Amen

I want to get better at prayer. I just finished Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, by Anne Lamott, and I basically wanted to take a highlighter to every page. Although I found myself identifying with a lot of her thoughts on spirituality, relationships, nature, etc., her ability to be in the moment was both convicting and inspiring. Lamott points out that being present is essential to prayer, and I agree…but my thoughts tend to bounce around more often than I’d like. When I take the Myers Briggs or StrengthsFinder or any other personality test, I am always described as having a “rich inner life” or an “active imagination”. This can be a good thing, but at times, it manifests as anxiety. My nature makes it difficult to be still (mentally). Maybe this resonates with some of you. I want to get better at prayer, in part, because I know it will make me better at life.

My mother-in-law had some time off between jobs for the first time in many years, and she came to stay with us for a month. Last week, she, my dad and I went to a beautiful nursery while the toddler was napping and my husband was working from home. We explored and asked questions and chose a few varieties of flowers to plant. IMG_0385FullSizeRenderIt was a perfect spring day, and we worked steadily through the afternoon—pulling weeds, raking leaves, spreading compost, sweeping mulch off the walkways and potting flowers. I left my phone inside. Ben woke up from his nap and joined us in the front yard, trotting around “supervising” and making commentary in toddler speak. I watched my dad and my mother-in-law enjoying him and smiled to myself. When we came inside I made iced tea, and we had it with leftover birthday cupcakes. I felt peaceful and invigorated and in the moment. That particular combination of atmosphere, activity and people really filled my soul with joy. It was a good day.

It’s important to remind ourselves not to aim for perfection. My goal shouldn’t be to live in the moment all the time, because that’s not going to happen. I have to give myself grace and celebrate good days and try to do more life-giving activities that make it easier for me to quiet my racing thoughts. Sometimes I look back with regret that I didn’t take advantage of an opportunity or appreciate the time I had with someone because I was distracted. Living in the moment, living prayerfully, means less regret and more peace. It means gratitude and awe. It means seeing beauty and potential in our messy, broken world.

At the end of the book, Anne writes,

“So we breathe, try to slow down and pay attention, try to love and help God’s other children, and—hardest of all, at least to me—learn to love our depressing, hilarious, mostly decent selves.”

Amen.

What’s on my Bookshelf

Thank you for your encouragement after my last post.  Pawpaw is home now and receiving excellent care.  Today I’m joining a blog link up on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s site.  She posed the question, “What’s on your bookshelf?”  How could I pass up an opportunity to respond?!

Pictured is my favorite bookshelf in our apartment.  This summer we moved from a sleepy college town to the Big City, and it’s been…an adjustment.  It’s only been a matter of weeks, really, that I’ve started to feel like this place is home.  When I saw this built-in bookshelf, I could picture myself living here.  And, sure enough, it has become a favorite feature of our new home.

Bookshelf

A few highlights:

Prayer by Richard Foster

This isn’t a spiritual self-help book.  Each chapter stands alone, so you don’t necessarily have to read them in order.  I read this for a class, and it really enriched my prayer life.

Sailing Alone Around the Room by Billy Collins

The poetry of Billy Collins is so interesting and accessible that even my poetry-hating husband doesn’t mind it.  🙂

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Once you get past all the crazy names, this is a beautiful story of destruction and redemption.  It’s timeless.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This novel is heartbreaking and vivid.  I was so captivated by the setting, too.  Roy’s descriptions are glorious.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The imagination of C.S. Lewis blows my mind.  I saw spiritual warfare from a different angle when I read this.  It’s brilliant.

I could go on all day, but (alas) I’m out of time.  What have you enjoyed reading?  I’d love suggestions.  🙂

This One’s for the Dreamers

Good evening, friends.  Let’s talk about daydreaming.  Every personality test I’ve ever taken has confirmed what I always knew about myself.  I’m a dreamer.  Maybe some of you can relate?  I’m very future-oriented, and I often dwell on abstract ideas rather than realistic/detail-oriented information.  This is not super-practical for being good at adult life, but oh how I enjoyed studying English literature and creative writing as an undergraduate.  We talked and wrote essays and analyzed novels and poetry and used self-expression to explore societal patterns throughout history and the value of art and the human condition.  (sigh)  It didn’t feel like work.  I was having too much fun.  My nerdy heart was full.  After that it was time to get a more practical degree, and I’m so glad that I chose social work.  It appeals to my deep desire for social justice.  (I’m telling you, there are some great personality tests out there.  I recommend the Enneagram.)

