How to Be Idle and Blessed

I remember the first time I heard the line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” After contemplating the world of a grasshopper on a summer day, Oliver asks her reader if they know how to really pay attention, how to be still and quiet. The poem ends with an oft-quoted question:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

A bunch of green asparagus spears in a brown wooden bowl on a butcher block table.
Photo by Stephanie Studer on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these days, as we emerge from winter and tax season, as leaves start to spring onto branches and we start thinking about school ending and summer beginning.

When I first heart this question, I felt an urge to think about grand goals, wild dreams, and hopes beyond my imagination. I took it seriously, this call to live into my one and only precious life. I don’t want to waste a thing. What will I do with all these unexpected opportunities, with all that I’ve learned, with all that I hope to accomplish?

Suddenly this question turned into a to-do list. First, I’ll read these books. Next, I’ll take this class. Then, I’ll reflect about those experiences as I make a plan of action to implement my newfound knowledge. Last, I’ll be an expert in this new field, finding opportunities to share and participate in new conversations.

I don’t think those hopes and goals are unrealistic or out of the realm of possibility. But I do think I’ve completely missed the point of Mary Oliver’s question if that is my takeaway.

In the middle of the poem, before this famous question, Oliver notes,

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

As we enter this season of spring cleaning, family recalibration, and these last weeks of the school year, I can let my list for what a One Wild and Precious Life looks like completely overwhelm the call to be idle and blessed.

I’m learning to balance this blessed observation and living in the present with the need to sit down and do the work. Sometimes the work is that playtime idleness my girls crave. Sometimes it’s the mundane chores of cleaning and cooking. And sometimes it’s the actual work of sitting and writing or crafting ideas to the page. Nothing is as set and clear as I’d like it to be.

I’m remembering this poem in this season of life, though. That my call is to deep observation. That learning takes years and often the outcomes aren’t what I was expecting.

This season of quiet and growth has lasted longer than I expected. I know that planting seeds and putting down roots can take years. I love what my friend Tina says about growing in the longterm. After she planted asparagus, which takes three years to produce, she reflected,

 It takes commitment to plant asparagus, and perseverance. More than that, it takes vision. To plant something right now that won’t bear fruit for years to come requires vision. It requires we trust that the good life is not always the immediate life. The beautiful life is not the quick life. Instead, it is the cultivated, grounded life. It is the life that believes in waiting for the fruit, in holding out hope that something good will come, and it is the belief that trusts in the work we cannot see with our eyes.

Tina Osterhouse, On What’s Saving My Life Right Now

So, to mix metaphors and ideas, I’m planting asparagus and fruit trees, I’m taking time to observe the grasshopper and small details, I’m leaning into this space of the quiet and quotidian.

I’m remembering to hold myself to a different standard, one that is more about planting and less about harvest. I’m doing the work, in hopes of a fruitful result but I won’t know for sure until late summer. And that’s the beauty of life and learning and gardening, isn’t it?

What are you planting this spring? Do you like growing quick lettuces, late season tomatoes, or longterm asparagus? How do you balance that waiting?

The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

You’re Doing It Right

For the first time in my life, I’ve started attending a weekly workout class. My friend, Erin was recently certified as a Revelation Wellness instructor and leads classes that focus on moving our bodies in joy. Of course, they’re really much more structured than that, with kickboxing, dancing, yoga, and strength exercises. I come away each week sore and stronger and I love how I feel.

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Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

One of the things she tells us throughout the class is, You’re doing it right. The whole point is to move our bodies. So this could mean pushing our limits, doing that extra pushup or five. Or it could mean walking in place with a smile because I’m still moving and celebrating this body God gave me.

Over and over during this hour I hear, you’re doing it right.

I need this so much. You’re doing it right.

There are times during our workout that I know I’m definitely not doing it right. My movements don’t mirror Erin’s or I just can’t find the beat. But I keep moving and smiling and remembering to be thankful for a body that moves, no matter how well or coordinated.

This last month hasn’t gone as expected. I joined the Write 31 Days challenge, as I have the past few years with a topic I thought I could write about easily: Reading. It turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated. Instead of sparking my creativity it felt too didactic; too much like recommendations than storytelling.

In the midst of this, we had an intense week, with an unexpected visit to the ICU for a few days to a drunk driver running into our backyard in the middle of the night. Life seemed to stop and writing was pushed aside for coordinating babysitting and meals and picking a book that would be a good hospital read. When the dust settled, I realized I had no desire to continue the challenge.

I’ve been working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s all about unblocking our creative natures – whether we’re artists, writers, lawyers, or anything between. Cameron believes we are all created in the image of a creative God and therefore we need to tap that creativity.

IMG_0817As I’ve made daily Morning Pages part of my routine and dug into my own creative nature, I’ve realized that I’m at a place in which I want to write less but write better. At one point in my journey, the frequency and discipline of publishing my writing everyday ignited my ideas. And that practice will most likely be beneficial again in the future.

