I loved Less – the character and the book.

Like this observation:

It is, after all, almost a miracle they are here. Not because they’ve survived the booze, the hashish, the migraines. Not that at all. It’s that they’ve survived everything in life, humiliations and disappointments and heartaches and missed opportunities, bad dads and bad jobs and bad sex and bad drugs, all the trips and mistakes and face-plants of life, to have made it to fifty and to have made it here: to this frosted-cake landscape, these mountains of gold, the little table they can now see sitting on the dune, set with olives and pita and glasses and wine chilling on ice, with the sun waiting more patiently than any camel for their arrival.

And each of these descriptions:

We all recognize grief in moments that should be celebrations; it is the salt in the pudding.

He looks up at a closed-circuit television to follow the fleeting romances between flights and gates…

It was nothing like he expected, the sun flirting with him among the trees and houses; the driver speeding along a crumbling road alongside which trash was piled as if washed there (and what first looked like a beach beside a river turned out to be an accretion of a million plastic bags, as a coral reef is an accretion of a million tiny animals); the endless series of shops, as if made from one continuous concrete barrier…

The boat ride is half an hour, during which Less sees leaping dolphins and flying fish skipping like stones over the water, as well as the floating mane of a jellyfish. He recalls an aquarium he visited as a boy, where, after enjoying a sea turtle that swam breaststroke like a dotty old aunt, he encountered a jellyfish, a pink frothing brainless negligeed monster pulsing in the water, and thought with a sob: We are not in this together.

He sees, in the lines around her mouth, the shadow of the smile all widows wear in private.

He is shown to a car as small, bland, and white as a hospital dessert…
…he takes the wheel of what basically feels like an enameled toaster…

View all my reviews

30 Day Gospels: An Invitation

If [the things Jesus did] were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books. –John 21:25, The Message

Which book has been most influential in your life?

I’m a BIG reader and I can recommend any number of books, classic and contemporary, fiction and non. But for me, the “most influential” is, was, and always will be: The Bible.

The Bible, Genesis through Revelation, has been my source book, telling me who I am, who God is, and how I fit in this world. It has been my go-to for wisdom, not “What should I do today?” but “How should I live?”

The Bible has been my story book, my children’s story book, my history book, text book, and reference book. At times I have neglected the Bible – frustrated with life, God, the Church, or just plain too busy. Other times, I’ve taken my fight with God to Scripture and found consolation there among biblical characters who also wrestled with God (the Psalms especially are great for that, as well as for offering comfort).

I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Bible. I’ve read it cover-to-cover and I’ve read it in the chronological order in which it was written. My favorite way to read it is to follow a reading plan that always keeps me on track even when I skip a day or five.

I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for most of my life and, truth be told, sometimes I get bored. I know the stories by heart and I can tell you what many of them mean to me.

So sometimes I need a nudge to keep reading. Maybe you do, too.

This year I set a goal to interact with different versions of the Bible to shake up my reading and potentially bring new things to light. During Lent 2020 I hung out in The Jesus Storybook Bible, my very favorite children’s Bible which I recommend to more adults than children for its gorgeous way with words and art.

During September I read from The Message as I followed author Annie F. Downs‘s plan to read the Gospels in 30 days. Yes, I skipped a few days because life has its own plans. Some days I read simply because I had committed to do so.

And other days words jumped off the page at me. Like in Matthew 2:11 when it says that the scholars from the East, upon seeing baby Jesus in Mary’s arms, were “overcome.” I’m so familiar with Jesus that I forget to be overcome by Him. I long to be overcome, not by the day’s realities but by Jesus’ loving presence.

Or in these crazy-chaotic pandemic-political times, when it’s so easy to feel depleted and to dread each day’s news, I’m thrilled to read that “Jesus was quick to comfort them. ‘Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid'” (Matthew 14:27) and that “…your sadness will develop into gladness” (John 16:20). Right about now I can use a hefty dose of courage and the hope that gladness will be on its way.

So I’ll be reading through the Gospels again in October and I invite you to join me. I haven’t yet decided which version of the Bible I’ll read (what’s your favorite, or how do you shake things up?). I expect, like always, some days will be dull and other days new word, phrases, or images will leap off the page…because God’s Word is alive with insight, and oh how I need the presence of Jesus during this unusual time in which we live.

from Annie F. Downs

When What’s Staggering Isn’t: Seeing Sad Truths

The US has now passed the staggering statistic of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths (global deaths are approaching one million).

That’s the equivalent of:
66 days of 9/11 attacks
109 Hurricane Katrinas
Almost 1,200 Oklahoma City bombings
1,450 full commercial planes, or eight plane crashes every day of our six-month quarantine
The combined US death toll from the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf

If things keep going as they have been, researchers project that another 180,000 people may die by January 1, 2021, almost double our current numbers.

Our brains aren’t wired to comprehend such big numbers, especially when we’re already tapped out by all the factors involved in this never-before experience: we’re depressed from dealing with economic uncertainty, managing work or unemployment while also navigating online school alongside our children, changes to how we do all the details of life, and a volatile upcoming election amidst social unrest.

Of course it’s a lot, and our sense of shock has dulled with each new report. Add to that the reality that many of us don’t yet know personally someone who has died as a result of COVID-19, and that traditional methods of coping with grief such as memorial services have been restricted during the pandemic, and we simply don’t know how to respond.

