Nothing Ordinary

The search for Beauty can consume me.

I think about the adventures I’ve been on: hiking into the middle of Yosemite with a week’s worth of food on my back, surfing for the first time on the shores of Thailand. Staring with awe at the historical magnificence of the Roman Colosseum and taking in The Tempest and the Shrew in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. Breathing in the fresh air of the Swiss Alps and tickling my toes in cold water off the shores of La Maddalena.

I could go on, for the memories are many. Because if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to spot Beauty when we’re viewing the Big Sights and visiting the Most Beautiful Places and having the Adventure of a Lifetime.

But it’s that much harder to spot Beauty in the ordinary everyday.

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My muscles have to work harder to find holiness when I haven’t slept through the night, and when my three-year-old keeps asking the same question eleven times in a row, as if I didn’t hear – and didn’t respond – the ten times before:

Can I have Cheerios? Mama, can I have Cheerios, Mama? Can I have Cheerios, Mama, please? Mama, can I have Cheerios? Can I have Cheerios, please, Mama, please?

I see why the Quiet Game was invented.

It can be hard to remember to open my eyes to seeing the Beauty that’s already around me, the Beauty who’s been present with me all along, when I’m lonely or when I’m sad, when I’m burn out and when I’m in need of a break. 

But I think that’s why when I find Beauty in the most unlikely of places, when I see Beauty in my ordinary, everyday mama-life, it’s that much more breathtaking.

One of my favorite podcasts once said that there is nothing ordinary for those who know how to look for the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.

I want that Nothing Ordinary. 

I want to train my eyes to see Nothing Ordinary when I’m chopping onions for dinner, dreaming about the sizzling perfection of garlic, onions and olive oil.

I want to hear Nothing Ordinary when that same son who asks for Cheerios eleven times in a row sings “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and “Mary had a Baby” in the middle of August.

And I want to feel Nothing Ordinary when my husband opens the sliding door to conversation and wraps his arms around me, refusing to let go until I believe his love for me.

Because this Nothing Ordinary is true beauty.

This Nothing Ordinary is Beauty Himself.

And this Nothing Ordinary is the beauty I yearn to find.

Is it the same for you?

The #wholemama journey continues, even though we’ll be switching things up a bit. This week’s topic is BEAUTY – so, what is beauty to you? And how, of course, do you find Beauty in the most unlikely of places?

Whole Mama

celebrating life’s marrow-sucking (#wholemama).

I believe in celebrating.

I believe in countdowns, numbering the days on chalkboards and tearing loops off of construction paper garlands.

I believe in finding one thing, every single day, to fist-pump or high five or cheer for, because this not-so-ordinary life, these more-than-mundane hours of existence, are worth all the celebrations we humans have to offer.

Photo cred: Shelley Pimentel Photography.
Photo cred: Shelley Pimentel Photography.

You may have noticed my participation in the Whole Mama series this summer, an invitation to embracing the Holy Creative alongside Esther and Jamie, Erika and Sarah, and a whole crew of most should-be-celebrated women. I wouldn’t – and won’t – trade the relationships formed through that for anything, but am grateful for the time we spent in community, cheering one another on, being for each other in this journey of motherhood and authenticity.

So, we’re going to take the rest of this post to celebrate and to remember how we did a damn good job of sucking the marrow out of life. We – as in me, myself and I – are going to try our hardest to name all all the little celebrations that are the big celebrations of this past summer. And I’d love for you to do the same, whether in your head or on paper or in the comments below, celebrate the life you’ve lived the past couple months.

We’ve…

Made jam. Pitched tents indoors. Hung out in pitched tents indoors. Instigated and relished in Family Movie Nights. Ridden bikes two blocks down the road to the neighborhood pizza place for a certain three-year-old’s birthday dinner. Grilled. Eaten chilled crab and avocado soup. Taken road trips to Santa Cruz and Davis and everywhere in between. Worn our parkas in San Francisco. Been to the Oakland Zoo and the San Francisco Zoo. Cheered on a brave little boy in his first round of swim lessons. Left said little boy at preschool for the first time. Sweated in the heat of our living room. Bought the last fan Home Depot had in stock. Had the most amazing writing weekend, (as you know, as I can’t stop talking about). Hosted hoards of friends, all of whom are too numerous to count, whose stories I still hold heart-side. Celebrated the 4th of July with this girl and with our neighbors. Gotten to know the gift of our neighborhood. Walked countless loops around Lake Merritt. Become a regular at the Farmer’s Market. Hopped on a plane to Idaho to just be with family. Hosted my parents, the greatest Gaga and Papa our boys will ever know. Read, read, read because it’s summer and because summer reading might just be the best invention known to man. Gushed over Go Set a Watchman and Stargirl and Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome alike. Locked ourselves out of the house, with baby inside. Learned how to wear red lipstick and set an intention in a book store, thanks to one wise and witty friend.

