Guest post Wednesday, guest post Wednesday! We’re coming atcha day a late, but that’s okay because Grace-Grace-Grace. Meanwhile, I’ve got a treat for you. I’ve got words from one of my mama-friends that were exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve got a nightly ritual for you that will melt your heart and make you want to focus on the positive instead of the negative. I’ve got a story that will make love stir in your bones. Friends, enjoy Bri’s words today.
I want my son to know in his bones that he is loved.
Tonight I tucked my crazy three year old into his bed and asked him if I could count his fingers. He said yes and held out his hand with the fingers outstretched and waited.
“I love you because you are a big helper—and you set the table for dinner. I love you because you are growing up so fast—and you washed your hair all by yourself for the very first time today. I love you because you have the best laugh, and I loved chasing you around the kitchen and hearing you giggle. I love you how you gave me a million kisses when I came home today, it made me feel so loved. And I love that you did not fuss at all when we ended that episode of “Jake the Pirate” before it was over so we could have dinner!”
And then I kiss his palm so he can hold onto my love as he falls asleep.
I started counting his fingers a few months ago because, to be honest, being his Mama was draining. He is in the trenches of three, whining and testing boundaries regularly. He is declaring his independence in the most obnoxious ways like announcing he does NOT like macaroni and cheese, even though that was what he requested for dinner and it is literally his favorite food of all time.
He makes me crazy.
One night, I looked at the day and realized that the balance of our interactions was skewed. I was spending more time correcting him than encouraging him. I spent more time feeling exasperated with him than grateful for him. It left us both feeling exhausted. So that night I snuggled up to my little boy and started telling him all the things I loved about him. The list flowed from me with very little effort and I felt the tension of the day melt away. His eyes danced as he heard me talk about him. We were both getting exactly what we needed. I vowed to keep telling him a new list every night.
In order to come up with a list every night, I am paying attention to him more closely. I am remembering the great parts in the day and forgetting the hard parts. I give him more opportunities to be helpful, loving, or silly. Instead of sending him to time-out when he reacts poorly to something, I am giving him more do-overs and chances to respond better—and he usually does. And even on days when he doesn’t he is learning that my love for him is bigger than any of his transgressions. Even on days when he drives me crazy I am reminded how easy it is to list of why I love him.
Some nights when I ask him if he wants me to count his fingers he says “No thanks.” The first time he declined, I was a little offended. I worried that this ritual that means so much to me didn’t resonate with him like I thought it did.
Then the next night he declined again and said, “No thanks. I know.”
Bri Amarillas lives in the Bay Area with her super-hot husband and crazy son. Her favorite things are coffee dates, good wine, and watching someone talk passionately about something they’re obsessed with. She can be found instagrammin’ and having dance parties in her kitchen to Taylor Swift. OH MAN. Cara here again. I’m pretty sure Bri wrote this directly to me alone, and I just happen to share it with the rest of you. So, how did her story strike your heart-strings today?
I’ve been wanting to tell you this for awhile. Perhaps I haven’t done the subject matter justice. Perhaps I should have shown up on your doorstep with a poster board covered in bubble letters and colored with Magic Markers and adorned with stickers, and waved it over my head like John Cusack and his boom box in Say Anything. Perhaps I should have made this the message, weekly, here on the blog, or at least sent you a text so that you’d know I was 100%, cross-my-heart-hope-to-die-serious about these words.
But I didn’t, so you’ll hear it now:
You matter. Your time matters. Who you are and what gives you life matters. And you are so uniquely made, so specifically created, so wonderfully pieced together in your quirky, wacky ways, that there is no one else like you.
So, make time for yourself. Make yourself a priority. Make your free time, those fringe hours every single one of us has in our days, a priority. Because making time for yourself makes a healthier, happier you, and it makes for healthier, happier relationships for those around you.
