joy

Fireflies

Early summer evenings in Louisville, Kentucky can mean wind and thunderstorms or sweltering humidity. But tonight is the perfect night. 

As dusk settles over our neighborhood, I walk out onto our front porch and let out a long sigh. With a slow, deep breath I take in the sweet smell of the almost-summer evening. I close my eyes and feel the warm air caress my arms and the back of my neck under my messy bun. The air is warm but dry, none of the usual humidity that plagues many summer nights. A sweet breeze blows and it feels comforting.

I walk across the street, the pavement still warm from this clear, sunny day. Just across the sidewalk are cement stairs that lead down to the track at the School for the Blind.  As I approach the stairway, my heart quickens. 

The fireflies are here! 

I was born and raised in the West Coast, and the only fireflies I had ever seen were the fake ones in the bayou scenes in the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland. When we moved to Louisville last July, I was thrilled to see a few fireflies here and there. I’m hoping I’ll see a few tonight. 

The cyclone fence along the road and leading to the stairway is lined with towering trees and low lying bushes, which makes a shadowy sanctuary in the fading light. Before I even reach the top of the stairway, there is a flash in the corner of my eye. As I scan the stairway and the cool green grass leading down the hill to the track, a chorus of twinkling yellow lights greets me. In the shadows, down the hill, on the lawn, around the curves of the track, fireflies at every turn. Everywhere I look, beautiful twinkling yellow flashes of light. 

Walking my laps, my heart fills with joy at this little blessing. I’m not sure how little flying beatles flashing their hind ends looking for a mate can make me so very happy, but it does. 

I’m walking a brisk pace, and every ten to twenty feet a little lightening bug buzzes across my path, as if he’s slowly leading the way. I could reach out and touch him, but I don’t. I stray off my lane to follow him, off the track and onto the grass, slowly floating in the air in front of me, occasionally flashing his tail if I lose him, as if he wants me to follow him. At one point, he seems to almost stop in mid air. He slowly floats near my face, flashes me a short greeting, and flies away. 

Thank you, Lord, for this sweet little blessing tonight. It made my heart flicker with a little light of hope and joy. 

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Help Me To Embrace This Vulnerable Season

*Background info: In the past 8 months, there have been many changes in my life. I became an empty-nester. My husband got a new job. Actually, he got one job, then was promoted to another. I sold our home where we had lived for 13 years. I moved away from the Pacific NW, where I have lived all of my life, to Louisville, Kentucky, 2300 miles away. I quit my job as a hospice nurse. I became unemployed (by choice, but still, unemployed). We moved to a new part of the country, a new city, a new house, a new church. 

I’m so absent-minded lately, my husband is afraid I have early on-set Alzheimer’s. I lose my way when I drive to the health club. I leave for an errand and come back without the item I was supposed to get. I ask my husband repeatedly about the dates he is going out-of-town. I leave eggs boiling on the stove until they almost blow up (it’s not as cool as it sounds). I remember once my kids were convinced that I had early dementia. I was so scattered, I was almost convinced, too. So I made and appointment with a doctor friend of mine who is an expert in the area, and after some testing, she assured me that what I was dealing with was just stress. She told me that if you are stressed or sleep deprived, you can exhibit similar symptoms. However, this was the best test – If you forget where you put your keys, that is normal. If you forget what your keys are used for, that is not normal.

And on top of that, I have become a wishy-washy mass of insecurity. I have little to no sense of self or where I belong, and I have lost my sense of purpose. An acquaintance recently asked me, “What do you do?” I am currently not working, so she asked me “Well, what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?” I started blankly at her.

“Well, I like to write.” I seriously couldn’t think of anything else to say. I write, but I have a little blog and it’s probably not what you would be interested. I longed to say something interesting, to have a fabulous answer as to what I am doing with all of my free time. I stammered and stuttered and finally looked at my husband and said, “What do I like to do?”

WHAT? WHO is this person? What made me become this shaky leaf of insecurity?

THIS IS NOT ME.

And I miss the old me. I miss being able to have dinner with my kids. I miss the woman who worked hard as a hospice nurse liaison to make sure her patients were well-informed and well cared for. I miss supporting my colleagues, working shoulder to shoulder to advocate for our patients. I miss being an expert in my field. I miss my tribe of women, whom I purposely gathered over the years – women with whom I could share my heart, who would pray for me, cook with me, or just come sit and talk to me while I did my dishes. I miss feeling like what I was doing on a daily basis was purposeful. I miss the structure. I miss familiarity.

I don’t like feeling so uncertain all of the time. I don’t like having all of this time to fill, but I also don’t want it to be filled. I’m tired and feeling lost and out-of-place all of the time. I’m tired of feeling lonely. I’m tired of having one small incident – like getting looked over for a job, or having someone not return a text – shape my whole day.

And honestly, I tire of hearing myself whine about it. (You are probably tired of hearing about it, too). As a matter of fact, I hate even writing about this, but it was one of those times I just have to vent or go crazy. So I’m not going to post this blog on social media. I am just writing for me. So if you have somehow stumbled upon this, you were meant to be here. This is one of the few times I will leave open the comment section, so if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to leave a comment. 

It’s coming up on one year in just a few months. I thought things would be settled by now, figured out. I thought I would have a sense of community, a structure, a sense of purpose. I just want everything to feel okay. Some days it does, but honestly, most days it just doesn’t.

And to be really honest, not all of this has to do with the changes that have happened in my life. I could just as easily be feeling this way back in the Northwest. I would just have work and friends to distract me. In any setting, I am a seasonal person. And I know this is simply a season.

As always, the thing that helps me get centered is to get back to the basics:

Mindful breathing when I first wake up.

Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising.

Looking at what I am feeling, discerning what is a lie and what is the truth, and being thankful for what I have.

And I am finding what I am lacking the most, and what I am in deepest need of – time with God and remembering who I am in Him. Being okay with where I am because he has brought me here for a reason.

I find that I am often drifting down the stream and entering into a spinning whirlpool before I remember that I have had a lifeline all along. 

Lord, I need help. I know that as I look back on my life, I’ve learned the most from times of struggle, when I am pushed out of my comfort zone and am learning to rely on you, to love you in a new way, and to let you love me. Those times are what has made me life so much richer. Be with me, give me peace and strength and joy. Help me to reach out and be your loving touch to those around me. Help me to embrace this vulnerable season.

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that  are right with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity, to name a few.”  Brene Brown

When You’re Just Not Feeling the Joy

This morning I woke up with a pit in my stomach. It’s one of those mornings when things just feel off, and my heart is unsettled. Often I can pinpoint the cause, but sometimes it eludes me. I will try to distract myself or medicate it away with sleep, sugar, caffeine, mindless tv, or more sleep. I think this feeling is not uncommon, particularly as we get close to the holidays.

It’s supposed to be a joyous time of year, but sometimes we just don’t feel like rejoicing. Is there something wrong with us?

Let’s look at the messages we are taking in. We are bombarded with commercials that tell us that we are unhappy and that our lives are less than perfect unless we buy a certain product. On social media, people are posting holiday pictures and discussing family, but for many, it is not a happy time of year, and it can be magnified when we feel like everyone else around us is happy and festive. And to be honest, the state of the world and the amount of social and political unrest is unsettling, particularly as things become more and more divisive.

We can feel uneasy or unsettled at any time, not just during the holiday season. So this morning I am going through my mental checklist, because if there is something significant and I don’t deal with it, it will show its ugly head later, so it’s best to just deal with things now, if I can. Perhaps this checklist will be helpful for you as well. Here are some things to think about when you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t know why:

  1. Do I have unrealistic expectations for the holidays? Am I looking for THIS holiday season to make up for any unpleasant or unsatisfactory experiences I had growing up or in the past? Or is it something more basic, not necessarily connected to the holidays?
  2. Is it a gnawing conscience? Sometimes when there is this uneasiness in my heart, it’s because I’ve said or done something hurtful or insensitive, and I need to make amends. Have I been hurtful, unkind, or insensitive? Do I have unfinished business with someone, and my heart isn’t letting me ignore it?
  3. Is it shame? Did I say something out of turn, or behave in a way that I wish I hadn’t? Is it legitimate shame (where I have truly done something that I shouldn’t have) or is it misplaced shame, put on by myself or others, to make me feel ‘less than’? Is this a sign that I am looking for significance in the wrong place, or letting outside forces determine my worth?
  4. Is it undiscipline? Am I putting off a duty or responsibility that I need to be working on? Am I distracting myself from some things that must be done with things that are unnecessary? Am I spending time on things that I call ‘time sucks’ – like social media, Pinterest, mindless tv, binge-watching Netflix, etc – rather than prioritizing the important things that I should be doing?
  5. Am I not setting good boundaries? Have I said  “yes” to something because I felt obligated rather than called to do something? Have I said “No” to something or made excuses when my heart knows I really should have said yes? Have I let someone have more power in my life than they should? Am I allowing another’s actions or words to affect my sense of self?
  6. Am I placing my sense of personal significance in the wrong place? Am I basing how I feel about my own worth on the opinions of others? On whether or not I have convinced them how awesome I am? On how many likes or comments or views I get? On whether or not someone agrees and supports my opinion? Am I comparing myself or my experience with others online (whose real lives are likely completely different from what they portray online)?
  7. Am I connected and in community? Do I have people with whom I can share my heart? Am I lonely and missing loved ones? Is there unresolved grief? Is there loss that might feel particularly strong at this time of year?
  8. Am I living my purpose? Am I just going through the motions, or am I living a meaningful purpose, fulfilling what only I can do in this life? Do I know what makes my life meaningful? (okay, getting a little too deep, time to move on to the basics)
  9. If you still cannot pinpoint what’s causing you to feel unsettled, look at the basics: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you eating too much sugar (studies show sugar withdrawal mimics depression)? Are you getting outside and getting some exercise? Are you spending time in the sun? (or if it’s dark where you live, are you getting enough vitamin D?) Are you drinking enough water? Are you spending time with those you love? Are you working too much? Are you practicing good self-care? Are you spending time each day having fun? When was the last time you laughed? If you’re a spiritual person, are you staying connected spiritually by praying, reading, meditating?

Often just thinking about and labeling the cause will help to put things in perspective. It also helps me to talk to a friend – sometimes just processing things out loud helps you see things in a different light. I’ve found that sometimes the answer is as simple as taking a break from social media. I don’t think people realize the amount of angst it can create until you step away for a time.

Sometimes the feeling of being unsettled can signal anxiety or depression. This can be temporary, but if the feeling doesn’t dissipate, you may need to look at outside help and get some counseling and see a medical doctor. If you need to seek help, do it. You’re worth it.

Wishing you a holiday filled with love. And joy.

 

I Really Want to Love Advent

*Disclaimer: Writing about how sometimes I don’t love Advent does not mean that I don’t love Christmas. Just as writing about my longings for changing the church does not mean that I don’t love Jesus. Just as writing about how my marriage could improve does not mean that I don’t love my husband. Just as writing about my hopes and dreams for my children does not mean that I don’t love them. You get the idea.

I want to love Advent. Really I do. It is not something we practiced growing up. In fact, I had never heard of Advent until I was a young mother, and heard a talk about it at a MOMS group as a meaningful alternative to the commercialization and Santa-frenzy of the Christmas season. It sounded good. Taking time out of the chaos of the holiday season to focus your heart each week to prepare for the spiritual reason for the season – the coming of Christ.

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.

What is Advent?

It is part of the liturgical church calendar, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this usually falls the Sunday after Thanksgiving). The season focuses on the expectation and the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Often there are four candles placed around an Advent wreath, with one candle being lit each week on Sunday, representing hope, love, joy, and peace. There is sometimes a candle placed in the center to represent Christ, and that is lit on Christmas Day. As each candle is lit, there are readings, hymns or songs, and scriptures for each week, often meant to be read together as a family.There are variations of the practice of advent, but those are the basics.

It sounds lovely, and it can be. There are times that I really appreciated being reminded to push pause and reflect. I particularly loved getting up early Christmas morning and lighting the center candle and just spending some quiet time praying and reflecting before everyone else got up and the busy day began.

But honestly, it often felt like one more thing to do during the Christmas season. And three little boys weren’t particularly keen to sit quietly and participate in readings (unless it was their turn to light the candle). Most of the time I was unprepared when that first Sunday of Advent rolled around, because not only did it mean putting away my fall decorations, it meant finding and putting out my Christmas decorations, or at least my Advent wreath. To add to this pressure, two of my boys have birthdays the first week of December, so we often put off decorating for Christmas until after we celebrated their birthdays. And when I finally got my act together and had everything set up, it often felt like a forced ritual, rather than a meaningful time of reflection. And if I’m truly honest, it was sometimes a source of pride and self-righteousness that I was practicing Advent and down-playing Santa. Yes, that is the ugly truth of it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel : and ransom captive Israel

So as I’ve started my search for the sacred, I am trying to look at Advent with new eyes. And evenso, I was not ready for the first Sunday of Advent. We moved across the country this summer, and I had to find my Christmas boxes among the piles of boxes up on the third floor. (And also, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was on). Ummmm. Yeah, so there it is.

But by the first of the week I had found my advent wreath and bought my candles and started reading each day. In my journey to discover the meaningfulness behind the church calendar, I have been reading Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and I am trying to rid my life of some of the distractions so that I can learn to focus on what is important.

Praise to you who lift up the poor : and fill the hungry with good things.

Which is truly difficult for me – I am strongly ADD and my life is centered around distractions. I thrive on them. So this learning to be still and focus and remove distractions and have discipline is scary, uncomfortable, and very, very difficult at times. It does not come easily for me, but I am slowly learning.

There are many readings that go along with Advent – some are quite formal, others a little more laid back. If you have never practiced Advent, or like me, sometimes just went through the motions, I encourage you to look at Advent with fresh eyes and an open heart. There is something truly sacred about pausing and reflecting, not as a duty, but out of a sense of wonder. This year, along with the readings from Common Prayer, I am following Sarah Bessey’s writings for Advent. I love her writing  because she speaks hard truths with a sweetness and gentleness that draws me in. So if you’re a late starter, like me, you can begin here:

Week One:  Hope

Week Two: Peace

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face” : your face, Lord, will I seek.

Lord, help me to learn to turn from the many distractions that, although they may be good, serve to distract me from the best. 

Lord, help me learn to be still and quiet, so that I can hear your voice. 

Lord, give me open eyes to see truth, and a mouth that can speak truth in love as well as hold its tongue for the sake of grace and peace.

When You’re Sick of Yourself

Day 2:For the month of October, I’ve joined over 1600 other writers in a 31 Day writing challenge. You can read more about it and see the participating blogs at write31days.com  Here is the starting page for 31 Days of My Search for Balance: Body, Mind, and Soul. From there you can find all of my October posts.  

For many people, times of growth and change arise from a difficult circumstance – trauma, loss of a loved one, a broken relationship such as a divorce, or a failure such as loss of a job. These circumstances can stop us in our tracks.

Other times, it sneaks up on us. Slowly, over time, discontent creeps in. It can look many different ways.

looking out window

Your dream job has become a chore.

Your relationship, which you were sure would bring you joy, feels empty.

You finally reached your goal, only to find it is not as fulfilling as you had hoped.

People you loved and trusted have disappointed you.

Life isn’t what you had imagined it would be.

You are not living the story you thought you would.

So where do we go from here? We can focus on outside circumstances, we can focus on other people and how they have failed us, but then what? If you’re really honest, focusing on circumstances and other people are the easy road. We have no control, it’s not our fault, and we have no responsibility. We can remain victims. We can be mere survivors. 

How do we become warriors? What would it look like if we were brave? What if we were honest? What if we looked beyond other people and beyond outside circumstances, and looked within?

When you are finally sick of yourself – that is the starting point of change.

When you are just not comfortable in your skin any longer, when your tools for dealing with life seem dull and useless . . . then YOU ARE READY TO GROW AND CHANGE. You are ready to live a better story.

Everyone, if you’re honest, comes to this point in their life – often more than once, as we grow through different stages. If we didn’t ever feel like this, we would never be motivated to mature, to expand our hearts, to develop as a full human. Think about where you were five years ago, or ten, or twenty. Are you the same person you were then? Do you have the same behaviors? The same beliefs? The same approach to life? We are not built to stay the same. To stay the same would mean we are stale, stagnant. And who wants to be stale, stagnant,and boring?

Existential crisis serves a valuable purpose – to motivate us to move beyond victims or mere survivors, and become strong warriors.

So can we stop pretending that everything is great all of the time? Can we admit that we’re all in this together, and that sometimes it is hard to just be a human on this planet? Can we stop putting on the 24 hour smile, the isn’t-my-life-perfect Facebook posts? I’m not saying that we should all walk around in black and profess our every misery. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to hear every detail of our lives the first time we meet them (unless your heart whispers, “They need to hear this”.)

What I am proposing is that we learn to be strong, brave warriors, marching side by side. We fight alongside one another, we march in the trenches when we need to, we build shelter from the storm, and when one is weary, we carry their gear for a while. It might get dirty, and it’s always going to be messy (because HUMANS) but it will be our beautiful, holy, mess.

Jacopo Bassano - The Good Samaritan - Google Art Project

Jacopo Bassano – The Good Samaritan – Google Art Project

Who’s with me? Let’s live a better story together.

Love, KM