Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

It’s my birthday month, and I’m celebrating a milestone: a half-century of my life.

Years ago, I roller skated to Kool and the Gang’s song, Celebrate:

There’s a party goin’ on right here
A celebration to last throughout the years
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you

Current mood: bring your laughter and celebrate with me!

The year C20 turned 1, Guy and I turned 30 a few weeks before and after. From November through January, we enjoyed a tiny treat every day for seven weeks. In advance, we made a list of daily celebrations, like a post-dinner walk, a candy cane in our hot chocolate, an afternoon at the park or the zoo. Simple celebrations gave us something to look forward to each day and added so much joy.

I haven’t celebrated my birthday in three years. In 2016, when my birthday fell on the day after the presidential election, I gave myself the gift of stillness; I turned off WiFi, tuned out the world, and spent the day in solitude.

On a whim, I also deleted my birthday from Facebook. A year later I learned not to underestimate the power of social media as most people forgot my birthday.

To be clear, I’m not having an actual party. I’m not a center-of-attention kinda gal. As a child, I cried when my friends sang Happy Birthday to me. Instead, my family is preparing for an adventure together (more on that afterwards). But I’m ready to receive all the love and to celebrate for the next seven weeks: 50, 21, 50!

Let’s go for a walk or grab coffee. Send me a birthday card telling me how I’ve made your life a little brighter. I will happily enjoy gifts: flowers, bubbly, jewelry (wink, wink). Or make a donation to your favorite charity and tell me why you support their cause.

One of the best gifts you can give me: follow my blog! And please share freely and widely anything I write that strikes a chord with you.

As I celebrate this milestone birthday, I’ve also made a significant turn in my career path. And in order to catch the notice of those who matter in these regards (agents/publishers), I need followers on my blog and social media accounts. Your quick clicks to follow/share could make a big difference, and hopefully what I write adds something meaningful to your life.

I recently reread Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Circle of Quiet. What I first read at 21yo held different nuances as I approach the age at which Madeleine wrote it. For obvious reasons, this passage stood out:

So my hope, each day as I grow older, is that this will never be simply chronological aging–which is a nuisance and frequently a bore…but that I will also grow into maturity, where the experience which can be acquired only through chronology will teach me how to be more aware, open, unafraid to be vulnerable, involved, committed…to understand that I cannot take myself seriously until I stop taking myself seriously–to be, in fact, a true adult.

My mom says that I first laughed at seven weeks old. Most babies don’t laugh until four months old, but there I was, belly laughing on the floor as I gazed at my mom’s New Year’s Eve beehive hairdo, which of course made my parents laugh in response. As I grow into what Madeleine calls, “a true adult,” I’m hoping to take myself less seriously. To be, to laugh, and to celebrate life.

[As I wrote this post, a package arrived on my doorstep containing this candle, a beautiful gift from a thoughtful friend living too far away. This one is called Begin Again, perfect for where I am in life. I’m positively tickled at the serendipitous timing…]

Reading: October 2019

I live in Northern California, in the San Francisco East Bay, where fall has come to be known as “Fire Season.” High temperatures and high winds plus summer-sun-scorched grasses in lots of otherwise beautiful open space make for a terrifying combination.

As I write, the Kincade Fire has scorched more than 76,000 acres of Sonoma County, including over 100 homes, and it’s only 30% contained. There was a small fire in the next town over from us last Sunday. And, in case you missed it, we were evacuated a few weeks ago.

PG&E continued the power outages for safety and inspection. This time our power did not go out, but winds snapped a cable that took out our WiFi for most of three days. Honestly, in some ways that was worse: I’m okay with camping at home so long as I have access to information. Thankfully, the planned blackouts have come to an end. For now.

However, when it’s too windy to walk the dogs and we have no internet access distractions, I’m happy to take that time to stick my nose in a book. Reading as an easy escape was just the ticket this month!

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

The DreamersThe Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn’t put this one down. It’s a dream of a novel, and a nightmare, and perfectly written.

 

The Rosie Result (Don Tillman, #3)The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to the Rosie trilogy, which I thoroughly enjoyed start to finish.

 

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

All artists (read: every human being) faces Resistance. Resistance takes many forms, but essentially looks like inactivity due to fear. Combating Resistance = WAR! In the fight, we encounter the Muse who has been with us all along except we haven’t been paying attention.

I didn’t always like this book, but I don’t like war, either. Pressfield is right all along: resistance, war, muse. All the way through, except it’s not linear. It’s an every minute of the day battle, and one I’m committed to. Let’s do this!