But we’ve also…

Taken the time to sit down, side by side on the couch, just me and the HBH (Hot Black Husband), that is. Asked each other the hard questions. Snuggled. Kissed. Held hands. Talked about and leaned into and believed in what really matters and who really matters. Said I’m sorry. Offered forgiveness. Accepted apologies. Realized that marriage takes work and parenthood is not for the faint of heart. Taped this to our refrigerator:

I’m sorry for…
That was wrong because…
In the future I will…
Will you forgive me?

And somehow, as it should, it’s then made us talk about and lean into and believe in the most important things all over again, as we should have been doing all along.

So, all in all, I’d say it’s been a most successful and a most significant and, like the perfect pair of jeans, a most lived-in summer.

What about you?

xo, c.

I’ve loved participating in the #wholemama movement this summer, and do check out Esther’s blog to see where and how the journey continues. Otherwise, how have you celebrated life this summer? How have you sucked the marrow out of life? Start a list! Type out a few in the comments below!

a lampshade, a firefly & lessons from silly (#wholemama).

I learned Silly from a woman who once affixed a gold-covered lampshade to her keister.

The lampshade came with matching gilt miniskirt, a bright red overcoat and bearded, tentacled forest green hat, all of which she fashioned or sewed herself. Lest you think the outfit thus far was nothing short of amazing, she also held a hidden switch in her left sleeve. Whenever she raised her arm to sing, the lightbulb at the end of the lampshade would magically turn on.

See, for example, Exhibit A, and the bright light emanating from the right side of the picture. That ain’t no 80’s camera mishap, y’all. 

But it’s a real, live human firefly.

And it’s my mom.

IMG_8791Back then, for one memorable weekend of our lives, we let go of all mommy endearments, and we just called her Farley McFirefly. Because, you see, her outfit wasn’t merely for Halloween purposes, solely designed for the amusement of our neighbors (although she did, as pictured, go door to door with a most sparkly derriere, and they did, after all, let her in – I mean, wouldn’t you?)

Really, it wouldn’t have been right to keep it to ourselves, because this outfit was for Jesus. 

My mother took center stage in the church sanctuary and glowed for God. She sang her heart as one of the adults cast in the kids’ musical, ass all aglow while insect tentacles reached heavenward.

“I cannot fly, ’cause of my brrrrrroken wing,” she sang in lilted Scottish accent, “but I can give the glory to God!”  

At ten years old, my brother and sister and I stood on stage with her, back-up chorus to her most shiny, fearless self. We, too, were trying our hardest to glow. We, too, wanted to give the glory all to God. But we didn’t have the guts to do what she did, to parade around the stage belting and blinking in rhythm to the songs of Psalty’s Camping Adventure.

I remember the waves of mortification:

My mom is dressed as the largest, weirdest bug you’ve ever seen. My mother is parading around the stage with a huge lampshade on her butt. She is blinking, brightly, even violently, for crying out out loud. And they’re all laughing at her.

But I also remember the pride, the simultaneous delight that birthed from watching her most fearless self, the pleasure that overtook all feelings of doubt: 

She’s the one making them laugh, on purpose, just because. 

She could care less what anyone thinks about her.

This woman, my very own mother, is fearless.  

Because that’s the thing: We call it silly. We tell the stories of lampshades on butts, and reading stories with funny voices, and embracing the jocular with our children and with each other, and we call it silly.

And embracing the silly, provoking the giggles, entering into the moment with wide-eyed wonder is most important. 

But today I realize that silly is not merely silly. The type of silly my mother gifted to me – and to many of the lives that she’s touched along the way – was and is that much more than mere child’s play. Sometimes silly is just on the outside, a facade to the reality underneath.

And for her, and perhaps for you and for me someday too, to be truly silly also means to be Brave and Courageous and Strong. 

Now that’s the kind of silly I want to be and do and embrace in this Thing Called Life.

How about you? How are you silly? Where did you learn silly? And did your mom ever dress up as a human lampshade with her blinking backside? Didn’t think so. I win. (And don’t worry, all permission was given for the posting of this picture and story). Join the #wholemama movement, and write about silly today!

