on writing: set that timer.

It’s Thanksgiving.  And today especially, I hope you’re full in heart and tummy, in all the best possible ways.  I hope you’re surrounded by the ones you love, who perfectly love your messy, imperfect self in return.  So if the Macy’s Day Parade isn’t cutting it for you or you find yourself in tryptophan-induced coma and need something to do for ten minutes, consider grabbing that pad of Grandma’s flowery stationary to your right and limitlessly putting pen to paper.  Otherwise, get off the internet and love-squeeze that person sitting next to you.  Give thanks!

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I swim in a sea of irony, I’m certain.

When my friend Leigh asked our Red Couch Team for a creative post on Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I replied with a hearty, Yes! Having never read the book nor obtained a copy, my insides remained chipper for the chance to belong; to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Eager for involvement and desperate for recognition, I didn’t anticipate reading a book that, at the time, found me far from actual subject matter.

You see, I’d declared September and October as “Input Only” months. I’d just had a baby: a perfect 8lb 10 ounce boisterous, bouncing boy we call Baby Brother. And babies are good and perfect little creatures–a slice of heaven’s pie, one might say–but through no fault of their own, they can wreak havoc on their mamas with their crying and their pooping and their love of eating breakfast at 3am.

So, in order to save my sanity and the sanity of those around me, I put a moratorium on producing, on writing in particular. The Next Piece of Literary Greatness via the blog and articles for submission could wait, and sermon prep for those Sundays in November would come in due time. My manuscript, the one whose book contract I surely thought I’d be waving in the air by now, could continue to simmer on the back burner … because my baby will only be a baby for so long.

Staring mindlessly at this little being, my little being, is the best writing fodder I can muster. I can stand to not keep up with The Writing Man. I can stand to let myself be.

I know, I know, I’m a broken record player of self ALL THE TIME.  But there’s a point …there’s always a point.  Click here to head to She Loves Magazine and read the read of the discussion post about Natalie Goldberg’s writing classic, Writing Down the Bones.  And, if you end up doing a ten-minute free write, consider sharing a sentence or two below.  Otherwise, is this bringing up too many repressed high school English class memories?  Don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Kisses!

the little things: skittles & surprises (missy hall).

Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday!  Missy is a friend of mine who seems to bring sunshine with her everywhere she goes.  She and I have known about each other for awhile now, but are just now entering into the burgeoning journey of friendship …and I couldn’t be more excited for time with this lovely lady!  So enter in, and be encouraged by her words today. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.31.15 PM

It had been an exhausting day at work. My feet were swollen and my stomach was growling.  My mind was filled with the stresses of planning a wedding, buying a house and graduating from college.  I hadn’t seen my Hunnie in two days due to all the craziness and when I came out to my car, there was a little note and a bag a skittles – my favorite.  Just a little something sweet to show he was thinking of me.  Just a little surprise to lift my spirits.

Sometimes surprises come just when you need that little bit of hope and joy.  Yes, there are surprises that don’t bring joy – like a flat tire that makes you late or a child who comes home with lice from school, but there are probably just as many surprises,  both big and little, that can remind us about what is important in life.

If we have eyes to see, we can easily spot the sweetness of the surprises all around us.  This week alone, I was surprised by Kindness, Love, Hope and Generosity.  When these came a-knocking, I almost didn’t open the door!

I often dread checking my email.  Although I am social by nature, lately I have become overwhelmed by the requests and the have-to’s and the managing of my calendar.  But, early one morning I opened an email from a friend– that asked nothing from me, instead she wanted to show kindness to me. She wanted to come over and take the kids to dinner (yes, all three!), to bring them gifts and to just show them some love so that Hunnie and I could go out on a date.  She didn’t just say she wanted to help, she actually gave me some possible days and times.  This Surprise of Kindness made it so easy for me- immediately my mood was brightened and now I have a happy Date Nite to look forward to on Saturday!

