Be Kind, and Be Yourself… If You Want

Kaylia came to me the other day with a deep, dark secret – something about herself that no one must know, because she thought her friends would make fun of her. I listened to her pour her heart out, and promised not to tell a soul, but when she went off to play, I kept thinking about what would be the best way to help her through this.

A memory suddenly came back to me that I hadn’t thought of in years, and I remembered what it feels like to hide who I am, because the world doesn’t feel completely safe….

I was in grade nine, and the teacher gave us an assignment which had me feeling miserable. It sounded easy enough – choose your favourite song, copy the lyrics out, illustrate it and answer some questions about the meaning of the words. I knew I could do all of those things, except the first: choose a favourite song.

Junior high can be a hard place to admit truly liking anything, and music was especially a problem. I’ve always loved music, but I wasn’t allowed to listen to any of the music my friends listened to (for which I’m very thankful now, but at the time was not cool). I never spent any money on buying my own tapes, like my younger sister did, so I mostly contented myself with listening to her music, or whatever my mom was listening to. I knew that I could never use one of my mom’s songs for my project, because that would earn me unbearable amounts of ridicule, so my only choice was to find something from my sister’s music to use for my project. But since only Christian music was allowed at our house, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to find anything that would pass the scrutiny of my friends.

In a desperate attempt to choose something socially acceptable, I went with Steven Curtis Chapman – I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. There was a song he did together with a friend who was a rapper, which was unfortunate all around, because Steven Curtis Chapman was most definitely not a rapper, and sadly, the song was called “Got 2 B Tru”, adding irony to the pretense of presenting it as my favourite song.

I remember feeling ridiculous about the whole thing as I got my page of lyrics out at school the next day, hoping no one would notice, but of course, my friend looked over and loudly burst out, “Got 2 B Tru?! What kind of stupid song is that???” Everyone turned to look at me, and added their own comments on my song selection, as I tried to make myself as small as possible in my seat, wishing I could disappear.

I went home and threw those silly lyrics in the garbage (no offense to Steven Curtis Chapman), and tried to figure out what to do. I decided to choose one of my mom’s songs that had a line in it that I’d always liked, and hope nobody would notice (no offense to my mom!). For the rest of the class time we spent on that project, I was careful to keep my paper covered and out of sight.

It was a huge relief when we moved on to a different assignment, but in some ways, I never really moved on. I chose to avoid music, even though I loved it, because the embarrassment of that experience didn’t fade much. I wouldn’t admit to liking anything, to avoid being mocked.

It kinda worked out okay, because when I started dating Ben, he was happy to share his large collection of cd’s with me, and always had music playing. I didn’t necessarily love his choice of music, but I didn’t dislike it, so for years, we listened to whatever he liked.

But one day, maybe about seven years ago, I was reading a blog post that included a song, and as I listened to it, I realized: “THIS is the music I like. If I would choose my favorite, it would be this style of music.” It was a strange feeling – I had never admitted to anyone, even myself, what I really liked. I’d never claimed anything for my own, and labelled it my “favourite”.

I didn’t share it with anyone – I felt like I needed to keep trying it out on my own, so when no one else was home, I’d listen to the song secretly. I wasn’t worried that Ben would make fun of me, or anything, it just felt so new and different to actually say I liked a song, instead of just listening to what everyone else listened to.

This went on for a couple of days, but one day, Ben came home and caught me. My song was playing, there was no hiding it anymore, and he asked, “What kind of music is this?!” He was obviously confused, since he’d never heard the song, and in all our years of being married, I’d never turned music on when I was home alone.

I explained how I’d come across it, and that it was the kind of music I actually loved most, and he wasn’t sure about it, but after awhile, he said he kinda liked it. So he set out to find every song he could that had a similar style, and made me a playlist which we called “Happy Music”.

Over the years, we’ve kept adding to our happy music, and now it feels funny to think there was a time when I wouldn’t let the music in, and claim it for my own.

And so I remember the feeling of hiding, and thinking it wasn’t safe to be real. I tell this story to my kids, and I know the typical moral of the story would be “Be yourself”, but I’m not so sure.