Still, my dreamer tendencies persist.  I find that my quality of life is highest when I am able to dream about possibilities.  If one were to look at my computer’s search history, it might seem random and strange.  But if I could explain, it would quickly become obvious that most of my Google searches are related to some idea I’ve been contemplating.   Most of what I dream about will not come to fruition.  This is fine with me.  That’s not the point.  The point, of course, is to experience in my mind a different experience than what is familiar.  The act of imagining what it would be like and the feeling that anything is possible is exhilarating.

For example, you might see a search for real estate in Maine.  I’ve never been to Maine, but ever since I had kidney surgery when I was 17 and was instructed to drink nothing but cranberry juice and water, I’ve been in love with cranberries.  It follows that if I lived somewhere where they grow cranberries, I would be deliriously happy, right?  You can see where I’m going with this.

Sometimes I imagine living in the Hamptons like the Barefoot Contessa, growing my own herbs and being near the sea where it doesn’t get hot (at least not Texas hot) and you can smell that wonderful, salty air.  I would walk to quaint shops and buy expensive seafood and flower arrangements just because.

Once I saw this picture of the Louisville, KY courthouse all lit up for the holidays.  Isn’t it magical?

One of my favorite professors went to law school in Louisville.  Since then, I’ve imagined living there in a grand old house with hardwood floors and oodles of character.

I love being a student and the whole atmosphere of a university campus, so one of my favorite things to dream about is studying at various universities all over the country.  I will read program descriptions and faculty bios and scroll through campus photos just feeling all lit up inside thinking about possibilities.  My most recent PhD of choice is cultural anthropology.  Somewhere with loads of tall trees with leaves that turn a brilliant shade of orange in the fall.

I could go on, but reality calls.  🙂  Tell me, friends–what do you dream about?

Through the Eyes of a Child

I am currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for the awesome virtual book club that I have with my best college girlfriends (virtual because we are scattered far and wide around the US…and the world).  I really relate to Francie, the main character, who lives inside of her elaborate imagination much of the time.  As a child, I often preferred daydreaming and getting lost in my thoughts to interacting with others.  I felt like I was on a different wavelength than my peers most of the time.  Despite this, I have always liked people, and I learned to balance my inner world with healthy doses of living in the real world and interacting with others, thankfully.  My parents were probably worried for a little while.  🙂  I’m still a dreamer, but I’ve lost a lot of that magic that I saw in the world as a child.  This is why seeing Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century through the imagination of Francie resonates with me in a way that feels simultaneously refreshing and nostalgic.

Reading this novel, I was also reminded of the children I worked with during my first year of grad school who were living in extreme poverty.  I conducted a counseling group designed to build self esteem and team work during an after school program at an elementary school.  What’s so interesting about children in poverty is that they haven’t necessarily been exposed to the outside world enough to know how bad their circumstances are.  If it’s all they’ve known, then they don’t KNOW to feel discontent…to wish for something grander.  I think it would have been easier for Francie to remain blissfully ignorant about her socioeconomic status than it is for children today with such immediate access to technology.  Still, though, the younger ones possessed an  innocent, contented quality similar to hers.  Most of these children lived in the neighborhood right around the school.  Their parents worked long hours at a local factory and many didn’t have cars.  They walked to school.  They walked to the closest grocery store.  They rarely left their neighborhood, so their world was very small.  The school was 51% African American and 49% Hispanic.  So, for many of  the younger ones, I was the first Caucasian person they had known.

One of my favorite memories of that experience happened sitting at the cafeteria table with a 5 year-old boy during snack time one afternoon.  We were conversing light-heartedly as he took large bites of his animal crackers when I suddenly heard his gasp with alarm.  My eyes shot down to his face.  He was horrified.  After a moment, I realized that his concern and fright was directed at me…more specifically at my arm, resting palm-up on the table next to him.  What is it?  I asked.  He couldn’t speak at first.  He just waved his pointer finger quickly at my wrist.  Finally he managed a breathy exclamation.  Your arm!  It’s blue!!  I looked down at my arm.  He could see my blue veins through the pale white skin on my wrist.

I tried not to smile as I explained in a gentle voice that this was normal for white people, that there was nothing wrong with me and that he didn’t need to worry.  Everyone else he knew had skin the color of caramel or coffee.  The poor little guy was sincerely concerned for my health.  I think he expected me to call an ambulance for myself based on his discovery of some unknown blue arm disease.  Amazing.

What would the world be like if we could all see it through the eyes of a child?

Love Poems

As an English major, I was always a fan of poetry.  Love poetry is my favorite, because I find it so relatable.  We’ve all felt the longing and the adoration and the frustration of being in love.  The title of my blog is taken from one of my favorite love poems by e.e. cummings…

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis