How to Honor Earth Day

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it – Psalm 24:1

Today is Earth Day. In 1970, the first Earth Day mobilized 20 million Americans to greater care for our planet. Now the Earth Day organizers say they have one billion people committed to the environment and 75,000 business partners working to drive positive action. And there’s so much more work to be done.

I’ve never intentionally recognized Earth Day before. However, given the apocalyptic wildfires in the American West over the last several years – those smokey orange skies over our NorCal home felt eerily oppressive – and the recent unseasonable arctic freeze in Austin, Texas, I have become increasingly convinced of the truth regarding the terrible trajectory scientists claim we are on toward environmental collapse in 2030. On the one hand, that date looks like science fiction, but so did 2001 at one point. It’s only nine years from now.

So I made a list of easy ways we can love our planet well, today and moving forward:

Walk, bike, or carpool to work.

Take a phone call or meeting outside.

Enjoy a plant-forward picnic in a natural setting.

Go for a hike.

Plant something, or tend to your plants, or volunteer in a community garden.

Eat meatless for the day.

Sketch something from nature.

Spend 10 minutes making a list of observations about one natural object (you think you won’t be able to fill 10 minutes – surprise yourself).

Buy a book (or check one out from the library) that will help you fall deeper in love with nature. Suggestions: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimerer, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, anything by John Muir. (Please note: as an Amazon associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Watch a nature documentary. Two I highly recommend (both on Netflix): My Octopus Teacher and A Life on Our Planet (by Sir David Attenborough whose voice, to my ear, sounds like Winnie the Pooh in the classic Disney movies – lovable!). My son recommends Seaspiracy, also on Netflix.

Educate yourself about environmental groups doing good work, like WWF, Sierra Club, or Plant with Purpose (our personal friend is CEO). Check out this list of organizations, or this water-focused list. Consider making a donation.

Take a picture of something in nature that brings you joy – a flower, a tree, an insect – and share it on your social media.

Follow the social media accounts of individuals and groups working to preserve the planet. Instagram suggestions: NatGeo, NatGeo Wild, Mitty, Paul Nicklen, Tim Lamen, and Joel Sartore

Purchase a book or print from The Photo Ark to beautify your home and support their continued work.

Cut down on paper towel use by using reusable and compostable kitchen towels.

Switch one of your plastic disposable goods for an eco-conscious and reusable alternative, like this toothpaste or these makeup removing towels.

Stick a bucket in your shower and use that water to water your plants.

Have a close encounter of the friendly animal kind (i.e., walk your dog or your neighbor’s dog, pet a cat, visit an animal shelter, watch squirrels rollercoaster-ing through trees).

Contact your state or national political representatives and ask them to support pro-environment legislation.

Do one or more actions from this list, then forward this post to others so they can join the fun.

What ideas do you have to share about loving our planet well? What next steps will you begin to take on this Earth Day and beyond?

“Creation is call and response. When Scripture speaks of mountains singing and trees clapping, it’s not just metaphorical. If our range of hearing were a little better, we would hear the voice of God in every drop of water, every blade of grass, every grain of sand.” – Mark Batterson, Whisper

Permission to Stay Cozy

This week’s Five Minute Friday writing prompt is: PERMISSION

Friday was National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day. Seems to me we’ve been living National Wear Your Pajamas to Work YEAR!

When California declared stay-at-home orders in March 2020 due to the global pandemic, I lost my job. I stopped sleeping, which meant I had little energy to exercise, and I developed anxiety. My kids are old enough to feed themselves, so I had freedom to move at whatever speed my body and soul required. Some days I got up and going like everything was normal, though nothing felt normal. Other days, I stayed not only in my pj’s but also in bed. With a good book.

In my adult life of trying to get all the things done, I had forgotten how restful it can be to stay in bed with a book. I read until I got bored of reading which, for me, is a feat unto itself. I read so many good books, though not all of them in bed. I moved around the house – to the couch, the green Adirondack chairs on our front porch, or the (also green) bistro table on our back deck. I sat in the sun or the shade, depending on the temperature. I stayed cozy. It had a healing effect.

