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.

When It Clicks

College, first semester freshman year, I had a professor (in a non-writing class) who taught me one of the most useful skills I have ever learned: freewriting. “For the next minute [or three, or five], put pencil to paper and Do Not Stop! If you cannot think of anything to write, write that. If that bores you to tears, draw dots. Keep your pencil moving until more thoughts come. Do not reread what you’ve written and DO NOT EDIT! Just keep your pencil moving down the line, down the page. Now WRITE!” I have used this approach bazillions of times in my life to come unstuck. I have taught my teens to do it, and now I know even Jack Kerouac knew the way of (what I call) the brain dump. Add exercise, physical play (any kind of play that moves you), and your freewrites might click in ways you’d never imagined…

re:create recess #11: Paul Quinlivan

There I was, somewhere deep in the middle of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, a few miles west of Mt. Adams and East of Mount St. Helens in Southern Washington state, when everything clicked. I had already walked over 350 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail from Crater Lake, heading north toward the Canadian border. I had sweated and cried, been scared and felt calm, lost myself and then allowed myself to be found, seen unspeakable beauty (see Sisters Wilderness) and brokenness (think miles of forest ravaged by a forest fire); I had experienced nearly every emotion you could name and then a few more, but something still seemed incomplete even if I couldn’t name it. That was, until things clicked.

At some point it happened. On a random patch of trail in the middle of the woods I suddenly had the urge to create. Poems somehow appeared in my mind. Images from my past and present converged and all I could do was ride the wave of creativity. When I reached my destination that afternoon I was in a tizzy with poem after poem, story after story, attempting to document all that came to me. And I use that language intentionally, because it came to me. It was probably in me all along, but I needed that moment, that ‘click,’ when the cosmos of the world came together and all made sense.

I am a firm believer that each of us has a multitude of moments such as this throughout our lives. Most often they pass us by. We have become unpracticed at either noticing or doing anything with these moments. Too busy running between our jobs and children’s soccer games and faith community meetings to slow down enough to actually document the spirit of creation coming upon us. Or maybe we are blocked by shame, or fear, or the voices of inadequacy or doubt and self-contempt to risk the tangible act of putting into the world all that floats around in our minds and bodies. Whatever the reason, we don’t take full advantage.

Those that create professionally are not all that different from the non-creative others except that they pay attention to the moments and cultivate practices–rituals–to document the waves of inspiration. Jack Kerouac famously engaged in what he termed “spontaneous prose,” sitting at his typewriter documenting everything that came to mind. Most of it was probably crap and rarely became published work, but then again some of those words gave us a classic that defined a whole generation of artists. I also believe that the best practice, or ritual, to bring forth these inspired moments is play, an activity that takes us out of the creative blocks we have put in place.

I spend the majority of my professional life as a mental health therapist working with adults, adolescents, families, and couples struggling with the effects of abuse, complex trauma and general relational discord. While there are many technicalities to what healing might look like for my clients as a general rule, if I could invite them to play more, to recreate, they could begin to have greater freedom in their lives and their treatment. Recreation invites us back into our child selves when the world was safe and large and whimsical. It means, like a child, we engage in an activity where we don’t hold back our imagination for what the world could be and how we could be active participants in it.

For me to get to this place, I go on long walks. As I hike my body begins to remember what it was like to be free to explore the beautiful expanse outside my door. Inevitably, somewhere along the way I forget I am walking and something clicks, and I am taken again by the spirit of creativity.

Place of my Youth
Have you ever watched a sunset over a mountain?
The rays playing in the branches, the alarming mist.
It fades to its becoming horizon leaving the tree tops on fire
The sky begins to melt from a bright blue, to navy to purple
The air cools and wild ducks make their final peace with the disappearing lake edge
The expanse above welcomes the darkness as the eldest, brightest stars grace the veil until their sisters and cousins come to dance across the world above
inviting you to remember your youth
Have you ever watch a sunset over a mountain lake?
I have. It has awakened my soul.
Father, Husband, Friend, Therapist, Hiker, Surfer, Mystic, Writer, Farmer and Teacher are but a few of Paul Quinlivan’s many monikers. He lives with his lovely wife Alyssa, 20 month old son and 5 month old daughter, 4 chickens and their South American dog in a slowly gentrifying suburb of Seattle. When he is not attempting to recapture his artistic self through writing he works to help others find themselves as a therapist at a local community mental health agency and in private practice. More info on Paul and his practice can be found at www.wildgoosecollective.org

 

Power Down & Play

“Wow, you really need to get away!” said Co-worker as she realized I had missed something squarely in my easy-peasy realm of responsibility.

I worked frenetically up until fifteen minutes before our car drove away. While I did pull out my phone a few times on the drive, I also made a concerted effort not to talk work with Guy–not to plan, discuss, vent. I put work on a back shelf with fun straight ahead.

About fifteen minutes before we arrived, we lost cell reception. On a different carrier, the friends we were with had reception and those who might need to knew how to reach them. I tucked my phone in my purse and didn’t reach for it again until we headed home. It took the whole homeward drive and then some to power back up.

I’d forgotten how blissful it feels to be completely untethered. 48 hours without calls, texts, email, or media.

Without distraction we talked and talked until the clock announced a new day. We relished the beauty of a frozen lake, of snow flakes melting on our cheeks, of a bald eagle flying overhead. We threw snowballs to a dog happy to catch them in her mouth. We drank thick, sweet hot chocolate and nibbled our way from one snack to another. We read and shared stories. We laughed through old movies. We lit candles and donned headlamps when the power went out. We played games, we learned new games, and we discovered who’s good at what kind of thinking. We slipped into satisfying naps and slept deeply through the night.pinecrest-grp

We woke late. We hiked, and sank, in deep snow. We squeaked in laughter each time a foot broke through ice and we landed on our knees (at least I did!). We enjoyed time together, and we enjoyed every minute.

Before we left home I didn’t know, couldn’t recognize, how much I needed this get-away. In the humdrum of everyday life, we forget that our bodies and souls need to play. We need rest daily–sleep, and a little something fun, like exercise or reading or creativity of whatever sort refuels us. We also need rest seasonally–a quick get-away, like the one we enjoyed this weekend, or something longer, a true vacation.

If we can’t get away, then we at least need to unplug. And when we do get away, we definitely ought to unplug. Funny, isn’t it?, that machines need to plug in for power while human beings find restoration by unplugging from the very devices we expect to make our lives easier.pinecrest

re:create recess

In 2015 I decided to adopt a word (actually, a phrase) that significantly affected my decision-making: put yourself in the way of beauty. Unlike any resolution or goal setting before it, that phrase began a work in my being–mind, heart, body, soul–that continues to this day.

Create was my 2016 theme, and it picked up where beauty left off. However, it didn’t take long to recognize the connection between creativity and play. I began to feel more playful, to enjoy life in new and fulfilling ways. Yes, sometimes creativity involves hard work, and still creative work can feel playful.

Which makes sense when you think that we often use recreation as a synonym for play. To recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” The creative process refreshes and relaxes me, leading to joy as I differently engage my body and mind in play.recess

I wondered if play would be my 2017 theme. But no, I’m not done with create. Yet I am interested in exploring the association between creativity and play and how both have the power to re-create (transform) us and the world around us. Hence, re:create—another take on create (“re:”) with an emphasis on play.

2016 was a mixed bag. Personally we had joys and more than a few bumps. So did our friends. And our nation experienced, arguably, one of the worst divides I’ve witnessed in my adult life. One month into 2017 and less than two weeks into a new president, the divide seems to be widening. Now more than ever we need to create, to play, to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned recess (preferably minus the playground bully, but we’ll try to ignore him…)

We can create…

…art, beauty, childhood and childlikeness, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, play, poetry, rituals, service, stories, traditions…

Questions to ponder (and an answer):
What do you create? Or, what activities fill your days with life and passion?
I create a life, love, a home, a safe shelter for my guys. I create experiences, memories, traditions and rituals that enrich our life together. I create hospitality for friends and space to go deeper together. With all these beloved people, I create relationship, friendship, and laughter. We create hope and courage for one another when things get rough. I have created this blog as a means to record and reflect on miracles in the mundane, and through this blog I have created a community of writers/creatives and readers.
How do you recreate/play?
How does recreation affect other arenas of your life?
Why do you re/create?
How has creativity/play recreated your heart, mind, soul, body, life?

Next Wednesday I’ll feature 2017’s first guest post, and throughout the year we will hear from creatives of all stripes and spots: parents, teachers, painters, musicians, designers, coaches, pastors, thinkers, and of course, writers… They will inspire and challenge us with their unique expressions of creativity, play, and transformation. I’m calling this re:create recess and, just like in elementary school, I can’t wait to get to playtime!

Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Play at Your Own Risk

I’ve written about this before, but most of my life I thought I could not be a runner. Once I hit puberty, running induced unbearable abdominal cramps. Later, as a college freshman, I tore my meniscus and running hurt my knee. Sports never floated my boat, so I had no reason to run. I was the indoorsy type, content with introspection while walking/hiking when the outdoors required my attention.

Until last spring, when I had a sudden impulse to run in the rain. And it didn’t hurt. And, surprisingly, I had fun. I kept it up, increasing the frequency and length of my runs.

Until I developed allergy-induced breathing issues. Six weeks of labored breathing and an inhaler later, I got back to running.

Until I sprained my ankle on a late-July run. Three weeks of limping, and a doctor told me to start walking on it. The harder I walked, I noticed, the better my ankle felt at night. So I began running on the treadmill at the gym, “safe” terrain to build up my stamina while my ankle healed.

I’m not a good runner. I don’t far or fast but, as my only competition, I have noticed improvement. I don’t think I’m losing weight either, but that wasn’t necessarily the point. I feel stronger, more confident in my own skin. Having made way on a path that once felt impenetrable, I have gained confidence to tackle other areas of life.

Over the last few weeks, I’m finally back on the road and varying my route. Today the dog tugged in the opposite direction of my “usual” run, or even the alternate route I took yesterday, so I followed her lead.

Until about half-way through when my toe hit an uneven stretch of sidewalk and I took a spectacular fall, one that felt like flying though probably looked like something on America’s Funniest Videos. My left (bad) knee hit first. My hands slid along the ground, thankfully keeping my face off the pavement. I landed flat out on my stomach, arms fully extended above my head. Thankfully I let go of the leash and the dog had the good sense to get out of my way.hands-ouch

Already winded, I knocked away any breath left in my lungs. I stayed flat out for a minute and then, slowly, curled to sit on my rear, knee bent before me. I took inventory: road rashed hands; I didn’t tear my yoga pants; knee with bright red individual pebble gravel indentations. But I’m okay.

A bicyclist didn’t stop, but asked if I was okay. I offered, “I think so.” He smiled understandingly; he’s probably taken a spill or two himself.

A neighbor pulled his truck over and got out. He grabbed the dog’s leash, and waited as I got to my feet. He offered a ride home. I considered but said, no, I needed to walk the stiff out. He said, “Good, good for you. Walk it off, as they say.”

Right. Walk it off. They do say that.

I did my best to laugh. “Before I fell, I was just realizing that I’ve been running for almost six months…”

He laughed, too. “Great! Keep running for six more. Maybe just take a different route.” The irony… This was the different route…

Before I fell, I had planned to keep going straight, to take the long loop back home. Instead I turned at the corner to take the more direct route. My knee throbbed, and I had to think about holding the leash so it wouldn’t touch the pools of blood forming on my palms.

I walked until I came to a side-street that loops around–I turned left and ran it. It took a little more effort, but I was okay. I walked a little and ran a little. I added an extra loop to the right as well, running and walking. I kept going. I didn’t give up.

Breathing issues didn’t stop me; I take a deep breath on an inhaler before I run. A sprained ankle didn’t stop me; I wrap my ankle before exercise (and occasionally take ibuprofen after). A fall won’t stop me, either.

As I type I’m sitting in a recliner with my feet up, an ice pack on my knee and bandages on my hands. It may be a good idea to take tomorrow off. And still, I’m proud of myself. Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined running regularly. Six months ago one or another of the obstacles I’ve faced would have derailed me. Six months ago, I would have accepted the ride home, giving up.

If you want to play, you might get hurt. Play at your own risk, right? I’ve gotten hurt, and I’ve gotten back up. So far, the risk has proven worth it.

An Expressive Outlet

Create Challenge Guest Post Day has made Wednesdays my 2016 favorite day of the week! As a writer, there is so much about today’s post that resonates with me: the desire/need to release words into the world; the joy in the process and relief at its end; the writing-editing tension; and procrastination, because laundry. When we attended church together, the sight of Liz made my heart happy – she smiled, encouraged, believed better about others than they felt in the moment. She feels it, and so I’m confident she would tell you, too: Just Create!

Create Challenge Guest Post #6 – Liz MesenbringLMsky

I’m most creative in my writing and photography. They both provide an expressive outlet for me to capture an experience that resonates within me, or share a message, whether assigned or initiated from a simple desire to just write. In comparing photography with writing, I realize I take pictures in gratitude or awe of a scene, moment or person. In writing, I feel a sense of responsibility to clear back the extraneous words in my mind and find the essence of a thought, experience or moment. Photography is about what’s around me, on the outside, apart from me. Writing deals with what’s within.

I’ve written on a variety of topics and for a variety of projects, including ad copy for The San Antonio Express-News; animated character dialogue for LeapFrog; a Master’s thesis on education and the role of technology; resumes for myself and others; personal statements for private school applications; essays; and most recently, sketch comedy.

Regardless of the audience, it’s all in fun. I enjoy the process of organizing and fine-tuning a thought, feeling, opinion; pondering a memory; even getting a glimpse of what I might like to try or do, or where I might allow myself to be led in the future.LMbeach

I write when I feel a nagging need to hold a pen and scribble it across a notepad, as fast as it wants until my fingers intuitively release it. Sometimes I speed my fingers along a keyboard as words flow from me onto the big Apple screen.

I write until I’m done, satisfied (or relieved) to have released whatever story, memory, notes, whatever it is trumpeting in my mind or heart. It feels much like having been thirsty and knowing when I’m satiated and no longer in need of water.

I write trying not to edit, just like life when fun moments, like a belly laugh, are spontaneous. My writing teacher Amy said all writing should be considered a first draft; any intention, if it exists, should be allowed to move aside and the real story permitted to take center stage by the second or third draft. I try to allow fearlessness and honesty to guide my editing process, deleting the unnecessary or superfluous in order to spotlight the message at heart.

Too often I procrastinate writing, letting laundry, dog walking, dinner prep or the call of a more financially lucrative job search take precedence. Sometimes I feel more accomplished with a stack of clean sheets put away in the closet, warm tidy towels hanging in the bathroom, or the inviting way a freshly vacuumed carpet beckons for a walk down the hall. It’s a challenge when family members offer greater appreciation for a clean bathroom and a piping hot dinner than a two-page entry on a blog or humorous sketch in a black and white composition book.LMtrees

For me writing is like blending ingredients (situations and words) to create something I can’t completely envision from inception. I imagine similarities with cooking, painting, or sewing, all things I don’t do or enjoy as much as writing. I’d rather write and edit than prepare an intricate meal with the necessary steps of measuring, chopping, monitoring temperatures and timing, stirring… It all leaves me feeling drained. Instead, the writing process feels relaxing, refreshing, as I release the swirling thoughts and ideas in my mind to magically come together into a more orderly, understandable and relatable piece of reading. I appreciate the entire process of a written project coming to life, like the unfolding of a colorful banner.

My latest creative endeavor is sketch comedy. I sort of stumbled into it but have discovered that it is incredibly satisfying to fit humorous life observations and experiences into a new-to-me writing structure. I like the challenge of being ultra-specific with story, details, and word choice. It’s rewarding to hear others laugh after I’ve recreated a mundane activity – ordering a pizza, renewing a driver’s license, or shopping for groceries – into an amusing scene, and have a team of actors and production crew be excited to bring an entertaining sketch to life.

Over the years I may have refrained from certain stories, perhaps because I didn’t want to face a truth, accept a reality, expose a vulnerability. Words and stories can be judged or misunderstood, and sharing a piece of writing can expose me to unintended hurts, opinions I prefer not to hear. However, not writing tends to isolate me from God and the spirit within me. When I make it a priority to write, excusing Writer’s Block to find another home, it’s like lowering a drawbridge so the light of the Holy Spirit can once again flow through me and onto the paper. I’ve come to learn that what I share can also be an invitation to grow closer to others, to God, and even myself.

LMesenbring

 

Liz is currently working on a variety of writing projects ranging from sketch comedy scenes to developing a television pilot. When not tinkering away at perfect word choice, she can be found walking a dog, feeding the birds, or working on mastering the fine art of parenting a teenage daughter.