“…the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying…. We’re facing dragons too. Fire-breathing griffins of the soul, whom we must outfight and outwit to reach the treasure of our self-in-potential and to release the maiden who is God’s plan and destiny for ourselves and the answer to why we were put on the planet.” (108-109)

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” (165)

PaxPax by Sara Pennypacker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite having spotted this in a bookstore years ago, I almost gave it up a couple chapters in as I anticipated the story would be sad. I’m glad I persevered. This isn’t a sad story, but strong, a new take on coming of age. It tells of peace and war, brokenness and health, relationships with family, people who become dear, and the world. In the end, my only complaint was that I couldn’t tell when and where it was set. But then, I recognized, that very fact makes the story even more universal: peace and war, brokenness and health, occur at all times everywhere.

“Because I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. That is peace.” (102)

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the WorldThe Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not the best written book I’ll ever read, but certainly an important read.

When people ask, “Why can’t the developing world figure out its poverty issues?” there are so many answers. (To be clear, the US has plenty of its own poverty challenges).

But maybe the best is right here: we need to empower the women.

The big issues are connected in complicated ways: health, family planning, education, agriculture/food, work (especially unpaid labor), child marriage and human trafficking. They all have root in gender inequity and potential solutions stemming from steps toward gender equity.

This book is global and specific. Gates preaches what she also puts into practice in her own life. I thought I knew a lot on this topic, and this book opened my eyes to how much I have left to learn.

EchoEcho by Pam Muñoz Ryan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Your fate is not yet sealed.
Even in the darkest night, a star will shine,
A bell will chime, a path will be revealed.

This book begins and ends as a fairy tale, just what I had been looking for. In between, it contains three stories of musically gifted young people facing extremely difficult situations. Their stories echo one another though their lives are completely different…except for the possession of one very special harmonica.

I couldn’t stop smiling through Part Four, an enchanted evening indeed.

I wobbled in the middle, because the stories seem sad. But that’s the point: you don’t see how things will end while you’re in the middle. So you need some beauty and light, and music is an excellent provider of both.

“Some of the parents are asking why the school district is paying for a music teacher during a war. But Mr. Daniels says everyone needs a little beauty and light in their lives, especially during the worst of times” (529)

View all my reviews

What are you reading?

I Went Home.

Many of the Christian women writers, teachers, and preachers I follow have posted this week about John MacArthur’s deplorable behavior at a recent men’s conference. He was asked what two words come to mind when he hears the name “Beth Moore.” He replied, “Go home.”

Beth Moore has been a powerful Bible teacher for 40 years, teaching women since her Southern Baptist Church won’t permit women to teach men. Her reach has extended far beyond the Southern Baptist Church, however, through her books and videos and conferences. She is intelligent, well-read and -studied, dynamic, and one of the best preachers I’ve heard in any pulpit anywhere. Arguably, she is the Billy Graham of female preachers.

And John MacArthur et al quite obviously feel threatened by her influence, because they think it’s funny to publicly mock her. I purposely haven’t watched the video, because I have read it thoroughly described by several respected sources. And because I have heard and experienced similar words from men; some meant well, others used their words carelessly and, perhaps, unaware of their own bias.

For most of three decades, I’ve spent my career in the Church. I showed up day after day, year after year, in one, two, three churches, using my gifts, skills, and creativity in every possible way to express God’s truth to God’s people. Until I finally admitted that I was too tired and too hurt from banging my head on the glass ceiling.

I went home.

But I haven’t given up, and I will not be silent. As long as I have breath in my lungs, I will use whatever platforms I have to speak truth:

God loves me.
God loves and gifts all His people (male and female; white and POC; old and young; rich and poor; straight and LGBTQ+; throughout time and the world over) to share His love.
All God’s people are preachers, though only some use words.

I may never again step foot in a pulpit (though I don’t rule that out), but I will never stop sharing God’s love. I am a God-loving and God-gifted woman. Even from home, you can hear me roar!

For more of the story of my ministry experience, please read this post.

Read these posts from two women I respect:
Cara Meredith
Sarah Bessey

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

It’s Today!

Last week I wrote that the world’s not ending yet, although in anticipation of a scheduled power outage people doomsday prepped as if it might.

The power went off just before 11 pm, almost eleven hours after originally scheduled. And within two hours, a fire broke out in open space about a mile as the birds fly from our house. Though we weren’t in immediate danger, because we back up to open space, every home on our cul-de-sac evacuated.

Imagine this: Guy was out of town. The kids and I went to bed around midnight. The barky dog woke me, a neighbor banged on my door with the news, and we had to lickety-split pack up our (ahem) sixteen pets. It didn’t even occur to me to grab all the things you’re supposed to: documents, photos, laptop. Nope, I had my kids and our pets and let’s go! We need a better emergency plan…

Fortunately, the fire department quickly got things under control and we returned home before dawn.

Days later, not one but two earthquakes shook the Bay Area, magnitude 4.7 and 4.8. Which prompted the question: power outages, fire, and earthquakes? Maybe the world will end sooner than we think.