Now, let me say this: I’m mostly saying this to my Lady Friends. Man-Friends, I mean not to exclude you, and you’re welcome to keep reading, but being on the woman side of the equation, I can’t speak for your kind, at least not today. But, you too are human. And you too absolutely, positively matter – as does your time and your resources and your relationships, and every other fill-in-the-blank you want to tack on here. But I think sometimes we females, whether we’re singled or married, mothers or give-’em-back aunties, working inside the home or making ends meet outside the home, tend to lose sight of ourselves. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder and extra push just a little bit more to make time for us.
So, point A: You matter. Believe it. Receive it.
Point B: Do something about it. Now if you’re a reader, as you know I am and as I know many of you are, you can start by reading Jessica N. Turner’s new book, The Fringe Hours. Because this is not a book about adding more to your plate – doing more and being more and adding more more-more-more into your life – but this is about making time for yourself. Because (point A), you matter.
Not fully convinced of Jessica’s book? Take a look at three of my favorite quotes…
“Stop trying to be everything for everyone and start investing in who and what really matters.”
“Just because something is a good thing doesn’t mean it is good for this moment in your life.This truth has taken a long time for me to accept. But the more I embrace it, the better my life is.”
“You have to figure out in the context of your own priorities what’s important and give yourself to those, because most of us are overrun with the urgent. So we sacrifice the important on the altar of the urgent, and we never get to those things that really matter.”
As you read the book, you’ll be able to pinpoint what gives you life in those fringe hours – and, quite honestly, what doesn’t give you life. Jessica encourages her reader to choose three things – just three things – that fill you up, and to continue to hone in on those things.
For me, my list narrowed down to these three items: cooking, reading and exercising. [I’ll also add writing and watching melodramatic episodes of Parenthood onto the list, but for our purposes I’ll stick with the first three.] So, I’m making an effort to hone in on those life-giving items. I don’t cook every day, but when I do, I like to get my hands dirty, experimenting and churning love into each bite. When I’m holed up with a good book, Life Returns. And when I get an hour at the gym – children in childcare, water in hand – I am set to make it through the rest of the day.
So, friend, whether you read her book or not, make time for yourself. You matter and your time matters, and as a self-declared Advocate for Mattering, you matter, you matter, you matter.
Love and a smattering of mattering kisses,
Cara “I matter too!” Meredith
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: leave a comment, win a copy. ACTUALLY, win one of two copies of the book (sponsored by Jessica’s release team). Giveaway closes Friday, 2/27 at noon. If you don’t want to win a copy, you can still leave a comment and state otherwise. Because, you matter, you matter, you matter! Amen. Otherwise, I’m curious: What three things give you life in your fringe hours?
Even though the HBH (Hot Black Husband) can dance till the cows come home, he isn’t the most holiday-spirited dude on the planet. So when such a day – like this past Saturday, in all its glittery, pink and red, heart-adorned, Americanized glory – arrives, his response is usually the following: But shouldn’t we celebrate love every day?
Yes, yes we should.
(See also: But shouldn’t we celebrate Christ’s birth every day? Shouldn’t we celebrate our independence everyday? Each sentence takes on various fill-in-the-blank forms, given the intended celebration).
So when the day dedicated to Valentinus rolled around, it seemed to catch both of us by surprise. We’ve been up to our eyeballs scouring Craig’s List, Zillow and Hot Pads, looking for a place to call our own twenty miles east. This resides alongside a baby who thinks 4 am is a perfectly decent hour to commune, and a two-year-old whom I believe really is part monkey with his Hulk-like climbing skills. But we did manage to go on a hike, all four of us, that morning and look at a potential house and hit up the grocery store.
Since I consider it a minor miracle to simply leave the house, I’m pretty sure Jesus arrived in flesh and bones that day.
When dinner time arrived, Cancan got a plate of ketchup, with Dino Nuggets and french fries on the side. Frodo, who’s five months old, got a bowl full of prunes puree’,and the HBH manned the fort outside kitchen walls. Pinterest remained far from our mantle, and there weren’t any construction paper hearts, anywhere. The decorations I bought “to season the house, year-round!” continue to sit in a box in the garage, hopeful for wall space next year. We didn’t make Valentine’s for our friends or for each other and we didn’t bedazzle the kitchen tile with red sprinkles nor the cupboard doors with white frosting. I’m also pretty sure Christmas was just here yesterday, so giving gifts and receiving gifts, really wasn’t on our radar.
Truth be told, there wasn’t anything that separated this day from any other day.
And according to the Wife and Mama and Friend Rulebook, isn’t this supposed to be high on my list of to-do’s?
Not when you’re in pure survival mode, my friends.
Not when you feel like you’re still trying to figure out the laws and physics of motherhood, the ins and outs of the publishing industry, the rules and regulations of loving others – including your spouse, your partner, your other – well.
But we did do one thing. And what I’m about to tell you is none other than Cara’s Brilliant Game-Changer of a Plan for Your Life.
So, are you ready?
Get out a pen and paper and write this down. Tape this to the front of your forehead and stick a magnet on it, fridge-side:
We put the kids to bed and ate dinner alone.
I know, brilliant. Who knew?
I put Frodo down, and he put Cancan to bed. Since our older son’s nightly routine takes a little while longer, I then went downstairs and made dinner. As much as we too wanted to partake of ketchup, Dino Nuggets and french fries, we actually ate an uninterrupted meal of salmon and quinoa, asparagus and Pinot Noir. We ate from a cheese plate, complete with jeweled cheese knives and cutting board, and we gorged on red velvet cupcakes (from the local bakery, because again, no bedazzling the kitchen tile for me).
We had a tablecloth – a tablecloth! – and candles – candles! – and Chris Botti played on the Pandora station until the Little Woman Living Inside the Radio Station interrupted us with a plea approximately 180 decibels higher to purchase our loved one a car for the most loving of holidays.
Now, this is where I insert a picture of the evening.
I show you the table, complete with filtered food-porn shots. I pridefully boast of the selfie of Me and the HBH, the lone one we show you after ten different poses were taken in order to make sure our Endless Love was properly captured.
But I don’t have any pictures to show you, because sometimes a night is so good and real and perfect, you don’t need to prove it to anyone else. You can leave your phone in the other room, where it should be anyway, and you can just enter into the evening, fully alive, fully present.
So, do it. That’s my brilliant plan for your life …and it’s our brilliant plan to incorporate once-a-week in the year to come. Hold me to it, will you?
So, WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS BLESSED THING CALLED EATING AFTER YOUR KIDS GO TO BED? Whether your children are two, twelve, or twenty-five, I bet you can work this into your schedule. I bet you can do it. In fact, I bet we can do this together. In this with you, in this with you indeed.
Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday! We’ve got a treat of treats in the ol’ blogosphere today, as author, blogger and editor Ed Cyzewski is with us today. Because y’all, I’m telling you: Ed is the real deal. He clarifies the hard-to-understand. He makes the rest of us feel normal. He pursues his gifts and his dreams and encourages his fellow sojourners to do the same. So, regardless of religious preference, engorge yourself in what he offers each one of us today. Enjoy.
I never want to portray myself as the kind of person who has amazing self-discipline. So let’s dispel those notions right off the bat.
I have never had a regular exercise routine.
When it comes to dieting, my only response to the question, “Do you want a donut?” is “YES!”
If you weighed my accumulated guilt from skipping quiet time, Bible study, devotions, or whatever else you want to call Bible reading could give a mill stone a run for its money.
I have never stuck to a New Year’s resolution.
I usually forget my “one word” for the new year—often before February.
I’m terrible at going to bed early.
I don’t have an amazing track record when it comes to waking up early to write.
If I haven’t given you a smug sense of superiority in comparison to me, I hope you can at least relate to me a bit. Whatever you read next, I want you to hold onto the tension of my struggles with self-discipline and my growth through one simple ritual. Maybe you’ll believe you can do anything that I can do.
By the way, my major turnaround via a ritual happened because I was wasting time on social media one day—which is basically every day.
Facebook, long my enemy that provides distractions, sources of conflict, and news stories that I really don’t need to read, gave me a gift. I wasn’t looking for it. My friend Holly just dropped it in my lap. Holly always finds great links to share. This time it was an iPhone app called Examine—a misspelling of the Ignatian practice called Examen.
The Examen is a series of questions that you answer at the end of the day. It’s kind of a way to take stock of your spiritual and mental status. Much like John Wesley’s questions that helped his followers determine, “How is it with your soul?”, the Examine asks about the good and the bad of your day.
I’m already a sucker for any excuse to use my iPhone. The Examine just provided yet another thing to do with it.
I can’t tell you why I stuck with it. I’ve been working through the Examine for well over a year, perhaps two at this point, and it has quite simply revolutionized the personal, spiritual, and professional aspects of my life. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a series of questions and an invitation to spend five minutes in silence.
In just a few minutes I can tap into the best and worst parts of each day. I can zero in on what gives me life, what I treasure, and what has dragged me down.
Every night I tapped the same things into the Examine over and over and over again. If you aren’t sure what your issues are, try typing them into your smart phone for three months straight. You can’t help but see them with clarity!
The Good Things in My Life Were Actually Bad Things
Night after night, I answered questions about the encouraging parts of my day. The questions included:
What relationships encouraged you?
What energized you?
When did you experience God?
My answers related to my work about 90% of the time for the first three months or so.
A bunch of people liked my latest blog post!
I have a new client at work!
People left good feedback on my project!
My editor was encouraging about the latest chapter!
I felt energized by my new book project!
I felt close to God when I was writing!
You get the picture: work, work, work.
If you had asked me about my work/life balance before the Examine came along, I would have told you that I need to work hard during this season of my life. I’m building a new business, and there’s just no way around that.
However, I had staked far too much of my identity, self-worth, and success in the progress of my work. In fact, the more I took notice of my work, I realized that I hadn’t really relaxed in the evening for about four years because I always felt like I needed to get more work done.
With the unassailable evidence of the Examine before my eyes every evening, I finally started to make some changes.
I read Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond to get a better handle on my personal identity.
I started shutting down my computer at 5 pm.
I became more intentional with how I spent time with my family. When it came time to take note of my day in the Examine, I ran through all of the time with my family before considering anything related to work.
If the good parts of my day were ugly, you can only imagine how the bad parts looked!
Facing My Fears and Worries
The other half of the Examine asks a series of “dissonance” questions that identify what’s discouraging or stressful. There are prompts like: “What am I least thankful for?” and “What’s keeping me awake at night?”
Not to say that work wasn’t an issue at times, it certainly was. I was often more worried about finances—one of the results of my work.
And so I once again faced a three-month or more barrage of Examine answers concerning my worries about future bills or the potential of a hefty bill in the future. I noticed how hard it is to pray the Our Father, trusting God with my daily bread, when I really just want a three-year supply.
I’m learning to recognize what it feels like to worry and to live in fear. I’m also learning that faith doesn’t always lead us to a comfortable place. Even those led by God walk through dark valleys.
I can’t tell you that I’m out of the woods with all of this worry and stress over work and money, but I see these issues with profound clarity. Best of all, spending a few minutes each evening with the Examine keeps me honest.
I could try lying to myself, but having spent the first few months of the Examine being brutally honest about myself, I’ve seen the benefits of brutal honesty about my life situation. Ignoring the pain, worry, and imbalances of my life won’t fix anything, even if an overarching sense of despair drove me to denial in the first place.
The Examine isn’t necessarily prayer. It’s that essential first step before prayer. It’s the crow bar that busts our lives open and prevents us from hiding the truth. It’s the practice I need in order to pray with both honesty and clarity.
Without the Examine, I suspect that I would continue to work myself into the ground, while missing the joys of my family and the peace that God offers those who trust in him. And when I start to lose my way again, for I surely will, the Examine is one tool that will help me get back on course.
* * *
Postscript: By the way, I write at length about the Examen and how it impacts my prayer life and work as a writer in my new eBook: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together.It’s available for pre-order at $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99).
It all started with a comment, an afterthought scribbled in the margin of my manuscript:
“It sounds like there’s more to the story than you’re letting on,” my friend wrote. “So, what really happened? Will you let us into the pain?”
Those three sentences prompted me to be a truth-teller.
Those twenty-three words birthed it all.
You see, I joined this writing gig a little later in life. I had the heart, and knowing the transition into a word-filled existence would take time, I carried with me the motivation to keep going, keep going, keep going. I had the skill, at least on paper, but I had yet to find my voice.
I hadn’t yet believed enough in myself, in the story that was mine alone to tell. I didn’t trust the truth buried deep inside me. And I hadn’t dealt with the pain of all the change that’d taken place in my life in less than a year’s time: a move and the loss of a dog; a baby and morphing, changing friendships; the death and birth of a traditional existence in the workforce.
First, I had to deal with Change itself.
So I played it safe. I held my cards close to my chest, hinting at pain while continuing to put on my biggest and best smile. There existed at the heart of it all a grand paradox of sorts: I feared rejection just as strongly as I craved recognition. I yearned for fame without having to do any of the work. But most of all, I believed that I wouldn’t be liked if I told the whole truth: that I was lonely and sad, that I feared I’d make an irrevocable mistake.
Day after day, even if it was just a two-sentence note scratched on the back of a grocery receipt, I kept writing. Truthfully, I wondered if I’d actually be able to do it, if I’d be able to be my most authentic self, on paper, through my words.
But then I read my friend’s words – you know, that comment written on the side of my paper – and it birthed something in me. It quickened my pulse and made me come alive, simultaneously, magically, resolutely.
Fearful and scared and nervous about telling the truth and embracing the messiness, I entered in.
At first, the changes were purely technical and began with the basics of punctuation. I stopped using smiley face emoticons in my blog posts, when I realized that a colon and parenthesis weren’t there to bring joy into the hearts of my readers, but to instead plea for my own acceptance and affirmation. Upon finishing an article, I’d scour through it for overused exclamation point–a sure sign, for me at least, that I felt like I should always end on a joy-filled, positive note.
Want to hear more about how I became a truth-teller, through writing specifically? Click here and head on over to The Gift of Writing’s website, where I’m now a monthly contributor! Otherwise, how have YOU become a truth-teller?
Rituals, rituals! Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday! Exclamation point, exclamation point! As usual, you are in for a treat this morning with one of my favorites, Cara Strickland. We’ve only met once in person, but she’s become a real-life friend who asks the hard questions and invites others into her journey. And that is exactly what her writing today does, so enter in and enjoy!
“Why?” is my favorite question.
Long before I knew what it meant to be contrary, I was questioning everything, wondering why it was done one way rather than another, or why I had to do it (or couldn’t). I wanted to know about the exceptions to the rule. I wanted to push against truth and make sure it would hold my weight.
As a child, my questions were about the world and how I functioned in it. There is a story which has become a favorite of mine as an adult. My grandfather had passed away, and I had Heaven on my mind. I began to think about what I would pack to take with me when I went to join my Poppa. My mother had to break it to me that I couldn’t take my clothes with me.
I still wonder about this. I think Heaven might be better with my cozy, familiar red velour robe, or my maxi dress that feels like a nightgown. I knew that clothes were necessary for life on earth, and I had my favorites then: the sleeveless jersey dress with the seashells on it (which I would wear again in a second if it was still my size). Why couldn’t I bring a suitcase?
I’ve always thought that it is this relentless curiosity which turned me into a writer. I’ve always written, like Joan Didion, to find out what I think. The words on the page are the adult equivalents of the questions of my childhood.
Some time ago, I read a book called Sensible Shoesby Sharon Garlough Brown. It’s a piece of fiction, married to a spiritual retreat. While it has compelling characters and an interesting story, I found myself following along on the spiritual journey and asking along with the characters: “what bothers you?” This has become my refrain in the months since. I am learning to pay attention to my discomfort, whether it’s about a relationship, a position I hold, or my environment. I am learning that discomfort is one of the first gentle teachers, holding hands with those who are willing to ask why.
In my early morning yoga classes, we often begin with a scan of our minds, before moving on to our bodies. We look for anything that seems different from the last time we practiced, any areas of tension or stiffness. When I feel a tight hip, or my back isn’t quite comfortable laying on the floor, I think back over the time between practices, trying to pinpoint the cause. I can’t always figure out why my balance is off or my foot is inflexible, I’m not sure that is always the point. But as I move through my hour, I move from asking “why?” to asking “what now?” or “how about this?”
In this same way, I have learned to move through my life, like a sun salutation. I pay attention, refusing to push through questions or injury. As I sit with my discomfort, breathing through the tightness, and scattered thoughts, I begin to discern the outlines, not of an answer, but of the next question.
Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know.Come say hi to her on Twitter or Facebook. She likes making new friends. Don’t you love Cara’s “outside the box” ritual? How does asking questions further lead you to finding an answer? Encourage our friend today, and leave a comment below!
You may recall this picture from a couple weeks ago:
Baby Brother and I flew across country so I could marry our dear friends Jeff and Jeannie. Today, I share some of those words with you (minus the part about how they met – that’s their story to tell). The bolded words in the latter half of the homily are birthed ideas and rephrased words from author Ken Wytzma’s new book, The Grand Paradox. So, if you like what you see, be sure to check out his writing (and, leave a comment below to win a gently-used copy of the book).
Like many of you, I traveled to be here today. Yesterday my almost-five month old son, Theo, and I flew across country from San Francisco to Tri-Cities. On the main flight into Charlotte, we landed ourselves a window seat with NO ONE in the middle seat – miracle of miracle – and a kindly potter named Tom two seats to our right.
At one point Tom and I got to talking, him about the pottery he throws and sells, and me about its relevance to Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and the closest thing to pottery I’ll ever understand: the epic scene in Ghost.
“You know,” he began to say to me, in between sips of whiskey and coke, “I need to be in Orlando tonite for an art show, so I’m cutting it close. But I just had to see my girl in California – $900 for the ticket, man, but she’s worth it. She’s worth it all.”
…And as he said those words, it hit me: today is the She’s worth it, she’s worth it all day for both of you. For Jeannie, you’ve been chosen – it has been declared that you are worth it all. Having walked alongside you for the past seven years, I celebrate this most momentous day with you. As your friend, I rejoice that Jeff has chosen you to be his bride, to partner with you and be his Other in this journey of life. Likewise, Jeff, Jeannie chose you in return, for you have captured her heart. You have unlocked the Real Jeannie hidden within, and with confidence, bravery and fearlessness, she has chosen you. When she met up with you in New Orleans, when you flew out to San Francisco, when a thousand texts and phone calls and emails were relayed, and when you got down on one knee, she said yes, yes yes, yes. She too chose you.
And that’s where our story of choosing picks up and fast-forwards to today: because, friends, the One Thing that separates today from every other day is that today you officially make your choosing known. You boldly declare your choice of LOVE to God, to each other, and to this flock of family and friends gathered around you.
Because Jeannie and Jeff, when we make the choice to love, love always wins, for there is never a time when love is wrong. Just as Christ loved the church, so you ought to love one another, and so you ought to continue to make the conscious choice to love one another.
As Christians, you have heard and adhered to these words, so let me end this time focusing in on Christ as our center: to Jesus, love is not just a sanction – it is not simply something we are given approval or permission to do, over and over again, because it is good, because of our status as humans or as followers of Him – but it is an imperative. And when love is an imperative, it becomes a noun, morphing into an essential and an urgent thing that we must do, that we must always make the choice to do.
So maybe that’s why numerous brides and grooms, on their wedding days, choose to hear the sacred words of 1 Corinthians 13 uttered …because it’s true: the choice to love never fails. So, today – and always – might your hearts be oriented toward the love of God, toward the love of each other, and toward the love of others, for all that follows will then sort itself out.
Because, Jeannie and Jeff, love is. Love does. Love holds and love believes. Love suffers and love gives, but love, in and of it self, is never wrong.
So, what is love to you? Is it both sanction and imperative? And what kindly potter of a man named Tom have you met on the airplane recently? If you want to win a copy of Ken’s book write “pick me! pick me!” in the comments, so I know to “pick you, pick you!” – otherwise, leave some love for kicks and giggles alone. Winner will be chosen on Friday, February 13th.