Best Moments {A Less Digital Life…Day 31}

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I started October thinking about hypotheticals, the ingredients of my everyday dream life and how technology fit or didn’t fit the vision. I’m ending the month thinking back on actuality, all the dreamy and dull and demanding experiences that made up my days. I took on the challenge of this series right before bailing the blog, bidding farewell to the big kids and hitting the road for a reprise on the honeymoon.

There was the throwing of laundry and pushing of buttons, a quick swish-swash and a token toss in the dryer before the heathered tee and other stray pieces of clothing, ready or not, had to join the bags in the car. Sometimes you need a view from above, to see a stretch of time as a tale from history Continue reading

The Chain Reaction of Art in 3-D {A Less Digital Life…Day 30}

I think we all know the feeling–we go searching Pinterest for inspiration, maybe a new look for the mantle this season, and we end up coming across a pair of slouchy knee-high tan boots that make us want to go shopping, a must-try pumpkin bread recipe and a tutorial on how to make felted soap. There are a dozen or a hundred things we could be attempting, but we feel exhausted just trying to make a decision. When we do pick a project, we often end up copycatting what we find rather than letting our true art out into the world.

When creative work comes in bulk disconnected from its creator, when we see the results of someone’s labor without considering the labor itself, when we compare our own unadorned lives with all of the accessories on the screen, we find ourselves stuck in place like a feed that keeps recycling the same images again and again. That’s the Pinterest Effect.

Today, my friend Jessica is sharing about a whole different effect, one that helped her to stop pilfering away her moments pining over what she saw on Pinterest to find a better way of living. In my early days with baby Gracia, Jessica blessed me with a meal and good conversation. We took some time to swap stories about family and previous churches. When I mentioned the name of my good friend who leads worship at Jessica’s parents’ church, she sat up straight and told me how that very friend had taught her the true meaning of inspiration, unknowingly helping her to move from being a spectator to becoming a real artist. Here is her story…

As a tired and strung-out mom of two little ones, I recently I took a counter-intuitive leap, a step towards doing something that would require lots of time, effort, and energy…very limited commodities during this stage of life. I felt compelled to step off the sidelines and start actively and intentionally pursue my gifts. Continue reading

Waiting in Wires: A Hint of a Better Self

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Snow and ice crunched under the weight of my tires as I slowed to a stop to keep from sliding through. Street lamps flickered on and I turned my head toward a familiar shape moving out from the shadows.

The hood of a quilted coat kept the figure from full view, but her silhouette was unmistakeable, slightly hunched, always carrying burdens, eyes pointed toward her hurried feet.

I rolled down my window. Frigid wind shocked me alert. She jumped too at the sound of my voice.

“Have we met?” she asked.

I reminded her of the sticky day last summer, how I rolled up next to the sidewalk on the road from town to the chain stores. Many times I’d come across her reading a paper at the grocery cafe but never shopping, sleeping in a chair at the bookstore but never buying a book, always dragging around those two familiar duffels, bulging fat, barely zipped.

There in harsh winter, she hurried away as before, her voice chittering at the octave and pace of a little gathering creature in the wood. I wondered if she really preferred to be out in the elements, or if she was just surviving.

“Do you need anything?” I called after her, and was met with every polite exit from conversation she could fit in.

“God bless,” she shouted before she skittered past earshot.

There was no show of neediness like the beggars who spell out stories in Sharpie and cardboard on highway exits. But I sensed a need nonetheless, and she wouldn’t let me meet it.

On regular days at home, I shrink back and get stingy when my kids hang on me and tell me just how to serve them. Then when I take note of my ugly attitudes, my joy drains all the more, leaving me to give out of mere obligation.

But under the lamppost, where the desire to serve felt like electricity waiting in wires to light up the street at nightfall, I got a glimpse of myself in a different light. I felt the potential energy, a hint of past enthusiasm for service that isn’t gone for good. Somewhere within lies the best version of myself eager to give.

{I’m taking notes as I go, keeping a field journal on my quest to become a more cheerful giver, learning what it is that stirs up my compassion and what drains it. What about you? What situations or people make you feel most energetic about serving? What makes you want to shrink back and get stingy?}

The Yarny Yarrow: Vintage Delight in the Garden of Simplicity

What was it about that lanky weed? I had seen it last weekend at the garden shop and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I know it spreads, sowing its seed wild, and stretches its roots wide. But I couldn’t be put off.

Maybe it’s the way the tiny florets circled together like knotted embroidery thread on a vintage blouse. It reminded me of old times, simpler times when the family yard was more like a domesticated meadow.

When we walked the grounds of an outdoor history museum a few weeks ago, my mom pointed to the clover laid out all over the lawn like scraps of fabric sewn into a quilt. When she was growing up, all the yards in the neighborhood looked that way. Simplicity allows room for natural growth, welcomes a bit of wild. Now, many of us douse our grass with newfangled chemicals, always another to-do on the list if we want to keep the lawn presentable.

I see this specimen, the Gold Yarrow, on a vintage botanical print…all the stages of its cycle, the segments of its form, its tough stems, ferny leaves, clustered flowers, all drawn out and labeled. In another era, its silvery foliage was crushed into a salve for healing wounds, or a tea to ward off colds or melancholy. It’s no wonder, the way this peculiar plant makes my dimples show.

I’ve been thinking on the shape of a happy life this week, pondering Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s advice that we should think hard before we add something new to our schedule or home. She speaks of a shell, the channelled whelk, that she will carry back from the beach to remind her of “the ideal of the simplified life.” And she vows “To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.”

Many of us need to clear out our schedules and homes and start from the basics, a practice something like dividing the overzealous plants that have taken over the garden. Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question is certainly helpful. But I fear we may deprive ourselves of much beauty if we only ask, “Is it necessary?”

Another idea came to mind this week when I couldn’t get that yarny yarrow out of my mind. Was it necessary that I head all the way back to the garden shop, with the kids in tow, to find again that vintage delight of a plant? No. Yet the endeavor felt simple, somehow. Why? Because it brought me joy. It wasn’t drudgery or another to-do to make me sigh. I was fueled by delight. These two ideas are companion plants in the garden of simplicity: Is it necessary? Does it bring me joy?

Back home, I set the newbies in full sun. The flowery herbs stretched tall, leaned toward light, a thousand little yellow sponges soaking it all in. The simple life makes room for joy.

{How about you? What questions do you ask yourself when deciding what to allow into/around your home and schedule? Share your ideas in the comments section.}

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Surprised by Summer

I started last summer with a list.

Cloud gazing.
Firefly catching.
Bird watching.
Running through sprinklers.

I was all set to lead my kids on a tour of the season’s simple joys.

Strawberry picking.
Bare feet on grass.
A boat ride on the lake with friends.

I had plans for them to take it all in.

Fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Buttered corn on the cob.
Growing a watermelon from seed, then sinking teeth into the ripe red.
Walking to the local parlor for ice cream.
Cotton candy at a carnival.

I was writing their future memories.

Reining in the wind with pinwheels and kites.
Waving flags and watching the parade.
Swirling their sparklers and gasping at fireworks.

It was all I planned for summer, these little pleasures, this simple list. I needed this intentionality to kick me out of the phase of weariness that had carried over from the previous fall and winter and into spring.

But then the first week of this new season started with surgery to uncover and leash my unruly canine tooth, the one that had been hiding in my palate since childhood, one that we meant to pull forward to join the rest of my teeth. A few weeks later, I learned the surgery was useless and that I’d need another.

I felt a bit foolish to look at my summer’s simple joys list now, to revisit all of the idealistic pleasures I had planned…. What did it matter if joy came near, anyway if I couldn’t smile?

As soon as I’d stumble on a happy event and my lips dared to open, I’d slap my hand over my mouth to keep people from seeing my flared teeth and the horrible empty space in the front of my smile. Behind the scenes, it was even worse. One of my teeth had been pushed so hard from orthodontic treatment that it was thrust outside of my arch, its root protruding, almost piercing my gums.

But in the midst of the leftover cloud of anesthesia, the haze of pain meds and the almost-daily visits to the surgeon when the recovery went awry…in the middle of it, joy found me.

I visited my newborn niece and talked misty-eyed with her mom about the pretty things that hang on discipline and hard times, and I thought how pain is often the backdrop that makes joy stand out all the more. And vice versa. As I shared in the comments section of the Stars Dancing in the Water post the other day, in Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.”

When joy finds us, we feel the full meaning of the moment. We soak in the good, but we also feel the pain of knowing that all is not perfect…yet. These little joys in the middle of hardship, they are glimpses of the full redemption to come, when we will have these gifts as they were meant to be.

Like Ann Voskamp and her list, I was starting to keep one of my own, not things I planned to find, but things that found me….

My little beauty playing behind the sheer curtain in her room, looking like a veiled bride.
Her eating strawberries right from the field, this confidence that all He makes is hers to enjoy.
My little boy clipping his sailboat tie on his T-shirt before heading to the playground, a creative-type surely starting a new fashion trend.

And then, if only you could have seen my son when we went to the farm to visit Hoover, our original unruly canine. My boy saw the open fields and he didn’t need a list of summer’s simple joys to tell him to do this, he just felt it, real freedom, and he ran with all his might and turned himself upside down in somersault after somersault after somersault, open-mouthed grinning all the way.

And, sometime I want to tell you the whole story, how my children piled puppy after puppy on my lap that night, all eight of the little Hoovers, just days old. I want to tell you bit by bit how I went to the farm that night with teeth gritted and shoulders squared, a fighting failure of a mother and homemaker, and how they piled those sweet, sleepy, trusting puppies on me and made me know my worth. I ended the night with open hands, fireflies landing in them and taking off again over fields of soybeans, a joy hoped for that summer, but until then, not yet seen.

The summer went on. I kept on playing despite the pain and uncertainty. We read Feathers for Lunch, made nests out of salad and got to our bird watching. We ran through sprinklers. We twiddled our toes in grass. We walked to town for ice cream…more than once. We grew our watermelons and chewed them down almost to the rind where they curved like toothy little grins. We waved our flags and swirled our sparklers, checking off some more boxes on our original summer to-do list. And still, the spontaneous surprises came.

I clapped at the sight of my friend and her new husband kicking off their sandals on the dune where they said “I do,” laughter and grains of sand soaring. Afterward, my non-dancing husband twirled me and pulled me close in the low light of the bandstand. I laid my head on his shoulder, trusted his lead. Earlier, at the wedding ceremony, I had read from Joel, and the words came again to me now: “I will make up to you for the years that the locust has eaten.” I needed to trust His lead, too, to count on Him to make up for the months ruined by my unruly canine(s). And soon, He would do it– He would lead my family to one of our favorite restaurants, not even on our usual night, and cross my path with a friend who works for a different orthodontic provider.

I felt we were getting somewhere, but then, on my birthday, I lay in bed depressed again. Unlike my old provider, this new one was confident he could lure my tooth back into the arch, make my smile presentable again and even close my bite. But my first two years in braces would count for nothing. We were starting from below ground zero. I would have to pay the full price for a completely new orthodontic plan. This had been weighing on me for weeks, me feeling like a money pit.

Then the phone rang. I wiped my eyes and put some cheer in my voice so as not to give my mood away. It was my husband. He had gotten a call from his boss just then, an unexpected raise, six months before review time. And it covered all but twelve dollars of the monthly fee for my new orthodontic plan. A surprise…just for me.

The boss didn’t know it was my birthday, but God did. And He knew just what I needed that day. The attentive One who sent me a heart-shaped tomato in the garden in the heat of summer, He had a birthday gift picked out for me, an all-expense-paid trip to healing and wholeness. I needed to know I was not a burden and that my situation hadn’t escaped His notice and that I didn’t have to plan or provide for myself. He knew all that.

He has a list, too, these simple joys He’s just waiting to give. And when He surprised me with it all last summer, in the middle of trouble, I couldn’t help but smile…with my teeth showing.

{So far, this summer is much less eventful than last! Have you ever been surprised by what a season had in store? What do you have planned for this one? Share your story in the comments.}