Yesterday was a BIG day for me. I submitted my first book proposal (more on that coming soon). We also got our second COVID-19 vaccine.

I have heard from people whose shot experiences run the gamut from a sore arm to slight fatigue, from lightly flu-like symptoms to heavy. We heeded the advice to drink plenty of water, take D3, and take Motrin as needed. We planned a quiet weekend to have time to recover just in case.

So here I am today, cozy in bed with my computer on my lap, coffee mug and water bottle to my right. I’m feeling mostly fine. My arm is sore, but not overly, though it woke me in the night to tell me to shift to a different position. Maybe I’m a little tired, but that could also be allergies on this gorgeous spring day outside my open window.

Mostly I’m feeling grateful. Grateful to scientists who responded quickly and thoroughly to develop effective vaccines. Grateful to my husband for wading through the appointment-making systems online (our kids get their first vaccines today). Grateful to have a full stack of books on my bedside table. Grateful to have given myself permission to stay cozy.

What permission do you need to offer yourself, and how might receiving that permission feel healing?

STOP.

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

Happiness as an Animal? Meet the Quokka

A writing friend sent me some writing prompts. One in particular caught my eye: “Compare happiness to an animal.”

My animal-loving son sat nearby as I read her email. I love animals, you may love animals, many of us love animals. My son takes loving animals to a whole different level. Like to an animal whisperer, animals emerge from the tall grass when he’s nearby so they can share an encounter. It’s a rare moment when I witness him learning about an animal he’s never heard of before. He can correctly name animals that have been misidentified elsewhere, for example, on a TV show. Once he even accurately described why an animal had been mislabeled in a natural history museum.

So I read the prompt to him. I expected he’d talk glowingly about his Bullseye Tabby cat, Phoebe. About the particular smell of her fur and its calming effect on him. The way she naps during the day on his pillow. How her belly wobbles side-to-side as she limp-toes through the house on arthritic legs. How she follows him room-to-room to be near him, like a dog.

He could also have talked about our three rescue dogs, particularly Rudy, who he calls Big Chicken for his large eyes that grow even wider when startled. Especially when he passes gas and jumps, looking accusingly at whoever is closest.

He might have talked about his ball python collection, or his newest snake-pet, a beautiful Reticulated Python he named Rhea because all his animals have mythological names. Rhea means “flowing” in Greek; in mythology she was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. His Rhea will eventually grow to 25 feet in length, hopefully long after he has moved out on his own.

He might have described the simple lazy joy of a lizard basking in the radiant heat from a summer warmed rock. Instead, he repeated the prompt. “Happiness as an animal? Quokka.”

When I didn’t understand, he insisted that I look up quokka on my phone. He had to spell it for me.

Wikipedia was the first site to pop up. I summarized: “Oh, a quokka is a wallaby, specifically a short-tailed scrub wallaby!” I have long been familiar with wallabies from our many trips to the San Diego Zoo and from all the animal documentaries we’ve watched together.

He protested. “No, not a wallaby. Look at its face!” I glanced at the image again and shrugged. I supposed the quokka’s face might be different from other wallabies but I was looking at a side view and not a quokka version of a profile picture. I showed him the Wiki site and he got frustrated. He took my phone and searched for images, then flipped my phone around to show me one photo after another. He handed back my phone and I continued looking at images, flipping my phone towards him so we could laugh at picture after picture. We laughed so hard we almost cried.

Quokkas look like an adorably happy cartoon character. They smile for the camera, and their bright and shiny black eyes look delighted to see whomever is taking their picture. The size of a house cat, they stand on their back legs like a kangaroo which leaves their front paws available to reach out to you in what resembles a welcoming hug. They’re also available to receive a eucalyptus leaf on offer, or to hold your water bottle while they take a sip. In some pictures they appear inquisitive, like they’ve just asked what adventures lie ahead for you today and can they tag along? Or maybe they’ve just told you a joke and they’re giggling at their funny little selves. The joke might even have been a teensy bit dirty. They’ll never turn down your request for a selfie.

