I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott
Being human means that life won’t always go smoothly. Last week for me was a very bumpy road made rough by a medical emergency, my severly suffering child, a rusting post-Communist hospital, and a wide language gap. Yep, it was a tough spot in the grand scheme of life.
It’s hard to know how to handle an emergency when it happens, but as it’s often said, the only way is through it. But moving through problems to get past a tough time is not easy. This is what I’ve come up with: 8 must-dos for moving through life’s tough spots with grace:
3) Eat and drink well.
4) Exercise.Read More»
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
– Mark Twain
To me, there is nothing like the thrill of growth, being stretched just a little further, reaching out toward the wind lashing my face as I race toward the goal, toward becoming my very best self. The feeling is a lot like the feeling of being aboard a sailboat, seaspray fanning out in rainbows with each slap of the bow against the waves, the boat tilting with the heave of the sails as the wind empowers the boat faster, further, out across the water. I love that feeling.
While we all have our everyday lives, the weighty routine of laundry and grocery shopping and waiting in lines, we also have potential to grow and learn and continue becoming, no matter what our daily routines, no matter what our age may be. And while I unquestionably aspire to goals and hopes and dreams with my family, as a wife and a mom and a friend, and to giving back to others as much as I can, I also aspire to becoming my best self. To become the best me that I can be, with the various gifts and passions and energy and time I’ve been given. It’s a step by step process … becoming. A process that happens one year, one week, one day, one moment, one breath at a time.
That is why, every year about this time, I take time to think back over the year behind me, and count up all the things for which I am thankful, proud to have done, and happy I invested the time in doing. Always, there are so many things to smile about in remembering the previous year. And looking ahead at personal goals, Mark Twain’s quote always comes to me as a thread running between the year behind and the year ahead. I always have to ask: What is it that I most want to do in this coming year? What are my goals? My hopes? My dreams?Read More»
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust;”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! -Star Spangled Banner, 4th stanza
Having lived abroad for nearly two years, I must say out loud that I love the USA. I treasure its land, its mix of people with an unsinkable spirit, and its stature. I love the loud chorus that resounds in my mind every time I see an American flag — that Star Spangled Banner. Yes, it’s true: America is a land of freedom, of hope for a better tomorrow, and belief in our neighbors. And most true of all is living in foreign lands only makes it all more clear … the United States of America is a great nation. Quirks and all.
A few photos I cherish of landmarks in the USA …
Happy Memorial Day, Americans! And thank you to all who give of themselves to uphold our great nation.
“The heart has its special places, quiet retreats, fragrant with the sweet perfume of flowers.” -Thomas Kinkade
Sometimes I stop to catch my breath in the whirl that is life as a wife and mom to three boys–in between the frequent grocery runs and the ball games and practices, in the midst of media hype and tragic world news–and I think I need to do it more often. Catch my breath, that is. Because I definitely do not need more television or internet or media hype. Life and living brings a need to find tranquility.
Sometimes, in order to do the creative work I do and to love the people I love best, I need to step away from the whirlwind and make time to search out the quiet. To find a place of respite for a world-weary heart.
Just as there is a softness to the colors in the photo above, of the enchanting, rich color of lupine, so must there be a softness at the center of our lives. Maybe there doesn’t have to be softness to live life, but I think there must be a tranquility in the center of our hearts if we are to live well, to live large. Because the places of living when we can reach another comes from that tranquil place–the gentleness that embodies kindness to others, the confident peace within that allows an open mind and a free spirit, and the encouraging words we can offer to friends who need a hand. In order to do that well, to live large, our hearts must have a place to rest.
That place to rest can start with tranquility at home. Home is where the heart is … and with tranquility, the heart can be at home.
Sometimes all we need is a personal delight — a photograph or a painting or a vase of fresh spring flowers — and we can find a ray of joy.
“I think most of us look at personal delights as somewhere between minimally important and borderline immoral. We like them, but we’re not sure we ought to. We seldom give them the high priority when other demands are competing for our attention. Nevertheless, the soul feeds on simple joys and withers without them.” -Victoria Moran
What do you think? Do you have a favorite simple joy? Can you indulge in it this week?
“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” –Anne Lamott, on Broccoli and First Drafts, from Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Yesterday, my family and I made the drive from Brussels, Belgium back home to Prague, Czech Republic. It’s an eight hour drive—possibly shorter given most of the distance is on the German Autobahn. We’re used to long trips from living in the US, and now, here in Europe most cities are close enough to drive.
Since our car plowed through the path of every bug between the Belgian coast and the rolling German hills, the windshield needed some serious work. I slipped into my black trench coat and buttoned up while my husband pumped the diesel. As I walked, I had to search between cars and people for a foamy bucket and a window scrubber. As it turns out, I also happened to step into an Interpol investigation. An unmarked black BMW and two guys with waistbands full of concealed weapons cased me and held weapons ready. If we wouldn’t have had 3 kids in the back seat of our car, I think I would’ve been deemed an accomplice … all while waiting for an innocent windshield scrubber.
Once I saw what was going on, the rubber gloves and the weapons and the pat-down search, it was hard to keep my jaw attached to my mouth. Standing at the open trunk of his generic white Citroen, a young guy in a Panama shirt and knock-off Converse sneakers lived out a scene from a great Ludlum thriller. Right before my eyes. Unfolding within arm’s length from me.
