Time enough for simple things

simple-pleasuresWell, it’s been three years since I’ve posted here. I seem to only blog when I am unemployed, so good news, everyone… I’m back.

The last time I posted in summer 2010, I had just been laid off from a job. I was overcome with tears and general feelings of devastation. That organization paid big bucks to move my husband and I from the East Coast to the Midwest, so we said goodbye to friends, bought a home, and expected that the move would be semi-permanent. Turned out only our mortgage payment was semi-permanent!

Here I am again, unexpectedly unemployed. But honestly, despite the situation being surreal, I am feeling happy and hopeful, even grateful for the change of pace. (Just last weekend, I was talking to a pastor returning from a three month sabbatical and said that I wanted a sabbatical, too… ha! Be careful what you wish for.) But really, I don’t believe I’ve shed a single tear. I knew it was time to move on. I would rather have made the change on my terms and timing, but oh well.

While it has only been three days, I’m already doing things that are making me happy and giving me life and energy. Simple things, like…

1. Making our bed each morning. I read in a Zen organizing book that if you never make your bed, subconsciously it’s as if there is no beginning or end to your day. There’s no fresh start, no healthy sense of closure, just days of busy activity rolling into each other, one after the other. The simple 30-second act of making our bed is a rhythm that reminds me that God’s mercies are “new every morning,” allows me to consciously acknowledge the end of a good day, and get better rest (the sheets aren’t hopelessly tangled together at my feet). I was only doing it about once a week before… now, three days in a row.

2. Making real food for dinner. I admit, we are convenience food people. We get frozen dinners from Trader Joe’s and go out to eat. Yes, we make homemade meals from scratch too, but it’s just tough to plan and cook real food meals with a baby and jobs. My husband has done most of the cooking since Tommy was born, which has been a real blessing, and he’s talented (especially with Italian dishes and meats) but he doesn’t try new, creative recipes. I’ve enjoyed going to the grocery store to buy stuff just for the day (not the week… $20 instead of $100!), and trying new recipes like roasted veggie tacos and not-fried tomatoes (like fried tomatoes, but cornflake-crusted and baked). Mmmm. With enough time, I love cooking, and the whole process nourishes both body and soul.

3. Mowing the lawn. Again, Tom has been doing almost all the yard work since I’ve been working full-time and nursing Tommy (read: doing more than 50% of the baby care). Yesterday I mowed part of our super-overgrown backyard, and enjoyed just sweating it out a bit.

4. Getting organized online. I have a crazy amount of clutter to sort through – clothes, papers, etc. I’ve started with uncluttering my online life. I discovered that my Twitter had been hijacked and I was involuntarily following hundreds of people… many of them models, rappers or Arabic speakers. I left all the LinkedIn groups that I had joined as part of my last job. I’m deleting services like Dropbox that I don’t need or want anymore (Google Drive is so much nicer). This is going to take awhile, but deleting and organizing anything is a wonderful feeling.

5. Dreaming. I’m once again thinking about what my unique skills and talents are, and what I want to do with my life. There are some limits to my dreaming because I need to secure new full-time employment in the next few weeks or at least months, but I feel that within that constraint, there are so many things I could do and would enjoy doing. I may go back into the nonprofit arena, or I may stick with a for-profit business, or maybe join an ad agency.  I have experience in each of these environments, and they each offer their own benefits. I don’t know where I’ll land, but it’s fun to look and dream a bit.

In this in-between time, those of you who actually enjoy blogs may get a few out of me! I also look forward to catching up on many of your blogs and even – gasp – talking to some dear friends on the phone. Thanking God for his unusual way of giving me a chance to catch my breath.

Seasons of Change

So often, seasons of change seem to come in my life faster than I can perceive their arrival or process what the change means for me.  My marriage is the best example of this.  Even though we dated for a year and were engaged for another year, I still can’t figure out how I went from being the single girl who, though extremely extroverted, loved living alone in her new Raleigh apartment… to this married woman who spends day after day with this man who has become an inseparable part of me.  We’ve now bought and broken-in two different homes together, moved cross country together, adopted and loved two dogs and shared thousands of little experiences from meals to walks to trips to middle-of-the-night chats.  I know him better than anyone else in his life, and he — me.

I was not expecting at all to get married at age 26.  My mother who was born in 1948 didn’t get married until 1979 (age 30) and my grandmother who was born in 1913 didn’t get married until 1943 (age 30).  So by my mom’s gauge, I was really rushing into this marriage thing!  lol (I think my Dad’s mom got married a bit younger but need to check.)  Besides being ahead of the traditional marriage age in my family, I know I am by no means the prettiest, the thinnest or the “est” of anything among single girls, so I’m as shocked as anyone that I found love at a relatively young age.  But I did find love, or it found me, or Tom found me, or we found each other… however fate works its magic… and my life has changed dramatically.

I now find myself at an almost equally dramatic time of life change.  As nearly everyone knows by now, on June 4, I lost my job.  It’s a tricky thing to explain because I wasn’t actually laid off by my boss or the company I was working 40-50 hours a week for.  Without getting into too many details, we were already in the process of separating from the parent company.  Though my job was going away, I had interviewed for a new job and was told that I got it.  I was only waiting for a formal offer letter the day that two managers told me that I was terminated “effective today.”  I thought they were kidding.  I could have sworn that I saw a hint of a smile in their eyes and they were going to say that it was a joke and in reality, I was finally moving into my new role.  But it wasn’t a joke.  I left the office immediately and cleaned out my space over the weekend.  Never before has a chapter ended so abruptly.

The chapter with this job goes back before our move to Kansas City last June 2009 (one year ago).  It goes back further than our anticipated merge with the parent company and me coming on as an employee (October 2008).  It goes back all the way to October 2003.

In October 2003, I was a 21 year old college graduate just looking for a job.  I didn’t really want to stay in the Chicago area where I went to college for some reason, and I assumed there may not be a lot of job opportunities where my parents lived in Fargo-Moorhead (ND/MN).  With my degree in political science and the experience of living in Washington, DC for a semester study program during college, I felt DC was the place for me.  Thankfully my Aunt Pat (mom’s sister) and her family lived in the DC area so I had an immediate place to crash once I got there.

So in that summer after college graduation, I loaded up my little green car (which Tom still kids me about because I cannot remember the make or model or how I got it, exactly) and headed east.  I drove 10 hours the first day, and then another 10 or so hours the second day.  I had never driven so far alone in my life.  I played loud music to keep my energy level high and my eyes wide open.  I remember how beautiful and quaint the roads got to be as I got to Maryland and then Virginia, approaching their house in Great Falls.  I still remember my Uncle Jim greeting me at the door — I arrived just in time for dinner that night.  My new life, my working life, was about to begin.

The first thing I did in DC was leave DC.  My cousin Julia was going to some Spanish summer camps in Spain and my aunt had decided to go along and get certified in teaching English in Madrid.  I liked the idea of teaching and traveling, and obviously had nothing better to do, so I went along with them.  Summer 2003 went on record as one of the hottest summers in European history.  With the lack of air conditioning in most flats across Europe, 30,000 people (many elderly) died in the heat that summer.  While I am glad I went and had so many good experiences, studying how to teach English in a scorching hot Madrid in August, of all times, the month when literally almost every shopkeeper closes for the entire month and heads to the beach… yeah, well, it wasn’t exactly a vacation.  (Note to self: next trip to Spain must involve much more beach and much more sangria.)

I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that, so far in 7 years, I have not used that teaching certification at all.  But I did go on to work for a temp agency and I also worked at Bed, Bath & Beyond in Reston, a store that is now gone for some reason.  I did whatever I could do until I found a professional job.  And finally, I did.

That October, through an online ad, I got a job as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit organization.  The organization was WorldServe International.  My first two weeks on the job, everyone was in Africa on a trip and I had to hold down the fort on my own.  Within six months, my boss who was the director of communications left the organization and I was immediately promoted.  So you’ll believe me when I say it was trial by fire, but there is no better way to learn than to have to learn.  “Fake it till you make it” became my motto, and I quickly figured out how to do dozens of things.

I did good work and was a very reliable person, which is why when I decided to move to North Carolina in 2005 because of a new, organic church I wanted (maybe even felt called) to be a part of, my boss didn’t want to lose me.  I was no longer an employee, but he kept me on as a consultant with the organization.

Upon arriving in Raleigh, I dove in to my new consulting practice head on.  I joined the area Chamber of Commerce and numerous other networking groups.  I learned that dressing well, speaking confidently and giving a firm handshake could take you pretty far in life.  I ended up recruiting about 25 clients on my own and serving an additional 15 clients through a contract with an advertising agency — all within 2 years of moving to a new state.  I offered communications and public relations consulting, as well as writing services and much more.  I developed PR plans and business plans, re-wrote website content, created brochures, pitched and wrote stories for magazines and gave people ideas for growing their businesses.  I found the Research Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to be a lively environment for business as well as a lively, fun area to explore and live.  The universe seemed to open up its riches of life, joy and possibility and pour them upon me.

Throughout it all, WorldServe remained one of my biggest and best clients.  I kept the title Director of Communications during all those years.  Communications was only the tip of the iceberg of what I handled for the organization… I learned to “do it all” not arrogantly, but just because of our small staff, I had to.  It was invaluable experience.

About the time we got married (2008), the organization said they wanted to stay with me even into a third state — this time, a state of their choosing.  We were anticipating a merger with a global television network and they pleaded with me to move to Kansas City.  In their Kansas City office, they said, I would work closely with the entire TV network staff and develop all kinds of promos and programs that would bring the parent company and the international relief and development organization together in partnership.  Frankly, for the already-identified extrovert in the room, returning to an office and a team environment sounded very appealing to me.  Additionally, they wanted to make me an employee again, which meant we’d have major medical coverage and other benefits.  Goodbye, self-employment tax, too!   The ability to focus on one organizational mission rather than constantly sell and juggle projects was yet another benefit — peace of mind, in short.  I could go to work and then come home.  I could have more of a life.

While Tom was willing to go, I was excited to go.  I was born and (partially) raised in Topeka, just an hour west of Kansas City.  I know this part of the country.  I love this part of the country.  It just feels like home in so many ways — the flat land, the big sky, the friendly people, the way you can count on all four seasons to be quintessentially the season it’s supposed to be… winter is snowy and cold, summer is blazing hot and perfect swimming pool weather.  I felt God had once again aligned the stars just perfectly for me and for us.  It was not a difficult decision to make, except for saying goodbye to some friends.  We drove out of Raleigh in a two-car procession, our dog Pastor in my car.  I cried such tears of mixed emotion leaving those friends behind — they had showed extraordinary kindness and generosity the final week before we left.  Why did they save the nice things till the end?  Just kidding.  :-)  But I knew God was calling us to Kansas City and had opened the perfect opportunity.

Well, fast forward to today.  This Friday, June 25, is our one year anniversary of that teary but hopeful drive out of Raleigh.  We know because it’s also the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, and we got several texts from friends as we traveled through Appalachia telling us the news.  That was kind of funny that everyone told us, but at the time we had tickets to MJ’s “final” This Is It show in London so we were and are definitely fans.

