Monday, February 29, 2016

Take the Leap, a February 29 challenge

Waking up predawn today I found a train of thought lurching around my brain that I knew I’d have to let out today.  So here goes.  Leap year has always fascinated me on a couple of fronts.  First, it extended my birthday month by a whole day, so as a kid I thought that was cool.  Second,  I felt so sorry for people who were born on February 29, because they only got to have a birthday once every four years and couldn’t grow up very fast.  Until I met someone who was born on February 29 who patiently explained the got a year older EVERY year, had a birthday party EVERY year, and usually had an extra special celebration on leap years.  Again, I was a kid.

And I digress, this isn’t the topic of my blog or my insistent train of thought that pulled me out of sleep.

I have passed much of my adult life wishing I had more time, thinking that if only I had more hours in the day I would…you fill in in the blank.  I am certain, in the busy times that envelop us all, that most of those who are good enough to read my words experience the same thoughts.  So I ask myself (and you), what would you do with an extra day, with one day more, with a bonus 24 hours, with a true extra Leap Year Day?  Imagine you had 24 hours with no one else’s expectations, schedules, or any responsibilities.  What would you do?

Would you rest your body, mind, and soul, and pamper yourself, weary from life and all its demands?  Would you work on something that is your heart’s passion, losing all track of time because you are fully immersed in what gives your soul joy?  Would you spend every moment with someone dear to you, in conversation or just companionship, having that time to simply be with them that you never get because of life’s crazy pace?  Would you lose yourself in a great book?  Would you organize every space and thing in your home, clean out the old to prepare for a fresh start?  These are some of the things that came to my mind.  If I had 24 hours I would…

But you have 24 hours.  Every day.  Granted, it’s NOT free of commitments, work, and demands, but you get the same allotment every day.  So I challenge myself here, what am I spending my precious days on, this time I will never get back?  If I would do XYZ with 24 free hours, why aren’t I spending my days (and therefore my life) doing it right now?   If a relationship is important, I need to make it a priority, even if it just means shooting a quick text or email to the person I love.  If my heart’s passion is important, why don’t I carve out time to sit and write every day?  If caring for my body is important, why wouldn’t I do that in order to continue to make the most of my health?  If growing in my relationship with God is important to me, why wouldn’t I set aside even some small time every day to sit with Him and be quiet? 

Simple answer: the tyranny of the urgent often trumps the truly important in our lives.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of this.  This condition of being bossed around by the urgent things in life conspires with the trivialities that can crowd every open second, the sheer noise of technology that permeates our society and every inch of our homes (mine included).  And so our days are not spent as we want our lives to be spent. 

A movie scene shimmers in the back of my mind as I ruminate on these things.  Robin Williams leaning into a group of fresh faced 1950’s prep school boys looking at pictures of the past, whispering “Carpe diem!  Seize the day, boys!”  This still gives me chills.  He's urging his young students to realize that today is the only guarantee we have, truly, and this sentiment, this Carpe Diem clarion, resonated deeply with my college student heart when I first saw the film in theaters.  (Disclaimer: if you have negative opinions of Dead Poet’s Society, you are free as an American citizen to have them, but please don’t share them with me as that’s what inspired me to be an English teacher.  Please and thank you). Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, urged his students to truly live life to the fullest, referencing one of my favorite quotes from Walden by Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Focusing on the important over the urgent is hard.  Really hard.  Urgent is loud and shiny and often necessary, but it shouldn’t completely rule our lives.  If I let days, weeks, years slip by, what will I regret?  What will I feel as though I missed?  I am determined not to live a life of regret and am working hard to focus on what I can do, small steps every day, to use my 24 hours fully, to NOT get to death only to discover I haven’t lived. If we want to live deeply, as we would in that “extra day” promise of leap year, we must choose to do so in the here and now.  It is intentional and daily, this choice.  I’m getting better at some of these things.   Do I still watch reruns of The Good Wife while knitting on the couch?  Yep.  Is that "sucking the marrow out of life?"  Nope.  But I am getting better at choosing, “putting to rout all that is not life,” filling this limited precious time, this 24 hours I get every day with the things that matter most. 

I invite you to join me in Taking the Leap, in choosing the journey to seizing the day, and intentionally living to the full.

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” -Annie Dillard

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NLT

Monday, February 15, 2016

My Spot

Here it is.

This is where the bulk of the past 9 ½ months of my life have been spent.  Not a bad place at all.  There has typically been a water or tea cup on the shelf next to me, my iPad and phone close at hand, occasionally my laptop.  Since August I’ve almost always had knitting in my hands or at least within easy reach (there's my knitting bag, right at the foot of the couch, and the blanket on the couch is my handiwork).  And yes, it reclines.  There are remotes for the home theater (which this lovely red lap of luxury faces) next to me, and I’ve enjoyed lots of Netflix.  And Jane Austen movies.  And naps during both.  It’s darkish (blackout curtains since it’s the home theater zone), cocoon-like and cozy.  A wonderful place for my “hibernation” as I’ve come to think of it.  I’ve guarded my spot with a Sheldon Cooper-like ferocity, as this was one of the places in my home where I felt most comfortable.  Truly my comfort zone. 

