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: September 2019

Books come to us at a time and for a reason. I often pick up and put down a book  because our time hasn’t yet come. I am willing to jettison a book that offends me, whether because of the writing or the content; I don’t feel I have to finish every book I start (I used to), because life is too short to read bad books.

In this season of life, as fall has arrived and my sabbatical summer has ended, I’m reading mostly non-fiction about creativity and recreating my life. If you’re in a different season, likely we’re reading different things. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Art MattersArt Matters by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Illustrator Chris Riddell took some of Neil Gaiman’s essays and, well, illustrated them. “Make Good Art” was the best essay, with a clarifying image: the goal of my art is like a mountain. So long as I am walking toward the mountain, I’m on the right path. Anything that takes me closer to the mountain, say yes to that. Anything that turns me away from the mountain is a no. Helpful.

Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get DiscoveredShow Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book isn’t rocket science, but it is encouraging and helpful to those who create and want to be known for their creativity.

The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve had this book for years but pulled it off the shelf to guide me through my summer’s sabbatical, having quit my career and needing to find my way (write my way, more precisely) into a new one. This book was so on point: each time I felt resistance in any area, she addressed it specifically. I plan to keep this book close at hand for regular encouragement.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a WalkLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed my New Year’s Eve 1984 walk with Lillian through her city, Manhattan. Each stop along the way led her to share stories from her life- about history, culture, friendship, women and work and family. Her engagement with strangers, always respectful, always interested, were the highlights of the evening.

I enjoyed it until I didn’t. She took such sideways turns… I limped along with her as she walked to midnight and beyond, but she seemed deflated. I wanted more for her.

“A motto favored by the ancients was solvitur ambulando: It is solved by walking” (234).
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested” (238).

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals #1)A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly my favorite non-fiction book of all time. I read it first when I was a 21-year-old college graduate, when the concepts of “ontology”- being-ness – and “chronology” vs. “kairos” – clock time vs. flow – were new to me and entirely formational. As a young adult, I was seeking how I would be in the world, and especially seeking those experiences that would take me out of time, like dinner parties with friends, reading a captivating book, walking on the beach, and using my expensive education and the skills I had (and would develop) to make a difference in the world.

Reading it again at almost 50 years old, I have a different, renewed, appreciation for what Madeleine wrote when she herself was 51 years old. So much of what she wrote in 1972 still feels relevant, even oddly prophetic.

“Creativity is an act of discovering…. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love.” (12-13)

The Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the CubeThe Anti 9 to 5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube by Michelle Goodman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book would best be read by women in their 20’s, possibly before college graduation or soon thereafter. Since I’m not in that demographic, the best part of this book for me were the inspiring stories of women who followed their bliss into non-traditional careers.

Platform: The Art and Science of Personal BrandingPlatform: The Art and Science of Personal Branding by Cynthia Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No denying the world has changed. Everyone who spends any time on social media of any form has a platform, whether or not they know it, admit it, or care about it. Johnson is bold, an actor who becomes any character she wants to be to live the life she wants. She has a lot to teach, and this book contains practical advice and real-life illustrations to back it up. I didn’t always enjoy the book, and TBH, I’m more than a little overwhelmed by this new reality, but as they say, that’s life.

“So if everything is constantly changing and evolving, why do we become complacent and accept things as they are in the present? Acceptance…stops us from seeking change and challenging ourselves to grow.” (13)

View all my reviews on Goodreads
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Free to Fail

My younger son is a musician. He’s played trumpet for six years and picked up the tuba a year ago. As a high school sophomore, he registered for two music classes: Jazz and Symphonic Bands. Music is his happy place, the band room his safety zone.

His private instructor also works at the school; he asked to chat. Apparently, my kiddo did not do well on his jazz audition. But his instructor wanted me to know all the ways I could encourage him:

He did better on the harder of two pieces.
He persevered when he lost his place.
When he finished, the whole room broke out in applause rather than their normal toe tapping, understanding the struggle and the grit.
He did not have the worst audition in the group.
This was the hardest piece of music he will encounter all year,
and now auditions are over until next year.

No accident that I’ve been reading about creative risks and failure and how to go on when you feel discouraged.

Thing is, he knew the audition had been a mess, but he didn’t let it flatten him; he let it go. I reminded him that everyone will blow it from time to time, everyone fails, but that creates an opportunity for growth. And that artists may fail even more so because artists have to take risks, the nature of the creative game. I told him that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly so that you can get better. That everyone is a beginner, and even with experience, we face many, many, many beginnings (like, every new piece of music).

Yes, he agreed. Wise kid. How does he know all this when I’m still learning?

Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet about receiving a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday. She put the cover on her typewriter in a dramatic gesture to mark the end of her writing career; she walked circles around her writing room, sobbing, until she realized that already in her head she was writing a story about failure. She uncovered her typewriter and got back to work.

Failure requires a response of swift, gracious action. Instead of asking the pityingly poor question, “Why me?” we ask, “What next?” For my son, next meant more music, Symphonic Band, followed by geometry. He kept his head up and kept moving. For Madeleine, it was making the decision to keep pecking away at her typewriter. We do the next right thing, however small and seemingly insignificant.

The creative road can be scary, but we keep walking, step by step. We speak kindly to ourselves, not berating ourselves for failure but commending ourselves for the courage to risk. We may feel sore, like sore muscles after a hard workout, but we persist, assuring ourselves that as we keep at it those creative muscles will also grow stronger.

The next morning as I dropped my son off at the band room, I asked how he was feeling; I knew that morning’s class involved sight reading, not his strength. He said he felt fine, and he was. Having gotten through one difficult scene in the band room, he knew he could do it again. And this time, it was even easier. Next time will be easier still. He’s getting stronger.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Books – The Recent Round-Up

Even though May might just be my favorite month – days slightly brighter and longer and birds and flowers singing and springing – the end of school year seems always to twist me up and set me spinning. Not enough time! Too much to do! You have a what project that requires what supplies and you left it to now? Yeesh!

So I’ve been reading but not posting about reading – one too many steps in a busy season. And I’ve picked up a few books and set them back down again, trying to maintain my year’s goal to put myself in the way of beauty; some books create worlds I can’t inhabit right now, though another time, perhaps.

Let’s start with the novels:

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ishiguro’s voice reads like a graceful whisper, punctuated by the secrets his characters tell, overhear, and discern, dropped like bombs. The full-bodied characters are people you know: the energetic and sensitive boy with a big temper, the every-girl who knows how to calm the boy, the ring leader who manipulates them all. This book is simultaneously a beautiful homage to the human being and a cautionary tale against scientific progress that cares for some at the painful expense of others.

The Hobbit (Middle-Earth Universe)The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book when I was 9 or 10 years old. I’m not sure why I read it – it wasn’t assigned for school, but maybe it was in the classroom? Maybe a teacher or librarian recommended it? Fantasy/sci fi have never been my standard fair. Still, scenes and themes from this book have continued to resonate in my mind and heart throughout my lifetime: an honorable, hard-earned quest, companionship, Bilbo and Gollum and Precious, power and humility…

As an adult I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy – before the brilliant movies were released. The Hobbit movies are a great disappointment in comparison, but I enjoyed rereading the book with my own child, now just past the age I was when I first read it.

I relate to Bilbo’s reaction to Gandalf’s suggestion of an adventure: “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” Though he reluctantly agrees to leave the comforts of home, he often longs to be back in his cozy hobbit hole; except that adventure as a whole changes him so that when he eventually returns, he doesn’t mind that the townspeople consider him odd.

My own adventures, however reluctantly undertaken, have changed me enough that I might somewhat-less-reluctantly venture forth again.

And now for non-fiction:

And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings (Genesis, #1)And It Was Good: Reflections on Beginnings by Madeleine L’Engle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At least my second reading of this book, I am taken by her descriptions of the world – the wild and beautiful and dangerous natural world; and the world occupied by humans so full of both good and evil and still image their Creator God. L’Engle reminds me to maintain wonder, in spite of the so prevalent brokenness that is our context, and to let wonder move me to prayer.

“When I look at the galaxies on a clear night—when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, then, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged—I rejoice that I am part of it, I, you, all of us—part of this glory” (82).

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive FunctioningLate, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book after reading an article on twice-exceptional kids that referenced the book. Two twice-exceptional kids and no educator or doctor had mentioned the term “executive functioning”: “…a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.” The executive functions include inhibition, mental/emotional flexibility, emotional control, initiation, working memory, planning/organization, and self-monitoring.

The book is clearly laid out, explaining challenges and providing real-life examples and practical how-to-help tips. Reading as a parent of two very different kids with different strengths and weaknesses, I have lots to digest; reading at the end of school year was not the best timing and I’ll need to review it all again in August as we begin a new year’s regimen.

The gift of this book lies in its practicality and hope: “…we believe that our children’s best hope for the future may lay in the discovery of some strength that blossoms into an island of competence, and perhaps even becomes a continent of possibilities for personal satisfaction and job success. After all, people thrive when they build a life around their strengths. There are many different paths to success, even though this is sometimes hard to keep in perspective during the school years” (202).

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.