Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ordinary abundance

"There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less."
G.K. Chesterton

. . .

I've been sitting on a version of this post for almost a week now, waiting for the words to come more easily and eloquently. Maybe I'm still feeling the holiday fog, but I'm tired of waiting. This is so close to my heart right now, and I just need to get something down and out into the world, however imperfectly expressed.

. . .

I love Christmas. I really do. I used to take more joy in the preparation than the actual celebration, but slowing things down this year and honoring Advent as a time of reflection and simplicity helped make both more manageable and merry. Which isn't to say there isn't plenty of room for improvement, but we're taking it one year at a time.

All that said, I find myself so hungry for Ordinary Time. Maybe it's that I'm getting older, or perhaps it's just this season of life, but I long for routine, simplicity, and everyday grace. For the unexpected beauty of "normal," the bounty beneath the surface, just waiting to be noticed. In this way, Advent and Christmas mirror the cycle of our entire lives. 

Our tree was beautiful this year (it still is, actually, as we're keeping it up until Epiphany). We never got around to hanging more than a handful of ornaments, mostly those that belong to Caleb or have been gifts to Andy and me during our marriage. Still, I love having those little lights on in the evenings, and I love watching Caleb wave hello to the tree when he wakes up in the morning. It was wonderful to see gifts wrapped and ready piled underneath, too, tokens of love given and received. I generally enjoy buying presents. We don't go overboard, but we do try to carefully consider each person on our list. I offer up prayers and goodwill as I wrap everything, hoping to somehow imbue the items with the spirit of care in which they were chosen.

But -- in the midst of wrapping gifts and baking counters full of cookies (I managed four kinds this year, phew!), the thing that really grabbed me was the fruit basket sitting on our counter, in the same spot it lives most days. Suddenly it was so inexplicably beautiful.

Call it satori, call it the "wow" prayer, but whatever name you give the moment, it was as though someone pressed the pause button on the world for a second. 

Recently I started watching the BBC drama Cranford (I promise this is connected), and in the second episode there's a scene where the main characters are given oranges to enjoy. For reasons of dignity and decorum, they go to their bedrooms to eat their fruit alone. The idea that oranges could be such a treat, so exotic, and pleasurable to the point of inappropriateness really stuck with me. And I think that's part of what got me when I saw our fruit basket, full of bananas and limes and clementines and even a pomegranate. The basket itself is something Andy and I brought back from Oman. What a miracle it would seem to the people of Cranford to see such treasures sitting in our kitchen! Yet we very nearly expect that we'll have access to these things at will. They blend into the background. But to really see them, even if briefly? Wow. 

The same thing happened last night when I caught a glimpse of my hands in a sink full of dishes, scrubbing the pans from dinner. And I saw them. The whimsy of the soap bubbles, the dim light just so, and two capable hands -- hands that help me care for a family. Wow. I felt my throat catch at the wonder of my regular life. I get to be a wife! I get to be a mom. It is so beautiful. I'm learning how to nourish my family both physically and spiritually, and while the journey has no endpoint, I can't believe how far I've come in the past year. In a way, I'm even more grateful that I was finally able to be present to this abundance, to recognize the profound blessing that is my ordinary life.

I've gotten pretty good at saying "HELP!" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" this past year. Or at least, I tend to call out those prayers often. But I've often stopped short of "Wow." So that's what I'm aiming for in 2015: Eyes to see the abundance that surrounds me, and a soul moved to tears by the wonder of it all. x

Monday, December 29, 2014

monday's cup, no. 10

"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are." 
Mary Jean Irion

Image via

Sunday, December 28, 2014

holiday recap 2014

A few small snippets of our Advent and Christmas. It was a beautiful season, and I only had one stress-induced breakdown ;) In all seriousness, though, by Thursday night I was completely drained, just bone-tired -- but my heart was bursting at the seams. If you're talking love & joy, Christmas with a little one is where it's at.

From top to bottom: Advent in-progress | St. Nick was here! | Lots of simple meals, including this homemade bread | The only decorating I did, apart from our (ornament-less) Christmas tree | Neighborhood tree lighting | Peppermint-scented play dough | Two of the four kinds of cookies I made: Salted PB chocolate pretzel, and rolled butter cookie cutouts | Homemade marshmallows | Brown paper packages, tied up with string | Andy and I bought each other the same (AMAZING) candle | Baked eggnog French toast on Christmas morning | Merry and bright and full of light x

Monday, December 22, 2014

monday's cup, no. 9

“Creative people must retain their capacity to keep going, even in the face of very little external validation of their worth.” 
Nancy C. Andreasen in The Creative Brain


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

my heart is full

As we got in the car after buying a Christmas tree this morning, on our way to a train-themed diner for lunch, Andy sighed and said, "I love having a family."

Me too. So, so much.

Monday, December 15, 2014

monday's cup, no. 8

“Let your children grow up to be farmers.

Let them know what it is like to be free from fluorescent lights and laser pointer meetings. Let them challenge themselves to be forever resourceful and endlessly clever. Let them whistle and sing loud as they like without getting called into an office for 'disturbing the workforce.' Let them commute down a winding path with birdsong instead of a freeway’s constant growl. Let them be bold. Let them be romantic. Let them grow up not having to ask another adult for permission to go to the dentist at 2 p.m. on a Thursday. Let them get dirty. Let them kill animals. Let them cry at the beauty of fallow earth they just signed the deed for. Let them bring animals into this world, and realize they don’t care about placenta on their shirt because they no longer care about shirts. Let them wake up during a snowstorm and fight drifts at the barn door instead of traffic. Let them learn what real work is. Let them find happiness in the understanding that success and wealth are not the same thing. Let them skip the fancy wedding. Let them forget four years of unused college. Let them go. Let them go home.”
Jenna Woginrich

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

worth it

It's back.