But in this moment, I realized I need to dig a little deeper. I’m really good at reading about the things I need to do and not as good about actually doing them. I’ve read quite a number of books about justice and activism but am content sitting with that knowledge in the comfort of my cozy library chair. What am I doing to put this to practice?

Sometimes our craft is born out of the daily tasks of doing the work. And sometimes it’s born out of setting it aside and experiencing the life we are meant to live. Ideally, it would be a both-and situation.

This isn’t about not finishing a challenge or about the daily discipline of creativity. It’s about remembering that I’m doing it right. However it looks in this season, I’m doing it right.

Some days, we have very limited screen time and pack in the imaginative play, snuggled reading, and sweet family interactions. And some days, I let the girls watch an extra show so I can finish a chapter or I let Bea do her reading on the school’s leveled reading app rather than sitting by her side. I’m doing it right.

Some days, I’m invigorated and ready to practice writing or hand-lettering or any number of creative pursuits. Other days, I’m wrapped up in books and finish several in a week. And still other times, I’m content to connect with others via social media, letting my mind wander over the staged and beautiful highlight reels. I’m doing it right.

I’ve written about my high hopes for this season. For projects to be completed and languages to be learned. Some of my hopes have come to fruition – like working out regularly. Others haven’t begun – like downloading my old Rosetta Stone CDs to start learning French again. I’m remembering that this is a process and change takes time. I’m remembering that I need to take baby steps and that we have many more months to figure this all out. I’m remembering that, even when it feels like I’m incredibly unproductive, I’m doing it right.

I suppose this is the biggest life-lesson I’ve learned in this new stage: I can quit if something isn’t working. I can rearrange my time so that I am filled. As long as I’m moving my body in joy, I’m doing it right.

How are you doing your life “right”? How does this look different from how you anticipated it to look? 

Books Referenced in this Post:

51fTJcNvzHL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

The Importance of Reading Genesis

Last Friday, after we took Bea out for her celebratory last day of school lunch, I packed five books, two journals, two packs of pens, my computer, and my sneakers and drove up to the Abbey of St. Walberga close to the Wyoming border.

IMG_9055I was two hours into the drive when I realized I had forgotten my Bible. I had just gotten a new version and had been eagerly awaiting this weekend to start reading it. Somehow, it was left on the kitchen counter. Of all the retreats to forget a Bible on, this isn’t too terrible, as nearly every room in the Abbey has a copy.

After Vespers at dinner my first night, I was talking with a friend who also happened to be there for the weekend. (What are the chances?) My friend reminded me that the Desert Fathers likened nature to reading the Bible and said, Just go out and spend time in Genesis!

I had some loose goals and ideas for how I wanted to spend those 48 hours alone. I read a lot, attended the Offices, and napped. But I also remembered to “read Genesis.” My friend, who had lived at the Abbey for a few years as caretaker, took me to some of her favorite spots.

Looking at the trees growing out of rocks, listening to the streams and birds, and breathing in the wildflowers reminded me of what uncultivated earth is like. We talked about how being out in the wild landscape is like a glimpse of the New Earth, though such a pale shade of comparison.

I love the idea of catching glimpses of the Earth to come. Of getting out of my norms and seeing trees and grasses in new context. Even though we have wildflowers growing in our garden, actual wildflowers are so very different.

In the afternoon, I walked to the front of the property to hike the Stations of the Cross. The route winds up a hill and, at the top, a view of the Abbey, nestled in a valley of rock formations with the snow-covered Rocky Mountains in the distance stood below me. I saw the cultivated farmland of the Abbey but it seemed so small and orderly compared to the landscape surrounding it.

Looking down on this scene, I was reminded of my own orderly life. I work so hard to cultivate it and make it fruitful and I often see good results from the rhythms we have as a family. But I need to remember to get out of my order and go “read Genesis” in the wilderness.

I had been in a bit of a creative slump when I arrived and looked forward to resting. I brought my computer, just in case, but was hesitant to open it. Walking in nature, getting out of my routines, not talking for most of the day sparked that ember of creativity. I started seeing my adventures through the lens of storytelling and would come back to my room ready to write and connect what I had been seeing and learning.

Writers—and creatives in general—are often told to just “do the work” of creativity. That if you show up, the muse will meet you. I agree that the only way creativity happens is if I’m willing to show up and do the work.

But I’m also reminded that I need to rest. At this stage in parenting, rest is hard to find at our house. The girls are up and ready to go, regardless of the day of the week. We cook and eat and tidy and do bedtime every day without much variation. I needed to pause and physically get out of my routine.

I loved doing this at the Abbey where the balance of showing up to pray the Offices and go out for unstructured rambles could live hand-in-hand. (For me, not the nuns…) I wish there was a way to practically implement this idea into our daily routines.

Maybe there is. But if it doesn’t make sense, I’m also realizing that this is ok. Sometimes the only way to rest is to leave. The only way to “read Genesis” is to get out into new territory.

How do you break out of your norms? What ways do you “read Genesis” to experience the Bible in fresh ways? Does nature connect you with faith?

Almost-Summer is For New Goals

In January, a friend invited me to her home for a writers gathering. Five of us were all linked through our writing and our friend. I had just finished reading one woman’s book; another woman and I connected over facilitating online book clubs; another has kids about the same age as mine. We drank coffee, ate muffins, and talked about our writing goals for the year.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Then we got to work. My friend had set up nooks around her home to give space to spread out, dream, plan, and work on whatever we needed to for a few hours of quiet. I opened my blogging calendar and mapped out some rough themes and ideas. One of my hopes this year was to write more, so I decided to try writing three times per week. I had tried this goal in the past to varying degrees of success, always amazed at those who blog daily and wondered if that would ever be me.

Now, as May comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about that goal to write more. I have blogged more and enjoyed the process but I realized that writing more and blogging more are two very different things. My creativity and energy went into blogging so any other ideas and projects were pushed to the margins.

I know that no one sets their calendars to the rhythm of my blog posts. A friend of mine actually noted when I was writing more and gave some good advice about finding space and time and voice.

I talked with my friend on a Friday morning a few weeks ago and starting thinking about when I could re-implement my goals. What perfect day would be good for writing more and blogging less? And then I realized that I could start whenever I felt like it. That, while goals create a good foundation, when they become limiting the point is lost.

IMG_8854So, last week I stepped back. I blogged when I had an idea and published when I wrote it, rather than scheduling it. I spent a day on the floor with Elle, rather than trying to play with her and squeeze in moments of writing. As we sat, chatting and building, she looked at me and said, I love playing with you, mama!

My goal is still to write more, but I’m thinking about how I can use my writing time more wisely. What needs to be public and what I can I work on long-term? How can I keep blogging – a medium I love – while saving my creativity for more in depth projects?

This shift in thinking has me considering other goals I’ve made that need readjusting. One of my favorite things about the start of summer is that it’s a time to reevaluate how those January resolutions are going. We’re not quite halfway through the year so tweaking and changing feels completely possible.

As I think about my One Word for the year, I’m remembering to lean into the shift of seasons. As tax season ramped up, my goal of working out before school fell to the wayside. Now that our schedule is shifting, how can I reintroduce that habit? Frank and I are doing a reset to our eating habits as winter fades and the healthier foods of summer come into season. And writing will look different, with both girls at home and life moving outside.

After that chat with my friend, I realized that, for as much as I love goals and outlines, I also love reevaluating them. When I take the time to recognize if my ideas are working or not, tweaking goals gives me as much peace as setting them in the first place.

Do you take time to reset your goals? How do you balance real life with your ideals?

The Compost HeapMy monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is going out on Thursday! Are you signed up? It’s like an old-school blog, filled with all the things we’re up to, books I’m reading, blogs I’m recommending, and thoughts on daily life.

What Works for Me Might Not Work for You

One of the things I love most about our house is the semi-open concept. Each space is clearly defined but without doors. So, our formal dining room-turned playroom is open to the living room and dining area. I can see and hear the girls playing while I’m in the kitchen. It’s great. Until the clutter seeps out into the rest of the space. (Which it always does.)

IMG_8123I read a blog post once about organizing a playroom into four separate bins for each season. You pack up everything each quarter and then put the “new” toys out to keep the playroom tidy and fresh. I loved the idea of this but the project itself seemed daunting. Once it was done, I’m sure it’s a great system but I wasn’t willing to spend days on end simplifying.

My current organization system is longterm. When Elle is in kindergarten in a few years, I’ll do a gigantic purge and we’ll start from there. In the meantime, we have crafts for 5-year-olds alongside infant toys mixed up in a gigantic hand-me-down kitchen. The thing is, when we have friends with kids of other ages, all the toys are eventually played with.

It’s such a reminder that what works well for one person may not be the right fit for me. And that is great! There are areas in our life that I am a stickler about and these nonnegotiables must seem like a lot of work to others who just don’t need structure in that particular area of their own lives. We all have these things that work well or don’t; areas that we must keep neat but let other things get messy.

I was talking with my MOPS group about picking One Word to define a year. For me, it’s been helpful and such an amazing thing to look back on over the years. I love seeing the thread of God’s faithfulness defined in each word. For Frank, setting SMART goals is how he best functions. Without a measurable time limit, his goals turn into dreams that turn into unaccomplished wishes. We all function differently.

As I read articles about starting the new year well, about simplifying or adding or changing things, I remember to learn from the experiences of others without trying to replicate them exactly for myself. I’m all about refreshing old routines but I’m also learning to know myself well and trust what works best for me.

What works best for you? Are you a goals person or a one-word person? What’s that one area that you have to have clean and neat or else everything else seems chaotic?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “simplify.”