Lessons from a Stranger.

Remember when I told you about that frazzled time I had at Target a month or two ago?  Well, that piece morphed into an article on leadership featured yesterday at She Loves magazine.  Enjoy!  

L_Cara-750

She didn’t have to do it. But she saw the tears in my eyes and she saw the reddening frustration in my face and she saw the screaming toddler slumped over my protruding, bloated belly.

She saw me, and that was all it took. And in that moment, receiving her gift of kindness was the only thing I could do in return.

Because it was just one of those days: Thomas the Train wasn’t enough today, and Mama ran out of more “Berries! Berries!” All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and hibernate for another nine months, and all my son wanted to do was run and catch and throw, repeat—run and catch and throw, repeat.

By the time we arrived at Target, he wasn’t having the cart and I wasn’t having his tantrums, but what’s a girl to do when you’re already splitting the one remaining square of toilet paper in two, and all the baby-in-womb seems to crave is a bowl of Quaker Oats?

Although I could have—and perhaps should have—left the store the minute we walked inside, I remained determined to win. I’ll beat him at his own game, I thought to myself. But there’s no beating the stubborn will of a 25-month old—and by the time we met that Stranger-of-a-Saint in line, we’d both fought the good fight … and lost.

So somehow, perhaps because she saw me, she just knew. She knew we needed to not wait in line a minute longer than necessary: she began clearing her items from the conveyer belt, putting them back into her cart, motioning her young daughter to help. In broken English, she said, “Go ahead of us, please.” She waved and she motioned at me—and she, the giver of kindness—tacked on a please, to me, the recipient.

All I could do was receive.

All I could do was hope she saw the thank you, thank you, thank you of my teary eyes, and the bless you, bless you, bless you emanating from choked-up throat.

Now, a week later, I think and reflect on this little two-minute gift of selflessness, and I can’t help but muse that she is a woman who knows how to lead.

And it makes me realize that leadership looks different from my own original definitions of it, when I toted a leader as the one with wit and charm and good looks, to boot. A gregarious, up-front, hilarious attitude was naturally a part of the package, as was—at least in the Evangelical circles of my youth—the one who preached the best sermon, who loved Jesus the most, who emanated holiness the best.

Click here to read the rest of the article – otherwise, how have everyday experiences taught you life’s bigger lessons?  

the ladies in waiting (in her shoes).

In-Her-Shoes-Ladies-in-Waiting

I look down at my feet: they’re puffier and a little wider than usual, but what, really, is “usual” these days?  The left and the right, well, they haven’t worn heels for a good couple of months now, though not for lack of want.  Instead, they’re happiest when propped up on a chair, when resting instead of moving, when still and submissive instead of pushing full-steam ahead, instead of hitting the ground running.

Like sledgehammers attached to the end of leggy appendages, they’re kind of my ladies-in-waiting.

Because really, every part of me – my ceaseless mind, my restless heart, my growing belly – is in wait.  Baby Brother will arrive sometime the latter half of August, we think, and until then we play the Great Waiting Game.  We embrace the liminal space, the in-between time of not quite knowing, of wondering and watching.  This whole idea of liminal space, or liminalityas coined by Franciscan friar and author, Richard Rohr, is nothing short of beauty-filled to me: it gives word and definition and meaning to the tapping impatience of my toes, to the elongated, reaching stretch of my calves, my ankles, my feet.

A thousand times a day, it seems, my mind is submerged in questions (with these that follow solely about the baby – forget the rest of my internal musings): Who will he be, and what will his little personality eventually morph into?  When will he actually arrive?  Will my love for him be immediate, snap-of-the-fingers quick, or will it grow with time?  Can I truly ever love him as much as I love his big brother?  And whoever thought parenting more than one child was a good idea?  For when there are more questions than answers, when we know that change is on the horizon but it’s just not there yet, that’s liminal space.  When we feel like we’re living in the gray – even if we believe The Gray an ethereal place to be – we embrace liminality.  We lean into waiting.  We grab hold of the ellipses.  Maybe we even whisper the words of U2’s “40,” a song that loosely echoes Psalm 40’s waiting theme:

I waited patiently for the Lord,

He inclined and heard my cry

He lifted me up, out of the pit

Out of the miry clay.