I want to tell Kaylia to be brave, to just like whatever she likes, and not be afraid, but at the same time, I know what it’s like to hold something so fragile inside yourself, it doesn’t feel right to bring it out where everyone can see.

There are times when it’s great to take a chance and open up, but there are also times when it’s okay to have a small inner circle, and smile mysteriously to yourself, knowing that your secrets are safe with just the close few. That’s also being true to yourself, for those of us who hold things a little closer. And so I like to use my story as a reminder to be kind. source

Be kind to yourself by understanding that it’s okay not to push yourself, if it just doesn’t feel safe or comfortable. I felt so mush pressure to reveal what I didn’t want to, and then guilt and shame as I tried to find my way through. Rather than feeling all those heavy emotions, I wish I could have simply seen myself as kind of private, or slower to reveal parts of my heart. There is nothing wrong with that.

I do truly value the idea of being yourself, but there’s also wisdom in discerning the right time and place for sharing from your depths. I don’t want to hide who I really am, but I’m okay with having many layers, and waiting, quietly holding some things in for a time, until they’re ready to come out, until I feel safe, until the layers have gently been pulled back.

And being kind to others can mean being a safe place where others know their secrets will be protected, should they choose to share them. If I know what it feels like to experience mockery and ridicule, then I know how important it is to be the one others can feel safe with. So be yourself, but take your time. Be gentle with yourself, and with others. Be the safe place where they can bring their secrets to the light, in their own time.

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Overcoming Fear of the Future

I was sitting in the waiting room at an appointment one day, paging through a magazine, when an article caught my attention – “How to Overcome Fear”.

I hesitated for a second – I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for most of my life, and although I desperately wanted to overcome fear, I wasn’t sure if I was brave enough to dig into that whole thing again. Curiosity won, and I began to read. And that was the beginning of a lot more than I anticipated.

*

Fear stayed on my mind for weeks after that. I’d woken a sleeping dragon, and it would take awhile to settle the beast down again. But I didn’t want to simply settle it – I wanted it gone. I began focusing on verses about fear every time the old thoughts gripped me, but I was frustrated – how many times had I heard or recited “Perfect love casts out fear”? What was wrong with me? I believe in God’s perfect love, but my fear wasn’t cast out. What would finally get me to the point where I was filled once and for all with that perfect love, and would experience the freedom of fear being cast out? Something wasn’t working for me.

*

I didn’t know if it was a wise choice or not, but in the midst of my wrestle with fear, I read my friend Kate’s new book.

Her heart is right there on the page, and she has a painfully beautiful way of writing about being diagnosed with stage four cancer at the age of 35. Reading about her struggle with the idea of dying and leaving behind her husband and their little boy was tough for me, and added to the weight of what was on my mind. But reading about her darkness was what led me to light.

She described a moment right before she was about to go into surgery, alone for the first time since receiving her diagnosis, and she was terrified about the depth of fear she would get lost in if she were left alone. But she wrote that instead of being overwhelmed by fear, she was overcome with a perfect love so beautiful and strong that it carried her along, not just through those moments before her surgery, but for weeks to come. It was such an amazing love that she didn’t ever want to be without it again, so she began to ask anyone who had gone through a similar experience, “Will it fade?” And they said yes, it would fade, but she would never be the same.

And that’s when it hit me: I do not receive miraculous peace and provision until the moment I need it. Like the Israelites who tried to collect extra manna, and ended up with a rotten mess, we do not get to save up grace – it’s a fresh filling, a supply and demand kind of thing.

*

The magazine article about fear said that most of the time, it’s imagined. If you were in a dim room, and saw a coil of rope lying on the floor in the corner, you might mistake it for a snake. You might feel fear, until the light was turned on, and then you would realize there was nothing to fear. It would feel real, but it was imagined.

This was comforting, but also made me feel ashamed. Kate lives with the actual fear and reality of life with cancer, while I just can’t get my imagination under control.

And Christians are the ones who are supposed to live with “peace that passes all understanding”, but I was stuck with anxiety that passed all understanding. So many times, Ben would patiently listen to my tearful worries and fears, but then he would say, “I just don’t understand the way you think. I want to help you, but I don’t know how to make you see that you don’t need to worry about those things.”

And so I stayed trapped in the same old patterns of thought, with my imaginary snake in the corner.

*

I got a phone call one morning during the early years of being married, as I was about to head out the door to work. It was a close friend, telling me that her dad had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly, letting me know when the funeral was.

I drove to work in shock, my mind racing. It didn’t take long for my thoughts to go in the direction of imagining myself in her place – what if my dad passed away without a chance for me to say goodbye? How would I handle it? What would it feel like to lose him?

I did what many seem to do – get lost in thinking about their own imagined situation instead of staying in my friend’s current reality. I caught myself after going far too long in the wrong direction. My heart was heavy with the thought of what it would be like to be in her position – but I wasn’t. I couldn’t be present to support her if I was lost in my fear and imagination of what it would be like to be her. I just needed to be with her. It was my first time realizing that God would only give me strength for what was real – I didn’t need His strength for what was imagined.

Many times, I felt the pull to start thinking, “What if it were me?” And each time, for the love of my friend, I chose to stay present, in her moment of suffering instead of getting lost in the fear of my own.

*

When we first think a thought, it is not set in our minds in the beginning. We have some time to choose if it will become a habit of thought, or if we will reject it. If we continue to think it and solidify it, it becomes a well-worn path in the mind. When another similar thought comes along, the brain needs to figure out where to place it. Every similar thought zooms off down the worn path, causing a reaction so fast and strong, you don’t even need to be aware of what’s happening.

I was 21 when I first started having health problems. I had just moved out on my own, and was faced with overwhelming tests and doctors appointments. No one could figure out what was wrong with me, and my imagination ran wild with fear. I knew nothing about how to deal with everything that was happening to me. I tried to trust God and find a way through, but the fear path in my mind took some dangerous turns as I wore it down to a well-travelled path in my mind.

To this day, thoughts of fear and the unknown will immediately take off in the same direction as always, making me feel as though I’m carried along on a ride I didn’t even choose – except I did, many years ago.

The good news is there’s hope and it’s never too late to change the path, and make new thought patterns. But it takes a ton of work, and so I dig in. I face the imaginary snake in the corner, I search for ways to shine light so I can see fear for what it really is.

Another verse sticks in my head – “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But I’m a master at bringing the imaginary into this moment. If I mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario, I’ve fooled myself into thinking I will be prepared for anything. It’s a way of feeling like I’m in control, even though we all know that’s not possible.

*

Kate writes about a conversation with a friend about how to deal with her fear of having to leave her little boy. “‘Don’t skip to the end,” he says, “Don’t skip to the end.'”

Suddenly it all comes together in my mind – choosing to stay in this moment, trusting the perfect love to always be there no matter what happens in the future, stopping the fear before it runs down that well-worn path which only leads to a coil of rope in a dark corner.

*

I try to put this all into words for a friend. She listens patiently, and then she says, “When we jump ahead and imagine ourselves in a terrible situation in the future, we’re picturing ourselves standing there in the face of tragedy without the protective covering of God’s grace, and that is terrifying.”

Years of fear are suddenly exposed to me for what they really are – imagining myself without God’s protective covering. Not trusting that His perfect love will truly be there for me when I need it most. Frantically gathering manna before it is time, only to end up with rotten manna every time.

Don’t skip to the end. Stay in this moment. Grace for the present. Strength for today. My daily bread.

Someday the coil of rope in the corner will actually be a snake, and I do truly believe God’s perfect love will cover me that moment. In the meantime, I pray for the strength to keep living only one day at a time. It is simple, and it is hard.

Are You Afraid to Create?

“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

Look, I don’t know what’s hidden within you. I have no way of knowing such a thing. You yourself may barely know, although I suspect you’ve caught glimpses. I don’t know your capacities, your aspirations, your longings, your secret talents. But surely something wonderful is sheltered inside you. I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic)

I felt creative fear this last week. I was standing in my sister’s living room, surrounded by piles of shopping bags, and I was about to start decorating her bookshelves.

And just for a moment, I had this paralyzing feeling of doubt and fear of failure. I had flown out to Ottawa for the specific purpose of decorating her house, and I knew those bookshelves were going to make it or break it. They were huge and looming, and I wanted them to look amazing, but in that moment, all I could think was, “I don’t know if it can do this.”

That probably sounds far too dramatic, but let me just say that bookshelves are hard. They need to be full, but not too full. Coordinated, but not too matchy. Heights and sizes and flow are all important, if you want to get it right. If it’s done well, they’ll look awesome. If not, they’ll look busy and cluttered, or just bare and empty, longing for someone to come make them beautiful.

I recently came across a decorating company on instagram that advertised themselves as being “experts” in bookshelves. It kinda takes an expert, because it’s just really hard to do it well.

There was nothing else to do, other than dig in and get started, or else we would have wasted a lot of time and money on all the decor items we’d just purchased. I got through the first shelf, and was feeling a bit encouraged. By the second shelf, I was starting to have fun. “I think this is working!” I was thinking to myself. “Maybe I will be able to pull it off.” I stepped back to see how it was shaping up, and that was a mistake, because suddenly all I could see again were the wide, gaping shelves which still remained empty. Again, I had those sinking, doubtful feelings, but once again, I grabbed more books and got back to work.

When I finally finished, I plopped down on a chair, and just looked. I sat and looked and looked, because I had done it, and I loved it. I didn’t know if I could do it, and then I brought something into existence which was not there before, and I’d created something I felt proud of.

I keep thinking about this because I wonder what else I’m capable of, but don’t dig in and just start trying. My sister says I should start a decorating company. Ben says I should write a book. My friend says I should start a health blog. I don’t do any of them, because I am saying I don’t have time right now, with homeschooling and a three year old, but I wonder if deep down, it’s just because I’m afraid to start, or maybe I’m afraid I’m not passionate enough to make it happen.

I don’t know what is hidden deep inside me and I don’t know what I would bring out if I dug down to discover it. I’m afraid it won’t be perfect, I’m afraid it will be rejected, I’m afraid it’s all been done before, and I’m afraid it’s much too late to get it started. I’m afraid it won’t be significant or important. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to write a book, and there’s no chance that fiction is happening here, which means it would have to be real life, but my life is pretty small. And decorating someone’s house also seems kind of small, because we really could all survive with bare walls and empty bookshelves, so I’m afraid it’s not significant enough.

But when my sister came into the room once I was finished, she said, “NOW it feels like home.” And then I realized what my driving passion really is – home. My whole life, I have just wanted to make a home for my family. A safe, peaceful, cozy place where everyone can come in and feel something – I don’t even know what, exactly. Maybe just like they belong. I spend every single day of my life doing this for my own family, but when my sister said that, I realized I was actually able to give her the same feeling in her own home, and suddenly it didn’t feel frivolous anymore.

This is not a blog post to announce that I’m starting a decorating company or anything like that!! Rather, it’s just some ramblings on that feeling you get when you create something, in spite of being afraid, and know deep down that you did something beautiful. There is a little bit more loveliness in the world, because you chose to create.

I don’t remember to take pleasure in that often enough. I stick it under the label of “humility” – don’t take too much pride in something you made or accomplished. But I’ve swung too far over to the side of not allowing myself to feel any pride. Those twinges are quite persistent, though – when my pantry is perfectly organized, and I want to keep opening the door to gloat over it a little. Or when I put extra effort into making an especially colourful salad for supper, and I feel just a little proud of myself for making it beautiful. Why do I insist on stamping that feeling down and resisting it?

Kaylia proudly hangs her artwork on the fridge. Everett calls me over to see the train track he built all by himself. Anika has a flush of enthusiasm on her face as she tells me about an especially good scene she just finished writing in her book. Even Ben called me over to admire the garden box he built in our yard last summer, and sent me a picture of himself receiving an award this weekend.

I love to celebrate those moments with others – why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? I want to dig deeper, and see what I find when I’m brave enough to bring out what I can do and create and share. Maybe a bookshelf won’t change anybody else’s life. But maybe it could change mine. Maybe I have no idea what could open up inside me if I would take more chances, do hard things, just dig in and get started, and then bask in the sense of pride and accomplishment I feel at the end. Maybe I’ll actually write a book. Or find some more empty bookshelves. Who knows? Maybe it’s just enough to know that when I’m not sure if it will be great, I should just try anyway.

I hope you’re too brave to have any idea what I’m talking about, but maybe not? Is there anything you’ve been dreaming of creating, but haven’t had the courage to start?

Habits

I had a wonderful thought the other day: Three weeks can be a very short period of time.

It could feel long in some situations – not eating for three weeks would be terrible. The three week mission trip Ben once went on felt very, very long.

But I was thinking about three weeks being the length of time it takes to form a habit, and that is actually a remarkably short period of time. If you could form a habit in only three weeks, and then have the willpower to maintain it, you could change the direction of the rest of your life in those three weeks. Isn’t that crazy to think about?! I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before”, and it made me think about the habits I started in 2018. As I went over them in my mind, I had this startling moment of realizing that most of my goals have actually become familiar – they don’t feel strange and uncomfortable anymore, even though we’re not very far into 2018. “But how can that be, I just started doing them!” I thought.

And then I realized – it’s been more than three weeks. If you made any new years resolutions in 2018, and you have stuck with them until now, you have formed a habit! And if you got off track, you can still totally turn things around! Isn’t that a nice thought?!

Dr. Caroline Leaf says if you do something for three rounds of three weeks, you’ve made it part of who you are. I love to think about this. It makes me feel like there’s hope for change in any situation – you just have to figure out how to hang in there for nine weeks, which sounds longer than three rounds of three, so we’ll stick with that!!

Four Types of Habit Keepers

Here’s the thing: I love habits. I think new years resolutions are exciting, but I realize that not everyone does, because I’m married to someone who doesn’t get giddy about a list of resolutions like I do.

It made a lot of sense to find out that according to Rubin, there are four different types of people when it come to habits:

Upholders – have little trouble sticking to habits on their own, and are naturally very disciplined and motivated

Questioners – can stick to habits fairly well, if they believe strongly enough that it’s worth the effort. Will always need to understand the reason behind what they’re doing in order to stick with it

Obligers – are more focused on others than themselves. Need accountability to stick with any habit

Rebels – want to do what they want, when they want. If they know what others want them to do, will often do the exact opposite Everything made sense when I read about these types.

I could think of people who fit into each of these categories. Gretchen Rubin also writes that people can be a combination of two types, depending on the situation. This also fit with my experience, because I think I’m mostly an Upholder, with a bit of the Questioner thrown in. Most of the time, I don’t have much trouble sticking with a habit. I like to do the same things consistently. I still have to work at it, but I actually enjoy the effort.

But every once in a while, the Questioner in me appears, and I can’t make a habit stick unless I understand why. My daily exercise is a great example of this. I see a muscle therapist regularly, and for years, I couldn’t make myself stick to all the exercises and stretches he gave me to do. But one day, when he was working on a particularly painful spot, I happened to ask, “What is that from?” He explained the movement which brought on that particular pain, and then reminded me which stretch would bring relief. Suddenly, I was completely motivated and convinced to keep up with the stretch – I understood the why behind it.

This worked so well that I kept asking the same questions at each appointment: “What is that pain from, and which stretch gets rid of it?” I haven’t missed doing my exercises for a couple of years now, because my actions are connected with results.

What I love about knowing the different types of habit keeping is that once you figure out what type you are, there are all kinds of ways to approach habits which will work well for you.

Even though Upholders have the easiest time with habits, it still helps to know some techniques for starting a new habit, like how to make it as convenient as possible to keep a new habit going, or recognizing what could be the stumbling blocks, and removing those ahead of time.

Questioners need to know the why. If they don’t care, they won’t do it. And if they can’t make themselves care, they either need to research more or ask a lot of questions, or they might need to acknowledge that they don’t care enough to change, and let the desire for a new habit go, and focus on something else.

Obligers need to find ways to be kept accountable. There are many different ways of doing this, and I enjoyed reading the suggestions in the book, because it was clear that there are creative, positive solutions for most obstacles when it comes to new habits. There’s hope for everyone!