Truly, that’s the kicker: who knows when “the end” will come, and what it will look like?

Only God.

So we might as well live every day like it’s our last. Carpe diem and all that jazz.

In the midst of that unusual week, I attended a cabaret concert by the delightful Nicolas King. He sang a song from Mame I’d never heard called, “It’s Today!” Apparently, the lyricist’s mother inspired the song. He came downstairs one day to find her all dolled up, setting the table with the good dishes. He asked what was the occasion, to which she replied, “It’s today!”

Light the candles,
Get the ice out,
Roll the rug up,
It’s today.
Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,
And though it’s far from the first of the year,
I know that this very minute has history in it, we’re here!

Later in the song comes the line: There’s a “thank you” you can give life, If you live life all the way.

Yes. So much yes.

Therein lies the challenge. We get caught up in routine, in ruts, in each day is so much like the other, that it can be difficult to know what will be special about this day. And yet, miracles await even in the mundane.

It reminded me of two quotes. St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” The other I learned as a Sunday school song: “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

So what will you do to celebrate being fully alive on this particular day? I took my dogs on a long walk through the park and soaked in October’s golden light warm on my skin. Returning home, I sat my butt in a chair and wrote hard all day. I took my lunch, a reheated bowl of homemade lentil soup, outside on our patio while I read from Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift. Later this evening our family will gather around a meal and catch up on the day.

Simple, yes. And good. It’s today!

Loop-de-Loop

Two weeks ago, I fell while running. Since the only broken skin was on my hand, and the only bruise a purple pin-prick on my chin, I thought I would be fine.

I took a day off, mostly because Guy asked me to. That led to three days off, because ouch my body hurt. Since then, I’ve walked the dogs on average four miles most days. I haven’t run yet.

I didn’t expect to be so sore, that my muscles would seize up first on my left side, where I landed, and then migrate to my right side.

I didn’t expect my heart and soul would hurt, too.

It took me a few days to figure it out: that when I took a literal fall on my face, I metaphorically hit the ground as well. The trauma in my body reignited the grief I have been working through for a while.

I will be fine. I am fine. Some days, however, I don’t feel fine. I’ve had to remind myself: grief isn’t linear.

The well-accepted stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—are all part of the process, but they don’t line up one after another. David Kessler, who worked with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, writes that, rather than acting as yield signs, the stages help us understand grief’s landscape; grief itself is unique to each individual.

Years ago, I attended a seminar in which a woman talked about helping kids deal with grief. She and her daughters witnessed their husband and father’s death. They’d bought him a hot air balloon ride for a big birthday celebration. His best friends joined him. Their families were following along on the ground when the balloon hit a power line and exploded. Everyone on board died.

I’ve sat through thousands of hours of instruction, and this lesson stuck more than others. She drew a messy squiggle on the board and said: “We think grief should be linear, that we move through stages and that’s that. No. Grief isn’t even a roller coaster, with twists and turns that come to an end. It’s this mess, and while sometimes it mellows, it never really ends.”

Recently, Shauna Niequist (@sniequist) posted to Instagram:

A reminder about grief: it isn’t linear, doesn’t honor the calendar or the clock or the weather, doesn’t obey the laws of logic or effort. It’s unpredictable. And sneaky. And it lives right alongside joy & hope & good work, & sometimes it’s so quiet you think it’s gone, & then out of nowhere it knocks the wind out of you on a Sunday morning or a Thursday afternoon. And sometimes it feels tender, like sadness, but other times it feels enormous & powerful, like rage or fire. I have walked through some soul-altering losses in the last several years, and I’ve been very intentional about walking through them privately—wise voices in my life have reminded me over and over that our private real-time, real-life wounds are not supposed to be bared in public, but rather tended to with honesty & love & truth-telling in private. That’s what one whole part of my life has been focused on these last couple years: allowing wise people who love me to tend to my broken heart in private. This part of my life & healing will remain private, but I do want to offer this to any of you who are also grieving something right now, maybe as a handful of comfort or hope: some days a very tiny, brave corner of your heart will burn with the faith that it is, someday, going to be okay…& then other days your chest feels like it’s been blown open by explosives, a ragged open wound. I have absolutely felt both, and quite recently. You’re not alone. Keep going.

Shauna’s last two words are the title of the post I wrote about falling.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Let’s keep going.

 

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wildfires, Power Outage, & Doomsday Prepping

In October 2017, 250 wildfires ravaged Northern California, including the Tubbs Fire, which burned in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties. At the time, it was the most destructive fire in California. Santa Rosa, in particular, looked like a bomb had gone off as whole neighborhoods burned down to the foundation. Altogether, the fires caused $14.5 billion in damages and an estimated $85 billion in cost to the economy.