My little girlie is in a very creative phase.  Almost daily I come home to pictures, stories, presents (things she has wrapped up from her room) and little love notes.  One morning I could tell it was going to be a trying day with my toddler who was already yelling, “I still poopin’!” when it was time to walk out the door, the laundry was piled up high and the my list of errands was already being trampled upon by an impending migraine. I huffed out to the car and wrestled little man into his seat and walked around to get into my seat to rush the big muffins off to school.  But, I paused when I saw a note written into the morning dew: “I love you, Mommy.” I almost missed it; I almost forgot that these little ones who were already draining me… could also fill my cup with their sweet words, hugs and smiles.  A Surprise of Love to soften my already hardening heart. The grouchiness started to melt away before the letters disappeared in the morning sunshine.

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On Tuesday, I pulled a muscle by my rib – right in the middle of my back.  I was crying by the time I reached the car.  I came home and called just about everyone I knew to help me with my toddler – “B Rex”- the active, growling, wild beast that I could not lift up. Some days just stink more than others. Some days I really hate living so far from family. Some days Hunnie has a million meetings and no flexibility.  Some days are just lonely. l sat on the couch and just cried- too uncomfortable to even nap.  But, an unlikely new friend offered to come over and help me all evening.  She helped feed my kids dinner, she lifted my boy into his crib, she graciously wiped up counters.  A Surprise of Hope covered over the depression that was growing in my mind.

Moms often find it hard to find a time to shower – no time before school when there are lunches to be made, socks to be searched for, papers to be signed and fights to be refereed.  No time after school when there is homework to be done, games to go to, dinner to be cooked, and laundry to be put away.  So, I’ve started showering in the middle of the day when B Rex is asleep and cannot bang on the door and scream the whole time.  But, people sometimes come and ring the doorbell.  Then, the dog barks, then the kids run by yelling that someone is here (so you can’t just ignore it and pretend you didn’t hear.) On Sunday I’d just put the shampoo in my hair, when I heard it. Ding Dong. At first I did try to ignore it, but it came again, and again. So, finally, I wrapped a towel around me and answered it, as I was expecting a friend anyhow. Well, it wasn’t her– it was a man! Luckily, I had the screen door shut and locked and you can’t see through it. So, I told him that Hunnie wasn’t available, but I’d tell him that he had stopped by.  “Oh, would he be available if I were to give him tickets to the World Series game today?”  Yeah, pretty sure he would. Hold on…

A Surprise of Generosity – and to think, I almost didn’t answer the door!

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 2.05.21 PMMissy began writing about their family journey to adoption three years ago.  Last summer she wrote about the crazy long road trip she took with her three crazy children on her family blog.  You can email her if you want details about how to survive both of those adventures at missyb.hall@gmail.com.  Her Hunnie is a pastor in the Bay Area and her heart beats for missions, justice, hope and exploring!! She loves books, words and the therapy of writing, and has started a new season in writing.  So, what little Surprises of Kindness, Hope, Love, and Generosity have you seen in your life recently?  Did you almost miss them, too?  Leave a comment, and encourage Missy today!

10 minutes in the life of a toddler.

In order to illustrate the concept of change for an upcoming talk this weekend, I decided to record everything that happened in the life of our toddler in the span of ten minutes.  If you’ve ever been around a two-year-old, or parented a two-year-old, or been a two-year-old yourself, you might be able to relate to his shenanigans.  Enjoy!

"Gentle, gentle... That is not gentle!"
“Gentle, gentle… That is not gentle!”

5:45 pm: Cancan stomps five times on the floor, runs over to the baby bouncer halfway across the room and bounces in said bouncer. He lays down on the floor and rolls around on Baby Brother’s play mat.

5:46 pm: He says to the play mat, and/or to whoever happens to be listening, “No go on it, no go underneath,” and pops down underneath the fabric play mat.

5:47 pm: Cancan discovers that he knows the word “underneath,” and proceeds to say the word “underneath” 15 times in the next 30 seconds, while simultaneously going under baby’s play mat, again and again and again. He then hurls himself toward the Bumbo in the corner, grabs the Bumbo and tackles it to ground.

5:48 pm: He comes up on couch, to where Baby Brother and I are sitting and proceeds to jump on the couch. He responds to mama’s request, “No jump on couch, Cancan” by jumping three times on the couch. He proceeds to sit down on the couch, out of breath from all the illegal jumping.

5:49 pm: Cancan goes to the corner to take “a space.” He sits on floor quietly for about eight seconds and then he sees his shoes two feet away.

5:50 pm: He says mine [about the shoes] in a scary ghoulish voice. He comes back up to the couch. He jumps off the couch and goes over to the large, empty Amazon box on the floor.

5:51 pm: Cancan sits down in the box. He lays down in the box. He gets out of the box. He goes over to the bouncer and bounces it violently. He lays down in the baby’s bouncer.

5:52 pm: He gets back in the empty Amazon box. He says “hi mama,” twice, and he sits down on floor. He picks up his Batman book, and begins singing one word of the Batman theme song that he knows, over and over again: “Batmaannnn! Batmaannnn!”

5:53 pm: Cancan fake falls on floor and says, “I fall down.” He comes over to Mama and Baby, and says, “Hi baby brother, hi baby brother, hi baby brother,” three times.

5:54 pm: He leans backwards over side of couch. He says hi to baby again. I put the phone down, for obvious reasons.

So, wanna to come over and play?  

xoxo, c.  

my inner a cappella…

Today, because it’s raining…

and because I’ve got some words to write for a guest speaking gig this Sunday…

and because my inner a cappella just can’t wait, might I present to you THE PART II MOVIE I JUST CAN’T WAIT TO SEE:

 

So, who were you in high school? And, were you to attend a secret identity party, what “inner” self would you dress up as?

A cappella all the way,

Cara “Song and White Girl Dance” Meredith

the little things: 10 second countdown (corrie farbstein).

Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday!  Oh friends, I have nothing but sparkly kindness to say about today’s writer, Corrie.  She is a friend to all.  She is a creative genius.  And she is one of those glittery, magnetic humans that others are drawn to like white on rice.  So please, take a minute and be captured by her story on a soccer field today.  

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10. 9. 8. 7.

It felt like a movie.

6. 5. 4.

The inevitability of the clock was excruciating.

3. 2. 1….. 

And just like that it was over.

The space between my throat and my chest felt hollow, and a silent scream seemed to inhabit my skin as my mouth dropped and my eyes widened. A sudden sensation of yearning overcame my bones as I slowly put my hands on my head in dismay.

Loss.

People around me gathered their stuff and emptied out of the stands with a resilience I was nowhere near ready to feel. I sat there stunned—unable to cry but fixated on the teary eyed young men in front of me on that field. A slow, prolonged embrace erupted amongst them as the players wiped eyes and wandered over to each other. Some of them just sat. Others sprawled out on the field, covering their faces with their jerseys. The game was a grueling battle; they had fought hard and well, but 3…2…1… their season was over. For Cody, the particular fellow that my heart is tied up with, his entire soccer career was over.

The term feels insufficient, but Cody is my boyfriend—what matters to him matters to me. He has played soccer all his life. Years of pep talks, victories, teammates, the grind of practice after practice, games in the rain, games in deadly heat, losses, the sweat, the tears, the smiles, the passion—these moments; he is entangled in them, they have shaped him. So in that final 10-second countdown, it felt as if these moments were shouting, pleading: “Don’t let me be in vain!”

See, the whole school buzzed with excitement as this season took off, because this year was the year. Westmont Men’s Soccer had struggled during the four years of Cody’s time on the team, but this year felt different. The team practiced well together, and their preseason was victorious. Through hours and hours of practice, they had achieved a cohesive, invigorating team dynamic during games and great hope sizzled in the air each time we gathered in the Santa Barbara sun to cheer them on. No one expected the team to lose in the first round of playoffs. No expected it to be over just.. like.. that.

This moment may sound trivial in relation to the grand scheme of things, but it struck a powerful chord in me. True loss, I began to confront, is unrealized potential. It is hopes and dreams that never come to be, and likely never will. True loss is an irrevocable break up, or divorce—the injury that destroys your dance career and lands you in a cubicle. It doesn’t have a happy ending, and there’s no cherry on top. It is the slow 10-second countdown that ends in… nothing.

My American socialized self loves to indulge in stories of triumph through trial. I love the blood, sweat and tears and I love seeing them be worth it as they culminate into that final redemptive scene. But loss. This kind of loss isn’t that. It is an endless plot that stays cyclically bound to the struggle. It is the excruciating moment of 3..2..1.. over. No happy ending.

