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.
During the last week of 2020 I greeted neighbors with a sing-song, “Happier New Year!”
One replied, “It’s got to get better, right?” to which I responded, “I’m not sure how it can get much worse.”
My husband raised his eyebrows. “Don’t tempt fate,” he warned.
We knew to expect that 2021 would continue the strange Blursdays experience that began in 2020. We also have hope that help is on its way, possibly soon. However, we have watched slack-jawed and wide-eyed as 2021 has already pitched a dramatic tantrum and hurled worse our way.
Like me, you may ride the roller coaster of all the Big Feels: frustration, anger, anxiety, shock, concern, helplessness, exhaustion. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond, how even to keep moving forward hour by hour.
Here’s my suggestion: make joy a priority. Stir a heaping spoonful of joy into your morning coffee or tea and sprinkle it on every meal and moment throughout the day. Snack on joy. Toss joy like confetti in each room of your house, in each relationship, in every arena of your life. As counterintuitive as joy may feel in these odd times, that’s exactly what makes joy so important. Practice joy even when you don’t feel it. Consider it a spiritual practice, necessary soul care.
How do you practice joy, you ask? Check out this list of 21 simple tips to spark joy:
1. Go for a walk. 2. Light a candle. 3. Add a potted plant or a vase of cut flowers to every room. 4. Stand up and stretch. Do some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. 5. Spend a few minutes on a swing. 6. Diffuse essential oils. 7. Snuggle a furry friend. 8. Drink a glass of water. While you’re at it, splash some water on your face. 9. Bake something. Or make something. 10. Read a book or magazine. Read the Bible. 11. Pray. 12. Phone a friend. 13. Write a thank you note to someone who adds joy to your life. 14. Write a thank you note to yourself. 15. Take a few deep breaths. 16. Journal what you’re grateful for. 17. Commit an intentional act of kindness. 18. Watch clouds. Name each cloud a worry and watch it float away. 19. Draw a picture of yourself as a child absorbed in your favorite activity. 20. Do that thing that made you happy as a child. 21. Turn on some happy music and dance.
To that last point, you may already have a playlist of mood boosting songs. I’ve been asking Alexa to play various upbeat artists as I prepare dinner each night. I did a search for Happy, Feel Good music and offer this list of 21 songs I’ll be dancing to in my kitchen:
1. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Martin Gay and Tammi Terrell 2. “All Star” by Smash Mouth 3. “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors 4. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake 5. “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang 6. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA 7. “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida 8. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams 9. “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince 10. “Livin on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi 11. “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers 12. “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas 13. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross 14. “I’m On Top Of the World” by Imagine Dragons 15. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift 16. “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M. 17. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon 18. “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson 19. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars 20. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves 21. “You Make My Dreams” by Daryl Hall & John Oates
This is Day 4 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Twenty-One. Follow my Instagram for more.
Hmm, aren’t “resolutions” and “goals” two words for the same thing?
Resolutions: a firm decision to do or not do something. Goals: the object of a person’s effort; an aim or desired result.
So, yes, “resolutions” and “goals” may be interchangeable. Maybe I’m mincing words, engaging in a little word play. But word play is exactly how I spend a lot of my time and effort. Word play works for me, and when it comes to making progress, it might work for you, too.
I choose my words carefully, and science validates just why this matters. Researchers studying people who made resolutions found that among those who worded their resolutions positively (“I want to start running”), 59% stuck to it. Among those who worded their resolutions negatively (“I want to quit watching so much TV”), only 47% stuck to it.
Another study of people similarly motivated to improve their habits found that those who set goals stuck to them at a rate of 42%, while just 4% of those who had vague intentions saw improvement.
What we say and how we say it can help us make progress.
The word “resolutions” strikes my ears negatively. “Firm decision” also feels harsh. “Aim or desired result,” however, feels positive. I’m choosing positive words to effect positive change.
Last year I made a Not 20 for 2020 list of goals, including aims such as drinking more water and completing several writing projects. While I didn’t manage everything on my list (too many goals, some unmeasurable), I crushed my water goal and surprised myself with my writing progress. Setting positive intentions set me on a course to develop healthy habits.
This year I made a simple chart with fewer goals and a box for every day of the month. I stuck it in my planner where I will see it everyday. Most of my goals are meant to be achieved daily, like walking; some I intend to fit in a few times a week, like yoga. But I can already see progress in every area as I check off my boxes day after day.
Because progress, not perfection, is the goal. Progress = positive. Perfection = unattainable. Again, I’m emphasizing the positives in words and actions. I won’t check off every box every day, but as I check off most boxes most days I know I’m heading in the right direction.
This is Day 2 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Progress. Follow my Instagram for more.
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I am not a morning person. My mom was a night owl, so one might argue that I learned this behavior; I directly benefited from her late-night artistic help on procrastinated school projects and/or time together gabbing over everything and nothing in particular. One might argue that, and one would be wrong…since my inclination toward late nights and even later mornings has continued throughout my life.
[This quick read makes some interesting comparisons between early birds and night owls. I regularly get annoyed at society’s favoritism of early birds, yet studies indicate some definite perks to the owl lifestyle.]
Prioritizing my mornings has meant bucking my internal system and changing my evenings. I can’t watch one more Netflix show. I can’t read one more chapter. I have to toss myself into bed earlier than I’d like, like a parent gently carrying a resistant child through her bedtime routine.
Even when I’ve had a full and restful night’s sleep, I will never bounce bright and early from bed to get up and at ‘em. Instead, I drag my resentful body from its cozy cocoon. Trudging into the kitchen, I turn on the coffee pot I readied the night before. Brushing my teeth and getting into workout gear takes up time until I can grab the first mug of too-strong coffee to jump start my system with caffeine before a dog walk.
After our walk, I’m set. Getting myself up early enough to walk before work prepares me for a healthier and more productive day. It’s good, and a struggle.
Over the last few months, I have been reading daily entries from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Each day includes prayers, Bible readings, and facts about and quotes by people of faith. It’s like a short church service from the comfort of my favorite reading chair.
Each day’s entry begins the same: O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you / As the day rises to meet the sun.
The first time I read it it stopped me short, as it has every time since. I expect it to say “As the sun rises to meet the day.” Because the sun rises. Yet this prayer claims that the day also rises, which I guess will be especially helpful on days when I can’t see the sun for the clouds.
This prayer has shone new light on my mornings. It sets my first-thing intention on God who will keep me company throughout whatever God has planned for me this day. Because it’s not just another day, it’s today, the only one like it. This day isn’t just about what I get done, it’s about what God wants to do in my soul. It’s about my interactions with God, myself, and others. The purpose of this day might just be bigger than me.
My day always starts with me forcibly yanking myself out of bed. Pairing that physical action with a soul intention has helped. I haven’t created a New Me yet, but changing my attitude toward mornings, one day at a time, just might.
This is Day 1 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is New You. Follow my Instagram for more.
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Except for the poor night’s sleep (sick kid), I would have walked the dogs in the morning.
Except for the stomach that cramped as we headed up the hill (did I catch kid’s sickness?), we would have walked the longer route.
We passed the house a few streets away where we alternately have seen a gray-haired lady with a small, fluffy, black-and-white yappy dog or a tall white-haired man who comments on our dog pack. The man stepped from between the cars parked in the driveway and asked if he could greet the dogs. He let each of them smell his fist as he asked questions about their breeds and ages. Which led to a delightfully meandering conversation chock-full of interesting tidbits that lasted close to an hour. When his wife came in search of him we got to hear about her career as well.
As we walked away I commented to Guy, “That’s why we had to be right here, right now. That conversation with those sweet neighbors is why I didn’t walk the dogs this morning. That’s why we changed our route.” (I did not go so far as to say that’s why my son got sick).
On a sidewalk close to home, I spotted a weathered sticky note partially covered by leaves. I thought I could make out a few words, so I bent to pick it up. It read: Have a great day you’re doing your best today
I tucked it in a pocket, another affirmation that we were exactly where we were meant to be. Whoever wrote that encouragement and for whoever else she intended as recipient, it appeared in my path to remind me that, despite sleeplessness, despite pandemic, despite everything, I was doing my best on this great day.
So are you. Whatever you’re doing or not doing, wherever you are that is or isn’t where you planned to be, you are where you are because that’s where you’re meant to be. Keep going. You’re doing just fine. Better than fine, even.
Washing your hands thoroughly means singing Happy Birthday twice.
People are weird and toilet paper is a commodity.
Who the introverts and extroverts are
How to work, learn, and celebrate via Zoom, and how to unmute
We think we crave “normal” but we really desire the familiar comfort of routine.
Everyone is essential even if they’re not an essential worker.
How to bake bread and grow tomatoes
Who we would actually choose to take to a deserted island
Baby Yoda’s real name is Grogu and that matters to a lot of people.
The power of the pivot
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”
We can do with less, Amazon is (too) easy, and supporting local strengthens our communities.
We can do without trips to the grocery store for “just one ingredient.”
Even when the news strikes all bad, all the time, we can count on John Krasinski for Some Good News.
Self-care and maintaining mental health should be everyone’s daily practice.
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.
Comfort is everything, and dress pants are overrated.
American individualism runs deep, democracy is resilient, and freedom for all is worth marching for.
Even difficult changes can produce positive results.
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.
In January I set two reading goals. In my Not 20 for 2020 list, I included an intention to read four books a month. On Goodreads I set a slightly higher goal of reading 55 books. Goodreads reports that I’ve read 80 books. That’s 145% of my 55 book goal, 24,874 pages, and 32 books more than I read last year. That doesn’t include the false starts, books I put down when I couldn’t connect, or the books I’m currently reading. Welp, the pandemic has at least been good for my reading!