But anyway, it’s only been one year and the job that brought us here is now gone.  But I hope this story explains why this is the ending of more than a year or a cross-country journey — this is in many ways an end to a 7-year journey that began when I was 21 years old and newly thrust into the real world.  It’s a significant crossroads for me and because I am married, for us.

There are now no guarantees of what will happen next.  I had one interview last week, and I have another one tomorrow.  My only hope and prayer is that, if possible, I find something within a month or two rather than this becoming a prolonged period of unemployment.  Though Tom is working, we really need both of our incomes to make ends meet.  Besides that, I’m a working girl, and don’t enjoy sitting at home all day without purpose.  Even one day without leaving the house can drive me nutty (God bless Starbucks, Borders and all their big box and indie counterparts.)

As of today, I am in a positive frame of mind and extremely hopeful about our future.  As my Mom said about me losing my job, “You will be one of those people who looks back and says that getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to you.”  God does seem to work that way — I’ve seen it many times in my life — and I’m counting on a good story to come out of this one.

Self-compassion

It’s easy to feel like I’m failing these days.  Generally I’m a very happy person and can appreciate a moment or a day or my life in general.  I can easily take the backpack of expectations and obligations off my shoulders, set it down on the sidewalk and take a long nap in the sun — in other words, I can cut myself a break.

But in our modern American working culture, those of us trying to be fully present, grow as human beings and make a difference in the world have a constant laundry list of things we’re juggling and trying to do “right.”

Here’s what I’m trying to do on an average day like today:

  • Be a stand-out worker for my employer, completing projects well and on time
  • Be a great wife to my husband, loving and supportive
  • Keep a house that is clean and neat and an outdoor landscape that is presentable (so as to not enrage our neighbors)
  • Take care of my body by eating right every day and exercising most days (working on this one lol but regardless of my success, it’s a constant thought and indeed something I’m trying to do right always)
  • Take care of two adopted dogs, making sure they get exercise, get fed, get outside when they need to, stay up to date with their veterinarian and have overall wellbeing
  • Continually open my heart and soul to God, my Maker, my Savior — living like he’s real by actually praying/talking to him, reading his story and other writings that will help me grow in him
  • Actively participate in church community, learning from people who are more mature in spirit than me, reaching out to new people, focusing on nurturing other people’s needs as well as just having fun
  • Grow in awareness of where my food comes from and what’s in it, move from unhealthy processed foods to whole foods purchased from farmers (or grow it ourselves at home) and prepared lovingly at home
  • Protect the earth for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren by recycling and buying eco-friendly products as much as possible
  • Practice financial health by eliminating debt and living on less than we earn, putting away savings for emergencies, saving money for retirement (bleh, I loathe the new concept of self-sufficiency as an elderly person, but that’s another post) and spending money with purpose, as well as paying all bills on time and maintaining a good credit score which further saves money
  • Caring for poor people in our locale and in the world, both financially as well as relationally
  • Challenge my mind by reading the news, articles, books, etc., broadening my intellectual horizons and always learning
  • Be a good friend to all the special people I’ve grown close with in my life, keeping in touch, remembering the details of their lives and our shared lives (I have a horrible memory but this is part of being a good friend)
  • Stay informed of local, state, national and even international politics and current events, speaking up for what I believe is right in the world of policy-making, voting in elections and having some clue as to who the candidates are and what the issues are
  • Keeping my body healthy by going for regular check-ups with my doctor and other specialists as needed
  • Keeping my teeth healthy by going to the dentist regularly, brushing and flossing
  • Keeping my spine and nervous system healthy by going to the chiropractor regularly, having adjustments, using good posture (not important to everyone but very important to me)
  • Keeping my hair looking decent by getting haircuts every so often, and washing and styling everyday
  • This is not so much for me, but some people continually maintain the whiteness of their teeth or the bronze sheen of their tan, taking time, money and effort…

Have I made my point?  (And this is a list without having any kids yet!  It will probably double.)  My point is that there is an endless list of things about ourselves — our bodies, minds, spirits, habits, relationships, etc. — that we constantly think about and constantly maintain.  It is absolutely overwhelming and surely this must be a modern phenomenon?  When in times past people thought more about… oh, survival?… rather than DVR-ing their favorite TV shows, the list of concerns was maybe not so long.

I just wanted to call attention to the extremely demanding list of expectations we put on ourselves, constantly, 24/7.  If we feel like failures, it’s because we are — failures at an impossible task of maintaining everything imaginable.  Perhaps the FAIL belongs to the impossible task itself, rather than our not-doing.  Perhaps the fail belongs to culture, that faceless force.

In response to this, I have one word: self-compassion (or is that two?).  Self-compassion is feeling caring and forgiving toward oneself.  I’ve encountered this concept in two ways.

One: Martha Beck wrote about it in an article once, and I wish I could find that for you now but a 20-second Google search is not yielding it, heh.  She basically took readers through a little exercise where they closed their eyes and imagined a little child in the corner crying.  Here’s where I forget the details, but she ended with this: “The little child lifts her head, and she is you.  You are the child.”  At this point in the story you are feeling immense compassion for the vulnerable child.  Anyway, that was one way to understand self-compassion.

The second way I encountered this concept was directly, in a time of prayer during college.  I remember being totally overwhelmed with the workload of life and feelings of inadequacy.  And I didn’t hear anything audible but it suddenly dawned on me that God saw everything I was doing, he saw every little detail of my life that I was trying to take care of.  He saw how hard I was trying.  And he was not disappointed in me in any area.  No, he knew me and he loved me.  He did not see the unfulfilled list — he just saw me, and with great love.  That little revelation brought some tears of relief — some sense of self-compassion and freedom.  He sees me!

Now I’m not at all to the point of teary frustration at this point in my life, but I just wanted to bring up the topic.  When you think about it, it’s truly amazing how many things we fragile, imperfect people are trying to do so right and so perfectly.

Let us see ourselves through God’s eyes of generous, lavish, kindhearted, freeing love.

Food Rules

What’s up blogosphere!  Man, I keep coming up with brilliant ideas for what to write about here, but then usually forget.  It’s like last night, I had this awesome dream that I came up with this 10-bullet point list of reasons why Obama and the Democrats are awesome and why Republicans aren’t, and then as soon as I woke up I forgot what was on the list.  Let me tell you though, I came up with it! : )  (No offense to my Republican friends. lol  You could write the opposite list and I would still love you.)

Well let’s see, it’s Saturday morning, errr afternoon now, and I’m just sitting here at home eating some Newman’s Own Spelt Pretzels that my mom bought us at Whole Foods the other day.    We went to get a few extra ingredients for fajita night and my wonderful mom also bought us some good snacks and groceries.  She is giving everyone she knows a copy of Michael Pollan’s latest book (and it’s an extremely short, coffee table style book) called Food Rules.  (Does Pollan know this has a double meaning as rules for eating food, and food (the real stuff) rules as in rocks!?  Hopefully he knew that himself and I am not the only super clever person in the room.)  My mom became a vegetarian after reading Skinny Bitch a few years ago (a book which has really tempted and somewhat motivated me to make the same switch).  She has been losing weight, building muscle mass and just all around getting super healthy and awesome — go Mom!  Her latest thing is really looking at all the nasty ingredients in processed, prepared foods — all the preservatives, harmful chemicals, unpronouncables and such.  The reason I bring all of that up was just to say that while she was looking forward to going to Whole Foods with me since they don’t have one in Fargo-Moorhead where she lives, she left saying how disappointed she was in the store for still carrying all the bad food.  I guess it’s a matter of what sells, and having both options for the consumer (the healthy and the tasty but not healthy at all).

I didn’t mean to get on a food kick here, just kind of stream of consciousness, but did anyone else watch Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution last night?  I only caught about 30 minutes of it because I had to go meet Tom for dinner, but it’s really great that something like this is happening and that it’s on TV.  Basically this chef from the UK has gone to the most unhealthy and obese county in the United States (it’s in West Virginia), and he’s going to assess and then totally revamp the school menu that children there eat five days a week.  It was tough to watch him with the lunch ladies who, though meaning well, didn’t understand that there was any problem with all the frozen and fake food they were serving and just as sad, had no idea that they could prepare fresh, healthy, real food for West Virginia’s children at about the same cost and timeframe.  I loved his comment that he doesn’t care if adults choose to eat crap, but he does care if we serve it to children.  I agree and we must give them the best chance of a healthy life as possible.  I hope I can catch more episodes of this show.

Well I have much more to say but gotta go, so I will continue with more random posts later on.

Wordle

Amazing, amazing fun for people who like words: Wordle.

Here’s a word cloud of my blog so far.  I don’t think it’s incredibly interesting yet, but I only have about 10 posts.

Till We Have Faces

I said last month that I wanted to cuddle up with some C.S. Lewis during December, and I did. Thanks to my your recommendations (Jennifer, Rustin and I can’t remember who else), I chose Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold — Lewis’ “ultimate” novel.  (And Catherine, the space triology is next!)

I don’t tend to pick up fiction (not sure why), but I am sure glad I did.  As the snow started to fall here in the Midwest, the nights grew very long and dark and our imaginations turned toward Christmas stories like the original nativity and so many more, it was good to fall into a story from far, far away and long, long ago.

I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but in essence, Till We Have Faces is an imaginative retelling of the timeless story of Cupid and Psyche.  Now I didn’t know much about Cupid other than him being a big chubby baby that flings love-arrows at unsuspecting singles, but it turns out there’s more to the ancient Greek myth than that.

What’s interesting is that when Lewis heard the story of Cupid and Psyche as an undergraduate (perhaps still a teenager), there was one piece of it that didn’t make sense to him.  In the legend, when Psyche (born a mortal) is off living in a magnificent palace with her new husband, the god Cupid, it goes that her sisters were jealous of her and plotted to make her do something that would ruin her life.  Psyche did what they provoked her to do, and it did indeed ruin her happiness.

But Lewis never accepted that telling of the story.  Though just a simple detail, Lewis felt that surely the sisters could not see the divine magnificent palace.  They weren’t jealous; they simply didn’t have eyes to see the dwelling of the god Cupid.

Let me put it one other way.  When Lewis started thinking about this story as a teenager, he approached it from the angle that the humans were in the right (their doubts were well-justified) and the gods were wrong.  It wasn’t fair!  It wasn’t that they were jealous of their sister; they simply couldn’t see her new palace and concluded that she must be mentally unstable.  She must be living in a make-believe world and they had to end it for her own safety.

But as anyone who knows Lewis knows, the author of this book wasn’t the same person a teenager that he was later in life.  At the age of 32, C.S. Lewis had a profound conversion experience.  He reoriented his life away from doubt and instead, embraced Jesus Christ.  He became a Christian.

My favorite part of the book is, of course, the end.  Well now I am really spoiling it for people who haven’t read it.  Dang it, stop reading this blog now and go get the book!

Anyway, the end is satisfying and not.  I’m curious what someone whose heart isn’t open to God would think of it.  After hundreds of pages of the narrator making her firm case against the gods, she finally gets her answer in the end.  Of course, it’s not the answer(s) she expected.

It reminds me of something that Os Guinness is famous for saying to confused college graduates wondering what to do with their lives: “We are not called to something; we are called to Someone.”

Somehow, that is all the answer we need in life.

Sweet, glorious rest

This afternoon, as the day stretched its arms toward evening, I grew tired.  It’s cold outside (windchills of negative 15 to negative 25) and soft, dusty, powdery snow is blowing like waves in the 30 mph wind.  However the sun is shining on this white land which, to me, makes these deepest of winter days feel beautiful rather than bleak.

Around 3:30 or 4pm, I laid myself down in the middle of our king size bed.  It’s a new bed that we just got a couple months ago.  It feels absolutely huge and luxurious.  I laid down right in the middle for the first time… every other time I laid down in this bed I’ve been on “my side.”  I gathered the sheet and our ultra-soft beige blanket on top of me in heaps.  Sunlight streamed into the room through the blinds.

Pastor came into bed and laid right in front of me, based on the side I was facing.  I cuddled him under my arm.  Then Peanut came into bed on the other side of me, and burrowed comfortably into the blanket.  The dogs have a thing where they always want to be touching you, especially when lying down.  I guess that is where the whole idea of “doggy piles” comes from and it’s very true, at least for my two little guys.

So there the three of us cuddled and slept for one glorious hour in perfect peace, quiet and harmony.  It was a simple hour of my day and perhaps not blog-worthy.  But I am so thankful to be surrounded in such light, warmth and love.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel FAR FROM fine

The worst thing I did this past summer was watch the movie Requiem for a Dream. What was I thinking? This Darren Afronsky film is a frightening, disturbing, graphic look at different forms of addictions and how our cravings and obsessions can end up devastating us.

Somewhere near the end of it where a guy’s arm is being sawed off (yeah, bet you want to know why, ugh!), I had a chill come over me unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I will tell you what happened to me: I had my first realization ever of the reality of death.  At the age of 27, it finally hit me just how real and potentially terrifying death is.

As a Christian, I think and talk a lot about death.  Realizing the reality of sin in my life and what it was doing to my soul, I thought about how sin leads to death.  Being baptized, I joined Jesus in death so that I could also join Him in new life.  Death is of course a radically more hopeful event for people of deep faith because they know it is not the end.  And our little Easter holiday, so innocent with its pastel-colored eggs and giant bunny at the mall, is the most powerful F-U to death ever.  Death has lost all its power thanks to Jesus.  Death is nothing.  It’s only the letting go of all that is temporary.  Death, in fact, is more a beginning… the start of what’s really real.  (I always loved that quote, “Death is simply blowing out a candle… because morning has come.”  Still gets me even now.)

So this is my background and I believe all this as much as I can (“I believe, Lord help my unbelief!”).

Yet at the end of Requiem for a Dream, I finally realized at a very personal level that my body… this body that sleeps in my bed every night, and kisses my husband… this body whose teeth I brush, that I haul to the gym, that’s captured in so many digital images and known as me… THIS body WILL experience death!  It is a shocking and unfathomable truth.  (Or of course, Jesus may return in some way first… almost more shocking. lol)  I guess I am having a hard time articulating something that may be simple to others but to me was a very radical and incredibly scary revelation.  Death became real.  (And maybe you can tell, but I’ve never had anyone very close to me die except my Grandmas.  I am fortunate.)

I cried a few tears thinking about what inevitably lay ahead for me and for all of us (and Tom encouraged me in his simple and authentic way that I love, calming me.  I tend to think I know so much more about spiritual things than him, but here I am always running to him for words of truth and peace when I am upset.  The first time we had a conversation like this is when I knew he was the man for me).  Yes I want to live fully in God’s presence someday (heaven!), but I also kinda like my life here on earth.  I still haven’t had children which I really want to do.  I haven’t done so many things.  And worst of all, I fear the pain and the specific way which I will die.  Again, I know it sounds so cliche to fear death, and the whole point of trusting God with my life is to replace this fear with Love and Hope.  But never had my beliefs become so real and been put to the test.

Now I’m with all of you out there who have been saying 2009 was a tough year for the world and bring on 2010.  I’m happy for the new year and the new decade, too.  But “2010″ sounds a little too chronologically close to “2012″ – namely, December 21, 2012.  The thought has kind of tarnished the excitement of “twenty ten” for me.

I knew about this date before it was a big Hollywood action film (which I have no interest in seeing –  I don’t like action / special effects type films anyway, and one that will freak me out about this date would not be helpful).  My Dad told me about the Mayan connection to December 21, 2012 a couple years ago.  My parents do a lot of “New Age” reading and learning.  This is the end date in a 5, 125 year cycle, recorded in the uber-accurate Mayan calendar.  The Mayans were an extremely advanced civilization, at least in understanding the universe and time.  Their calendar is much more accurate than our Gregorian calendar, what with all our changing weekdays, different numbers of days in each month and a Leap Year every so often to clumsily make up for the inaccuracies.

The reason that this date is significant is because on that winter solstice, our planet will align with the center of the galaxy (I believe… I could be wrong).

The main theories for what will happen that day are either, A. There will be a massive spiritual transformation upon the earth, a positive thing… or B.  The world will end.  We will all be annihilated.  Not positive, in my view.

Now I’m really hoping for A. lol  And my Dad is a firm believer in A being the likely winner.  But B is always a possibility.  “No one, not even the Son of Man, knows the day or the hour,” but can I just say that several civilizations besides the Mayans have come up with this same date?!