Photo by Natalie Su on Unsplash

We looked at pictures of quokkas and belly laughed till our sides ached. At one point in the night, I woke myself up laughing about quokkas. We’re still laughing about them today. I even followed an Instagram account dedicated to quokka photos and art that will continue to provide opportunities to smile in response to these darling creatures.

We have a small menagerie of pets that adds joy to our lives, cats and dogs, snakes and a rabbit. At this moment, an animal lounges in just about every room in our house and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. However, since reading aloud that writing prompt last night, quokkas have definitely increased the happiness quotient under our roof. We haven’t even met one in person … something to add to our life adventure list.

Cover image by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

Easter is Over

Jesus died for love of us.
Jesus beat death for love of us.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Easter is over … yet your season of grief may continue.
I’m sorry. Life is hard, and there are so many occasions for grief.

Jesus longs to turn our wailing into dancing, to swap our mourning clothes for radiant joy. But he doesn’t wave his hands over us and zap the grief like a bug in an electric trap. Sometimes we have to move slowly through the sorrow.

The good news? He is in the sorrow with you.

We are Easter people, but sometimes we walk through the valley of shadows. Still, he doesn’t leave us alone in the dark.

Jesus is sad with you.

That simple sentence was an earth-shaking revelation for me when I found myself in a season of sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just sad about what I had gone through, what I was feeling and experiencing as a result of the mess. He wasn’t just sad for me.

He was sad *with* me. He held me and wept with me. He walked with me and listened to me. We sat silently together. We walked and talked some more. It was healing. He walked me back into joy, though we put a lot of miles on a few pairs of shoes before we arrived.

Something I learned along the way: it’s okay to find, or create, a small bright spot of joy in the midst of pain. It doesn’t betray your experience, and it might be just the thing you need.

Sit outside. Look at pictures that remind you of joy. Listen to music. Pet your dog. Wash your face. Write or draw or paint. Read a book. Eat chocolate. Do one small joyful act every day. It will help. It will remind you that you’re not alone and that this season will pass. Because it will.

Tulips image by shannynkm from Pixabay

5 Healthy Habits for 2021

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?

Eventually, I recognized the bottle was the problem. I switched to 32oz Nalgene bottles and now I am crushing my hydration goals. The Big Moods stickers make me smile, too.

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.

The top “book” in the stack is my well-stocked Kindle.

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.

I wrote a blog post all about joy here: 21 Ways to Jump Start Joy. What habits add joy to your life?

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?

20 Lessons We Learned in 2020

Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay
  1. Washing your hands thoroughly means singing Happy Birthday twice.
  2. People are weird and toilet paper is a commodity.
  3. Who the introverts and extroverts are
  4. How to work, learn, and celebrate via Zoom, and how to unmute
  5. We think we crave “normal” but we really desire the familiar comfort of routine.
  6. Everyone is essential even if they’re not an essential worker.
  7. How to bake bread and grow tomatoes
  8. Who we would actually choose to take to a deserted island
  9. Baby Yoda’s real name is Grogu and that matters to a lot of people.
  10. The power of the pivot
  11. What our true priorities are, and that we still won’t tackle some of the projects we say we’d get to “if only we had time”
  12. We can do with less, Amazon is (too) easy, and supporting local strengthens our communities.
  13. We can do without trips to the grocery store for “just one ingredient.”
  14. Even when the news strikes all bad, all the time, we can count on John Krasinski for Some Good News.
  15. Self-care and maintaining mental health should be everyone’s daily practice.
  16. Whether we rose to new heights on Pandemic Productivity (looking at you, TSwift) or got squashed by Pandemic Pressure, making it through this year with a working body and sound mind was an accomplishment unto itself.
  17. Comfort is everything, and dress pants are overrated.
  18. American individualism runs deep, democracy is resilient, and freedom for all is worth marching for.
  19. Even difficult changes can produce positive results.
  20. We have control over far less than we think we do.