 Though not listed above, my favorite part of the melody comes with the chorus, when Bono asks (and the audience repeats) the same simple question, “How long?”  How long am I to sing this song?  How long am I to be in this waiting space?  At one point or another, it’s the song we each find ourselves singing – as evidenced by concertgoers while on tour for U2’s 1983 album, War.  “40” ended the night.  And the haunting chorus “How long?  …How long?” continued its echoing lament long after the musicians left the stage.

Because it might not be our song today, but it might be the song we start singing tomorrow, or on tomorrow’s tomorrow.  And when “How long?” begins its wail, we take heart, knowing we’re not alone.  We’re not alone in waiting for news of the diagnosis, and we’re not alone in our loneliness.  We’re not alone in the newness of transition, and we’re not alone in the pain of the infertility and in the pain of labor and delivery alike.

And this, I suppose, gives my weary sledgehammer, ladies-in-waiting feet hope – for they know they’re not alone.

Today’s post originally appeared on my friend Ginger’s blog – click here to check out her words and to see the full “In Her Shoes” series.  I think you’ll love it!  In the meantime, how are you living in a liminal place?  And (more importantly), how badly do your feet want to don a pair of heels?

what i’m into :: june 2014

Oh friends, it’s been a lovely-wonderful-busy couple of weeks here on the homestead – so much so that you’ve probably noticed I’ve been a little absent as of late …which is exactly what should happen in these summertime months, if you ask me!  You will see Guest Post Tuesday every week, and the occasional other post that happens to strike my fancy – but in the meantime, I’m linking up with Lovely Leigh for the monthly What I’m Into series.  Join us!  

Speaking at camp!  Love Frontier Ranch.  Love middle school kids.  Love this staff.
Speaking at camp! Love Frontier Ranch. Love middle school kids. Love this staff.

I read…

Holy Is the Day (Weber 5/5) – I heard her speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and loved what she had to say.  Her book did not disappoint.

The Goldfinch (Tartt, 4/5) – LONGEST NOVEL OF MY LIFE.  Well, Les Mis still wins, but this is a close second.

The Prophet (Gibran, 3/5) – While I wanted to like this better, it just wasn’t my favorite.

God’s Hotel (Sweet, 3/5) – The idea of writing a book about Laguna Honda, an alms hospital is fascinating – in actually, it got a little too political for my taste.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1 and #2 (Riordan, 3/5) –

Attachments (Rowell (4/5) – RAINBOW ROWELL FOR PRESIDENT!  I’m happy to note that she doesn’t just stick to YA.  Loved it.

Free (Scandrette, 4/5) – Read this if you want to step into financial freedom, with a spiritual background.  Don’t read it a) on Kindle or b) if you feel like you’ve already got a hold on this in your life.

The Honest Toddler (Laditan, 4/5) – Okay, seriously – HILARIOUS.  Thank you, Honest Toddler, for your excellent parenting advice.  I will never try and put myself first again.  Ever.

I’m reading…  Handing the Truth, Everything Belongs, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3, To the Lighthouse, Night Music.  

I wore…  Oodles of maternity gear.  But – be not afraid! – I’m currently sporting a non-maternity summer dress that normally rests at my knees but for pregnant purposes is currently hiked up halfway up my legs.  (It’s also a we’re-not-leaving-the-house-for-the-rest-of-the-day kind of afternoon).

I wrote…  Six talks for a week at camp!  The homily for my dear cousin’s wedding!  Among other articles and the slow chapter-by-chapter book progression (exclamation point).  

I'm a marry-er and bury-er!
I’m a marry-er and bury-er!

I ate…  Veggie polenta.  Shrimp scampi.  Blueberry muffins with Greek yogurt.  Popsicles, ice cream and other delectable summer treats.

Le bebe?  Little Caramel in the womb still doesn’t have a name.  But he is 32 weeks along and growing like a champ.  (According to Baby Center, he weighs 3.5 pounds and is the size of a jicama …which I’m pretty sure is a vegetable no human on earth has ever purchased, but for the already-prepared slices in your local grocery aisle).

Old friends are the best kind of friends.  (Oh, and pregnant, too).
Old friends are the best kind of friends. (Oh, and pregnant, too).

And I laughed a hearty belly-laugh at this: 

Cuz, well, I am.

What about you?  What have you read and wrote and DONE this past month?  And how’s your belly, pregnant or not, looking these days? (Do some abs for me – thanks!)

the teetering pregnancy brain (and cabbie jack).

Photo cred: Minneapolis Park History.
Photo cred: Minneapolis Park History.

It hit me yesterday when Cancan said “leaves” (eves! eves!) and “monkey” (unkey unkey unkey, mama!) for the first time: my spongey little being is utterly brilliant, while my brain is rapidly losing its ability to function normally on an hourly basis.

Where’d I put my phone?  Searching the house, I peer underneath the usual toddler-induced hiding spots: beneath the couch and the table and the ottoman, in the toy box, tucked inside Tupperware containers in the Tupperware drawer.  I cross my fingers, hope to die that the phone hasn’t been relegated to the toilet, as per Little Man’s current obsession with flushing the toilet (and the towel and the toilet paper and his toy truck…) thirty-nine times a day now.

For the love of California’s current water drought.  Never mind our own water bill.

Four hours later the phone is found vibrating inside my bathrobe pocket – the robe, of which, might I add, I wore for an hour earlier that morning with every intention of actually showering.  But like the “mom uniform” spandex-clad clothes I tend to wear with every intention of getting my sweat on, showering and working out don’t always come to fruition as I wish they would (or should, or could).

I answer a text, congratulating myself meanwhile on being so on top of the calendar, well over a whole month in advance …only to realize that I’ve mixed up my Tuesdays for Wednesdays and Wednesdays for Thursdays.  For the third time this week.

I find myself deep in conversation with a dear friend, exchanged dialogue vibrant and alive and witty all at the same time – until Tired washes over me and I struggle to find the words for the, the, the “…you know, that place some people go to on Sunday mornings?”

“Um, church?” she says gently.  Yes, church.  Church.  

And so the 35-year-old “AMA” pregnant mama sits atop the playground teeter-totter, opposite her almost-two year old son.  Back and forth we go, teetering and tottering, his little legs bounding upward as mine pull back, repeat, again; and as gravity pulls me to the ground, he springs upward, his mind expanding and morphing and leaping while mine seems to continually descend downward.

While I laugh about it, mostly, I also curse the Great Pregnancy Instigator, hurling curses of lamentation along the lines of woe-is-me.  Woe is me who struggles with pregnancy insomnia, when I should be hibernating in preparation for the new babe.  Woe is me who can’t seem to piece together a coherent sentence when using words are, like, my livelihood.  Woe is me who can’t remember where she put her phone, again, who seems to apologize for “Pregnancy Brain” more often than not, who wonders where the Smarty Self of Yesteryear went.

And woe is me who fills her days with complaining.

Who forgets to receive the Bounty of Plentiful Grace shoveled over her mind, her heart, her body on an hourly basis.

Who neglects to just let herself be, who forgets to be be present and laugh at the days to come.

Because, really, I’m my own worst critic.  I’m the one who’s hardest on myself.  I’m the one who’s forgotten to open my eyes and see the Delight of Whimsy in the everyday.

So, if you see me, or another pregnant mama – or a sleep-deprived parent of young children, or just any ol’ human being who looks a little disheveled – do us all a favor and respond like Jack the Cabbie:

photo

Say “No worries.”  Congratulate us, IN ALL CAPS, I MIGHT ADD, on our own self-claimed pregnancy brain, since this is actually the first time you’re learning about it.  Use a copious amount of exclamation marks, and go above and beyond, and use a little smiley face at the end of it all.

Because that might just be exactly what we need to hear.

xo, c.

What about you?  How’s your pregnancy/insomnic/young parent/disheveled human brain?  And more importantly, how has someone else shown you grace?  

the change-your-life salad.

radicchio-fennel-and-olive-panzanella

Last Saturday I took BART through San Francisco, over the water to the East Bay. My wise and endearing and delightful friend Terry picked me up, and we drove backroads through the trees and sun and space to her house in the Moraga foothills.  The afternoon was hallowed, made by mere presence together; and because the HBH was hanging out with Cancan for the day, we talked when we wanted to talk, and we were quiet when we wanted to be quiet.  We made lunch together, and we sat wrapped in blankets under the northern California sun.  We questioned and we dreamed, we laughed and we felt, we soaked in the short two hours we had together.

And then we ate the most delicious salad of my life.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t found my pregnancy jam yet – with Baby #1, I constantly kept a rotisserie chicken in fridge, breaking off hunks of meat whenever carnivorous hunger arose.  But as I think naturally happens when and if a second child in utero comes along, even though you’re utterly delighted at mere thought of chunky, beautiful, helpless babe entering this world, you’ve got other things on your mind.  You’re paying attention to your almost-two year old, chasing him around the house, hoping he doesn’t destroy the mini blinds any more than his sticky, pulling fingers have already done.  You’re writing and you’re hanging out with middle school kids; you’re reading and thinking and taking time for yourself.  You’re cooking food and you’re riding your bike in circles around the neighborhood, and you’re laughing and tickling and loving your Love.

So you barely notice when that little stomach-alien kicks you after a couple bites of the salad.  But then the kick-kick-kick grows in complexity and you begin to notice that he wants more radicchio and fennel, more salami and homemade croutons.   Regardless, you give him more.  You shove more salad into your mouth, you groan food-groans and you compliment your Terry-friend again, again.  Eventually you hop on BART again, but before your boys get home, you go by the store and you grab the ingredients for this change-your-life salad for dinner that evening.  And before you realize it, you’ve eaten nothing but “Radicchio, Fennel and Olive Panzanella” for lunch and dinner on Saturday, lunch and dinner on Sunday …and lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday.  In five days’ time, you’ve successfully eaten the same mixture of yumminess for six entire meals.

And you’re pretty sure you need to head to Lunardi’s again for the third head of radicchio bought in a lifetime, this very week.  So while I’m no food blogger, let me enrich your day with the following meal, straight from Bon Appetit magazine:

IMG_3357

*Note: I substituted shaved parmesan for aged sheep’s-milk cheese, simply because I couldn’t find it in the store.

xo, c.

So, what about you?  Do you have a tendency to dive head-first into a salad, a song, a book you love without coming up for air?  Do share and have a great weekend!

when whimsy delights.

Whimsy-butterfly-deeply-thinking

whimsy :: a playful or amusing quality, a sense of humor or playfulness.

As you may recall, whimsy is my word of the year – and while there was a wild amount of whimsy in the months of December, January and early February, much of it centered around that secret thing called First Trimester.  The world’s best-kept secret is being housed in your nether regions, but initially, you don’t realize it for a good while, and after that, you’re not supposed to tell the world about it.

And so you keep your whimsy-filled trap shut.  But still…

You marvel at the fact that you went to Nordstrom Rack just a few weeks’ into pregnancy, marveling at the weight you seemed to be gaining for no apparent reason.  You buy not one, not two, but three new pairs of pants, because you just want some jeans that fit, dag nabbit!

Oh, Whimsy, you silly thing you.  

You stagger a laugh when you’re away for a writing weekend with Erin and Jeannie-friend; and after a merry night of Chardonnay and sangria and ceviche alike, you wonder why, on all weekends of the year, you end up with the 24-hour flu that’s going around.  “Unless, of course, I’m pregnant again…” you muse aloud to Erin, remembering how your body couldn’t tolerate alcohol with your first pregnancy.  Later, when you realize that your musings were correct, you just shake your head.

Is all of life this whimsical?  

And then it’s Christmas day: again, you seem to have caught this icky bug going around, but since the HBH seems to have it too, you deem it food poisoning.  That day, you stay in your pajamas until the early hours of the afternoon, and eventually you find yourself “talking” to your family over Skype.  Merriment abounds, and although you still don’t even know it yourself, at one point you stand up from your chair and turn to the side – wherein your mother, your father, your sister and your brother-in-law all turn to each other from that side of the camera, and mouth, “She’s pregnant?!”  They see your belly.  They know this protruding look of an expectant mama’s stomach.  They realize you’re knocked up before you do.

Whimsy happens, people.  It happens.  

And you think about these stories, these tales of little and big, of delight and woe, and you laugh.  These everyday snapshots amuse your insides and they tickle your heart strings.  You find yourself approaching the day with a lighter step, because this little slice of humor-pie has landed on your plate.  And, just as whimsy graced your life in the barren winter months, its playfulness will continue to dance beside you …if, of course, you’re willing to see it.

Whimsy, come my way, come what may.  I double dog dare you.

xo, c.

What about you?  How has whimsy danced across your stage as of late?  And more importantly, how excited are you for once-a-week stories of pregnant delight?    It happens, friends.  It happens.

the beast & the beautiful ordinary.

Photo cred: SheKnows.
Photo cred: SheKnows.

My hair is a beast.

There’s no two ways around it: I used to have dreamy and lust-filled auburn hair, if I do say so myself.  When I actually took the time to do my hair, (which Math Majors, is generally never), my head was the envy of hair stylists everywhere.

And then pregnancy and birth happened, and all of the sudden my hair became its own zip code, home to a vibrant and unruly monster.  There’s new growth – everywhere – and the little curls around my hairline that were just darling in the 7th grade are now just freakishly frightening as a 34-year-old.  Hair products that worked two years ago yield utter greasiness now, or they just stop working altogether, and my half-curly, half-straight mane can’t make up its mind.  I’m ever, always on the search for my coiffure’s perfect catch, scouring Yelp and asking friends and begging strangers for their hairdresser’s information.

And then finally, when I think I’ve found The One, I faithfully save pictures of cute, savvy bobs on Pinterest and my desktop and iphone alike, begging for a shorter ‘do.  It worked when I was 22 – why can’t it work now?  And with great ease and gentleness the reply is always the same: um, I don’t think that will exactly work for your hair.  The words “mushroom” and “volume” and “oh, no, Honey Bunny, no,” are usually uttered, and I’m left defeated, mane home to its usual shoulder-length bore.

But I’m accepting this first-world problem in all its drab glory, for Jill the Brit made up for it on Saturday afternoon.

Nothing was out of the ordinary: she told me that my dream of sporting a bob was not an option today, or ever, and as she washed and conditioned my hair, I closed my eyes, realizing the peace and quiet and perfection of a toddler-less hour.  She talked when I wanted to talk, and her pits didn’t reek of onions and leeks, and she worked around my very important need to read the latest issues of People and Star magazines.  Does Beyonce ever wear pants?  When will Prince Harry marry Cressida?

I mean, pressure must be on with Will and Kate.

She let me sip my English Breakfast tea in its entirety, and she only left my side to chat with a customer once.  [I’ve visited some overdetermined, multi-tasking stylists, who cut my curls with one hand while applying color to the next chair over, and then find it their duty to trample the receptionist in an eager effort to answer to answer every phone call and enthusiastically greet each new patron who walks through the door.  Bueller …Bueller?]

But Jill the Brit got it.

And finally, with mere minutes to go, after I’d woken up from the scalp massage, and read through my magazines and sipped my hot, hairless tea, we began chatting.  And she told me how she wanted to be a stylist from the time she was a pre-teen, practicing on her girlfriends back home – and how she feels so, so lucky that this is her job.  This is what she gets to do.

And I began to picture our little waddling, toddling man and his Dada back home: he was probably crawling up on the coffee table that very minute, remnants from the garbage can caking his fingers (because digging through the trash is his new favorite hobby).  College football is playing in the background, and he’s babbling to the screen and to his father, throwing balls and zooming cars and eating crusty bits of Cheerios and banana off the floor.

“Yeah, me too,” I said softly.  And I actually believed it.

I do feel so, so lucky that this is my job, that this is what I get to do.  I get to be with our boy, and then I get to dabble in a bit of writing and speaking and blogging on the side.  Proclaiming Truth and Beauty and Hope has become part and parcel of my daily job.  And while I struggle, hourly it seems, with the Comparison Game, and with wanting to be so very extraordinary instead of mere Ordinary, I realize that what I so often see as “drudgery is another person’s delight.”  I am reminded of Seth Godin’s short article about this very topic last week, exhorting that “The privilege to do our work, to be in control of the promises we make and the things we build, is something worth cherishing.”

Yes.  Yes.  

I needed Godin’s reminder, and I needed Jill the Brit’s reminder.  I needed the reminder  that the Ordinary is beautiful, and that this life I get to enter into really is wonder-filled and extraordinary in and of itself.

And that, if you ask me, is far from ordinary.

What about you?  Does Ordinary sometimes trip you up?  How is your ordinary actually, really and truly, extraordinary?