Saturday, December 8, 2012

On Snow and Productivity

I miss snow.  It’s December 8th, our Christmas decorations are up, and today’s high is 66 degrees F.  That’s just plain wrong.  Warm weather is great and all, don’t get me wrong, and as cold-natured as I am I suppose I shouldn’t really be complaining, but... I sure do miss snow.  The kind that floatingly, delicately drifts down, or the kind that pours like monsoon rain as it so often did in Syracuse--I’d take either kind right now.  I love how snow transforms a dreary world, painted with winter’s browns and tans and other such blah tones, into a breathtaking place where all the grime and muck of the daily grind is buried so deep in white glitter that it’s forgotten, even if only momentarily.  I love how it cushions the world’s harsh edges and muffles its angry noise.  I love how snow's frigid air brightens and cleanses as I breathe in deep. 

Snow forces me to slow down.  In a hurry?  Rushing around?  Speeding down the block at breakneck speed?  Not an option when there’s a foot and a half of powder on the road.  I like that about snow.  Sometimes I don’t even realize how fast my life is buzzing by, and I need something like snow to remind me to take it down a notch.  To pause.  To rest and breathe and lift up my eyes.

Even in Syracuse, the first big lake effect snow storm of the season always slowed down traffic.  People drove cautiously, left the appropriate space buffer between cars, switched lanes slowly and only when there was plenty of room.  Listen, I’m talking New York drivers, here.  If you’ve never driven in The Empire State, just trust me on this--that’s a big deal!   The effect was short-lived though.  Give them one or two storms, and after that it was business as usual: snow or no snow, the freeway was a racetrack and every car on it was competition.   

I’m fortunate to now be living in a lovely little corner of the world where things don’t move so fast, and where I literally cannot hear traffic or see my nearest neighbor’s house.  It’s not unusual to drive behind a tractor when I’m heading into town, or to follow a farm-use-only pickup as I wind up the mountain to work.  It’s quite a change from my daily commute--and daily life--just a few months ago.  

And yet, despite the slower pace of life here, despite the quiet solitude of my house, I still need help slowing down and quieting my mind.  I still feel compelled to fill every niche of time with some productive activity, to “make the most” of each hour, and although that sounds like a good thing, believe me when I tell you it can become quite the opposite.  What happens if you’re always speaking, fretting, doing, and never listening, trusting, waiting?  What happens if you’re always moving and never resting?  What happens if you place your confidence in all the stuff you’ve accomplished?  And what happens if/when someday you can’t accomplish all the things you “should have”?  What then?  

Hey, here’s a thought:  Did you know that your worth, that your value, does not depend on how busy you are or how many great things you do?  That the number of items you checked off your massive to-do list does not determine how successful you are? 

I’m asking myself, really.  I know the "right" answers to those questions, but I sometimes have a hard time owning those answers and living them out.  Snow helps me.  Early morning quiet helps me.  Soaking in words of truth helps me.  Perhaps these things might help you, too.  So today, maybe just sit for a while--with or without the White Stuff--and breathe in.  Let the world’s noise be muffled, let its corners be softened, let its beauty be revealed.  Breathe out.  Slow down as if there were two feet of snow outside, even if it is 66 degrees.  Just listen.  Just breathe.  Just be.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


This wagon, much like this blog,
has been neglected for some time. 
Oh hi there!  I see you've stumbled upon my blog.  Funny, I just stumbled upon it too!  See, I created it, wrote a few entries, forgot about it, remembered it, wrote a few more entries, got a new job, moved to a new state, and forgot about it again until this morning, when, as I mentioned, I stumbled upon it again.  This accidental rediscovery is at once a happy surprise and a sad reminder that I have not taken nearly enough time recently to reflect on life and its events, on earth and its denizens, on the now and the not-yet. So, then, I hereby declare that I will try to do better.  Really.  Come back again soon...ish.  Over and out. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Poetry Sunday: Dr. Suess

