Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sage Advice for Graduates

Dear Friends:

You are all about to embark on an amazing adventure. As you can guess, I'm totally jealous (and totally excited for you, too!). My first year of college was the year I grew the most---as a person, as a friend, as a writer. When I finally shed the layer of high school, something new emerged and I felt so alive soaking it all in. I grew into my skin. Or maybe just into the real me.  

It's always awkward for me to give advice to others. Mainly, because I still feel like a hot mess navigating my own life every day. While I don't have everything figured out, the ups and downs have taught me a few things. Let's not even call it advice, shall we? Here are my encouraging words as you launch into this new world after high school.

1.  Do not lock your keys in your car at the gas station when you make one last stop before meeting your new roommates at your dorm. Even if your stomach hurts from worry and you are sure you will poop your pants, hold on to your keys. It's really important.

2. Be yourself. You are going to meet lots of new people, who all seem weird and crazy and cool. They will think your weird and crazy and cool is the best thing ever. Dust off the facade, if you had one, and start being your authentic self. Immediately. Trust me on this. People are going to love you!

3. Until you find a college church family (and I hope you will seek one out because it's important), focus on the simple truths in the Bible. Love God and love others. Live your life embracing that every single day without judgment or fear.

4. Find a coffee shop with some hipsters and great coffee, then pour out your heart by writing some really bad poetry. Or journaling. Or blogging. Whatever floats your boat. Just get those emotional feelings out in some helpful way. It's a big, new world and change is hard.

5. Call your mom and dad once in awhile. When you need money, of course, but sometimes just to tell them you love them. It really does matter.

6. Do not skip your 8 a.m. class more than twice in a semester even it is a stupid geography class. Apparently, you will need to know if you need a raincoat or a warm winter coat in Italy in April in order to pass the class. Also, feel free to take a few semesters of racquetball. I mean, look how good I turned out!

7. Remember that one or two authentic friends will be more meaningful than a room packed full of acquaintances. Go deep with friendship.

8. If you aren't sure what you want to be when you grow up, you are not alone. Don't stress. Learn all you can and something will spark a fire to show you the right path for you. Or you can major in communications because surely someone will want to give you a job communicating something when you graduate. 

9. Do not eat cereal at every single meal. I know it will seem tempting because who can resist a cereal bar. But, please...try hard.

10. Don't be a stranger back home. The people who have loved you along the way are still here to encourage you, pray with you and love you. Come back home for a weekend and let us hug on you for awhile. It will help simmer down the chaos of college life.

Enough encouraging words. You've. Got. This. I hope you enjoy every single minute of this new adventure. I'm counting on you!

Much love,

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Love the Mothers!

My son, Tuck, throwing a fit at 2 years old.
I visited Prescott National Forest in Arizona this weekend. No hiking. No sniffing trees (well, deep in the forest anyway). I was on a bigger mission, you see. I was there to snuggle some babies.

My friend, Mary, invited me out for a visit because her husband was going to be out of town for the weekend. While a few years ago, this might have meant late nights and karaoke, maybe even a crazy adventure, these days it is all about family. And survival. With a new baby only a few weeks old, plus an active two-year-old, I was there to be an extra pair of hands and feet.  

I felt honored to be asked. It made me feel like a seasoned pro since I know what it's like to be a mother of two boys, though mine are 10 and (almost) eight now. I should have known my inflated sense of self, and mothering, would be taught a valuable lesson. It happened. This weekend. Big time. 

Here is what I learned from my time in Arizona:

1. I like my sleep. Newborns don't sleep. I've become selfish about sleep now that my kids are older. #SELFISH.

2. The energy of two-year-olds is incredible. I wish I could bottle that shit. I mean, seriously, how do you they not tucker out after hours of jumping, talking, laughing, and running from you? I'm getting exhausted just writing this.

3. Poop and spit up. All the time. Plus, someone always needs milk (out of your breast or out of the fridge). You are a helper every minute from dawn until dusk. Unfortunately, you can't even pass out after that because you're on for the night shift, too.

4. Time makes you forget the overwhelmingness of new babies. This may be so you'll eventually have more babies one day. Sadly, it also makes you forget and become a little less empathetic to those mothers, and your dear friends, working the day, evening, and night shift. Hug them tight. They really do need it.

5. Becoming a mother is one of the most bonding experiences you'll ever have with your girlfriends. No one can explain the happiness, tiredness, love, fear, and exhaustion that consumes you every minute those first few weeks. Well, your whole life really. Only a mother knows.

When I returned home, I hugged my own boys tight, who looked gigantic from those sweet babies in Arizona. I cried, too. I was reminded how fast the years have passed without my consent and how I've moved on to an entirely different phase in my life. A good one, just different. I am now the mother who spends hours at the table doing homework versus rocking her babies to sleep in the nursery. It was a humbling and heartfelt experience.

I then took a three-hour power nap. Parenting is exhausting.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Kids, Supper is Ready!

When people ask me to do something that is out of my comfort zone, I almost always try to say yes. I know. I'm a glutton for punishment. But it's like I need to know in my heart that I can keep growing and learning and improving. 

This is how I ended up writing and delivering a monologue at church this past Sunday about the Lord's Supper. I wrote it from the heart, and then felt so nervous right before delivering it that I swear I heard my knees knocking. I guess I worried no one would care or, even worse, think that silly childhood memories had no place at worship. But I did it. And it felt so good (after the nerves resided) to have shared!

People were so kind. I even got a wonderful note from an encouraging friend thanking me for sharing my heart with a stern, "Now, post this to your blog!" A true blogger knows to do this automatically because consistent posts are key. I'm still practicing, I guess. My last post was in June.

So, here's my speech and my stretch for this week. Oh, and a new blog post! God bless. 

Kids, Supper is Ready

When I was growing up, it was just my mom and I. No dad in the picture. No brothers or sisters. Not…even…a…dog. We lived in this tiny two bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of an apartment complex. Though it was small, my mom was a cleaner and it was the tidiest place you have ever seen. Everything had a place. And with no dad, or brothers or sisters, or even a barking dog, it was the quietest place to grow up. A little too quiet, if you ask me.

So I would leave our tidy little apartment every Saturday morning, jump on my fast moving bike, and circle the neighborhood looking for some fun. And circle it I did. I would ride to the school and swing on the swings. Go to the park and play at the playground. Then grab some five-cent gum at Bob’s Corner Market. But my favorite destination, by far, was the house up the street owned by the Nesheim’s.  

You see, the Nesheim’s were not a quiet family. They couldn’t be. They had eight kids, or 10 kids, or 12. Nobody actually knew. I was friends with Darcy and she was always the one I was looking for when I knocked on the door. But there were plenty more to play with once you got inside.

While it wasn’t a big house for all those kids, it was an interesting house. One of my favorite parts was the long hallway down to the bedrooms. Remember all those kids? On the hallway wall, from the very tippy top to as low as you can go, they had each child’s picture framed, year by year, as they grew. Brothers and sisters, all ages and ethnicity's, because they also fostered and adopted kids, lined wall after wall. It was awkward smile after awkward smile. I would stand there forever soaking all that family in. One day, I even brought one of my school pictures to their house, the small wallet size so it wouldn’t be as noticeable, and I taped it up next to the other ones. I wanted to be one of their kids so desperately.

At dinner time, Mrs. Nesheim would yell through the house, “Kids,  supper is ready…everyone grab a seat at the table!” Kids would come running from everywhere. It was never stated, but always known, that you were always welcome, family or friend, to join them for dinner. They had a BIG table. It was so big, it not only had chairs, but it also had benches. You squeezed in wherever you could find a seat and it was a loud affair. Lots of talking and laughing and passing of food. Even a few elbows and dinner rolls to the face, but it was home. I’m not sure how she did it, because they were not a rich family with an endless supply of food, but no one was ever turned away. I remember being so hungry to be fed at that bustling table.

It also seemed like no matter what time of day you were at the Nesheim home there was always someone to talk with. An older brother to laugh with or a young sister to share with. There was also my dear friend, Darcy, to share my secrets with. I even remember talking with her mom at the kitchen table one night about something heavy on my heart. I poured it all out and someone was there to soak it up and listen. Whenever anyone walked out the door, there was always a big hug with a “Don’t be a stranger now.” I would then return to my quiet, tiny, tidy apartment down the hill with my heart full.

When I was thinking about the Lord’s Supper we’re going to share this morning and its significance at the last supper with Jesus and all his disciples, I kept thinking about the Nesheims. Mainly, how their example and love mirrored so much what God hopes for us as his children. God loves us passionately and unconditionally. He has this huge hallway with all the pictures of his children, all ages and ethnicities and awkward smiles, and we are all part of one big family. Sometimes we feel like we are put together and framed perfectly, but often we are taped up haphazardly, and he loves us just the same. 

Like this morning, we are all invited to his table. It is a big, loud, messy place sometimes, maybe even a few elbows along the way, but its promise is so much more. A place to be fed, a place to belong, a place of hope. There is always a seat at the table for you. It doesn’t have to be spoken, it’s just known.

Just as God loves us, he is also always listening to us. He laughs with us, cries with us, helps us sort out all those things we are wrestling with and talking over and over in our head. He knows our secrets. When we walk out the door and away from him, he squeezes us tight and reminds us to not be a stranger. His love is always waiting for us back home. 

So, I say to you….“Kids,  supper is ready…everyone grab a seat at the table!” You are loved and invited. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Beloved Sniffer

I love to sniff things. This is not breaking news, I know, especially for those who know me well and have been hiking with me, but it's been on my mind since a recent conversation with a co-worker. 

It started with oranges. I was commenting on the great smell and we got talking about how very few people strongly use their sense of smell. Strongly, as in they ooh and aah over the unique or wonderful or interesting smells in the world. I definitely do. Apparently, he does, too. We went over a laundry list of smells. It was so exciting!

I never realized that some people aren't as touched by smell as I am. For me, smells are tied directly to memories or feelings. Baking bread reminds me of my grandma. Lilacs of my mom. But I feel the most blessed when a smell can change my whole mood. I can't tell you how many times I've cried quiet tears in the woods, simply from breathing in the smell of pine and breathing out the sorrow. Life changing.

So, in honor of my beloved sniffer, here are a few things I love to smell. If smell is also your thing, I know you will relate. If it's not, well, perhaps this just raises my freak flag a little higher in your book. I'm okay with that, too.

1. My kid's hair after they come in from playing outside. Fresh air and sunshine. 

2. Hubby's neck. Sounds odd, I know, but pheromones smell wonderful, especially those of your mate. Primal is often offset by perfume. It's a shame.

3. The forest. I almost hyperventilate breathing it in.

4. Freshly-laundered sheets hung to dry on the clothes line. Perfection.

5. Warm, sleeping dog. The smell relaxes me.

6. Libraries, printing-presses, or freshly-copied paper. I can't tell if it's the paper or the ink, but I like it!

7. Freshly-ground coffee beans and a hot cup of coffee. 

8. A bouquet of peonies. Lilacs are lovely, too.

9. Baking bread. It fills the whole house and I'm thankful.

10. My mom's hug. I think it's a combination of her laundry detergent, shampoo, and perfume, but I get teary every time I smell it. I know I won't get to smell it forever.

These are my favorites. What about you? What's your favorite sniffing?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Embracing Change One Step at a Time

I'm a sucker for a good story. I cry at well-done documentaries. I plow through memoirs of joyful lives and epic adventures. And I often ask people to tell me the story of their own life, or at least their most vivid memory. I seek story after story.

It's rarely about the happy ending. For me, it's more about the moments of change, big or small, shaping them into who they'll become. You can see their stories whittling away at their character even when they can't see it for themselves. Change fascinates me. It also scares the hell out of me.

This week, change has been permeating my own story. I've embraced it with a mixture of anxiety, excitement, anticipation, guilt, and worry. Hard to imagine all those emotions swirling together inside one person, but it's how I deal with a big change. I start by sucking at it. The excitement and anticipation of the new is blurred with the anxiety and guilt of letting go of the old. 

How does one (okay, I'm speaking more about me here) get through change? How do we embrace it in a healthy, productive way without becoming a hot mess? 

Here is what I've learned from all the stories I've ever had the privilege of hearing along the way:

1. Seek wise counsel. A trusted friend, a prayer partner, a parent, a mentor, or anyone who can give you sound advice and a better perspective--stick to them like super glue! When you're emotional, as change often makes us, a person to keep you grounded is key.

2. Take one step at a time. I'm a control freak. This means I constantly seek what the big master plan is for my life, and it would be even better if it was all printed out, color coded, and spiral bound. Guess what? Life isn't that neat and tidy. When in doubt, just take the next best step. It's enough...for now.

3. Wholeheartedly embrace it. Take a deep breath, blow the worry out, then embrace change with gusto. Change is needed because we cannot live a great story without it. If we have no twists and turns, direction changes, ups and downs, rollover-and-play-dead-but-then-get-back-up, we are living the worst kind of story. It's the one that no one cares about.

I put a lot of expectations on myself. I'm my worst judge and my hardest critic. Change brings a lot of unknowns that I can't control. That's okay. I know in my heart I can't live a better story worried about the worst-case scenario. Neither can you. 

Starting now, I'll only be looking forward to the excitement and great anticipation of what is ahead. It's shaping me. I can feel it already.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Potter and His Clay

My youngest son, who just turned seven last week, has a true artist's heart. He paints, he draws, he colors and creates, and now he even makes pottery. This is his first creation on his birthday pottery wheel. I captured his intensity in this photo, but wish I could have also captured his excitement. He is doing exactly what he was made to do.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. How God created us with certain gifts and passions that tell us the path we should go, what we are made to do. It's what puts fire in our belly. It's what makes work not seem like work. It's what makes us passionate about certain things in the world.

And, yet, we lose our way. Every day. 

We say yes to things that aren't our strengths, or our passion, because someone asked us to serve (and they were kind in their request), or we got promoted into a job that no longer fits who we are. We become drained, but we keep plugging away. No intensity. No excitement in our soul.

Gretchen Rubin, who wrote a wonderful book called The Happiness Project, notes that one of the keys to finding more happiness in your life is to be serious about play. She writes, "What did you like to do when you were a child? What you enjoyed as a ten-year-old is probably something you'd enjoy now." I was so moved by this idea that I called my mom immediately after reading it to ask what I enjoyed at 10-years-old.

Writing. Reading. Playing in the woods. Riding my bike. Having friends over all the time. Laughing until I peed my pants.

Granted, laughing until I pee my pants may not be a career option. But this list gives me lots of food for thought. Writing does fuel my passion. Outdoor time is still sacred for me. Good friends fill my bucket up daily. God has been telling me my strengths and passions for a long time, even since childhood. When did I stop listening?

Wherever you are today, whatever your journey at this moment...take heart. You have been molded since childhood to become who you are supposed to be, despite the mess ups and even the unintentional successes. Try to remember what re-charges and re-fuels you. It makes the journey so much more joyful and abundant along the way.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Stupid Artificial Christmas Tree

November is the month of gratitude. I love reading all the daily thankfulness posts on Facebook or the magazine articles on the art of gratitude. Perhaps it's over done, but I guess I like the fact that people are trying to slow down and appreciate the blessings in front of them. Gratitude is definitely a gift we have to cultivate.

After a wonderful day yesterday of eating turkey and catching up with family, I found myself already moving ahead to all the things I need to get done in December, the biggest consumption month of the year. I wrote handwritten Christmas cards last night until my hand cramped. I finished getting all the supplies for my advent calendar for my boys. And the hubby and I got into an argument this morning about why our stupid artificial tree is so much damn work. For him. Grrrr!

Thankfulness has already fled, my friends.

So I gathered my cup of coffee and retreated upstairs to write. I wanted to write something really meaningful, long-lasting, funny even, and far away from all the things in this house that are overwhelming (cleaning and laundry, Christmas decorations, shopping lists, etc.), but it's difficult to do much of anything when your spirit is overwhelmed. It's paralyzing.

I'm taking up a new strategy. Forget December. I'm staying in November forever--the month of being thankful for what is right in front of you. Quality time with my kids on a rare day off from work. A full fridge with Thanksgiving leftovers. A husband who makes me crazy, often daily, but knows the real me and loves me anyway.

The tree can wait. Right now, I'm going back down to snuggle with these fine loves. Three of my finest blessings.