Loss.

Where do we find meaning it it? If no moment of restoration and fulfillment ever happens to legitimize the perseverance, was it all still worth it? My gut says yes. What does yours say?

IMG_4264Corrie is a NorCal native, living in Santa Barbara, trying to finish her fifth year of undergrad. She is an ex-dance major at CalArts who never thought academics were her thing, barely having read a book in her life, until she unexpectedly found herself at Westmont College studying (and loving) strange words like rhetoric and pathos as a Communication Studies major. She thinks that God is strange and sublime, that life is corky and raw, and she drinks coffee more than her A.D.D. thinks she should. Graduating is the big plan of this year, and she is enthusiastic/terrified of what comes next.  So, yeah.  Are you not blown away by the delightfully articulate Corrie?  Encourage her below by answering one of the questions she posed, or come up with the perfect enthusiastically terrifying “what comes next” plan for her life.

on being a seven & stopping the hunt.

You may recall this post a couple weeks ago, when I told you about how I get reading done.  And after I’d written it and received feedback and applause and accolades, I pretty much looked at myself in the mirror, and haughtily whispered:

Cara, why are you so amazing?

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And I gave my tired eyes – those blood-shot hazels that boast two-day old mascara and remnants of a 2:30 am feeding party – a wink and a smile, and went on my merry diaper-changing ways.

But as luck would have it, as soon as I’d clicked the “Publish” button, the perfect storm hit: the HBH (Hot Black Husband) started his new job and we found ourselves navigating the raw impact of an over-the-bridge commute.  And determined to stick to my Input-Only promise to myself (and to you), I remained stubborn to not produce anything in the month of October – but two speaking engagements in the first week and a half of November meant that I’d fallen prone to procrastination.  Again.

With my head buried in theology books, my fingers tapped away furiously at the keys when Baby Brother didn’t beckon and when Big Brother didn’t need his hands pried free from his favorite new toy, the plunger.  So when my brain needed a break and Gilmore Girls wasn’t cutting it anymore, I allowed myself one book: Richard Rohr’s The Enneagram.  

Because finding out what you’re made of – those deep, dark pitfalls of your natural character type – is just fascinating to me.  And it wasn’t until I’d underlined and starred nearly every other sentence in the Type Seven chapter that I came across this short paragraph:

“Amid the hunt for possibilities sevens now and then feel the longing for a happiness without external props: for simply lying on the beach and enjoying the sun.  They ought to try that, instead of dragging with them the usual pair of books, Walkman, notepad and maybe even their laptop computer, in order to leave all possibilities open” (160).

Because sevens are always on the hunt for more: overachievers at heart, our deadly sin is gluttony, so we continue the search for more possibilities and more opportunities, more happiness and more fun.  And while that particular intersection of a week didn’t lend me opportunity to crack open my usual six or seven books at a time, I did realize that too often I fill up every ounce of space and miss the little moments.

I stare at my Kindle but forget to see the baby boy smiling his first smiles on my lap or hear the two-year old singing a special song all his own to his little brother.

I listen to another book on Audible but neglect to relish in the moment of peace in the laundry room.

I mindlessly turn the pages of a paperback but shy away from the beauty of snuggling close to my love and brainlessly watching a show on television. (Scandal, if you must know).

So I decided to do something about it: and friends, I have not finished a book yet this month.  Instead, when I’d normally fill the void, I have tried to practice stillness and quietness and just enter into the moment.  I have listened to those voices in my head, the ones that speedily say It goes by so fast, and I’ve tried to taste it, to savor those nuggets of kairos in my chronos-filled life.  I have tried to just BE.

Really, I’m just a broken record player of self.

But sometimes we read something or we hear something or we hear something, and we know it’s meant just for us.  We know it’s meant to be heeded.

And so we do.

Because we don’t, not for one second, want to miss a moment of the Beauty that’s right in front of us.

xo, c.

What about you?  If you’ve taken the Enneagram test, what type are you?  And if you’re a seven, TEACH ME THY WAYS!  How do you let go of the need for more-more-more?