One more, since we’re now in 2021: last year we watched as ordinary people stepped up to offer their talents and expertise, serving long, hard, sacrificial hours and risking their own health and well-being. We recognized the heroes in our midst, and we learned: we can be heroes.

Let’s be heroes.

Cover image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

Word Play & Dog Walks: Fun-Ambulist

As a writer, I am a total geek for fun words. I have fond memories of spelling and vocabulary lessons as far back as elementary school; also, some not-so-fond memories when, because I was such an avid reader and therefore exposed to oh so many words, my spelling words were marked incorrect because I wrote the alternate rather than teacher-approved spelling – for example, theatre as opposed to theater. Both correct, only one the right answer.

I also have a quirky memory of being in the children’s section of our local library, seated at a tiny table covered with books I had cherry picked from many shelves. I may have been seven years old. An older girl sat down across from me and commented on my book stack. She couldn’t believe I could read the books in front of me. She picked up a biography with the word “colonel” in the title and demanded I read it aloud. I pronounced it properly: “kernel.” She laughed triumphantly, and insisted that I sound it out: “It should be col-on-el, not kernel,” she snickered. I silently stared back at her, proud of myself, pitying her.

Because I enjoy words, I often subscribe to vocabulary emails. Recently I began receiving daily emails from School of Word Play. I don’t actually remember signing up for this list, but so far it has chucked some playful words in my direction. Words like “funambulist.”

I hadn’t encountered “funambulist” before. It looks like fun-ambulist, and I thought it might be someone who walks for fun…like me. However, the correct pronunciation is fyoo-nam-byuh-list and the definition is a tight-rope walker…absolutely never will be me. [The “fun” comes from the French or Latin funis, or rope].

Let’s go, boys!

Still, it’s been making me laugh on my many, many dog walks to think of myself as a fun-ambulist, as a fun-walker, strolling along with our three funny dogs. A neighbor recently hollered at us from her jog on the other side of the road that seeing us with our entourage, our dog-tourage, makes her laugh. In the best way, I assume. We are quite the pack.

Most days Guy and I walk together. When he’s unavailable, I do two “laps” of the neighborhood, taking the two younger dogs first before returning home to swap the middle dog for the older one; the Power Puppy needs more than all the exercise we can give him, so he gets to trot along on both laps.

Power Puppy likes to hold the Old Lady’s leash

Walking these dogs has been one of the great joys of my life in this strange year. I have walked and prayed, walked and ruminated, walked and ranted (to myself), walked and pondered, walked and noticed, walked and wondered, walked and meditated, walked until I’d burned out whatever frustration the day has presented, walked until I’d paced myself back into being present and peaceful.

What’s been adding life (and laughter) to your life in this strange year?

More painted rocks I noticed on a recent walk

Speaking of word play, last night I wrote a list-poem that made me laugh…

Boring Words
Just
Very
That
Really
Right
Stuff-Thing
Then

Exhilarating Words
(The) Whimsical
Funambulist
Futz(ed and)
Lollygag(ged, then tumbled)
Catawampus(, causing a thudding)
Brouhaha (for the)
Nincompoop (spectator below)

Giving Thanks in An Exceptional Year

I always prefer to focus on gratitude, yet I hadn’t been feeling it this Thanksgiving week. So I posed a question to our community via Facebook:

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wonder if you would share what uniquely 2020-related things you are thankful for?

In this exceptional year, I thought we might move beyond the typical answers: life, health, family, community. As it turns out, those answers carry exceptional significance this year. When U.S. COVID cases have reached 12.7 million and 260,000+ have died, the essential facts that we and our loved ones are alive and healthy becomes a precious truth for those who can claim it. This year has yielded a renewed awareness that we aren’t promised anything and everything can change without warning. We are learning anew to appreciate our own vitality, the breaths we inhale and exhale over minutes that become hours that become days, and the people with whom we share breathing space—especially those we trust within six feet.

