Getting Lost

It helps to remember that getting outside can put me in a better mood.

A walk around the block is obviously good for the dogs. It’s good for the body. And it’s good for my soul.

I had been in a funk when Guy and I leashed up the dogs for an hour-long walk. As we strolled we laughed when one or the other would attempt to pounce on a lizard who had already skittered away. We laughed some more when they stuck their noses into Mexican feather grass—something smelled good—and the grass looked like a lion’s mane on a three-bodied monster. We saw a hawk soaring overhead. We admired roses of every hue growing in our neighbor’s gardens. The gray clouds of my mood parted as I noticed the world outside myself.

I felt more rested (rest-full) for having moved my body outside than I did when I sat still in my comfortable chair.

This weekend we had the honor of witnessing the baptism of our friends’ daughter at a beautiful Catholic retreat center. When the service ended and we had congratulated the happy family, we strolled the grounds.

In one lushly planted brick-walled garden, I spotted a little statue of St. Francis holding two birds. I would have missed him entirely if the birds had been painted with more subtlety—the fire engine red glossy paint positively popped against the green foliage.

He delighted me, so I snapped a picture.

He seemed to be hiding, lost among the leaves and yet exactly where he should be. The birds seemed to glow even brighter for being held by Francis.

I want to be “lost” like St. Francis, perfectly content in my natural hiding spot. I like being a little bit lost in my own pursuits, in flow, attentive to the beauty in front of me rather than caught up by distractions. I want to be surrounded by nature, beauty, peace. And I suppose it would be nice if, on occasion, I brought delight to those who happen to notice me hiding in plain sight.

Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Advent 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace

When I chose “recreate” as my 2017 word of the year, I anticipated keeping on keeping on with my creative life pursuits while engaging more playfully. I did not expect the mess, the dusty piles that result from taking things apart in order to make something new. I didn’t expect the directions the word would take me, or the year to be so difficult.

I find myself longing for peace, every ounce of me aching with longing. I try to keep perspective, to make healthy choices, to put one foot in front of the other, one word followed by another. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I nap.

This world is not peaceful. This life is not peaceful. Yet… I read recently: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.” Yes, that.

We live between Christ’s coming and coming again. He is the Prince of Peace–He offers peace unlike anything the world can offer–and yet we struggle. I know I’m not alone in my longing for peace, for the Prince of Peace.

Yesterday, a friend I haven’t seen since college wrote and posted the following:

Ode to 2018

I failed myself this year.
And last year.
And … honestly, it’s been so long, I don’t remember my last victory.
I have decided to dismantle this rock wall I built to protect myself from seeing and feeling the loss.
It has only kept me in the pain, apart from where I want to be.
Where I’m meant to be.
And I’m breaking through.
From rock bottom.
From beneath these boulders.
I am crawling out from under the rocks and suffocating depths that kept me pinned and stuck for so long.
From the heaviness that left my spirit crushed and unable to breathe in fully.
Love fully.
I am gently and compassionately wiping off the mud and filth from being buried.
Stomping and shaking it off my boots.
Wiping away the soot and grime on my face.
Cleaning out the silt in my ears and nose.
Surrendering my arms high, and letting the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love wash over me.
I am taking responsibility.
I am wrapping my arms around my failure and giving it the warmest hug I can muster.
And in that embrace I will identify my wrongs, admit my shame and whisper how truly sorry I am.
And then …


I will let it go …

And exhale.
And breathe in the crisp, cool air of new birth.
Of mercy.
Of hope.
Of love.
I refuse to sabotage myself further.
Never again.
I will no longer live in fear of falling in and risking everything.
And I know it will take everything to change.
Everything I got.
And I will give it.
It will require meditation, faith, discipline, prayer, grit, self compassion and living mindfully.
Everyday.
And the next day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will squeal with the delight of a toddler and the gratefulness of a 90-year-old woman for the privilege to give it all again this day.
And the next.
And the next.
And I will I will pick myself up when I stumble.
And see how beautiful and strong I am.
Even with the scrapes and the bruises.
And because of them.
I will not fear what will be, but focus on who I am becoming.
I will choose joy.
Make joy.
Give joy.
I will run and skip and romp and frolic and catch my breath and clutch my chest for the sheer wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers me.
I will love fully.
I will drink it in from my overflowing cup.
I will spill it everywhere and dribble it out of the corners of my mouth as I smile big.
And laugh it out of my nose.
And leak it out of my shining eyes.
I will no longer hide from discovering how bright my light can shine.
I was made to shine.