And Rebels just don’t care – it seems they don’t concern themselves with habits very much, and they aren’t bothered by the fact that they can’t keep good habits, because they don’t really want to. It almost seems that it’s harder part for the people around them to accept that Rebels just don’t desire habits, than for Rebels themselves. If they really want to do something, they will find a way, and no one will be able to stop them. So it’s possible for all of us to successfully stick to habits, if we want to.

Abstainers and Moderaters

The other extremely helpful information from the book was Gretchen Rubin’s explanation of abstainers and moderators. I had read the information a few years ago in a blog post she wrote, and it is one of the biggest reasons I am where I am today, so I enjoyed reading the full version in her book.

Her research shows that people are either abstainers, meaning they are all or nothing kind of people, or moderaters, which means they can handle things in moderation. If abstainers are on a diet, but are confronted with a bag of Oreos, they can’t eat just one – if they start, they will finish, and eat the whole bag. It is actually easier for them to eat nothing than to eat only one Oreo.

Moderaters, on the other hand, have no problem only eating one Oreo. It is easier for them to stick to a diet if they know they have the freedom to treat themselves every once in a while.

I am an abstainer, but for years, I acted like a moderater, and it made me frustrated and miserable. My health requires me to stick to a very clean, natural diet, and if I eat any junk food, I feel terrible. But I kept allowing myself a little bit of junk food, which always turned into the entire bag of chips. I couldn’t stop myself until the food was gone. The day I learned about abstainers and moderaters, everything made sense. I’ve learned to embrace the fact that I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I don’t eat sweets, ever. I will not touch a bag of corn chips. I exercise every single day, because every other day quickly becomes never. Habits are much easier to keep when I make the decision once, and stick with it.

Moderaters are not able to understand how this approach could possibly be easier, but it just is. It’s knowing that I’m an Upholder and an Abstainer, and I’ve found my groove. But everybody has their own groove, and from my experience, quality of life greatly improves once you figure out what works for you.

It’s been a very interesting, helpful read so far, and if you’re wanting to strengthen any habits in your life, I would highly recommend this book!

So what do you think you are – Upholder, Questioner, Obligers, or Rebel? Abstained or moderater? Any tips you’ve found helpful for sticking with new habits?

Slow Down Right Now, Just For a Second….

My dad is flying off to Germany today, so I called him last night for a little chat, since it had been awhile. Whenever we talk, he always wants to know that we’re all okay, that we’re happy and healthy and feeling good about life, and if we’re not, then he wants to convince me that things are better than they seem at the moment.:)

So we talked about what the kids are up to, and about parenting, and he said, “We need to be intentional. There needs to be a way to enjoy the moment as much as we can, because it passes too quickly.”

It reminded me of something Ann Voskamp wrote years ago:

When I fully enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here.

Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.

I’ve thought about that often over the years since I read it – time slows down when I am fully here, in this moment. When I stop being distracted, and stop wishing for anything different than what I have right now. When I use all my senses to savor everything I can about that moment.

And I think Ann Voskamp is right – the moments stay with us in sharp clarity when we take them time to really live them, and become aware to the fullest sense. I can look back over my life and remember times when everything stood still and I was fully there….

The night Anika was born, and I stayed awake all night, even though I was exhausted, just listening to her and Ben breathing softly on either side of me.

Slowly walking through all the rooms of the little house we built for the last time before we moved away to live at camp.

A particularly beautiful sunset at the lake, or a morning when I skipped breakfast and went down to the water because it was like a perfect mirror.

Standing in the hallway of our little house, right where I could see both Anika and Kaylia asleep in their rooms, overwhelmed by the fact that after years of waiting, I was finally the mother of children (plural!!) and my heart was overflowing.

Coming into the room and just stopping right there in the doorway, watching Anika holding Kaylia in the rocker, thinking about all the years she’d prayed for a baby sister.

Walking down the road at camp in winter with my eyes closed, so I could focus on the smell of wood stoves and pine trees, and listen to the snow crunching.

Turning to see Everett for the first time after he was born, hardly able to believe he was here, surprised by how light his hair was and thinking about how he looked exactly like Ben.