Which leads us to: Family. We’re grateful not to frantically rush out the door for our commutes or carpooling children hither and thither and instead to move a little slower. To share family lunches, hearing about school in the middle of the day. To teach kids to ride a bike or overhear through the bedroom door as they sing along with the school choir. To have unexpected time with littles who grow too fast or with older children who will soon fly the nest, or those who tried and got COVID-grounded or those who’ve made a return trip with fledglings of their own. We’ve had time and space to connect and care for one another differently as we’ve all gone through the strange experiences of this year. Some increased the love under their roof by adding dogs or cats to their households.

Zoom has taught many of us that we can work remotely and it’s given us another tool to connect with family and friends in other places. Some have been holding weekly dinners or game nights via Zoom, an idea that likely wouldn’t have occurred to them before March. Who can tell how many families and friends will celebrate with a virtual Thanksgiving feast?

We are grateful for friends who make us laugh. Last spring the world witnessed Italians singing from the balconies of their homes and apartment-dwellers who held evening calisthenics each outside their own front door. As we walked our dogs, we saw socially-distanced neighbors in cul-de-sacs and on street corners enjoying a “six feet at six o’clock” cocktail hour. A local DJ held socially-distanced neighborhood dance parties. One person commented, and many chimed in, that she is grateful for the way those in our community “swarm” to help others with small or big needs; this swarm produces honey as it relieves life’s stings.

We’ve rediscovered ways to savor time, playing board games and card games with family, hiking our spectacular trail system under smoke-free skies, or dabbling in watercolor painting through a subscription art kit. Reading lots and lots of books. Developing our skills through online classes.

It seems to me that the unexpected and initially undesirable changes brought about by the pandemic initiated so much more than cleaner closets and bread baking skills. It gave us quiet in which to reflect on our priorities and lingering conversations with family and neighbors. It forced us to get creative about how we would maintain the essentials for living and it freed us to be creative in other previously neglected and also life-giving ways. It freed us to live into who we are and who we want to be.

One respondent admitted that she found my question difficult to answer since the pandemic has hit her family hard. Although I’ve never met her nor do I know the specifics of her situation, I extended sympathy. As we say, “we’re in this together,” and clearly this year has been hard…illness, death, unemployment, draining bank accounts, loneliness, mental health issues, grief on so many levels. That’s precisely why I asked the question. We know how hard it’s been, and most of us know that our mis/fortunes rest along a spectrum: we have it hard, and also easier than others. Everyone’s lives have changed…in the same and vastly different ways.

In my faith tradition we acknowledge that when you don’t have words to pray for yourself you can rest in the prayers of others. Similarly, when I couldn’t name my own gratitude, I relied on the gratitude of others. “Yes,” I repeated with each response. “Yes, me too,” I’m grateful for that, and that, and I’m grateful to hear about that small or spectacular development in your life.

And so…

A Prayer of Overflowing Gratitude During Thanksgiving Week of an Entirely Unexpected and Exceptional Year