I also doubt this is going to be the last Enneagram post, so here’s a thought: If you’re interested in learning more about your type, buy The Enneagram book.  Or, better yet, schedule a meeting with my favorite Enneagram enthusiast and consultant, Leigh Kramer.  (Leigh did not prompt or pay me to say this, I promise). 

the little things: she called out to me (andrea miles).

Man, Guest Post Tuesday strikes again! Join with me as we welcome Andrea, a real-live writer-friend (of the novel Trespassers), who captures a memory of “the little things” so beautifully.  You too will beg to be stopped at an intersection …and beg to join in with the Beauty found in one brief interaction.  Thank you, Andrea!

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“Dearie, are you going across the street? Dearie, do you think you could help me cross the street?”

I turned to the woman who’d called out for help. She wore a red striped scarf wrapped around her head, only a thatch of white hair at her forehead visible. The collar of her black fur coat, knee-length and quite shaggy, was buttoned and hid her neck from the blustery Chicago wind. She was standing on the corner, holding onto the blue mailbox with one hand and clutching a cane with the other. I had intended to hurry past her as I mentally reviewed my recent ups and downs as a college student. “Of course,” I said, stepping over to her and putting my arm though hers, preparing us to walk down the aisle painted like a crosswalk.

WALK

“It’s clear. We can walk,” I said and thus we began our painstaking journey.  For the two steps it took an average person to get from the mailbox to the curb, it took us at least ten more. By the time we reached the curb, “Walk” had flashed and then changed.

DON’T WALK

Jean apologized for delaying me.

“Does it hurt very much?” I asked, watching as she closed her eyes and scrunched up her lips in a pucker of pain.

“Arthritis,” she said. “And yes, it hurts a bit.”

WALK

Jean and I moved forward, inch-by-inch, baby-stepping our way onto Clark Street. We’d managed to get to the yellow stripe running down the middle of the road before the sign changed.

DON’T WALK

We kept going. Inch by inch. And the Chicago traffic piled up and horns began to sound and we kept moving at a snail’s pace. Eventually, we made it to the curb, but the traffic had been forced to sit through two lights. As I helped her into the grocery store, she told me of how her husband had been a Baptist preacher and how he used to tell her that once he felt his work was done, he knew it’d then be time to see God. And then one day, he came to her and told her he felt his work was indeed done. “It was not long after that,” she said, her voice clear, giving no indication of her feelings, “that my husband and I were in an awful car accident and he died.”

It was only when I looked into her eyes, those wonderful expressive eyes, did I see her sadness, her pain, her love. “Oh, Jean,” I breathed, squeezing her hand. “I’m so sorry.”

She met my eyes. “Bless you child.”

She allowed me to get her a cart, which helped her walk as she made her way around the store. Together, we passed along the aisles, neither of us picking out much. The main reason she’d come to the store was for her cat Golden Boy, so named for his golden eyes. So with three cans of Fancy Feast, one roll of Scot Tissue toilet paper and a box of Dove ice cream bars (milk chocolate with vanilla ice cream), her shopping was complete.

“This is all you need?” It seemed crazy to me, to go through so much to get so little.

She smiled. “Sometimes the simplest things can bring the most joy.”

We paid for our groceries. A cab seemed to be the best idea for her return trip home. She hugged me good-bye and kissed my cheek before whispering in my ear, “God was watching over me today when he sent you to help me.” She patted my hand. “I hope I haven’t delayed you.”

As I watched the cab drive off, I was reminded of the story she’d told me of being in Europe with her husband and thirty orphans wished to come home with them. Easy to understand since I, as an adult, wished I could’ve gone home with her, too.

And I couldn’t help but think if she hadn’t called out to me, I would’ve hurried past her, oblivious to all but my self-indulgent thoughts. By taking her arm, I believed that I was helping her, but in that one courageous moment of a stranger asking for help, she helped me. This strong, loving woman touched my life and taught me that finding joy in the simplest things can be worth the effort.

___

AMiles author photo COLORAndrea Miles currently lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband of 11 years and their three sons, ages 8, 7 and 4. When she’s not homeschooling or refereeing sibling fights, she’s staring in the freezer and wondering what she can make for dinner. She recently celebrated the publication of her first novel Trespassers. Visit her online at www.andreamiles.comOtherwise, how did Andrea’s words strike you and haunt you and change you?  Leave a comment for her below!