So now we’ve got Requiem for a Dream, 2012… what else is freaking me out about death?  Oh yeah, the nightly news!  Have you watched that lately?  Our world events are getting crazier everyday — more extreme weather, drought, famine, terrorism, wars, and lately I keep hearing about kids killing people… children killing!  I don’t know, maybe we just didn’t know about all of our world’s madness before globalization and the internet? but it definitely seems to be getting exponentially worse.  I even fear that the very-overstretched U.S. will eventually be attacked and at only 330 million in a world of nearly 7 billion people, we will soon become the overpowered minority rather than the superpower.  (This is partly why I am so vehemently opposed to things like torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition and other violations of the Geneva Conventions.  I believe that as we do, so it will be done unto us.  If we oppress and torture others in our great power (even those who we THINK may be terrorists, but have no proof or even charges of, by the way… these prisoners have been sitting in Cuba for 9 years now with no charges brought against them in a court), then someday if the tables are turned, we will likewise be tortured and oppressed.  The other reason is that torture is just wrong, illegal and it doesn’t work — duh!)

Well enough of my fear ramblings.  I have never been a fearful person until the last year.  None of this has been really REAL to me before.  But now it is.  The world is changing very quickly and any instant, we could be devastated by one of a thousand possible scenarios — weather-related, politically-motivated, even just the crashing of our financial markets which just became much more real to most of us…

It’s time for me to choose hope over fear.  Now that death has become “really real,” it’s time for God and Life to become just as many times more real.  Each time I feel fear, I am reminded that my trust is in myself rather than in God.  Facing these fears, while just something that plays out in my head and heart, is a true test of my faith and a real chance to grow closer to the God I confess and profess.  (Quite honestly, it’s probably a time for me to learn more about Christian eschatalogical views too, but between a third of the people I know being all pre-trib, a third being amillennial and another percentage being transmillenial, there is really too much jargon for me to even want to enter the conversation.  Aren’t we supposed to be busy LOVING God and people?  I guess eschatalogical study fits squarely into those two most important commandments for most people, but for me, it’s incongruous.)

One thought helps me… We are in this together.  Regardless of what happens, I am connected to some pretty amazing people that are, thankfully, more faith-filled than me (may I learn from them!) and a blessing and encouragement.  I like to keep coming back to this thought about community.

In some ways, all of this seems kind of petty and ridiculous.  Just live in the moment, right?  Everything will be fine?  I guess I am glad I am taking these questions seriously, because I hope they will lead me to serious, deeper truth.  My search for what’s “really real” may have started with death, but I doubt it will end there.

So this is the new year…

A song that captures my (suspicion? contemplation? disillusionment?) with New Years…

so this is the new year
and i don’t feel any different
the clanking of crystal
explosions off in the distance

so this is the new year
and I have no resolutions
for self-assigned penance
for problems with easy solutions

so everybody put your best suit or dress on
let’s make believe that we are wealthy for just this once
lighting firecrackers off on the front lawn
as thirty dialogues bleed into one

i wish the world was flat like the old days
then i could travel just by folding a map
no more airplanes, or speedtrains, or freeways
there’d be no distance that can hold us back
there’d be no distance that could hold us back

so this is the new year…….

(The New Year by Death Cab for Cutie)

Dog Psychology 101

You may be wondering what dogs or dog psychology has to do with “the good life.”  Well, a well-loved and loving dog is essential for it.  ; )

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook has been inundated with updates and photos "Who are you, and when are you leaving?"showing that we just adopted our second dog during Christmas – a buff cocker spaniel named Peanut.  Being smaller and younger than our first dog Pastor, we assumed this would be a great chance for meek and mild Pastor to become leader of the pack and protect his little brother.  We thought this would boost his “self-esteem” and ease his separation anxiety.  Boy, were we wrong (at least on the first count).

Peanut is small but he is mighty.  He growls in order to get his way.  In fact, that bad attitude is what got him in trouble in the first place.  He was with his original family in Grand Forks, ND when a small child in the family decided to bother him while he was sleeping.  He let out a warning growl conveying he did not wish to play.  The little girl kept messing with him, and he bit her.  (What’s amazing is that they even had Peanut scheduled to be put down!  Ridiculous since in my opinion, the parents did not teach their child how to treat dogs.)

Anyway, he continues to growl.  He likes to block Pastor from where he’s trying to go, whether that’s to me or to his food.  About three times now, the dogs have fought viciously.  Not playful roughhousing, but really vicious, scary fights between the two dogs.  I was worried.  In an effort to avoid another fight, I started Googling the problem.

As most people know, dogs are pack animals.  This gives them a different mentality and approach to life than humans.  While humans treat other humans with equality (or at least parents try do so with their children), this doesn’t work at all with dogs.  They need to know who is the alpha dog (leader) and who is the omega (follower).  They don’t “feel bad” about their position; they find comfort in the hierarchy.  The key is to let them figure out the ranking for themselves.  According to what I’ve read, if you keep intervening in their stand-offs or fights, the next one will be worse because they must settle the issue.  Our stopping Peanut from growling was a mistake on a few occasions because it was contradicting the hierarchy.  Worse yet, we were doing everything possible to treat Pastor as the preferred dog because he’s so sweet and was being overpowered… making Peanut all the more mad that he wasn’t being recognized as the dominant dog.

The solution is as simple as it is counter-intuitive.  We had to start treating Peanut, who is clearly more dominant, with more preference.  This just means Peanut gets to be let outside first, gets his food first, gets a treat first and gets our attention/greeting first.  Pastor is soon to follow (and of course I still get to cuddle and “baby” my baby Pastor. : )  Making this simple change has made all the difference in the world.  There is more harmony in the house and I am sure Peanut will be able to stay forever.  Long live the pack!

But there was one more mystery to solve.  Pastor has been growing increasingly scared of his food and water bowls.  We thought it had to do with canine chaos that he experienced at a dogsitter’s house, five or ten dogs coming in at once for the water bowl.  But as we went to spend Christmas up in Minnesota, the problem got worse and worse.  For almost the entire week, Pastor didn’t eat or drink a thing.  He licked the snow when he was let outside.  He was clearly hungry and thirsty, but wouldn’t dare take a bite or a drink.  I thought Peanut was bullying him away from his bowl.  Again, I was worried.