Feeling Everett put his little arms around my neck, and thinking how I wanted to remember the moment for my whole life.

Lying on a blanket under the trees in our backyard, and consciously thinking about how the sun felt on my face, the sound of the leaves rustling in the breeze, the feeling of having my little family around me, the luxury of having absolutely nothing else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I could go on and on. Beautiful moments, clear memories that are mine to think over, and add to whenever I choose to slow down and think fully about what I am experiencing in that moment.

I’m learning that it can be done in the most ordinary of moments – this morning I stopped myself just to listen to the silence in our house, thinking about my peacefully sleeping family, filling myself up for the loud, crazy day ahead. Everyone is here, and everyone is happy, and someday, it will not be this way. I don’t want to ruin a beautiful day by getting depressed about that, or bring stress into the moment by adding tons of pressure TO ENJOY EVERYTHING and live a life of scarcity.

Rather, I just want to be aware of blessings, and not take them for granted. I want to be intentional with my moments, my memories.

So if you stopped right now, and sat there really quietly, making yourself aware of what you are feeling in your body, anything nice you might be smelling or hearing or seeing, what would you notice? Can you slow the current down right now, just for a second? I would love to hear what you become aware of!

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Never Stop Swinging

When I was a kid, my dad designed and built play structures. It had a lot of perks – we had a really great play structure in our own backyard, and my sister and I loved to play on the new ones as they were being built, because it was always fun to try something different.

It seems as though a large number of my childhood involved those play structures. We would haul out all the blankets and build houses on the structure railings. We would try to teach our cats to walk across the top of the monkey bars. We would climb and dangle and twirl on the various bars. And we would swing. I remember the feeling of swinging so high, it felt as though I would soar right off into the air.

There was a huge lilac bush beside our play structure, and when I think of my most beautiful childhood memories, I remember sitting on the lawn swing with my mom, memorizing Psalm 23 while the dusk crept in. We smelled the lilac-scented air, and my mom would say, “Let’s see how high we can swing!”

One day when I was in high school, I was sitting on a swing, deep in thought, when my dad walked by. He said, “I miss the days when you girls would swing so much, the grass could never grow underneath the swings, because you would always wear it out.”

After he continued walking to the house, I got down on my knees and began pulling up handfuls of grass, trying to make the dirt show through, even though I didn’t swing enough to wear it out anymore.

I don’t know when I stopped swinging.

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The summer before Everett was born, Ben set up a play structure in our backyard. We’d been debating about it for awhile, wondering if our girls would get much use out of it, but when we were surprised with another baby on the way, we decided to get the structure, because there would be many more years of use with our little guy on the way.

In the beginning, both girls would swing together, shrieking delightedly when they were “double dating” and their swings were perfectly in sync. But slowly, over time, Kaylia often ended up on the monkey bars or in the sandbox, while Anika kept swinging.

I’d notice her going out to swing more and more. She’d take a break from school work to swing. She’d head out there the second we got home from a busy afternoon away. She would swing in the rain, the snow, the dark – it didn’t matter what kind of weather or time of day, she had to swing. I loved to watch her out the window, because she’d usually be smiling to herself, deep in thought as she stretched towards the sky.

It’s been a couple of years since Anika started swinging, and the grass still never grows under her swing.

She had a growth spurt this last winter. In the span of a few short months, she changed from being a little girl, and people started to mistake her for me. She almost looks me in the eye, and she’s borrowing my clothes. She spends hours a day writing fantasy books, and talks about being published, but whenever she’s stuck for an idea, she heads out the door to go swing. Morning, afternoon, and evening, she is out there on her swing.

Because she’s almost my size now, that little play structure built for small children was getting worn out after the intense workout she’s been giving it for three years. It was creaking and groaning, and Anika complained, “It makes so much noise when I swing, people are starting to turn and look from the sidewalk! Dad needs to fix it!!”

So last weekend, Ben finally built a new swing set (with his usual little helper!). He built it adult-size, so there will be no need for our girl to stop swinging.

We planted lilac bushes by the play structure, and maybe someday, the smell of lilacs will also make her think of evenings on the swing.

