Proof of Spring

It’s the first sunny day in what seems like weeks, and even though winter’s chill still demands fleece, we head outdoors, cameras in hand, bent on uncovering evidence to prove that spring has indeed arrived.

Close to the ground on bended knee, Noah points to unfurling fiddleheads, while Rowan spots light pooled in a glass bottle like a cerulean sea.



The spirea blossoms sit like miniature carnation boutonnieres, poised for a royal wedding.


We push our noses close to delicate redbud blooms – Noah reminds me how they smell like peanut butter (yes, they do!). We laugh at the yellow tulip masquerading as a peony. We admire a crown of tiny maple leaves.



 
I suspect she was there all along. Spring indeed.
 
Where have you seen spring this week? Is she hiding shy or dressed in her best flamboyant frippery?
 
Linking up our jaunt through the neighborhood with Jennifer's Journeys series [and don't you love that alliteration?!].

Journeys

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Art Schmart


Take yourself on an artist date.

I read that snippet of advice a few months ago in Julia Cameron’s book The Creative Life, and I read it again last night in the opening chapter of another of her books: The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch. I stopped by the library yesterday and picked up that one and another of Cameron’s books called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. When I dropped them onto the kitchen counter Brad glanced at the titles. “Having a little creativity problem?” he asked.

Why yes, in fact, I am.

So Cameron suggests that once a week I take myself on an artist date, that I set time aside to “nurture my creative consciousness.”

“In order to make art, we must first make an artful life,” advises Cameron, “a life rich enough and diverse enough to give us fuel.”

Art schmart.

I admit, I often roll my eyes when I hear talk about “art” and “artists.” I’ve always pooh-poohed the idea about making space for the creative spirit to grow. What a bunch of hogwash. It all sounds so self-absorbed and new-agey, like I should wear a long floral skirt and braid daisies into my [grey] hair. Like I should take up meditation and burn incense, too. Nothing against meditation or incense or daisies and long skirts … but they’re just not me. I don’t have time to refuel my creative spirit, or “take my artist on a date.” That’s for “other” creative types, not me. I’m more the "get 'er done" type.

So from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. that’s what I do. I run from one activity and obligation to the next: get the boys up and ready for school, churn out fundraising materials at work, pick up the boys from school, swing by the post office and Walgreens, throw in a load of laundry, help Rowan with his reading homework, do dinner dishes, fold laundry, wrap up the bedtime routine, tidy the house. And then I settle into my desk chair, fingers poised on the keyboard.

So do you want to know how that’s working out for me? I’ll simply say that “get 'er done” works fabulously…until you fizzle out like a Fourth of July sparkler and are left feeling like a smoking, blackened metal stick.

The thing is, no one can run ragged and then sit down after a 14-hour day and expect lyrical prose to bloom. That frenetic method may work for a while, but it can’t be sustained indefinitely. At least not by me.

So I’m beginning to think perhaps Julia Cameron is on to something with her “artist date” malarkey. The fact is, don’t we all need to create a little margin, a bit of white space in our harried lives? Isn’t that what God means by “be still?”

Time to breathe in the fresh scent of apple blossoms.

Time to stare out the window at the cardinal pecking sunflower seeds from the grass.

Time to relish a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sauce and really taste it.

Time to stroll, yes stroll, through an art gallery and fantasize about which painting you’d buy if you had the money.

I suspect these “artist dates” (or whatever you want to call them…perhaps “white space” is a more comfortable phrase for me) water the cracked and withered soul. I suspect that a small space carved between the mad dash to the post office and proofing the marketing brochure serves to replenish the spirit. And I suspect Julia Cameron has learned this through first-hand experience.

So what’s your idea of the perfect artist date (or white space, if you prefer)?

** Note: You might notice that I installed a new comment format called Disqus. It enables me to reply to comments right here on the blog. Not that I won't continue to visit you at your place...but this method does allow for some conversation and connection without me running around like a crazed chicken. Because, you know, too much of that and I'll need to take myself on a daily artist date! Or, egads, a whole retreat!

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The Swap

We arrived with our arms piled high, laundry baskets and shopping bags, boxes and shopping bags brimming with jewelry, perfume, hair accessories, shoes, scarves, sweaters, pants and purses.