Thank you, Kara Schwab, for taking the risk to live and write and create so vulnerably, to encourage me and others that we aren’t alone in this struggle to become the people we were created to be, to fully live the life set out for us. Yes, So Much YES, to the cleansing and healing waterfall of God’s love, the wondrous awe of God’s grace that covers us all.

Photo by Alice NG on Unsplash

Advent Week 3 – Longing for the Prince of Peace 

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink): The first candle represents the Child of the Virgin. The second candle represents the King. The third candle represents the Prince of Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 9:6-7

Read: We do not live in a peaceful world. War. Shootings. Discrimination. Crime. Illness. Divorce. Job stress. Division, lack of unity, in all its forms. Jesus is the Prince of Peace yet we struggle beneath the weight of the world. Without God we have no chance at peace or hope. With God, the Prince of Peace, we have both. We long for, cling to, Jesus our Peace.

Pray: Prince of Peace, hold us tight as you work out your justice and righteousness. We long for you, Jesus. Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Tuesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Wednesday Ezekiel 34:24-26 How might you participate in God’s showers of blessings for someone else?
Thursday Matthew 5:9 What can you do today to be a peacemaker?
Friday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Saturday Romans 15:13 Pray this verse for yourself and for anyone else you know who feels peace-less.

Merry Christmas 2016!

In a world of broken promises, a world of broken peace, a world of brokenness, oh how we need the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus! Today, more than ever, I am praying for peace for people everywhere, especially for those who cannot call Christmas “merry.”

christmas-cluster

Advent Wreath Candlelighting for Christmas – The Promise Fulfilled

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King. The third candle represents the song of glory. The fourth candle represents the song of salvation. The center candle represents Jesus, God’s promise fulfilled.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Read: Just as the angel promised, Mary had a baby boy. Unexpecting shepherds also received an angelic promise: in the town of David you will find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. When they found the Promise Fulfilled, shepherds joined the angel’s song—let all who hear it be amazed: A Savior has been born to us, our Messiah, the Lord! Glory to God in heaven, and on earth, peace.

Pray: Dear God, thank you for fulfilling all your promises in Jesus. In His precious name we will sing your glory forever and ever, Amen.

silent night wide version

artwork by Nancy Ingersoll http://nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com/

chronic…peace?

My sister has battled a chronic illness for 12.5 years, one that almost killed her at first and kept her in a medically-induced coma for most of the next five months. She has been in and out of countless doctors’ offices and in the hospital too regularly. It’s quite possible that, in any given year, she sees more medical personnel than I have in my entire lifetime, and I’m her Big Sister.

Coco missed most of her oldest son’s first year of life–my parents and other sister helped to care for him while she was comatose–and her second son is more-than-miraculous given he was unintentionally conceived while she was taking drastic drugs. Her sons have never known their mom without a life-defining illness and they, with their dad, have proven incredibly resilient. We wish they hadn’t had to.

Summer before last, my dear friend had emergency eye surgery to repair a torn retina. Surgery should have fixed the problem, but for the last year-and-a-half she has been in and out of the doctor’s office two-five times per month. She has had additional emergency surgeries (one resulted in 472 laser blasts to her eye). She has received second and third opinions. She has had more than one allergic reaction to medications that have resulted in additional doctor’s appointments. Almost weekly she has had to change her activity levels and schedule to accommodate healing, and she has been advised not to travel more than two hours from the nearest retinal surgeon.

She finally switched surgeons for a more aggressive approach and endured an invasive fix-all surgery. Surgery successful, and she had post-op complications. Months later, even more. “Wait…” might be the most difficult word to hear when you thought you’d already done everything necessary.

Our Tween has cyclic vomiting, a migraine variant that, for the most part, bypasses the headache and sets him off hurling. Daily, and regularly, until the school day’s over, at which point he feels (mostly) fine. It sounds like faking, but no kid would intentionally vomit this often or violently. He loves school, and he would much rather be there than running for the toilet.

It came on 2.5 years ago and at first we thought it was an odd flu. When Week Two, punctuated by an entirely-well weekend, repeated the exact pattern, and then the whole thing repeated a few months later, we began looking for other causes.

A year ago–after his worst-ever cycle, three weeks of morning-to-bedtime puke–his neurologist put him on a preventative med that worked: he had an entire migraine-free year! Exactly a year later, it seems to have stopped working.

He is now in his third cycle of this school year. Different from every cycle before this fall, they are less violent; he can go back to sleep; and they last only a few days. He has missed thirteen days scattered throughout eight weeks, which means he’s missed one-quarter of the current school year. He likes his teachers and classes; he has friends; he wants to be there; and migraines have laid him flat.

Because these cycles have been different, we don’t know what to expect. Which means we don’t know what to do and our lives feel on hold.

On Tuesday I talked with my friend after yet-more disappointing news. On Wednesday I talked with my sister as she anticipated difficult doctors’ appointments. On Thursday, when Tween returned to bed rather than school, I heard my own voice say what my loves had said before: “I just want my life back!”

So I have been praying, “peace of Christ,” my new mantra. When in the car, I turn the fan on my face to remind myself that God wants to blow His Spirit, His peace, into my life.

I pray peace for Tween, as we expect anxiety is a likely player in his migraines (though he can’t articulate it). I pray peace for Guy, who so desperately wants to fix things that he gets angry when he can’t. I pray peace for myself as I day-after-day take short days in the office to come home and work nearby my kiddo, who by that time is usually attempting homework sans class instruction. I pray peace as our plans for days and dates and celebrations fall to the wayside of illness.

I pray peace for my sister. I pray peace for my friend. I pray peace for our world…

I want my life back…and yet this, for now, is my life. No bother comparing “old normal” to “new normal,” today is life and this is what I get. Peace of Christ. Peace of Christ, friends.patricksbreastplate

Sharing Creativity and Time

Some days I consider that I need a creative pastime that doesn’t involve words or, specifically, my computer. And on those days I think of my friend Jen, who quietly, humbly, and persistently creates works of whimsical beauty with her hands. Jen is always good for a smile, a laugh, a story, a listening ear, and to inspire me to create more. And I love today’s post that reminds us that our creativity is for us, sure, but also for others, a gift to be shared in more ways than one.

Create Challenge #20: Jen Patera

I was created to create by the ultimate Creator who blessed me with a love of creating (say that 10x). I love to make things. I can’t remember a time when I was not making something. Creativity has been a part of my daily life since I discovered tape and cardboard. I am at my happiest when I am making something. Creating allows me to stop, in the midst of an over-scheduled life. My craft table is always a place of peace, prayer, problem-solving, quiet contemplation. I love sharing my creations, and I am almost always making things with others or to share with others.JP cake JP spoon JP spreader

Is creativity passed down genetically, generation to generation? Scientists say it is so, and I am inclined to believe them! But, genetics aside, I also think it is about sharing your creativity with others to inspire their creativity, especially with children. Bonding over playdough, glue and paint. My mom is a super crafty lady with many creative passions (writing, jewelry making, stained glass…the list goes on). When I was young, she shared her love of making things as we bonded over homemade ornaments and sewing projects. I was encouraged to be creative and express myself. I was indulged with sketchbooks, paints, art classes, and time.

As a young mom, I longed to sit at the kitchen table making things with my children as my mom had done with me. Sharing creativity and time. My youngest son, at a very early age, loved to create. At two, he not only painted the paper on his easel, he painted his body too. Why not? Fabulous! Bravo! During his preschool years, he produced enough art to more than cover the refrigerator. For his third birthday he wanted a farm truck cake with and we set out together designing, baking, and decorating that cake. Store bought invites…oh no! We carefully made all the invites too! After that, we constructed a barn out of a large appliance box. That is how it went until he stopped having birthday parties. Halloween…another great sharing of creativity and time, bonding over ideas and execution. Sometimes his ideas were bigger than my ability…but we worked through it.

When youngest was in Kindergarten, I picked him up at school. His sweet little hands cradled a folded paper plate that held a treasured creation. I opened the plate, which contained a 6” long, lumpy brown piece of clay (imagine what that might look like).

“Look mom, a snake! And it has eyes!” After a short pause, “…brown was the only color they had.”JP snake

I loved that little brown snake then, and I love it now. One of my most treasured possessions. But it represents more than just a brown lump of clay, it represents our shared love of making things, of creating, of using our hands, of time spent together.

Now at 18 years old, as I watch him explore his own passions and creative expression, his own process, I am reminded why I love to create; and why my mom, and her mom, loved to create—to share not only a creative process, but also shared interests, to sit side-by-side talking, and most importantly, treasuring time together. JP create mug

JPatera

Born in France, lifelong Army brat, moved 27 times around the U.S. by the time I was 18! Came to California to attend the Academy of Art/University of San Francisco and graduated with a BFA. Married my guy Brent in 1990. Two boys in college, one at University of Montana one at Diablo Valley College.  Breast cancer survivor 5 years out.  Love to travel (my favorite place is Savannah, where my mom lives), hike, and do crafty things. View my creations at my Etsy shop.

How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.