I didn’t expect that situation at all, but yesterday, at that gas station in the middle of Germany, I rediscovered that all of life is useful in the writing of a novel. Especially when it’s right in front of our faces.
Now that Spring Break is over and my boys are back in school, I can count on 1.5 hands the number of weeks I have until the much-loved Summer break. For the past few months, I’ve been plotting and working my way into the story for my next novel. My goal is to finish the first draft before the end of school (so that I can enjoy the summer without leaving the story hanging).
At this point in the story process, I look to Anne Lamott, famous for her advice on first drafts. Here, a quote from her excellent book on writing and life, Bird by Bird:
“You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”
Anne tells a quote on broccoli to her classes as she teaches writing. She says the class always looks at her funny as she opens with, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” She means that when we as writers listen to our work, to the characters in our writing, that it will tell us what to write. Intuition. And, as she says, “shitty first drafts” — “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.”
So, again, in writing this next novel, I jump into getting the story down into the keyboard. Structure and characters and plot-work as my roadmap. I love this part of the journey!
Any writer friends ready to dance? Is anyone else hoping to finish a first draft before school is out? Anyone else want to join in the fun with me?
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” -Martin Luther
There has always been a place in my heart for springtime … for singing birds and burgeoning buds and subtle colors of the world reemerging. Winter and the brown, bleak world of bitter cold brings me to the place in February that when I see that first hint of green, I rejoice. The world comes alive again. In the monochrome flatness of winter, life seems impossible. And yet it comes.
Every year at Easter, I experience that same wash of feeling — that wonder of knowing that despite all the bleakness of our world, love comes in and makes all things new. That despite me and the countless offenses within and lived out, that the God who loves us all knows all the darkness within me and still freely gives new life. A gift, unspeakably great.
This Easter, the rebirth seems impossible as every year. And yet Love comes and makes life and light. A promise lived out in every leaf in springtime …
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all … -Emily Dickenson, poem entitled Hope is the Thing with Feathers
On the Spring morning when I took this photograph, my boys and I were going through the regular motions of getting them ready for the school bus in the US. But our dog, Jesse, was in active pursuit of something across and around the back yard. Since she was a Boxer, we always knew it was something alive and usually small. We had to rescue whatever it was.
This time, we discovered this little Chickadee, which had just taken its first flight from its nest in a bird house in our back yard. All around us came the reprimands of its parents, flying nervously from tree to tree, trying to show their babies where to go. But this poor guy– all he could do was fly to this chair and cling for his life. The very definition of Hope– of escaping our Boxer’s frothy jaws. Though he didn’t escape my camera …
To me, Emily Dickenson was right in her poignant metaphor for Hope … what do you think? Do you have a story to share?
“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming it.” -Helen Keller
Have you ever seen an amaryllis bulb? It seems to be one of the largest of the traditional garden bulbs– so big that it fills my hand when I hold one. Usually, a dormant amaryllis bulb is flaky and brown, sometimes spotted with what looks like rot or disease, and from the rounded bottom, what looks like dried and dead earthworms poke out. It’s really not a pretty site.
But what amazes me every time is when given the right conditions–sunlight, the right amount of water, and warmth–that dead-looking bulb begins something new. After a few days or a week, signs of new life are visible. A green sprout from the top. New white roots spreading from the bottom. And within a few weeks, the grand amaryllis flower makes her debut. And, oh– it is beautiful!
For the past several days, most of the world has been watching the ultimate devastation of a noble country: Japan. Certainly, it feels hopeless. I can’t imagine how desperate the people there feel. But there, in the bleakest-seeming place, courage and hope can and will rise up. Like Helen Keller so eloquently said, the human spirit will overcome even the deepest suffering.
To Japan and all of her bravery: GAMBARU, which in Japanese means never, ever give up.
Japan, you will be beautiful again, soon.
Even more exciting for me than the flowering is the return of the hummingbirds, my Garden Fairies. Yesterday, I spotted my first male Ruby-throated Hummingbird at one of my feeders. And, as every year’s first glance, I stared in shock and wide-eyed wonder at the tiny sparkler hovering about the gardens. Beautiful!
In the peak of their season here, our yard swarms with hummers, which I love more than can be described in words. They are magical to me, fantastic glimpses of impossibility overcome with beauty. I won’t go on and on – check out http://www.hummingbirds.net/ for migration routes, photographs of the different breeds, and every other hummingbird fact you could conjure into question. One amazement to me, as with the amazing migration of the Monarch butterflies, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s migration—most of them apparently migrate to and from Central America by leaving at dusk and taking a nonstop five-hundred mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico. Incredible considering each hummer weighs less than five ounces! So, to these flitting miracles, I look forward to being dive-bombed while out in the yard in the early hours—won’t be long.
To set up your own hummingbird feeder, find one easy to take apart and clean, and with bee-guards at the ports. Mixing nectar is simple, and needs to be done about once a week: 4 parts water with 1 part sugar, heat water and stir in sugar, cool and add to feeder. Depending on the outdoor temperature, feeders need to be maintained regularly by cleaning (don’t use soap on the feeder), and replenishing the nectar.
‘Tis the season to enjoy the everyday miracles outdoors! Enjoy … JK