This poetry Sunday, I'd like to honor a talented poet whose influence on the world, and particularly its young people, cannot be overstated: Theodore Suess Geisel - "Dr. Seuss"! Props to Mamiverse for creating this cool graphic highlighting some of the nuggets of wisdom embedded in Dr. Suess' books. My favorites are numbers 11, 23, 28, and 29… oh, and 7… and 13… and…well. I like most all of them. While you're reading, also check out this Relevant Magazine article on the inspiration and subtext of some of The Doctor's most famous works.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” -G.K. Chesterton
I missed the “I’m thankful for...” blogging boat that sailed in late November.  Bloggers near and far wrote beautiful, humorous, challenging, profound posts about things, people, events, experiences, opportunities, etc. that they’re thankful for, inspired (appropriately) by the Thanksgiving holiday.  Even those one-point-five-posts-a-year bloggers jumped on board and blogged about their gratitude.  I, on the other hand, for a variety of reasons, did not.  Slack blogger that I am, I missed the “thankful” boat, but guess what, faithful readers?  All four of you are about to read a belated (but no less sincere) post on gratitude.  There.  The closure I know you’ve been waiting for.  You’re welcome.    
Back in August, I wrote a post in which I listed some of the abundant blessings in my life that sometimes overwhelm me with gratitude.  Some were "big ones" (family, husband, home, etc.), and some were less obvious (but no less amazing) "little ones" that do to my life what chocolate chips do to a batch of brownies: take what was already unbelievably delicious and somehow make it even sweeter.    
Yes, I am hungry and, incidentally, craving chocolate.  Ahem. 
Anyway. Take a look at the partial list of blessings, believe me when I say that I meant every word I said in the post, and please be graceful with me in this confession:  I sometimes go days at a time without taking a moment to pause and be really, truly, deeply, intensely thankful.  
Isn’t that crazy?  All those tangible and intangible blessings, many more than I listed, so many things I didn’t earn and don’t deserve, gifted to me to experience on a daily basis.  How do I not spend every waking moment overcome with gratitude?  How is it possible that I only feel it in fleeting instances?  Can you believe it?  
My hunch is that many of you can, because I don’t think I’m alone on this one.  I think it’s really easy to get accustomed to having these gifts in our life.  It’s really easy to convince ourselves that we are still somehow slighted in spite of them.  It's really easy to become bitter.  Really easy to slip into an attitude of entitlement--an attitude that I often notice all too often in others but fail to recognize in myself, though it is certainly there.  It’s really easy to get fixated on life’s inconveniences, unfortunate coincidences, and difficulties, and become blind to its beauties and deaf to its songs. In the words of writer Aldous Huxley, "most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted".  
We are blessed beyond belief, beyond merit, and beyond measure, in the truest sense of the phrase.  It’s impossible to count our blessings, because they’re innumerable.  And yet, some days, I often don’t even count enough of them to use both hands.  Here’s the craziest part, too: Even if I had nothing--no possessions to enjoy, no family or husband to love, no education to pursue, no horses to ride, no mountains to climb, no chocolate to eat (sorry, stream of consciousness)--even if I had none of those things, I would still have one gift that is undeserved and unearned and strong and beautiful and gentle and precious and freeing and life-altering and earth-shaking and eternity-changing enough to overwhelm me with gratitude to the point of tears.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask me sometime.  It’s one of those gifts that you can give away and still not lose.  
Yes, it’s really easy to slide into ungratefulness.  It’s a sneaky, gradual process, but thankfully (thankfully!) it is neither unavoidable nor irreversible.  I don’t pretend to have it all figured out, since by my own admission I’m certainly not the paragon of a thankful person, but I’m beginning to think that ungratefulness is a disease of the mind that affects the heart, and then flourishes in some kind of feedback loop. (Side note: I’m sure there’s been tons of research done on this stuff, and psychologists would probably cringe if they read this blog, but hey, I never claimed to be a professional).  For the sake of argument, let’s assume I’m at least partly right.  It follows, then, that if we are to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness, we must be careful to “guard our minds”, so to speak--to be really aware of the kinds of thoughts we allow to make themselves at home up there, and to distinguish between the real truths and the lies that our minds have confused as truths.  And because it’s so easy to lose perspective and confuse the two, I think if we are to cultivate a lasting lifestyle and sincere spirit of gratitude, we need to ask for help from something, someone, outside of ourselves--someone full of grace and truth--to help us change from the inside out.  
I think I'll take a moment now to pause and just be thankful.  Join me?  

“Be thankful in all circumstances.” -1 Thessalonians 5:18
“...be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” -Romans 12:2
“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’” -William A. Ward

Monday, September 26, 2011


Welcome to another poetry Sunday... on Monday! I intended to post something yesterday, but then... well, then I didn't. While I'm breaking rules, I'm actually going to post song lyrics for this week's poetry:

Awake My Soul

Arches of reaching limbs
Crickets sing secret hymns
Over all of us

Tickle across our palms
Lit up like diamonds drawn
From the black above

Awake my soul to live this moment
Awake my soul, 
give thanks and hold it
Dear now
God is here now
Awake my soul

Day ends
And brown eyes smile back at me
She wipes my kiss from her cheek
After last “Amen”

Hush away the hurry
Put to rest the worry
Come to quell and quiet me
In this moment given
Slow and fully live it
Drink up all the passing peace

Awake my soul to live this moment
Awake my soul,
 give thanks and hold it
Dear now
Be here now
God is here now
Awake my soul