I have avoided those words for so long, resisted what they mean, especially knowing my most-read entry on the blog this year was on finally finding joy.

But so it is: My depression came back.

This time is different, though. Because this time I asked for help.

On Sunday evening, I asked Andy to please "treat me like a sick person," as though I had the flu or a broken leg.

And he got it. He plugged in my laptop next to the bed with Netflix ready to go. He ordered my favorite comfort foods and made sure I ate something. He filled my water bottle and did my laundry and put Caleb to bed. I felt loved and taken care of, and it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, he did it because he believed I was worth the time and energy and effort.

So the next day, I decided I might try believing it, too, and I called a counselor. I also made myself a decent meal, and I turned off my computer and crawled into bed at midnight instead of 1AM, which is a baby step but still progress.

This morning my neck hurts a little bit less (it always stiffens up in times like this), and Caleb put himself to sleep in his crib for a nap, and I'm listening to podcasts and tackling some more cleaning projects. I'm so familiar with the downward spiral, and crawling back out is so freaking difficult. But I'm doing it anyway.

Because there is hope. I'm choosing to surrender to life as it comes instead of giving in to the (sometimes overwhelming) temptation of death. I would unceasingly defend the life of a child, of all children, because I believe each and every one has a right to be here and a purpose to serve. I can accept this as true of most anyone....except myself.

I'd still say I'm less lonely at home than I was when I was working, and I never miss the small talk or pressure to smile. But there is a heaviness, a different "aloneness" that has always been so. A sense of never quite fitting in, of being too sensitive and smart-but-not-that-smart.

It can be so hard to navigate this world.

But here I am. Still typing, still breathing. Still "in the world," and still learning. It hurts, but I'm doing it anyway. Which is about as big a victory as there is, I'd say.


Practicing what we most need to learn never quite looks like we think it will, does it?

Monday, December 8, 2014

monday's cup, no. 7

“We were together. I forget the rest.” 
Walt Whitman

Photo by Brian W. Ferry

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

first: advent

I have always, always loved Christmas... until last year. Last year was the first time I experienced Christmas as a mom (and a very new mom at that), and frankly? It just sucked. And not because our families weren't wonderful (they spoiled us, as usual) or there was some big loss to deal with (Lord knows we've had our fair share), but because of me and my own mental darkness. 

I was so stressed out. About EVERYTHING. 

I was amped up and adamant that we make the first Christmas with our son AMAZING and WONDERFUL and PERFECT and FULL OF TRADITIONS AND FAMILY FUN! All while still adjusting to life with a pretty tiny baby, in a very small apartment, during one of the coldest winters Chicago has ever seen.

I didn't even get our Christmas cards mailed out, which were also supposed to serve as Caleb's birth announcements, and I cried while wrapping gifts.

As you might imagine, I was determined to do it differently going forward (both Christmas and the whole "having a newborn" thing). This year we decided to really focus on observing Advent, and it is FANTASTIC. I only wish I'd understood the significance of this month of planning and preparation sooner. Catholic or not, it feels so good to stop the chaos in favor of time to reflect, breathe, and contemplate what will truly make our holiday merry and memorable. We've been "going dark" in the evenings in favor of candlelight, and while we plan to get our tree this weekend, it will remain undecorated until the week before Christmas. We're making room, both physically and spiritually, and my introverted soul is so grateful. 

I've been praying and thinking a lot about the next steps for my own life, something I shared a bit of here. In all my recent pondering, I keep getting one message over and over again: "You are in a season of discernment." season of discernment--how lovely is that? What a relief to be able to view this chapter of my life as a time of hope, necessary for what's next, instead of one big ol' PAUSE on "real life." One day I may be called again to bold action, big ideas, and major change. But for now? The craziest, most important thing I can do is watch, listen, and wait... Kinda like what we're supposed to be doing during Advent. We wait in joyful hope for the celebration to end all celebrations.

So that's what I'm doing. Finding the joy, holding onto hope, even as I sometimes weep at the darkness. Somehow I've only just come to see that it isn't mine to shoulder alone. Talk about a revelation! You can let go of the heavy and welcome the light instead. Incredible. I think sometimes we need to set the heavy stuff down, but other times we simply share the load. Suddenly our individual portion doesn't seem quite so burdensome, and we understand we're part of a larger network of overcoming, and it's the sort of bring-you-to-tears miracle that makes your whole being radiate. It doesn't mean the hard parts or sadness disappear, but they lose some of their power: We belong to each other. Love wins.

Images via: 1 | 2 | 3

Monday, December 1, 2014

monday's cup, nos. 5 & 6

Making it a double because 

A) it is totally that kind of Monday, and

B) I forgot last week. Oops.

Ah, well, cheers, and I'll have a Red Eye. x

. . . 

"No one wants to be the person who is made fun of for caring too much about something, who treats in earnest a situation that everyone else considers absurd. Even in personal relationships, feeling too heavily invested while simultaneously understanding that the other person couldn’t be more detached is one of the most profound feelings of embarrassment we can experience. Because it isn’t simply the embarrassment of making a mistake or a poor choice, it’s a shame over the kind of human being you are and how you see the world around you. To be shamed for your sincerity is to be reminded that you are dependent on something which is not dependent on you — that you are, once again, vulnerable.” 

Chelsea Fagan    

“She also considered very seriously what she would look like in a little cottage in the middle of the forest, dressed in a melancholy gray and holding communion only with the birds and trees; a life of retirement away from the vain world; a life into which no man came.” 
AA Milne

. . .

Image one here, source unknown | Image two via