To the One from whom all good gifts flow I whisper Thank You for life and breath and health and the reminder that we can’t take any of it for granted. For families and slow time to hike and ride bikes and learn to cook or bake or support local restaurants by eating delicious take-out food. For the particular humans I get to call “mine,” and for the shared memories and the coming moments that will be tomorrow’s memories. For board games and card games, even the video games I don’t like but over which my guys bond and burn through their frustration loudly in the garage while I quietly read a book in another room. For skin care products which matter so much more than make up and baseball caps to hide the pandemic-casualty formerly known as a hairstyle and for the comfort of lounge wear all day and night. For the enthusiastic love of our furry friends and the hours upon hours we’ve walked dogs through neighborhoods and along trails, watching the tiny and wondrous changes of the seasons. Thank you for California poppies and irises and hawkweed and thistles, roses and hydrangeas and mums, and mustard plants that grow taller than our 85-pound dog. For sunshine and clear skies and the end of fire season and for the twisting and turning of rainbow-colored autumn leaves on the trees and the ground. For the neighbors we’ve greeted from a distance and waved at through windows and conversed with on the phone or over social media or Facetime or Zoom. For books and our library system and my never-empty Kindle. For Netflix and The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek and Disney+ and Hamilton; may Lin Manuel live to write many more plays. For creativity and its multiple expressions we might not have witnessed except for this year. For freedom and those striving for freedom for all. In this Thanksgiving week and on every day of this ridiculous year whether I feel it or not, I whisper Thank You. We say Thank You. The people shout Thank You. And so, Amen.

Following the Words: Scattered

One evening I heard myself say to my husband, “I feel scattered.” I went on to explain just a few of the dizzying directions in which my brain was spinning:

the books I’m reading–to study the author’s writing style, to challenge myself to learn about life from a different perspective, to unwind before bed;

my writing projects–the few side gigs that pay a few pennies, the assignments that stretch me, my commitment to post on my blog regularly, the personal projects I’m trying to take to the next level;

my thoughts and feelings about the divided state of our country, the political and racial strife stirring up people on the streets but also changing friendships and affecting families, the election, and oh, let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and I have never in my life spent this much time at home;

and the intensely personal thoughts and feelings about the ways in which my sons are struggling through distance learning and the coincidence of their developmental stages with this strange time in history, and my mom’s declining health and how her children are coming together…and not.

In other words, it’s a lot. Everybody’s dealing with a lot right now, but this is my heap of extra to pitchfork my way through in search of a needle to stitch together a patchwork quilt of goodness.

The next morning, as the foggy mental fatigue continued to hang heavy on me, I did what I do: I started writing. I decided to follow the word scattered, to listen to the images it offered and what they had to say to me.

I feel scattered…
…like the multicolored metallic glitter confetti strewn across the parquet wood-tile floor of my teenage bedroom after I tore open a belated birthday card…
No, not that bright.

…like the dots and frizzles of crepe-paper ribbons launched from the midnight canon on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, paper melting and colors bleeding into sludgy snow drifts, ground into the treads of shuffling boots and sneakers and spiked by the impractical inches of sparkly high heels impaling the neon dark dawn of another cold year…
No, not that wasted.

…like the wild ping and ding and plonk and buzz and whap-slap of pinballs bouncing and banging a dizzying hypotrochoid roulette through an arcade game…
No, not that loud.

…like fire ash twisting in the late-summer breeze, tangling with the twigs of sunlight creeping through the apocalyptic orange smoke sky, impossibly snowing grey soot on our white roses…
No, not that tragic.

…like the crisp underfoot crunch of fallen autumn leaves carpeting the ground, sun yellow, rusty red, burnt orange, vibrant and colorful and withered, contributing their seasonal decay decoration to the loamy compost which will energize more life to burst forth from the ground…
Yes, organic potential, scattered like that.

Not the best piece of writing I’ve produced, but that wasn’t the point. The process itself was helpful. For a time I lost myself in playing with words and images. It felt freeing to be able to see, and then reject, what scattered could but didn’t mean to me: no, not wasted like crepe paper confetti on New Year’s Eve, or loud like pinball machines in an arcade. Not bright, not tragic.

But yes, scattered like fallen leaves, natural, not artificial, still scattered, but promising. Each factor in the multiplicity of ideas and anxieties boggling my brain and soul might come together for exponential growth. Some thoughts, like those fallen leaves, will crumble into dust and blow away on the breeze–not everything needs to lead to something or even mean something–but others may contribute to the rise of something new.

Though feeling scattered remains uncomfortable, the process of following the words led me to hope. And for that, I am grateful.

Cover Image by Martina Janochová from Pixabay

All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay