Saturday, December 21, 2013

Exciting news

So...I've got some pretty exciting news to share.

Starting last week, I began blogging for a local family magazine called Growing up in the Valley.  This young company is family owned and highlights activities in the area devoted to families.  Make sure to check out the magazine here.

I've titled my blog...


While the gig is unpaid, I'm excited to get some exposure but most importantly, to keep writing!  I've been looking for a creative outlet for some time, something that doesn't take a lot of stuff.  I enjoy crafting and creating art, but my small living space (and budget) don't really allow me to collect much.  

Here's an excerpt from my first posting - 
I’ve lived in this town my whole life.  That’s 26 years of familiar streets and faces.  Being purposeful about the way I spend my time, and reflecting on the little things that present themselves each day, gives this city a magic I long thought was lost.  When I travel, it’s easy to marvel at the simplest of tasks, to see the new and exciting.  But to seek out the small within the familiar can often be a challenge. 
I want to notice and document the tiny gifts I’m given amidst the frenzied life I all too often find myself in.  Hours and days are lost in the quick pace our culture encourages, and it all can become mundane quickly if we don’t open our eyes to the small things that make up the bigger picture. 
I responded to Growing Up In The Valley when I heard they were looking for bloggers because I believe I have a unique view on the world.  Usually, it isn’t hard for me to notice the little gifts I am presented with each day.  But as life picks up increasing speed sometimes I forget to look.  I want to foster a habit of being aware and open to the tiny treasures that are too often overlooked.  Regardless of the haphazard construction of our “nests”, they are beautiful and each twig is carefully placed exactly where it needs to be.  Sometimes appreciation just means taking a step back, seeing how the small pieces fit together and create the big picture.

So there ya go.  Check it out every Saturday (and maybe more).  I will continue to write here and hope you will join me on this new adventure!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rushing Into Stillness

I have felt the stress of busyness lately.  The weekend left no room for rest, and I started the week strung high on adrenaline.  There's a countdown to the end of this week.  A countdown to rest, to a break from the routine.  

I unexpectedly found a break this evening, returning home to my parents house to assess the meaning of a bright orange light on my dashboard.  The additional bonus was grabbing a sleeping bag to cover me while I sleep outside the door of 12 or so of my female students as we celebrate the end of the semester with a lock in.  

Guiding the car up the gravel driveway, feeling every inch of its quarter-mile length, I notice a bright light on the horizon.  I stop, thinking briefly that it's a neighbor's Christmas lights.  But my parents have no neighbors.  It's only once I fully stop, and even reverse a bit, do I see the source of the light.  The moon.

I hurry the rest of the way up the hill, put the car in park, and head to the back deck.  The night is still.  A type of stillness that I grew up with but that, lately, has escaped me.  The weight of silence is familiar yet foreign, the night seems poised somewhere between surrender and expectation.

The moon hangs low, bright and full.  I feel the weight of it and it glows a color that isn't quite gold but isn't quite yellow.  I have no name for the color and my inability to capture its beauty leaves me wanting.

There is no wind, the only sounds come from the occasional bark of a distant dog or the whoosh of a car.  The trees, bent by the wind, stand like old soldiers, keeping watch over the rising moon.  Their dark forms break up the horizon.  Even the sky is a consistent shade of indigo, scattered with stars.

The air is cool and clean.  I find not much other than my hands are chilled, a blessing as usually I am quick to be cold.  Just the act of breathing is renewing, and I feel somehow less burdened by life.  I watch as blinking planes carry people to far off places and think about my own upcoming adventure.

I am looking forward to being able to live in the moment, a task that somehow seems easier when one is outside of things familiar.  I have been keeping my eyes open for the small things, and have had a few returns on my investment.  But still I wonder - what am I missing in the daily living, not because I fail to look but because I fail to truly pay attention?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Shopping At Christmas Isn't All Bad

"There's nothing more contagious than the laughter of young children; it doesn't even have to matter what they're laughing about."  -Criss Jami

Recently I was reminded of the innocence and excitement of childhood.  The day had been stressful.  Full of lists, to do and otherwise; one of those days where you're scrambling to write things down on scraps of paper before they leave the forefront of your mind.  This feelings was amplified with the knowledge that LA is heading out of town and won't be at work.  So much to do, so little time.

My reminder for the true meaning of the season came as I wandered the aisles of Walmart.  I was shopping for work, well past my scheduled hours, fighting through the clutter and metallic wrapping paper.  My shopping technique is pretty standard - weave up and down every aisle, sometimes twice, looking for whatever is on my list.  It's served me well thus far, and although time consuming, it leaves ample time for taking in the sites.

This particular trip took me into the garden-turned-Christmas area, a little room off to the side at the back of the store.  I was looking for big robe boxes for coats for our students, and wrapping paper to cover a window during our holiday party next week.  There were rows of ornaments and bows, small villages and tabletop trees; and as it always happens, what I needed was in the last two rows.

But I couldn't have been more grateful for the delay, the wandering up and down as I searched for what I needed.  For it was here, in this small area at the back of the store, where a mom was pushing a cart containing, among various gifts and necessities, two little girls.  I heard them before I saw them.  They loudly announced their arrival with a chorus of "ho, ho, ho," trying to make their little voices as deep as possible.

As they neared my cart, I see one in the seat and one in the basket, both wearing their curly dark hair up and flaunting Christmas stockings on their hands.  They sing a made up song, "Merry Christmas to everyone."  Their excitement and wonder at the season is infectious and I can't keep myself from smiling.  They have no idea how much their sweet spirits have brightened my stressful day.  There is something beautiful about the innocence of a child and the energy they can barely contain during this special time of the year.  I wish I could bottle it and keep it around for the hard days, cracking open the sound of laughter and appreciate for the joy of life seen though the eyes of a child.  It reminds me to take time and be present wherever I am, not only in during this season of anticipation and excitement, but in the mundane and everyday.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Liquid Sunshine

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet."  -Roger Miller

                              "Being soaked alone is cold.  Being soaked with your best friend is an                                     adventure." -Emily Wing Smith, Back When You Were Easier to Love

The red canvas of my shoes is stiff and unforgiving as I pick them up, two fingers at the heel, and put them in my closet.

Yesterday I helped a dear friend of mine ship a few boxes of her life to Texas.  She is preparing to move this weekend, driving over a series of days to return home.  I rode the relatively short distance to her house with my windows half way down, watching the fog in the mountains.  The day was gray but warm, as if it took no notice of the date on the calendar.  My heart was light, in spite of the overwhelmingly long to-do list that loomed over me, and my free hand was keeping time to the music on the window frame.

I had known the day was coming.  Our relationship is unique and my life has been intertwined with Beks for a few years; we are alike in more ways than not.  I knew this little town couldn't hold her big heart forever.  She recently settled into the idea of moving and I never doubted her decision - it's time.  The last month has been full of excitement and preparation and bittersweet conversations as I know she'll only be around for a bit longer.

I arrived at her house about 9am, accompanied by a light sprinkle.  In the midst of packing tape, address labels and sharpie markers, little attention was paid to the weather.  Not long before we had prepared to load the cars, a loud clap of thunder drew our attention outside - a full blown rainstorm, blowing in suddenly, wasting no time with pleasantries.

Because of other obligations we couldn't wait long to move our packing party to the post office.  Despite the weather, we took multiple trips across wet grass and pavement, balancing boxes and tugging on doors, running and laughing, trying not to fall on wet leaves and concrete floors.  We both emerged soaking wet, tracking in leaves, water running down our faces and changing the color of our clothes.  I'll admit, I had to fight the urge to stomp through the little rivers that appeared down the sides of the streets, and I marveled at the movement of the water as it collected and spilled around the tires of parked cars.  What is it about rain that encourages the child within us to be silly, to laugh and dance?

I will likely not see Beks again before she leaves, but I couldn't think of a better way to send her off.  As we left the post office and the rain began to let up (of course!), tears made new trails on our already wet faces as we hugged and said goodbye.  I know it's not really goodbye - you can never say goodbye to someone who has left such an imprint on your heart - but rather "see you later".

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Waiting in the Queue with 3 Million Books

Thanksgiving has passed.  While I'm grateful my sleep schedule and waistline have returned to their proper times and places, the holiday was wonderful.  I got some much needed time off of work and spent a few days at home with family, eating, napping, and watching football.  Mom and I ventured out Friday morning for some shopping and I made a spur of the moment purchase.  In my defense, I've wanted one for a while but have been holding out.  My excuse is always -

"The price will drop again in a few months."

"In a year the technology will be old and outdated."

"They are expensive.  What if I accidentally drop it and it breaks and then I'm out a lot of money."

But, on Friday, now with the excuse that I'll be travelling again soon, I bought an e-reader.  I had done a little research but went with the Nook, feeling a little brand loyalty toward my former employer.  I swore I would never fall victim to any device like this.  I love wandering though a used bookstore (or really any bookstore for that matter, but used is certainly more desirable), searching, tracing my fingers along worn spines and soft pages.  Bonus points if they are dog-eared or underlined.

But travelling with books can be cumbersome.  It's very tempting to know that I can have whole libraries at my fingertips, or purchase new titles with no lines and no waiting.  The $50 off special going for black Friday sent the price below 3 digits and I made the leap.  As if to further comfort me in my snap decision, my heart rate increasing ever so slightly as I watch my register numbers rise, the guy beside me in line began talking about how he was buying one for his wife.  She is also an avid reader and, like me, was turned off by the idea of the digital format.  "But wait till she's cold, snuggled under a blanket while reading, and only has to touch one finger to turn the page."

Truer words have never been spoken.

I haven't been able to put it down since I bought it.  Earlier this week, about 10pm, I finished a loaned book and immediately checked out another.  I can borrow from any library in the city.  I can purchase something new whenever I like.

I was in love for a whole three days before I started to think about the downfalls of this type of technology.  The instant gratification mindset that it encourages is infectious.  I don't have to wait to get another book.  I can get one right now, any time of day, just about any book I want.  What other things should I not have to wait for?

This idea was juxtaposed by Sunday's sermon at church.  My Nook was waiting patiently in the car for my return, practically begging me to hurry and pick up where I left off.  The sermon for this first Sunday in Advent was all about exactly the opposite - it was about waiting.  I have become increasingly more aware of a season of waiting in my life, a season that has lasted longer than I would have liked, given the choice.

Our culture today emphasizes, and even encourages, a quick pace.  Energy drinks claim to get you through your work day, boasting that they can increase your energy with no annoying crash later. One might be swayed by their not-so-subtle ads, full of office assistants going from flat to fast with smiles on their faces.  We have coffee makers ready to perk any number of coffee varieties in under a minute, in your own individual cup - no need to share a pot with someone else anymore.  Smartphones keep us constantly connected and increase our presence in the world of work.  It is becoming harder and harder to be still without something in our hands, something to occupy us.

So, as one brand of candy famously asks - Why wait? 

As my pastor Tom pointed out on Sunday, waiting abolishes self-reliance.  It is in this season of waiting that I am learning to wait on the Lord and his timing.  Waiting teaches a quiet, simple confidence that the Lord will do what he says he will do.  I serve a true God, one who keeps his word.  I serve a loving God, who knows me and care for me more deeply than I could ever image.  If I were given everything right off, I would miss the care the Lord takes in orchestrating my life.  Without a constant awareness of His hand in my life, I would miss all the subtle nuances and tiny treasures he sends my way everyday.

However, as anyone who's well versed in the art of waiting will tell you, these realities don't always things easier.  The idea of instant gratification that our culture has has such a deep hold on us.  We are inundated with us everyday.  Waiting is hard.  No one said it would be easy.  But a change is happening.  A change in me - small, imperceptible changes that I can't see but that are necessary.

I know that something good will come with the waiting.  Something that was never expected.