-Shaun Groves © 2011 Simplicity Street Music/ASCAP

Oh, to find peace and beauty in every passing moment. To be truly present. To be here, now. To not anticipate. To simply be. Each moment invites us to slow, to be awake, present, alive. Grateful. I've heard it said that we should "practice the presence of God". I still don't fully grasp what that means, but I think these lyrics have something to do with it. Be here, now. God is here, now. Here as we walk across campus and feel the sunshine on our faces, here as we smile at the woman behind the counter at the coffee shop, here as we sing, here as we wait, here as we work, here as we sit and listen to crickets and catch fireflies, here as we grieve, here as we celebrate.  Be here, now, because God is here, now. Slow and fully live.  Awake.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. " - C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was a wise man (not that you needed me to tell you that). When my brother died in 2008, I experienced a lot of emotions, all of which I suppose I could have anticipated--except for the fear. It came in various disguises, expressed itself in various ways, and showed up unexpectedly at the strangest times and places. Just a few nights after Kevin passed away, it came in the middle of the night: The fear that I would forget him. So immediately, I got up and started writing--stream of consciousness style--all the random memories and thoughts and associations and feelings that came to mind.

Today, Kevin would have turned 30 years old. I want to celebrate his birth, his life, his influence on my life. I want to remember. And so, here it is--a selection of a few of the memories I scribbled down on a notepad that night almost 3 years ago.
Kevin loved pumpkin spice coffee with honey.  He smelled like cologne and cigarettes, and had dimples when he smiled.  His eyes were unbelievably blue, and his skin was tan from working outside.  He was a metal roofer. 
He came to watch Dad and me perform at a New Year's Eve event and stayed for our entire show.  He told us it was really good, and I think he meant it. 
He loved to give things to people to make them feel special, like expensive earrings he bought for a girl who had never been given anything nice, even though he didn’t really have the money to do it.  Our last Christmas together, he gave me a teacher’s calendar because he wanted to give me something that fit me personally.  He was proud of me. 
He was a wonderful usher in our wedding.  He was so handsome, and I was proud of him walking Mom down the aisle in front of all those people. 
When we were little, we used to stay up on Christmas eve and talk to each other from our rooms over an intercom.  We used to make “wood carvings” late into summer nights under the street lamp by the woodpile in our backyard.  On hot summer days we’d eat orange juice popsicles on the steps of the back porch.  We were rivals at piano when we were first learning how to play--he could memorize music better than I could.  When we visited family in southwest Virginia, he and I explored the countryside together.  In our own town, we braved the woods and creeks of our neighborhood and others nearby.  We took hikes to Wolf Creek with Mom and our dog.  We built ramps for our sleds when it snowed and had "collision wars" while we raced down the hills.  We played spotlight tag, baseball, basketball, and smear with the neighborhood kids--all boys.  He was my big brother. 
Growing up, he did Aikido-Jujitsu.  He especially liked doing the rolls.  He was a great swimmer, and my goal was always to beat his times. We went rock climbing together in West Virginia one summer, and we went white water rafting as a family almost every year.
He once put a dead scorpion in my rabbit’s cage as a joke.  When we were really, really little he tried to get me to eat rabbit poop in the yard by telling me it was raisins. 
As an adult, he liked to show off the roofs he installed--especially the frighteningly steep ones.  He was always a risk taker, always pushing the limits. 
He always loved me. 
He liked Stephen King novels, moose tracks ice cream, and spicy food.  He bought a jet ski that quit working on its first trip out.   He once rode one of my horses while simultaneously smoking a cigarette.  I was so mad, but he just laughed and told me to quit worrying about it. 
The last time we went skiing, he skied down the toughest run over and over and over again, as fast as he could, barely in control but loving every second of it. 
He was so, so intelligent and analytical, so perceptive and observant.  So sensitive to the smallest, subtlest looks and comments.
I remember his hands--strong, rough, sturdy, and always warm.  I remember when he said “I love you” at the end of a phone conversation when I was upset.  I remember him texting me to say "Happy New Year!" the last New Year’s Eve we had together.  I still have that text.  I remember how he would come over to the house for dinner after he'd moved out, and how he would always hug me before he left the house. 
He was my big brother, and I was his little sister, and we loved each other.  Always.  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Poetry Sunday: A Future Not Our Own

It's Poetry Sunday!  I read this poem when I was a junior in college, and it really connected with me. Last week I was going through some old boxes of stuff in preparation for our move, and I found a copy of it. It speaks to me now just as much as it did then, and I hope it will speak to you as well. It's written by a former archbishop from El Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero (1917-1980):

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a small fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. 
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything. 
This is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. 
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it well.
It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. 
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.  
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. 
We are prophets of a future not our own.
I love it… we cannot do everything, but that is liberating rather than disheartening. We're workers. We're ministers. We're not the master builder. We're pieces of this great, huge, complicated, beautiful, messy story. So let us plant seeds, let us water seeds already sewn, let us lay foundations, let us do something and do it well. Let us dive in head first with full hearts and clear eyes. And even in the midst of serving and loving and reconciling, even as we pour ourselves into the roles set before us, even as we focus keenly on making a difference in the here and now, let us be ever mindful that beyond the clear and vivid present is the blurrier "long view" on the horizon--a future that is ultimately not our own.

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." -1 Corinthians 3:6