In November 2018, the Camp Fire in NorCal’s Butte County surpassed the previous year’s fires to become the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. The fire burned for seventeen days and devastated the densely populated foothill town of Paradise, claiming at least 85 lives and $16.5 billion.

Beginning just after midnight today, October 9, 2019, PG&E began shutting off power to at least 30 NorCal counties due to fire risk. Close to 1 million people will lose power for an estimated one to five days. In emails to customers, PG&E says: “Power will remain off until weather conditions improve and it is safe to restore service. In most cases, we would expect to be able to restore power within 24 to 48 hours after weather has passed.” Previously, they also said that employees would inspect every inch of power lines to ensure public safety.

From local reactions, you’d think the world is ending. People are doomsday prepping like I’ve never seen living in California. Well, okay, maybe like they did for Y2K. The grocery stores are out of ice and bottled water. The hardware stores have run out of flashlights and batteries. I’ve never seen the gas stations so crowded in our small town, and the pumps are mostly empty anyway (I tried, but after pulling up to three pumps, I gave up. I have enough gas to get me where I won’t be going since nothing will be open).

I get it, be prepared, but we all need a giant dose of calm as well.

For my part, I’ve frozen blocks of ice in tupperware that I will transfer to an ice chest with food from the fridge. I brewed coffee to store in water bottles; I can drink it cool, but can’t survive without. I’ve chilled reusable water bottles because people stockpile water in unusual situations, even if clean flowing water does not seem in threat.

We have flashlights and candles in every room. We’ve charged our portable phone chargers and ordered a solar charger that should arrive by Amazon today. I did not raid the grocery store because we have enough PB&J and granola bars to last a week if not a month. Also, apples. And I should be able to use the gas stove to reheat the soup I made yesterday. We’ve got all our camping gear should it become necessary. Oh, and I made banana bread, but mostly because I needed to use the spotted bananas.

Though it does feel like PG&E will be holding the Bay Area hostage for the next several days, and that this may be an extreme reaction, caution is good. We certainly don’t want a repeat of the last two fire seasons. And though many have expressed that this is a sign of things to come, that we should at least expect higher rates in the near future, complaining doesn’t seem like a good use of our personal or collective energy, either. Rather, a few deep breaths and a sense of humor will serve us better.

With potential for school and office closures, I’m looking forward to the possibility of a few days of down-time with my kiddos. Without power for TV, video games, and computers, and with the need to limit power usage on their cell phones, we can instead enjoy each other’s company. Read books. Play board games. Get outside for a hike. Ride bikes. Eat simple meals by candlelight.

We have the opportunity to live lightly on the land, perhaps the best way to live all the time and not just in unusual circumstances.

 

Cover image by David Mark from Pixabay

Keep Going

I fell this morning while running with the dogs. I have no idea what happened, whether I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk or if I bumped the dogs or they bumped me, or maybe I just didn’t pick my foot up high enough. Whatever happened, I soared gracelessly through the air and landed flat. I had the sense to throw the leashes so that I didn’t entangle myself or, worse, land on the pups. I uttered a series of startled yelps as I went down, knees, thighs, thank God for tatas that cushioned the blow, hands scraping across the sidewalk as I tried to shield my face, though my left cheekbone bounced before it was over.

I laid still to collect my breath before picking myself up. Assessing the damage: dogs concerned but fine; no blood, and the only broken skin was on my right palm; no rips in my clothing. I decided I could work out the kinks on my way home. I even ran a little, though the dogs seemed less enthusiastic.

I’m sore already, and I cut the distance shorter than I’d intended, but I kept going. To quote Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

I’ll decide in the morning whether I need a day off to recuperate, but even if I do, it’ll be one day. I’ll get back to it the next.

Because exercise and art are disciplines. We can have bad days. We can take literal and metaphorical falls. We can feel like we can’t go on. And we can choose to go on anyway.

Yesterday I had an all-around crap day. A family disagreement before I’d finished my coffee started things off poorly. I took myself to the gym and worked my body to distract my spinning mind; I tumbled headlong into a nap (joys of working from home); I took a call from a far-away friend; and I still felt blue.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield describes the resistance that intends to keep us from creating:

“First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves” (31).

Yes, I’m emotional AF and that paragraph describes me yesterday to a T.

And still, I wrote. I worked on my personal projects because, for the time being, paid freelance writing work evades me (hence, the doubt: will I ever again get paid to do this thing I love? Maybe I suck. I do, I suck. Of course I suck. See how this goes?). Not having paid projects means I have time to work on my own stuff. As Pressfield also encourages: “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives” (22). And so I write.

I can’t go on. I’ll go on, winding my steps through our neighborhood streets and my thoughts into words on my computer. Even when I think I can’t, I will.

 

Cover image by Prawny from Pixabay
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