We tease Anika a little, because she’ll go off to college, and need to find the nearest park so she can swing and de-stress from college life! She says she’ll know she’s found her soulmate when she meets a boy who will swing with her.;)

We were at the chiropractor at the end of summer, and after finishing Anika’s adjustment, he came to me and asked, “Do you have her doing some kind of athletic activity?” I told him she took dance lessons during the school year, but hadn’t been doing anything during summer.

He said, “She’s in great shape – she must be very active!”

I smiled and said, “Well, she swings for a few hours a day.”

He looked confused. “She swings? Like on a play structure?”

I described to him how she swings many times a day, and how she’s gotten muscular from all those hours of pumping.

The chiropractor was amazed. “Her spine is very strong and healthy – she has the body of an athlete!”

And so Anika has proven that even something as simple as swinging can be good for the mind and the body.

I think of all those phys.ed classes when I was in high school, where I was taught that volleyball and basketball were everything, and competitive sports were the only way to be athletic. There was no value for the things I loved to do, like going for walks, or riding my bike in the sunset.

And yet, long after the phys.ed classes are over, those are the things that remain. There are many ways to move and live and feel your body connect with the moment. What I want for my kids are those beautiful moments of enjoying whatever it is they want to enjoy. To see the value in the unexpected. To find strength and beauty in simple things. To do what clears the head and gets the blood pumping. To smell lilacs and see sunsets, and to feel strength in their limbs and to get outside.

If they enjoy competitive sports, that’s great. But even more importantly, I hope they find ways to relax and move through life in small ways, all by themselves, when there’s no team around and without fancy equipment. I hope they keep balanced and active for the simple reason that our bodies were made to thrive that way.

If Anika still wants to swing when she’s an adult, I hope she does. I hope she never feels silly for loving it, because she’s found the secret for clearing her head and connecting her soul to the peace of the moment.

 

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How Do You Play?

I’m in the middle of a great book about the importance of playing. It’s giving me something to think about as I go about my everyday stuff, because it’s making me realize that I don’t spend enough time playing. It’s making me watch my kids play, and think about how I can learn from them, how to encourage them in their play, and how we can pursue more fun around here.

Play isn’t much of an issue when Ben is at home – he is naturally a very playful person, and when he’s an old man, he will be a more wholesome version of the Taco Bell commercial about the seniors sneaking out of the retirement home at night. He’s always got a twinkle in his eye, and is constantly cracking jokes and reading stories with all the silly voices.

Everett’s backyard version of “water skiing”

And then there’s me – a little on the intense side, often forgetting that life is not one big to-do list. I think I can be pretty funny sometimes, and I enjoy pursuing creativity and relaxation, but playfulness…not so much. I’ve just never thought about it a lot.

So now there’s this book: The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids Without Turning into a Tiger. (affiliate link) It’s interesting to be reading about the scientific study and different categories of play, while watching my kids naturally doing these things, and trying to figure out when I lost it. Movement, banging things, building things, imagining, wrestling, storytelling, and rituals. (That last one is actually one of the easiest for adults – ritual or celebratory play refers to birthday parties or the fun things we do for holidays.)

Having kids gets me to do more of these things with them – and I do have to admit that it feels good to build Jenga block towers or get out the puzzles. But how often do I intentionally pursue play for myself? I don’t even know how I would do some of those things. What could I build?!

I can see dramatic improvement in my life when I do take part in any these things – daily walks and yoga have been a huge benefit in my life. Writing and telling stories feeds my soul. Dancing in the kitchen while we clean up from supper is always a good way to get everybody in a good mood. So maybe I’m doing better than I thought, but there’s still lots of room for improvement!

I found it interesting that in this author’s mind, competitive sports don’t count as play! She’s referring specifically to recreational play, where there is no pressure to win or perform, and the focus is on freely playing without worrying about improving skills or striving to reach goals. Just plain, simple fun.

I want more of that! How can I intentionally pursue play in my own life? Maybe we all need kids to lead the way! How do we keep them from losing their sense of fun and ability to play? I’m so curious to hear your thoughts!

Are you like Ben, and find it easy to incorporate play, or are you more task-focused? How do you play? I need some fresh ideas!!:)