After another round of Googling late at night in bed on my Blackberry, I had a dog psychology epiphany.  It turns out lots of dogs become scared of stainless steel food bowls for one of two reasons.  Either they see their reflection in the metal and it weirds them out, or the sound of their metal name tag clanging against the bowl shoots fear-inducing loudness into their little bones.  This morning, I switched Pastor’s stainless steel bowls out for a temporary plastic bowl, and voila!  Pastor ate and drank for 15 minutes straight until everything was gone.  He just ate again at dinnertime.  I am so relieved and can’t believe something so simple was the problem.  He’s all skin and bones now so I hope he fattens up a bit!  Or at least doesn’t starve anymore.

This concludes my lesson in Dog Psychology 101.  It’s been interesting to learn more about the world through my dogs’ perspective.

If you want a great book about why dogs can help you experience “the good life” including peace and presence, check out Guardians of Being by Eckhart Tolle (yes, of Oprah and Now-ness fame).  This is a joyful little coffee table type book that explains why our much-loved dogs and cats actually help us become more aware and happy people.  I am looking forward to many such reminders and cuddles with my two now-getting-along doggies.

Family

I just spent a week at home with my mom and dad.  I love my parents more than anything.  Often when I think of them, my heart aches missing them and I literally tear up thinking of what amazing, loving people they are.  But at the end of this past week (as often happens), all I wanted to do is punch my dad in the face.  (You know I love you Dad, right? :)

And that my friends, is the beauty of family. lol

Cathartic Thanksgiving rant

Ah, a new post.  And I love the big blue “Publish” button on the right hand side of my screen.  To think!  All the real paper, and ink, and candlelight, and blood, sweat and tears it used to require to publish something.  Thanks to the internet, we can all be published, and published immediately, for better or for worse.

Though I usually love writing, I often struggle with writing at work.  Partly that’s because copywriting is a totally different kind of animal.  There’s no room for stream-of-consciousness, diary-style, emotional downpour in the world of words for money.  You have to sell benefits (NOT features!), be succinct, grab attention, connect with YOU the reader, be witty.  There are rules.  So when I’m not feeling in the zone, copywriting is not all that fun (forget that I had a copywriting business for a few years… lol  but writer’s block falls on the just and unjust alike.)

The other difficult thing about writing at work is just the committee factor.  Granted, I hate having to write something that will go out to the masses without anyone offering me any feedback or even a simple proofread.  But on the other hand, there’s nothing more maddening than 3, 4, 5, 6 or more people continually sending you their edits on a piece.  This happens often at my job.  One is tempted to slap oneself silly when such a process not only happens, but sprawls out across email after email (and they use 4 colors!  Red for deletions, blue for additions, orange… see?  Can’t remember.  I am pretty sure this is why change tracking was developed by the fine folks at Microsoft.)

I also find it funny when people argue with you over something subjective.  Do I just nod my head and agree, or do I fight for my word choice?  I try to go the “I disagree, but no matter…” route as much as possible.  These type of things just aren’t worth fighting over.  I just find it amazing that people feel something subjective can be treated as objective.

Anyway, I’m just a person who loves her job but today is a little frustrated by some of the minutiae that make up a day of work… and I’m not even getting into the REAL details! : )

It is probably because it’s day one of a two-day work week… day two being Tuesday.  And days three through seven being Thanksgiving week vacation time!  My brother and sister-in-law are driving down from Minnesota (they literally live on the river in Fargo, ND, but they live in Minnesota).  (Ooh, I think you need a picture for that.  There you go.  Although I don’t know why the two cities look so far away in the map — they are just one city really.)

Anyway, so all I can think of doing right now is cooking, baking, watching our two dogs play together (cousin dogs!), seeing family, going for walks, sitting near the fireplace, watching the Macy’s parade, watching movies, drinking Miller Lite (heh), playing pool, watching Tom and Michael work on some household projects, uhh… that about sums it up.  Oh, and maybe going down to the Plaza for the big Christmas lighting!  Hopefully no shopping though.  I don’t want to be in a store on Black Friday.

Well this has been cathartic… I’ve realized that my writing/work frustrations, at least on this day, are nothing more than a girl who is longing for a family holiday. lol  See, stream-of-conscious writing is useful after all (but not for selling products!).

May you, whoever and wherever you are, having a happy Thanksgiving.  I am coming to think of Thanksgiving as a holiday that is just as spiritual as Christmas and Hanukkah (if not more… since the retail establishment has yet to totally ransack the fourth Thursday in November.  They can have the fourth Friday — bah humbug).  The starting point for all spirituality, from my humble point of view, is realizing that everything we have is a gift… and basking in that gratitude.  If we can celebrate rather than expect things in life, well then even the most simple thing is a cause for real joy.

(Also, who doesn’t like a holiday that has to do with pilgrims, Indians and the early colonial era? : )

I am from…

Just got this great idea from my friend Brooke.

... My sister either came up with this idea or found it somewhere.. don’t quiet remember but it’s too sweet not to share with the world. It’s a fun poetry exercise she did with her first grade students (it can be for any age!) entitled, “I am from.”

Here’s the idea:

1. Write down sensory memories from childhood/life. smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste

2. Think about sayings you heard often/ lyrics from songs, like… “don’t let the bed bugs bite” “safely in his bosom gather”

3. Think about things you smelled, food, mom’s perfume, or the feeling of a family blanket

4. Write the senses down, don’t explain them, but be detailed. Don’t just say, “I am from dad saying ” I love you more than the stars” say instead “I am from “I love you more than the stars.”