While I haven’t done a reading round-up review since September, before Thanksgiving I put together a list of books that would make great gifts. I’ve read another 15 books since then, but I thought I’d end the year by compiling my 2020 5-star reviews.
Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.
My first 2020 read remained my favorite all year. Love this book, a magical (“m-word”) ode to stories, to story lovers and story tellers. She even weaves in the storytelling involved in video games, a field with which I have little experience. I rarely reread, but the stories within stories and the connections between them that eventually become apparent deserve another go.
Mesmerizing. I don’t know what a singing crawdad sounds like, but my brain buzzed with the heavy-hot song of cicadas as I read this beautiful book. It was a fascinating back-to-back companion to The Giver of Stars, both about women who don’t fit in, who balk against cultural standards to live their own lives.
I’ve now read all of Sarah’s books and this is her best. Oh-so-vulnerable, gut-wrenching, thoughtful, loving… Bravo, Sarah, for writing your journey so that we may be blessed through your suffering.
“May you be swept off your feet by the goodness and welcome of God, the ferocious love and friendship of Jesus, the delight and disruptions of the Holy Spirit. May you love because you were loved first” (211)
Life-changing! RAIN is hard, important work, learning to Recognize my feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigating how they feel in my body, and Nurturing my inner self. As a life-long Christian, I feel like I just got a crash-course in prayer that the Church never provided.
“Simply put, RAIN (recognize, allow, investigate, nurture) awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.”
If you are a white Christian, do I have a book for you! Brown has written from her heart and her head, from her experience, from her place in the shadow of hope. Sit with this one. Listen hard. Drop your defenses. Take notes. Ponder and pray. Then commit to do something to work toward change.
The Book of Longings is the fictional account of Ana, a strong woman with a largeness inside her to be a voice, to fill others’ ears with the words she writes from the holy of holies inside her. She is also the wife of Jesus.
I wasn’t sure I could go there with a married Jesus; it doesn’t offend scripturally, but it sure bucks tradition. Kidd writes in the author’s notes that she recognized the audacity of the goal in writing this story. But the story is fully Ana’s, and with her, I fell in love with a human Jesus whose humanity often gets lost in the religious focus on His divinity. I wept while He died in a way that, with its familiarity, I don’t weep nearly enough when I read the Bible.
“All shall be well,” Yaltha had told me, and when I’d recoiled at how trite and superficial that sounded, she’d said, “I don’t mean that life won’t bring you tragedy. I only mean you will be well in spite of it. There’s a place in you that is inviolate. You’ll find your way there, when you need to. And you’ll know then what I speak of.”
Some of the most uniquely vivid characters I’ve encountered in recent reads, and another mind-bending illustration of how our lives can be so incredibly intertwined even without our recognition of it.
“…and on it went, the whole business of the white man’s reality lumping together like a giant, lopsided snowball, the Great American Myth, the Big Apple, the Big Kahuna, the City That Never Sleeps, while the blacks and Latinos who cleaned the apartments and dragged out the trash and made the music and filled the jails with sorrow slept the sleep of the invisible and functioned as local color.”
“But then, she thought, every once in a while there’s a glimmer of hope. Just a blip on the horizon, a whack on the nose of the giant that set him back on his heels or to the canvas, something that said, ‘Guess what, you so-and-so, I am God’s child. And I. Am. Still. Here.”
Reading this book during a week of protests over another cop-involved shooting of a black man… Let’s say it was timely reading and I felt angry, sad, confused, heartbroken, challenged. I appreciate that, as the author tried to work out her own questions and feelings about the devastating state of race relations in America, she provided a well-rounded picture of its complexities.
So much wisdom! I first read this book more than a decade ago for a spiritual disciplines seminary class that I audited. 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, still has so much to say to life in 2020 (another 30 years after Sister Joan wrote this book).
I read this as part of a grad-level writing class called “Writing into the Unknown.” The professor used selections from Eliot as epigraphs to every class session since Eliot writes so eloquently about time. You can also find it read by Sir Alec Guiness on YouTube.
All shall be well, and All manner of thing shall be well. What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.
One of my all-time favorites, as I read it this time I paid close attention to her use of language and storytelling. Lamott’s writing is so unbelievably good. With her reverent irreverence, she makes her conversion to Christianity accessible to even the most doubtful.
My favorite Backman book yet! Life and death, loneliness and love, isolation and connection, this book about idiots, about anxious people, is truly about all of us and our greatest needs: to be seen and known and loved, and to be allowed to see and know and love in return. Backman’s storytelling style, the way he breaks in to tell his readers what’s coming, or shed new light, or change the paradigm, is fantastic. His comparison/contrasts and his humor make this book so readable I couldn’t put it down.