Meg had suggested the idea a few months back at our Edgy Bookworms Book Club holiday luncheon. “Let’s have a clothing swap,” she volunteered over bangers and mash at Brix and Stones, and we’d agreed it was a perfect idea. I, for one, was on board – eight months into Not Shop, my wardrobe is tired, and I’m desperate for some bling, even used bling.

So on Saturday morning seven Edgies arrived at her house toting items bound for Goodwill. I was surprised by how many pieces I managed to dredge from my closet and drawers: two purses, several scarves, a bunch of jewelry, a Jones New York suit, a fleece jacket and a floral skirt. Even after eight months of not shopping, my closet still produced plenty to give away.

 The clothes table

The purse table -- a favorite spot

One of two accessories tables

We began at the purse table and methodically progressed through jewelry, accessories, shoes and clothes. When a particular item caught our eye, we held it up, announcing, “I like this – anyone else?” If two women coveted the same item, cards were drawn. No cat fights, no haggling, no pushing and shoving – we Edgies are a civilized group when it comes to fiction and fashion.

The Edgy Bookworms

All in all, it was a fruitful morning. I left with four purses (yes, I realize that's two more than what I brought), two necklaces, a bracelet, a pair of silver earrings, two rhinestone pins, two shirts, a pair of Banana Republic jeans, a black jacket, a bottle of Grace perfume, Burt’s Bees lip gloss and a book light for Noah. And before you go assuming that I hogged all the best stuff, I just want to say: all seven of us (plus the baby) scored some thrift couture, as did the Goodwill.

My haul
  
Displaying three of my four purses

On Monday morning I sashayed into work wearing a new(ish) black jacket, silver earrings and a snazzy red purse. "Looking pretty fashionable there, DeRusha," observed a co-worker. Just goes to show you…one woman’s trash is indeed another’s treasure.

So how 'bout it -- are you up for hosting a clothing swap of your own?

**And many thanks to Meg for hosting the First Annual Edgy Bookworms Swap (she provided delectable eats, too!).**

This post is part of the Shop-Not Chronicles -- an adventure in a year of not shopping. Read more about the journey here.

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Rejection


“The quality of the writing, Michelle. It's okay, but it's not 100% there, in my opinion. I think it needs more work.”

I read those again and again: “It’s okay.” It’s okay.” And I ranted and raved and cried and pronounced him a mean jerk who didn't know a thing.

“Okay? It’s okay? The writing is okay? Who does he think he is?” I fumed. The tears seeped out of my eyes and dripped onto the Candy Land board. Rowan didn't even notice.

I’d asked for it, of course. When the agent emailed the rejection, noting he didn’t think I was “quite ready,” I’d had the gall to write back.

“Do you mean the writing isn’t ready or the platform isn’t ready, or both?” I’d inquired.

And that’s when I’d received his clipped response: "The quality of the writing, Michelle."

I didn’t want to hear it. And I refused to believe it.

But it was true [still, more than a year later, I admit this through gritted teeth].

The writing was good...in parts. But the manuscript was 104,000 words – about 25,000 too long. It rambled in places. It derailed into theology, instruction and biblical exegesis, none of which fit well in the memoir genre. It wasn’t polished. It wasn’t perfect.

But I’d thought it was.

It's easier to blame someone else, rather than take responsibility for our own flaws or mistakes, isn't it? That's been my experience in writing...and in life.

I was quick to blame the agent: He was just plain wrong. Cruel and callous. A fool. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He had a vendetta against unpublished writers. I concocted a dozen reasons as to why that agent was wrong.

It took me more than two months to realize that maybe, just maybe, there was some truth in those hard words. Sure he could have been kinder, a little less brusque. But in the end, I realized that he had written the truth. And that truth, though hard to accept at the time, turned out to be a gift.

Did you ever receive a hard-to-hear critique, only to realize later it was the truth? In the end did it help or hurt?

* My sister-in-law Vanessa gave me the book pictured above as a gift...and I do think it might take an entire collection of "other people's rejection letters" to put this process in perspective!

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Hear It On Sunday, Use It on Monday: Rolling the Stone Away


This morning during Easter Sunday worship we read from Mark 16:1-8 – the scene in which Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome arrive at the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with oil and spices. When I got home from church I saw that my dad had emailed me a devotion on the same verses by Father Richard Rohr {as an aside, if you are not familiar with Rohr, visit his website. You can subscribe to his daily email devotions – they are very short and really good! I love the way this guy interprets the Gospels!}.

In his devotion Rohr notes that as the women walk toward the tomb, they ask themselves, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (Mark 16:3).

“We still have the same human question,” writes Rohr. “Who will roll away the stone of our various blockages and our blindness?”

The answer, of course, is Jesus. But it’s the question the women ask and the image of the stone in front of the tomb that gets me thinking. For me, the stone that blocks the entrance of the tomb represents all my sins that stand in the way of my relationship with God. What are my stones? I could probably name more than twenty right off the top of my head: envy, coveting, impatience, gossip, selfishness, pride, distraction, doubt and self-righteousness are the ones that first spring to mind. Each one is a stone, a heavy burden that focuses my attention on myself and away from God.

Yet what does Jesus do with these stones that impede access to him? He takes them and rolls them away:

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large” (Mark 16:4).

No stone is too large for Jesus to move. No sin is too large for Jesus to push back.

As I sit on the couch on this Easter Sunday afternoon, while the scarlet cardinal swoops gracefully to the feeder and violets dot the lawn like wild boutonnieres and the dishwasher whirs the dinner china clean, I feel light and unencumbered and blissfully free. Two thousand years ago Jesus rolled the stone away. He did it then and he does it now, for you and me – today, tomorrow and forevermore.  


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community – and a very Happy Easter to you! If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up. Or, if you're easy-breezy, copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and simply paste it into your post.

And remember, you don't need to write exactly about Sunday's reading or sermon; you can simply write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up – it stays open until Friday. Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can!

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A Budding Branch


A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse's stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight.
Isaiah 11:1-3 [The Message]

Blessings, joy and peace to you and your loved ones this Easter weekend!
Love,
Michelle



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The Bad Day


I’m standing in the condiment aisle debating peppercorn versus regular Ranch when she peeks her head around my shopping cart and peers at my outfit.

“Is that a skirt or a dress?” she asks, lowering her half-glasses down the bridge of her nose.

I don’t expect the question, so it takes me a couple of seconds to realize that she’s asking about my skirt, a pink and blue striped A-Line with a satin ribbon belt -- a hand-me-down from my friend Viviana, who knows my Shop Not wardrobe is feeling a little stale these days.

“Oh! It’s a skirt!” I say, smoothing the front with two hands, still startled by the peering.

“Well I just have to tell you,” she says, readjusting her glasses, “that skirt is the happiest thing I’ve seen all day.”

“Thank you!” I call after her as she pushes her cart toward the frozen foods. “And it’s a hand-me-down!” I feel compelled to tell her.

“Even better!” she calls back over her shoulder.

And I float through the rest of my shopping light like a petal on a fragrant breeze, delighted that my hand-me-down pastel-striped skirt from Old Navy could bring someone such joy.

Later I repeat the story at the dinner table. Noah looks up from stir-fry tofu, stops chewing.

“Wow,” he says, “she must have had a pretty bad day.”

And we all laugh, because we think he may be right.

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The Travel Writer


I once told a friend I wanted to be a travel writer.

This is ridiculous for three reasons. One: I hate to travel. I love nothing more than sitting on my Target lounge chair on the back patio with a good book and a glass of Chardonnay while the cicadas buzz into the humid night. That, to me, is the epitome of perfection – and I don’t have to travel to Tahiti or the Riviera or the Maldives to find it.

Two: I am a textbook hypochondriac with severe vomit phobia and have ruled out traveling to entire continents – namely Africa, South America and India – because I am afraid of succumbing to food poisoning or a rare tropical virus.

And three: I hate to fly. My feet sweat and I position the overhead blower toward my face and breathe in the germ-infested recirculated air and hum Silent Night to myself to keep calm. Meanwhile my kids ask repeatedly, “Mommy, why are you humming?” and I shush them as I hand out multiple packets of M&Ms.

So you can see how travel writing perhaps isn't a good fit for me, unless, of course I was to write about the Black Hills or Branson, Missouri.

What’s interesting, though, is that I did grow up to become a travel writer of sorts – just not the kind I expected. And it turns out, this journey into faith has been a trip like no other.

How have your childhood dreams materialized in real life? Has your original vision changed along the way?

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Tales of Black Bugs, Dented Drywall and a Squirrel-Munched Wire


I spot a black roach-like beetle foraging beneath the kitchen cabinet. I refuse to say it is a cockroach. I just won’t.

Brad tosses a pair of loafers down the stairs, and they put a dent in the drywall.

The carpet on the basement stairs is permanently stained – I know this because I rented a carpet cleaner last weekend, which despite my best efforts failed to remove said stains.

We can’t flush the downstairs toilet while the washing machine is running.

The kitchen cupboard door occasionally dangles loose from the hinge and hangs askance with one corner at rest on the floor.

The window panes are filthy because the screens and storm windows are welded into place, and I swear a blue streak in front of the neighbors every time I try to wrestle them free.

The basement leaks at the slightest drizzle, and a squirrel chewed through the Internet cable outside the house [this, perhaps, a sign from God?].

“I’ve had enough,” I yelp to Brad. “I want to move into one of those big, fancy, brand-new houses on the south side of town. I don’t care if it’s on a lot with no trees -- I want a house that’s not falling apart. I want new!”

“What? No trees? We’re moving to a house with no trees?” Noah, future botanist, is aghast. “Are you serious? Are we really moving to a house with no trees?”

No, I’m not serious; we are not moving into a house with no trees. I love my old house. I do. It’s quaint. It’s got character. But it’s also got dents and water stains and, ahem, the occasional bug.

These are the days I launch into my infamous, “I deserve more” tirade. You know the one, right? It goes something like this:

“I deserve to have a bathroom that’s not smeared in toothpaste gobs – a bathroom where I don’t have to empty my tub of plastic manta rays and puffer fish that spit when squeezed every time I want to take a bath."

"I deserve to have a closet that holds all my clothes, rather than just one season’s worth."

"I deserve a living room that can fit a sectional. New patio furniture that I don’t have to spray paint every spring. A garage that can accommodate a car and the kids’ bikes."

I want, I need, I deserve so much more.

And you thought the Shop Not Project was going well, didn’t you?

Truthfully, Shop-Not is going well. I haven’t bought anything in more than eight months; that's something, right? I’ve discovered my wardrobe is much more flexible and accommodating than I ever imagined. And I am blessed by generous friends who drop off shopping bags full of hand-me-downs.

I can even walk through Target now without feeling faint.

But still, I have moments, many moments, when I covet. Moments when I yearn and desire and want. And I am quite skilled at convincing myself that I need more, bigger, better...when the fact is, I don’t need a thing.

So I pull The Hole in Our Gospel from the shelf and scan the pages for those stats, the ones that put everything into perspective in the first place:

• More than 26,500 children died yesterday of preventable causes related to their poverty, and it will happen again today, and tomorrow and the day after that.

• Almost 10 million children will be dead in a year from preventable causes related to poverty.

• More than 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day.

And then I look around my house, at the sun slanting in windows, at the cozy couch, at the tile backsplash and stainless steel appliances, at the faucets that shower hot water and the new roof that keeps out the rain (at least out of the first and second floor), and I know.

 It is more than enough...and then some.

Joining Jen and the sisters at Finding Heaven:




 
And Emily at Imperfect Prose





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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: God Gets Direct


Yesterday I told a little bit of my faith story over at Rachel Held Evans’ place, and I concluded the post with the admission that faith is a conscious choice I make every day. Faith is not a natural state for me. I don’t have faith like I breathe. I don’t have faith like some people have faith, ingrained on their hearts and woven into the very essence of their being.

I wish I could say that belief has become easier for me. I think most of you who read my blog regularly would assume that is the case. But it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong. I look and listen for God, and I see and hear him every day. Not only that, I also believe in my heart that I see and hear him. Yet I still question, I still waffle, I still wonder and doubt that it’s all real and true.

I realize that’s a contradiction: that I say I see him every day in one breath, and then admit that I doubt he exists in the next breath. But that’s the way faith is for me: ebb and flow, surge and retreat.

Lately I’ve wondered if perhaps I’m just too darn analytical. Just this week I gave myself a tough love talk. “Get over it, for crying out loud,” I found myself thinking. “Stop all the foolishness, stop all the waffling and questioning and vacillating, and just believe. Once and for all just believe.”

The next day, I read a devotion by Richard Rohr, entitled “The Time is Here”:

“Salvation is now…it’s called the always-available grace of the present moment. It’s the first word Jesus preaches: 'The time is now! The Kingdom is present and here. Turn around. Believe the Good News' (Mark 1:15). In these four phrases we have the summation of all of Jesus’ teachings. It’s nothing esoteric or pseudo-mystical, just the infinite nature of now. Just let go and let yourself fall into it. It’s a net you cannot fall out of. You are seeking what you already have. You have been knocking on the door from the inside.” (Radical Grace: Daily Meditations)

And then, if that weren’t enough to seal the deal, I heard this in today’s reading from the Gospel of John:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1).

What’s interesting about this verse is that I’ve always heard and read the NIV translation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” In fact, that’s the verse I memorized and carried with me all last year. But the ESV translation – “Believe in God; believe also in me” – that I heard today is new to me.

Only a single word is different from the NIV to the ESV: believe. And that single word makes all the difference to me.

I love it when God gets direct with me. He knows my waffling nature. He knows my questions and my heart, my belief and disbelief.

He knows me.

What is God speaking to you lately? Has he ever had to get direct with you?


Welcome to the Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up. Or, if you're easy-breezy, copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and simply paste it into your post.

And remember, you don't need to write exactly about Sunday's reading or sermon; you can simply write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up -- it stays open until Friday. Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can!

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Why Not?


For close to two decades, I stood in the pew every Sunday morning and coughed at the beginning of the “Nicene Creed” to avoid declaring, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty.” I couldn’t say those words – “I believe” – aloud, because, in fact, I did not believe. Yet there I was, Sunday after Sunday, reciting empty prayers to a non-existent God.

I did all the right things. I went to confession and did penance, genuflected at the altar, dipped my fingers into holy water and made the sign of the cross and gave up chocolate at Lent. On the outside I played the part of a pretty good Catholic. But on the inside, my heart was stone-cold.


...I'm a guest over at Rachel Held Evan's place today. Rachel is the author of the memoir Evolving in Monkey Town (I can vouch for how fantastic her book is...I read it) and the upcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She's also been an exceedingly generous supporter of my writing, for which I am very grateful! Click over for a glimpse of my journey from non-believer to faith... {thanks for having me, Rachel}

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The Singer


We sit at the back of the coffee shop in wooden, slat-back chairs, our hands cupped around warm mugs. And we listen as he strums chords and sings Civil War ballads and blows brassy notes into tarnished harmonica.

The door opens and closes, the cash register tallies and the tattooed barista saunters out for a smoke, single cigarette in her hand.

The café is near-empty. Not many sit long to listen as he stands on a tiny stage under yellow low-hung lamps.

And as he sings I think about how hard it is sometimes, this creating. And I wonder, too, why we insist on it, even when no one listens or reads or shows up. I wonder why we do it even when we don’t much feel like it, when we’d rather be watching American Idol or playing the wii or paging through Better Homes and Gardens curled snug on the couch. I wonder why we keep doing it even when we might want to quit – cap the pen, shut the laptop, lay the guitar in blue velvet, close the lid.

We clap. The applause sounds thin, and I hear music hard and tinny as it leaks from the headphones of the man hunched over his laptop, icy blue light reflected in wire-rim glasses.

Kjell tunes his harmonica, takes a sip from the pink-flowered mug and rolls his sleeves once, then twice more.

“Are the Huskers playing tonight?” he jokes, and we laugh loud to show camaraderie because the coffee shop is so quiet.

Karna leans in close across the table, her hand on my arm. “It’s what he’s always wanted,” she says, eyes on her son, the one wearing cowboy boots, the one standing on the gritty stage with a guitar slung over his shoulder. “All he’s ever wanted to do is write songs and make music.”

And she gives me the answers I already know.

So why do you pursue your God-given passion, even when sometimes it feels like a long, uphill road?

::

Writing toward 1,000 gifts with Ann:

190. Pursuing God-given passion
191. Pear trees blossoming white like cumulous clouds
192. Vivaldi flute concerto, "The Goldfinch"
193. Red porch swing
194. Man riding shiny purple motorcycle
195. Girl with sassy red tights
196. Wearing shoes without socks
197. Grass greening up
198. Perfect half-moon
199. Switching to spring coat
200. Drycleaning winter jackets

And linking with Jennifer Davis for her Journeys series:

Journeys

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Standing Down: My Journey to Simple — A Guest Post by Christine LaRocque

I met Christine only recently when I stumbled on her blog, Coffee & Commutes, but I knew I liked her right from the start. I love Christine's honesty, her poignant storytelling and her authentic journey toward simplicity. So on a whim I asked if she might be willing to guest post here and was delighted when she said yes!

Meet Christine LaRocque...and then pop over to Coffee & Commutes to see what else she has to say. She won't disappoint!

Here's Christine with her story.


Standing Down: My Journey to Simple

Last fall, I discovered something extraordinary.

For many months, my life had been spiraling out of control. I was tired and balancing tenuously between two worlds: that of mother and of full-time working professional. And just as a bird falls prey to a cat, the responsibilities of motherhood and career were leaving me behind, breathless and broken, without the reserves I needed to cope.

I was so intently focused on juggling competing priorities—all of them important—that I couldn’t see that I was being pulled in too many directions and simply couldn’t do it. But it was more than that; I was wasting far too much energy judging and finding myself guilty for it.

I needed change.

While the change would have to come from accepting my life and learning to work with all the parts, rather than railing against them; acceptance doesn’t help a person manage a life that has become unmanageable.

When I stopped to really reflect, I soon realized I had been measuring myself against an impossible standard. I believed I could do it all. My benchmark for success came from an absurd expectation that I should be able to blend all the things I had done before children with the countless responsibilities that came with them.

From this came a burst of understanding and with time forgiveness. I was finally able to think about balance with clarity and realize—there is no such as thing as balance, there are only varying degrees of compromise. For someone who has always been restless, ambitious and driven, stepping forward fully embracing a belief that balance is a myth and certainly not a virtue, can be a hard line to toe.

And so began my tentative steps towards embracing my life and finding acceptance, not for what was, but for what must be.

• That life should be lived as a series of choices that are sorted and arranged however you need to at that moment, free from pressure beyond what is right now. What was and what will be are less important than you think.

• That I must focus more on my family and less on my life as a professional.

• That I’m doing the best I can and can forgive myself when my best sometimes feels like it’s not enough.

• That I can capitulate to the fact that my house will be a consummate tornado. But at least it’s a tornado filled with giggles and squeals of happy boys.

• That it’s okay to say no to a chaotic life of obligations, comfortable in the knowledge that it’s impossible to do it all.

• That I should look at my life as a series of small parts. Tackling each, one at a time, rather than trying to multitask, is empowering and good enough.

• That I can respect that change is never ending and life is a constant cycle of new challenges, hurdles and winding roads.

So as the last leaves of fall gently floated and swirled to the ground, and we prepared our home and lives for the dark and cold winter months, I decided it was time to simplify my life. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t walk any line. I would stand down and accept that less is more, and would accept change.

I’ve since spent a lot of time sitting with this promise to myself, rolling it around and trying it on for size. I still have a long way to go, and know that I will likely always find this to be a work in progress. But I’ve discovered that, just like slipping on a perfectly fitting pair of shoes, it can be quite comfortable if only I remember to step forward, one foot at a time.

Christine is a communications professional and mother to two boys under 5. She blogs at Coffees & Commutes, where she writes about her journey of self-discovery and life as a full-time working mom.

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The Misfit


It didn’t take long for me to realize that Noah is not an ordinary kid. When other two-year-olds were repeating words like “cookie” and “bye-bye,” Noah’s favorite word was “awning.” “Look at that fancy awning,” he would say, pointing at striped fabric as we drove past Roper & Sons Funeral Home.

When he was five Noah developed a love of plants, particularly succulents, those funky, Zen-looking plants that belong to the cactus family (or maybe cacti belong to the succulent family, I’m not sure – clearly I haven’t listened carefully enough to Noah). While other kids his age collected Pokémon cards and Spiderman figures, Noah collected euphorbia and crassula, aloe and agave. At last count he had 31 succulents in his collection.

... There's a good lesson in this story...please join me over at Ginny's place, Make a Difference to One, to find out what I've learned from my son Noah?

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Five Minutes Flat

I always figured five minutes were simply five more minutes to squeeze in yet another chore. Dash off an email, toss the dishes in the dishwasher, run a Clorox wipe over the bathroom sink.

I never thought I could spot glory in five minutes flat. I never thought I could commune with God in such a short time. I’d always assumed that it would require a weekend retreat at the monastery. Or at the very least a full hour in the pew on Sunday morning.

Not true, my friends, not true.

Turns out, God appears in five-minute increments, too. Case in point: five days of five minutes, caught right in my own backyard.

Day One:
Have you ever glimpsed a single droplet suspended on bare branch?


Day Two:
Did you ever notice how an unfurling crab apple leaf resembles a blossom itself?


Day Three:
Have you ever caught a beam of light through a magnolia blossom?


Day Four:
Or through a fan of fountain grass?


Day Five:
Did you ever see a bud crack open like an egg?


Have you taken five minutes to glimpse God today? Tell us what you've seen.


Sharing with Laura...



And L.L...


On In Around button

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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Paul Bunyan Pruning


When I was in college I came home one weekend to find that my dad had cut down every single tree in our backyard, including my favorite, the one with the limb that had curved into the small of my back just right, the one where I spent hours reading Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Secret Garden.

I understood why he did it. It was the apples, of course.

Inedible crab apples plunked off the trees, littered the grass and rolled onto the driveway, where they were squished to a brown pulp every time my parents backed out the car. As a kid I filled bucket after bucket with rotting apples melted warm and cidery in the blazing sun and hauled them up to the edge of the yard, where I dumped them into a stinking pile. The worst ones teemed with ants and worms or were half-eaten by God-knows-what, huge bites chunked out of yellow skin. I’d pick one up, and it would crumble with a splat, sending a cloud of fruit flies up my nostrils.

After years of contending with the mess, I understood why my dad snapped. He’d had enough of those gooey, rotten apples. Still, it was a shock to pull into the driveway and see that treeless yard, the lawn yawning wide and empty.

My sister and I called my dad Paul Bunyan for a full year after that.

I thought of my Paul Bunyan dad when I read John 15 this weekend, the verses about God cutting useless branches and pruning others so that they may bear more fruit:

“I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-3).

I love that analogy. It prompts me to question all the areas in my life that might need a good pruning:

Am I spending too much time online at the expense of God and my family?

Am I overscheduled? Have I overscheduled my children?

Am I wasting precious mental energy on negativity? Am I being judgmental or self-absorbed?

On the other hand, though, the story of my dad and the apple trees reminds me that I can over-prune, too, even when I have the best intentions.

A year ago I realized my life needed some dramatic pruning. I had spread myself too thin, and my frenetic lifestyle had diminished the time and energy I had to write. I realized the fruits God had given me were rotting and falling from the branches, untended as I frittered my time in other ways.

So I pruned.

I “retired” from “The Edgy Bookworms,” the group of seven women whom I’d met with monthly for more than five years for dinner and conversation about literature.

I quit seeing my girlfriends for coffee and scones on Friday mornings.

I declined opportunities to meet for a movie or drinks or dinner.

I stop running three or four days a week as I had done for two decades.

In short, I cut out all extraneous activities so I could focus on writing about faith and God.

The result was not what I expected. Not only was I not more productive, I also spiraled into depression. I’d pruned so dramatically that nothing remained except writing, my job and my family and household responsibilities. Not only was it lonely and isolating, it also wasn’t very inspiring. I’d literally cut myself off from the community and life experiences that in many ways fed my creativity.

Just like a tree doesn’t rely solely on its trunk, but needs its branches, leaves and buds to sustain and nourish it, I realized, after that dramatic pruning, that I need a community, joy, relaxation and exercise to sustain and nurture my creativity.

In the end, I made one critical error when I pruned my dead branches: I forgot that it’s God, not me, who is in charge of the process. I held the scythe in my own hands and turned inward, bent on solving and controlling the problem myself, rather than listening for the solution God might offer.

Had I listened to God, I might have heard him urge balance, rather than radical extremism. Had I listened to God, I might have heard him say: "Abide in me."

If you read John 15:1-8 you'll see that the word "abide"[or "remain" in other translations] is used by Jesus seven times in eight short verses. It seems perhaps he wants to make sure we get the message. "Abide in me," says Jesus -- and this time, I'm listening.


Welcome to the Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday community. If you are here for the first time, feel free to click here for details and instructions on how to link up. Or, if you're easy-breezy, copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and simply paste it into your post.

And remember, you don't need to write exactly about Sunday's reading or sermon; you can simply write about a verse or even a hymn that you've been pondering anytime recently. Also, you can come by anytime during the week to link up -- it stays open until Friday. Thanks so much for participating...and don't forget to visit other participants and comment on their thoughts this week if you can!

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The Patient

Hospital Pictures, Images and Photos

I pad down the hallway in my bare feet, wearing only a pair of grey, elastic waist athletic shorts and a cotton hospital gown.

“Nice outfit,” says the man seated in the first chair, his arms ropey sinews beneath skimpy tank top. “You, too,” I reply, smiling and tucking the gown around my legs. We sit in silence outside x-ray.

“Are you wearing a bra?” the technician asks as I stand in the dark room. I answer yes. She and her assistant tactfully duck behind the partition while I slide the undergarment out through the armholes of my gown. I fold the bra into a compact lump and slide it under my medical chart on the chair so it doesn’t show.

The technician instructs me to curl on my left side on the table with my knees pulled to my chest.

...I'm delighted to be a guest over at Duane Scott's place today. I love Duane -- I love his compassionate heart, his sweetness, his dedication to nursing (he just got a gig at the Mayo Clinic!) and his voice. Plus he's super young ... so the fact that he's invited an old lady like me to write at his place makes me feel very, very hip indeed.

So click over and read about my morning at the orthopedist [like I mentioned...old lady], and then stay a while and see what Duane has to say. He's wise beyond his years.

* Photo courtesy of Photobucket.

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Growing Like a Weed...Or Maybe an Oak

As the Nebraska winds blow balmy I stand at the edge of the garden and observe the damage. Stiff stalks of fountain grass lay quiet and crumpled, strewn across the lawn like fans. Oak leaves pile shin-deep against the fence, and the prickly, half-decayed butternut squash vines sprawl withered and crusty on the ground.

Two hours later, dirt caked beneath my fingernails, sweat dripping, I straighten my stiff back, lean on the rake and survey my progress. After all that, I’ve hardly made a dent.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to garden, I do. I love to dig my hands in cool dirt and press disintegrated leaves into tall paper bags. I love to hoe the soil smooth, prune and plant, water and watch. I love the clean slate of a freshly planted garden and the anticipation of rebirth. I love the scent of fresh basil rising from dark earth and gathering Roma tomatoes into the valley of my shirt.

But it never fails. Every year as I dive into the new season with gusto, I end up overwhelmed and exhausted, frustrated and discouraged. It’s a lot of work, this garden clean-up. I think I might fill a half-dozen of those skinny brown bags with dead leaves and sheared fountain grass, and I end up with two dozen instead. I assume it’ll take 20 minutes to wrestle the dead clematis from the fence, and an hour later I’m still up to my thighs in vines.

And then after the cleaning and hoeing and bagging and planting and watering, there’s the waiting – the interminable period when it seems like nothing will ever grow. I worry that the squirrels hijacked my seeds or that the robins ate them with their afternoon tea. I begin to suspect that my little boy helpers scattered the seeds willy-nilly instead of methodically covering them with just the right amount of dirt. I worry that nothing will grow at all, that I’ll be left with a barren wasteland of dandelions and creeping Charlie.

And that’s when I realize it. Leaning heavily on the rake, surveying what little progress I’ve made in more than two hours’ time, I realize that gardening is the perfect metaphor for faith.

There’s the mess you start with, the grime and grit, brokenness and chaos:



The tools to help you slog:



 
The seeds you plant:







The (im)patient waiting as the ground lays dormant:




And then, of course, there’s the desire to rush the process, to get more done, to figure it all out, to do it all at once. Forget cultivating, forget nurturing – I want results, and I want them now … in gardening and in faith.

I want this:


And what I get, at least initially, is this:


It’s a process, of course – a journey, a road, a path. It unfurls a little bit at a time, sometimes without my even noticing. I’ll be honest – I wish it would unfurl faster. I sure would like to get to the point where I’m confident in faith, doubt-free, questions put to bed, steady as a rock.

But it doesn’t work that way for me, at least it hasn’t yet. I’m growing in faith, yes… but it’s slow growing. Maybe I’m more like an oak than a weed. I guess that’s a good thing in the end; I hope it means my roots will go deep and my faith will live tall and strong.

 Oak tree photo by Noah.

Linking up with Jennifer for her Journeys series:
Journeys

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All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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