5. Put “I am from” before your memories. List some together.

Here is Brooke’s, which I love.  And here is mine:

 

I am from

I am from honeysuckle in the alley and racing bikes around the block

I am from shepherd’s pie, Grandma’s goulash, porch swings and pumpkin flesh

I am from “we built this city on rock and roll”

I am from twilight and catching lightning bugs

I am from back seat fights, two square, four square, tetherball

I am from late night drives to the 7-Eleven, a pop and a candy of choice

I am from church frankincense, myrrh and spikenard

I am from “everything is important, nothing is important”

I am from loud yelling about homework… not at me though

I am from Dad singing songs from the 50s and 60s, La Bamba, you can always go downtown

I am from the prairie, the sunrise, the big sky, the sunset.

The Thousandeth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I don’t know that anyone is actually reading my blog (yet : ), but I feel I should write something even though I am uninspired because it’s a blog and the whole idea of a blog is that you write in it continuously, like a journal or a diary (gasp for air).

And journals or diaries aren’t necessarily inspired, are they?  They’re ordinary and chronicle our thoughts and feelings about ordinary life.  I don’t know about you, but for me, writing allows me to articulate and process my thoughts and feelings–something my mind doesn’t apparently have time for if I don’t do it intentionally–and thus synthesize the mess of experiences I’m going through into conclusions or at least semi-conclusions.  Sometimes it can result in something inspired or profound.  (This is probably not going to happen in this post.  But it can happen.)

So yeah, ordinary life.  For me lately that has consisted of work and home life, as it does for most.  It’s also consisted of an evolving inner life.

Work life is new.  We just moved to Kansas City 4 months ago because my at-home job was transferred to more of an on-location gig in an office here.  While moving is ridiculously expensive (especially in this ridiculously bad housing market) and we were sad to say goodbye to some true friends, I for one was positive about the move.  I’m originally from this “heartland” part of the country.  Things are familiar, people are friendly and life is affordable.  I had also reaaaally missed flat land which lays out for miles and miles and gives great views of the sky (Raleigh, “the City of Oaks,” had far too many trees to ever see a sunrise or sunset, strangely enough, not that I’m complaining about trees, because they are great and help us breathe.)

Anyway, I’m transitioning from 4 years of working at home back to working in an office.  I appreciate some things — being with other people (mostly), morning prayer (most days), having an office to spread out all my papers and leave all my papers (most of the time).  On the other hand, I’m begrudging the business casual dress code (really? at a nonprofit? in 2009? shouldn’t we just do whatever Google does?  and I’m pretty sure they can wear jeans and they also have a play room with the little balls you can jump in… yeah…)

So on the whole, you can see the pros outweigh the cons, and I am glad to have a little work community to belong to (GREAT, salt of the earth people, in all honesty) and a job to do in life.  Some days I am great at it, some days I am not sure what I am doing, but all in all, we use our God-given gifts as best as we can and make people the top priority (both those we work with and those we aim to serve) and hopefully we end up helping a LOT of hurting people, since we are a nonprofit… that’s where the morning prayer helps us do better than we normally could on our own.

So having moved approximately 1,000 miles cross-country, home life is new, too.  We are beyond fortunate to have gotten a beautiful new home, much better than we could have afforded if the market wasn’t recessed beyond recognition (so that turned out to be good for us, on the flip side).  We got a foreclosed home that’s never been lived in–didn’t realize that existed.  We’ve got our minds set on furnishing rooms right now and next I’ll think about decorating… some curtains and wall hangings might not be a bad idea to up the “homey” factor.

It’s funny buying furniture right now because at the ages of 27 and 29 (almost 30), we’re not longer looking for $25 Craigslist deals (although we’ve done a LOT of that in the past, and it rocks).  We are now buying furniture that will last us for having parents come and go, having children, and just having 10, 20, or 30 years of life happen in our home.  It’s not for everyone, but nesting is definitely for me at this stage in my life.  In a couple years, it will be time for the baby chickadees to arrive! lol  The Kutzys.  Pastor’s little friends.  The kiddos.  You know what I’m sayin.

But for now, our life is the life of newlyweds, and we are enjoying this stage.  In 8 days, we will celebrate our one year anniversary.  We will remember the vows we made, the people who helped us celebrate, and most importantly, what we love about each other.  We are blessed (awww..).

And inwardly?  Even that is new.  We left an intentional home church community in Raleigh.  We left our Roman Catholic way of life from our growing up years.  (Though we could easily go back to either way of spiritual life, as we like them both and never that officially “left” anything.)

We’ve found a new church just down the road… seriously, just 1.5 miles down the road, and how often does that really happen in our car-centric lifestyles?  I was purposely looking for something nearby, having really liked the “neighborhood church” that we just moved from, where everyone was within walking distance so it was easy to do ordinary things together like walk the dog or have dinner.

We are loving how friendly and new-person-aware this church is, and enjoying the blend liturgy here and there with a modern expression of the Body.  I think this might be a place, or the place, where we can grow spiritually and socially and in a lot of other ways.   So that is amazing.  That usually takes months of agony.

I’m about to join a gym.  Pastor is happy and furry.  Tom needs to find a good job that’s a good fit for him.  We’re learning how to cook some new foods, and about to start planning the Thanksgiving menu (Mike and Jess are coming down – woohoo!)  Autumn is at its peak.

Ordinary life is the best thing we could ask for at this point in time.  So here I am, grateful, and just would like to soak in that gratitude right now… like a piece of bread in some foamy, vanilla-flavored egg batter, about to become scrumptious French toast…. totally soaking up that thankfulness. :)