Whole Mama

on being ordinary (#wholemama).

A month before graduating high school, I took a computer-generated aptitude test. It told me I should be a cruise ship director, so I arrived at college with high hopes of sailing the friendly seas, Paula Abdul-microphone resting cheek side and cute captain’s hat on my head.

me, kind of.
me, kind of.

By the time school started, I wasn’t exactly sure how that plan for my life fit into a somewhat limited supply of academic majors. So, I changed my major to broadcast journalism, hoping to take my love of children and microphones and words to Sesame Street. I figured I’d have a better shot of making it as the Famous Person I Was Meant To Be next to Bert and Ernie rather than try and land a spot on the 6 o’clock nightly news.

Midway through the year, I’d declared all hopes of public broadcasting rubbish, and instead decided to change the world as a high school English teacher.

It seemed a smarter and perhaps even more realistic major. Besides, I mused to myself, eventually I’d be crowned Teacher of the Year, and then the doors would open wide for my real shot at fame.

Eventually I did become a teacher …but I didn’t win Teacher of the Year.

And eventually I did (and continue to) spend a good deal of my time holding or having that Paula Abdul microphone rest against my cheeks, even though it’s still never been on a fictionalized Manhattan street nor atop a boat.

But I’m still not famous. And I’m pretty sure I’m not ever going to be, at least not in the way I hoped and dreamed I would be for a long, long time. Those dreams I had of being extraordinary, of making it big and perhaps – if I’m really honest – of therefore proving my Most Special Self, have come to a satisfying conclusion with the arrival of children, with the reality of time and life and maybe a slice or two of humble pie on the side, too.

Because in all actuality, I’m pretty normal. In fact, I’m average and ordinary and maybe a bit of a strange bird, depending on the day, depending on who you ask.

I’m just me. 

Right now, I sit on my favorite blue and brown chair, the one with whimsical swirls and matching ottoman. My feet are propped up and a heating pad warms my mama-muscles, arms and back and shoulders that carry babies, that work to calm and soothe frustrated three-year-old boys.

Sunlight streams in from the front windows, and in the distance I can hear robins fighting for air time against the earsplitting jackhammers of our neighbors’ front driveway. Both of the boys are asleep in the back of the house, and when they wake up we’ll make our way to the Y. While they sleep I find my way through my words, digging to discover and uncover what’s already there, the truth behind a single word, a known phrase. Sometimes I read and sometimes I fiddle around the house, but mostly, usually I just sit with my words.

Life, as I know it, is pretty slow, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of sparkle, when I know I could be doing more and being more and living more.

But really, this simple, ordinary life contains more than a lifetime worth of extraordinary achievements and advancements and awards.

On Saturday, we had our first Family Movie Night. The HBH (Hot Black Husband) got the TV all set up while Cancan and I laid out blankets and pillows, yoga mats and Bear-Bear, the oversized Costco gift of a teddy bear that also acts as an indoor climbing structure for him and his brother. We shut the blinds and snuggled together on the floor, eating buttery popcorn and holding hands and giggling at the The Aristocats.

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And Cancan’s been talking about it ever since, wondering when we can have Family Movie Night again.

I sometimes I forget that the ordinary moments that make up our lives are actually more-than-extraordinary. I forget that all of these todays are the best days of our lives.

And what a gift to realize that I don’t need any more Extra-Special Ordinary in my life, because this ordinary is more than enough.

Might it be the same for you?

Whole Mama

So, how are you ordinary? Have you embraced the ordinary in your life? I’m linking up over at Esther Emery’s blog for the #wholemama movement …and I invite you to do the same! 

the gift of space (#wholemama).

Last weekend I was given a gift – the gift of gifts, in my opinion – to get away for the weekend and simply hole up with my words.

It came after a whirlwind of spring activities, when the HBH (Hot Black Husband) had been traveling for work and I’d traveled out of state with our two boys by myself. I’d realized, even though I really, really love my sons, ages three and ten months, and even though I really, really love my husband, a grudge had birthed within me.

I looked at his boarding pass and said something like, “Honey, you are so lucky you’ll be able to fly by yourself to Dallas and back, without small children crawling over you, all by your lonesome. You’ll be able to get at least two books read, just on flights alone – I mean, are you excited for time away or what?!”

He looked at me perplexingly, not understanding how “work trip” could equal quality time by himself, and that’s when I realized: I’m envious of him. I am jealous of the time he’ll spend away from his family, because even though traveling is hard, he’ll be able to refuel and reload. Forty-eight hours away – sleeping in his own bed, eating what he wants to eat, and being valued in his work – will help him rediscover who he is as a human apart from his role as father.

So I booked a weekend of my own, here:

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Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. Ten, fifteen years ago, had you invited me to spend a weekend away by myself, without a friend in sight, I would have balked at the idea. Eat in a restaurant all by my lonesome? No way. Hole up with just my laptop and a stack of books to occupy my time? Uh-uh.

A Seven on the Enneagram and an extrovert at heart, I wondered how my insides would react to not being around people, to not having someone to converse with for all the big and little moments.

I wondered what it would be like to be all alone, to get to know myself all over again when no one else is there to provide affirmation of your being.

For me, I didn’t book it as a spa weekend, but I went into it with the purpose of sitting with my words. I needed time to let loose tangled phrases, to free and invite to paper paragraphs inside. I needed to give proper space to the process of being still and letting my fingers tell the story that’s already living within.

I also mused aloud whether I’d miss my boys too much – or really, whether they’d miss me too much. But even in thinking that, I realized by holding on too tight to the reigns of motherhood, I wasn’t giving my husband the opportunity to fully step into his role as their father.

At the heart of it, I realized I didn’t trust the man I love as one who is more-than-capable and more-than-able to be all they need for an entire weekend.

And friends, that’s when I’ll repeat to you the first thing I said in this post: the weekend away was the gift of gifts.

When we are given the time and space to breathe, we more fully discover who we are and who we were meant to be. We discover that we’re funny and we make ourselves laugh. We find that there’s still healing that needs to take place, but this time, we don’t shy away from it.

This time we dive right in, reacquainting ourselves with the Spirit and with ourselves, experiencing a new side to God and to ourselves as we lap up buckets of shalom.

So, what would it be for you? What could it be for you?

I realize that for you, it might be just a morning away or a full Saturday to let loose and roam. It might be creating a space within your house, a corner that’s all yours, or it might mean creating space within your every day.

And when you finally carve out that space, the beauty is that you’re free to enter into the space however you choose. Because wherever you go and whatever you do, know that you’re not actually alone – you’re merely inviting the Already-Present One to further make room in your life that day.

So, what’s stopping you?

Let’s push for space, for each other and for ourselves, for the ones we love and for those we fight for. And friends, let’s then receive the gift of space.

Don’t worry, there’s more! Mostly more ways for you to dive in and participate with the #wholemama movement. Head on over to Esther’s blog to read more and learn more and absorb more as well.  Otherwise, I’m curious: how do you create and celebrate SPACE in your life? Do tell!

Whole Mama

eyes wide open (#wholemama)

Lately I’ve been keeping my eyes open, when it comes to prayer, that is.

The good girl within sometimes still cringes, when I feel like I’m going against the Supposed To’s and the Must Have’s and the This Is How We Do It, ala Montell Jordan meets Jesus prototype of Christian prayer.

Like I said, it’s kind of like this song plays in the background…

…and try as I might, I just can’t get it right.

I want to close my eyes, and I want to go hole up in the corner where no one will see me or hear me, where my words don’t matter because it’s just between me and heaven’s Magnum P.I.

I want holiness to emanate throughout the house – in fact, while we’re at it, it’d help me if the Mormon Tabernacle Christmas Album pumped holy puffs of air outside our house as well, simultaneous bursts of heavenly sound and smell alongside daily loads of Downy fresh protect. I want my children to sit quietly in the corner, reading, or maybe even humming Benedictine chants to the tune of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, while I breathe in the quiet of unbroken mornings with my Savior.

But ain’t none of that gonna happen, y’all. 

So maybe that’s why I’ve been keeping my eyes open lately.

Because when my eyes are open, a different type of prayer happens. It’s a prayer that forces me to enter the moment, insides still as can be, while chaos realms in every outside precipice of my world.

It’s a prayer that brings a smile to my lips when my three-year-old boy jumps onto the piano bench, and starts banging on the keys, singing, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus to the tune of the song he’s just created.

It’s a prayer that quickens my insides and slows my pulse, all at the same time, when a smile slowly, shyly starts to creep across Baby Brother’s face, when it’s a smile entirely, solely directed at me.

And I don’t always know how Holy all of this is, but were we to dust off the family Bible, the one that nestles between wedding photo albums and Thomas the Train locomotives and circus-themed finger puppets, I think we could crack open a verse or two about the Kingdom of God. And maybe we’d see that it’s more about stepping into the holiness of what’s already here, of who’s already come, than begging and pleading and insisting Old Suitor Heaven come our way. 

So, for now, I’m going to keep my eyes open. I’m going to keep my eyes open at the dinner table each night, when we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for, when Cancan clasps his hands together afterwards and shouts, “Amen!”

My eyes will stay open when I’m nursing and they’ll stay open on Sunday mornings when we gather with our people – because sometimes, when every head is bowed and every eye is closed, I like to keep mine open. I like to look around the room and breathe in the holiness, see eyelids kissed by peace and mouths pursed in intimate trust.

And that too is just as prayerful, because sometimes, the prayers of these saints are the ones that hold me up when I’m too weak to formulate my own. 

So, what about you? What is prayer to you? Do share. And feel free to include your favorite, most obscure mid-90’s dance relic – bonus points if you do! Meanwhile, I’m over at Esther Emery’s blog, joining in for the weekly #wholemama prompt. We’d love for you to join us!

when my insides are messy (#wholemama).

On Friday, the boys and I had ourselves a low-key day. We stayed in our pajamas for a little while longer than usual, and we went to the gym soon there after. We met up with the HBH (Hot Black Husband) for lunch, as the gym and his office and the grocery store are all within a few blocks of each other. And if you saw this post of family pictures last week, you know that Cancan’s taken to dressing himself. And asserting himself. And having Very Strong Feelings, as he should be having as a growing, thriving little boy.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier for either one of us to navigate his changing self.

So you’d think I would have kept in mind the fact that I am a thirty-something year old Very Wise Woman, and he is a three-nager. But when we got to the grocery store, I wanted to be the one in charge. (I know). I wanted to be the one calling the shots. (I know).

I put on my Big Girl Mama Panties and I laid down the law:

“Cancan, you will leave your airplane suitcase in the car. And you will leave the reusable bag packed with additional goodies in the car. And you will leave your cardboard 4th of July “flag,” as you call it, in the car. Because we are meeting Dada for lunch, in public. Okay?” 

I did not give him choices. I did not give him options. I was firm and steady in my Very Wise Opinion of all that was needed for a successful venture inside our local Whole Foods market.

But he was having none of that. Instead, he looked at me and uttered his favorite new four-syllable word: NO. 

I balked.

I stomped my feet and I considered flailing my body on the concrete, tantrum-style. 

And when I finally unstrapped him from the carseat and attempted to dethrone him (without the suitcase, the reusable bag and the Independence Day “flag”), a minor moment of defiance turned into something so much larger.

Alligator tears began streaming down his face. Hiccups caught in his throat. Pleas of mercy came from his mouth while I stood steadfast and stubborn in my own attempts to Be Right and Look Right and Stay Right for the remainder of the day.

Because y’all, here’s the truth: it wasn’t his mess. It was my mess. 

Too often my insides get messy. I haven’t had the time to sit with my words, and I forget that there’s power when I unleash my fingers to do the hard work. I’ve slept badly, so the last thing I want to do is get up early and sit with a cup of coffee and a book that brings me closer to Old Suitor Heaven, as Emily Dickinson would say. I haven’t worked out and I haven’t taken care of my body as I should. I haven’t taken the time to sit with the man I hold hands with for life, and that only creates more tension, more dissonance, more disconnect.

Because if my insides aren’t right – if my insides are all awry, messy and sticky and unkempt on a deep soul level, then it shows on the outside. 

It comes out with my boys and it comes out with my husband.

It comes out with the postmaster and it comes out with the stranger in the car next to me.

It comes out in my interactions, online and in the real world, and nine times out of ten, call it karma, call it Jesus, call it Payback circa Rascal Flats, that person I’ve been most ugly and most messy to is going to end up on my front porch and in my world again. [See also Long’s Drug Store employee, Allegiant Air ticket representative turned flight attendant, and Target over-the-phone representative – these may make good stories, but they don’t make for a kind Cara in the moment.]

So when it came to Friday’s lunch, I took a deep breath and I counted to three. I asked for a do-over with my son, and I said I’m sorry. 

And then together, with Little Brother in tow as well, we three proudly walked into the grocery store, like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 8.41.44 PMSo friends, let’s embrace the mess and let’s celebrate the mess …but let’s deal with the mess as well. Here’s to being our most whole, true selves.

xo, c.

So, what about you? Hint: even if you think I was far too lenient with my son, don’t tell me that, for you may have missed the point of my gushy heart words. Otherwise, when and how and where have you been messy? Linking up with the #wholemama team over at Esther Emery’s site – join us!