It’s no wonder that, in the moments when the pain and grief of this unthinkable situation to which we cannot foresee an end seeps through our vulnerable cracks, we prefer to numb out instead. We downplay it, imagining it’s not that bad, or that it won’t happen here, that it won’t affect our families or our kids’ schools.

I have been extremely cautious during the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t like wearing a mask (not that anyone does) so I’ve mostly stayed home and walked the dogs. In six months I’ve been on one restaurant patio and in two stores. My husband has done all our grocery shopping.

I’m not in a high risk group. And while being a natural rule follower partly explains my response, it occurred to me the other day that I also learned early that you can be careful and still be party to unexpected, shocking results.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

During my senior year of high school I took a Child Development class with the absolute best, wackiest teacher ever. If you remember Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus children’s educational books and TV series (voiced by the fabulous Lily Tomlin), she was just as wonderful and memorable. She intended to encourage us to expand our knowledge while also having fun and learning practical lessons, so we did a lot of role playing and simulations.

For instance, one time we pretended we were medical interns doing rounds with our attending physician (Teacher) diagnosing issues related to postpartum women and/or their babies. I’ve forgotten a lot of things I learned in high school, but when my own babies were born I recalled specific lessons from that class.

That year, 1986-87, AIDS was taking center stage among major health issues, and our teacher organized a simulation to help us see up close something that felt remote to us. Because our class consisted primarily of young women, she invited the men’s choral group that met during the same hour to join us – which heightened the fun factor for sure.

We all received a slip of paper with a number on it and instructions to stand up, mingle, and exchange numbers with people we “liked.” We each wrote the other’s number on our paper to effectively contact trace, though we wouldn’t have known to call it that.

We pretended to be college students at a party deciding who we would hook up with. Insightful teacher that she was, she anticipated that the good little church girl would be disinclined to swap numbers, so she specified that everyone had to exchange numbers at least once. Unbeknownst to me, she also designated me Patient Zero, a recipient of bad blood.

Within the simulation, my one-time number swap led to a substantial percentage of my classmates becoming “infected” with AIDS – at that time a certain death sentence that also carried significant social stigma. Something inside me crumbled as I looked around to see how many people would have died because of me had this been a real scenario; I wasn’t the only one stunned to silence for the rest of the day. Her experiment created a vivid picture of how quickly diseases might transmit even when we’re careful.

Our actions have consequences. Even as I stay home to mitigate risk, I realize that I’m still not safe. That one patio meal might have been the place and time that I contracted COVID-19. Today’s trip to Costco might be the place and time that my husband is exposed. Though we may be careful to lessen the probabilities, no matter what we do, we can’t prevent all risk – nor would we want to. Risk remains a necessary part of life, and some risks are absolutely worth it. We have to live, after all.

Still, as this pandemic pause continues, I maintain my commitment to caution – to stay home as much as possible, to wear a mask, to avoid crowds, and to exercise good hygiene – because if I, if we, do become exposed, I don’t want to give it to you. I never want to be Patient Zero again.

Note: I cited several articles in this post and particularly recommend the article from National Geographic on why our minds don’t compute these staggering numbers and how we can remain sensitive.

Cover image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Clinging to Trust as a Lifeline

Four years ago I stopped watching the news. For most of my adult life, I had been in the habit of watching at least the first twelve minutes of the 10 o’clock news before getting ready for bed. Until I realized that images from the news creeped into my dreams, resulting in fitful sleep and occasional nightmares. The volatility of the world, the anger and division in our country, and local crime combined to inflict tiny paper cuts in my heart, each more shivery-painful than the next.

I began reading the news instead, looking to various sources in order to get a fuller picture than any one outlet would present. A simple change, and it helped in many ways: better sleep, better informed, less heartache.

Four years ago the world seemed in a bad way. Four years later, it’s inconceivable. What simple change can I make now that will prove as helpful?

image by Morgan Harper Nichols

I’m clinging to TRUST, my one-word lifeline as this year keeps dishing up bad news like overcooked casseroles at a church potluck: think green bean casserole, iguana green, limp and milky. In so many ways 2020 has been gross like that.

So, trust. I trust that there will always be moments of beauty, no matter what, like flowers blooming in sidewalk cracks. I trust that if we look for beauty, we will find it. Mr. Rogers taught us to look for the helpers. From now on, let’s trust that we will find ways to be the helpers.

I trust that God is still in control on bad days as well as good. I trust that God loves me, and you, and the whole wide world He made and redeemed and is redeeming – the latter being work in which we get to participate.

In just 45 days, we have the opportunity to make a difference. I want to trust that Americans are going to show up to do the right thing, to elect leaders who exhibit compassion and common decency, and who above all will consider the needs of all of their constituents and not just those who possess wealth and power.

As RGB modeled for us, we get to fight well – not scrappy-mean, but with dignity intact on every side – for things that matter. Hildegard tells us that we will “rise vigorously” toward justice for the things we love.

Watching the news hurts my heart because I love my community and my country. I love this fantastically diverse planet and its diverse inhabitants. I believe we can be better and do better. We need to take a collective deep breath, hold our tongues, open our ears, and for God’s sake, take our fingers off the trigger. We can choose to breathe out animosity and breathe in love…and more and more love. I trust we can if we try.

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.