“…we do our best. We plant an apple tree today, even if we know the world is going to be destroyed tomorrow.”
Read: God loves the world so much that He wrapped up in swaddling clothes the best gift we will ever receive: His Son Jesus, who lived and died and rose again to save us from our sins. As we exchange gifts on Christmas, and on every day the whole year through, we remember that we love because He first loved us. We walk by faith because He shines His radiant light over the whole world and straight into our lives.
Pray: Everlasting God, we receive the gift of your Son who lights up the world. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Read: On an ordinary dark night at work, the shepherds huddled around a fire for warmth while the sheep clustered together, some bleating and shuffling their hooves to kick up nibbles of grass, others leaning in for support as they slept on their feet. Into this ordinary every night darkness, angels burst forth to explode the inky-black sky, heralding the light of extraordinary joy: the long-awaited Messiah’s birth.
Pray: With the angels we sing–Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. Messiah Jesus, in your name we joyfully wait and pray. Amen.
Monday1 John 1:5-7 What do you do to keep walking forward in the light? Tuesday1 John 2:9-10 How are light and love, darkness and hate, parallel? Who do you need to forgive so that you can walk in the light of love? WednesdayRevelation 22:5 How do you imagine eternity with God in heaven?
“…God dances amidst the common…. The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason.” –Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven
Grief seems to be at every corner this year. Many of us have shared occasions for grief, such as illness and death, the loss of normalcy, shuttered shops and closed schools, dwindling dollars in our bank accounts, isolation and loneliness. Most of us also have personal reasons for grief. For two weeks I haven’t left my phone out of sight as I wait for the call that my mom has gone to glory.
So when I saw an article titled, “How to deal with grief,” of course I clicked. While grief has taught me lived-and-learned lessons, I’m still up for additional advice within easy reach. For the same reason, I am a sucker for happiness research. Recently I clicked on an article with a title along the lines of, “This one trick will make you as happy as eating 20 chocolate bars.” Twenty chocolate bars would make me sick, not happy, but I appreciate the effort. The answer was: Smile. Smile more, even when you don’t feel it, and you’ll be happier. Apparently, people rate their smiling-more happiness as high as having received a gift of $25,000. Now I simply must disagree: a no-obligation gift of $25,000 would definitely make me happier than insincere smiling. Also, I’d be happy to have you try to prove me wrong.
I clicked on the grief article and found an interview with poet Maggie Smith. Smith published a volume of poetry in 2016 (Keep Moving) which included a poem called “Good Bones” that seems to go viral when the world teeters dangerously on the edge of a deep well – for example, immediately after the 2016 election. Also, 2020. Smith calls “Good Bones” a disaster barometer.
Smith offered two pieces of advice that have affected how I’m moving through these hard days. The first is to find “snow globe moments,” something you do every day that stills the world and allows you to feel like your genuine self. For her, that’s writing. I share writing as a core activity and I’ll add walking our dogs, preferably with my husband so we can spend that time connecting. He’s my best sounding board and also an encourager who gets me out of my own head. I believe author Cheryl Strayed referred to her Wild adventure as “walking back to her best self” which makes sense to me. Writing and walking have been life-giving and sanity saving this year.
Smith also discussed “beauty emergencies.” We tend to think of the word “emergency” negatively, as a problem, but it comes from the root “emergent” which means “happening now.” So a beauty emergency occurs when you pay attention and notice that something beautiful is happening this instant and you’ll miss it if you don’t drop everything and watch. Like a hummingbird flitting at the feeder or a sunset that shifts colors every second and will be over within minutes.
Poets necessarily cultivate the ability to witness to the present. To focus their micro-lens on this moment. I am not a poet, and my monkey brain leaps from past to future, future to past, bounding over this uncomfortable time. One more reason I am going to add books of poetry to my reading queue in this upcoming year, because I need the benefit of their wise and often witty reflections.
Meanwhile, I mentioned beauty emergencies to my sixteen-year-old son and, though I didn’t know it as the words spilled from my mouth, that may have been one of the best things I’ve said to him this whole year. Several times over the last two weeks, as my attention has been absorbed in writing or reading, he has yanked me outside to witness a sunset. I have done the same for him, pulling him from his bedroom desk where he counter-attacks against the never-ending onslaught of distance learning assignments.
We both carry our own foggy griefs which we have soothed side-by-side with regular applications of beauty, watching as the sky indiscernibly shifts from orangey-yellows to red-purples to dusky twilight. We’ve both tried – unsuccessfully – to capture the splendor in photos. And that, it seems, is also poetic: the call is to witness, not capture, rather to be captivated ourselves. To stay present and open to this stunning moment before our eyes. To become newly aware of life’s magnificence and brevity.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children. Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways, a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird. For every loved child, a child broken, bagged, sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.
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