But things are shifting.  I am so grateful to see improvement in my energy and pain levels as a result of my complete diet overhaul and the pounds of supplements my specialist has me taking, and I now begin to realize my spot no longer suits me.  It wouldn’t be best to stay in this spot, this comfort zone.  I am ready to move on; my spot on the couch seems counterproductive in my recovery.
Spurring me on is my current Online Bible Study, which gave me some interesting insight.  Lysa TerKeurst (my writer girl crush, you need to read her if you don’t already) writes about how the fields of everyday life provide the perfect preparation for God to have me perfectly positioned within his will.  She uses the example of David being anointed king (no, that’s not my plan for the next gig, thank you very much) but then returning to the fields of a shepherd’s life, not moving immediately into the palace.  The time in the fields were the perfect preparation for David to meet and defeat Goliath, building his physical strength (he killed a lion AND a bear) and his reliance and communion with God. 

So.  As I was reading this I began to recall all the eclectic array of daily life training grounds God has used to prepare me, perfectly and very uniquely, for each role to which He has led me.  Every change was a radical, jolting-me-out-of-my-spot, very unplanned (by me), tire-squealing left turn.  I truly didn’t know what was coming but could feel a restlessness in  my soul each time, and then God revealed the left turn, which always happened to be nowhere near my comfort zone.  Women’s ministry, substitute teaching, full time teaching, the finance industry.  And then my current situation.

What an odd place of quite these months have been after the left turn of chronic illness that came without the previously mentioned restlessness and completely without warning. And being still was all I COULD be for so long.  But now, as I am praising God for my slow but steady recovery, my mind is clear enough to wonder what is next.  I am actually feeling like I can DO something and I want to think through and plan and prepare and…

But I am reminded that my everyday life was the preparation ground for all the left turn life changes that came before.  Not the things I decided to do, but the ways God honed my gifts for the upcoming left turn that He was aware of, were what positioned me perfectly for what He had next.  All I needed to do was show up and obey.  

So I will stay in the stillness of preparation.  And I have a new spot. 

My new spot is sun washed, light-drenched, rather than a cozy dark cocoon, and has me upright rather than reclined.  It is not a place of hibernation, but of waking up, facing the sun.  It has me thinking and using the stillness to pour out of myself.  I still need to go back to the couch some days (slow recovery, keep in mind), but more often than not I can be found upstairs in my pretty home office corner of our bedroom, looking out on the backyard. 

I don’t feel the crush of restlessness as I did in the past.  I do feel a pull to write, to meditate on His word, to heal my body, to listen, and to bless my family.  This is preparation, too, I’m confident, for His divine Purpose, for the next left turn.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Art Imitates Life

One of the perks of my current chronic-illness life is tied closely to my lack of schedule. This has enabled me to tag along on several occasions with my awesome husband when he travels for business.  Which is what brought me to Seattle in January, not a typical time for tourists to flock to the Emerald City.  However, I loved every minute.  I was enjoying my second day of moderate sight-seeing (Uber saves my life, seriously) with a turn through the Chihuly Glass Museum, which features the most remarkable, enormous sculptures and installations, created by the native Northwestern artist, Dale Chihuly, all from blown glass.  I had wandered through many of the rooms filled with these exquisite creations, ready for some time off of my feet, when I happened upon this astonishing place.
I sat in this beautiful glass house, custom made to showcase this incredible art installation.  I stopped to sit, taking time to drink this in (let’s be honest, I was tired, really needed to sit down, and needed to charge my phone almost as much as I wanted to enjoy the art), sheltered from a chilly Seattle afternoon, grey-skied and wintry.  As I gazed up at this 100-foot-long, 25-foot-high installation, I marveled at the size, but as I looked longer, looked closer, I began to notice the individual intricacy of each and every piece.  No two (of hundreds!) were exactly the same- different shapes, patterns, colors, gradations of clear and opaque- but the effect was stunning, harmonious.  Each piece was created to fit perfectly in its place and seamlessly complement the pieces around it.  Hand crafted and curated, crimson, marigold, tangerine, lovingly placed by the designer and creator.  Again, stunning.  Each shape and arc was unique, they bent and curved in their own way, not detracting from the beauty of their neighboring pieces, not minimizing, but enhancing.  They didn’t compete to be the center of attention, but in concert together each played an incredible role; the impact of the piece would be diminished with the lack of one.

Then.  A bolt of pure sunlight pierced the January clouds and shone through these glass pieces, setting them ablaze and they were transformed.  And my breath taken.   Liquid illumination infused the sculpture and it became even more, so much more, than it was. 

We, my sweet friends who are good enough to read my ramblings, are these pieces of art.  Uniquely and intentionally formed, without duplication, precisely situated to serve a specific purpose, fill a hand-selected role.  Perfectly placed to enhance and magnify those around us and the One who formed and placed us.  Not to detract, not to compete, not to be the individual center, but gloriously beautiful on our own because of the care taken to individually craft us all with our own bent, our own color, our own gradations.  The whole suffers when one is not there; we are only called to be the unique, crazy-amazing piece we are without responsibility for the placement and beauty of the other pieces.  And we are all transformed when filled with the light of our Creator, making more from what was already there.  You are a masterpiece ready to be filled with light.  Be the beauty you were placed there to be, individually and as part of your whole.  

Clouds covered the sun, and the Seattle sky washed over again steel grey.  I smile still at the memory of glass aglow.