How is my light spent?

Do you ever hear a quote that brings truth slamming into your face?

That happened to me today. I was driving down the road, rushing to an appointment I was sure I would be late to. And the podcast I listened to delivered this line:

When I consider how my light is spent

John Milton

Doesn’t that line take your breath away? Milton lost his sight at age 46, and he wrote this as his eyesight failed him. His response was to choose to spend that time wisely, carefully, intentionally.

Wow.

Do you consider how your light is spent? All of our time is precious, none of us has life infinite. It isn’t a depressing thought, it is an empowering thought. What will I do with the time I have? We all have a choice.

Doesn’t it make your time more precious?

Fill your days with more meaning?

Dash away the pestering problems and help you hold on to the real, the tangible, the present?

When I consider how my light is spent, I know I want to spend it leaving someone with joy and not a bad taste in their mouth.

When I consider how my light is spent, I want it to be done fully awake and alive, I never want to wonder where the days have gone.

When I consider how my light is spent, I don’t want it to be tainted with regret, but always moving forward towards a different future.

If we don’t consider how our light is spent, we end up wasting life. Unintentionally going through days like there are more where that one came from.

How will you spend your light?

 

 

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Seven Months Later . . .

If you want to know how long it took me to recover from a full marathon, the answer is seven months. Almost as long as it took me to train and that is probably why I’ll never do another full. My sister pumps out marathons like they are a walk in the park but me? I’ll take my 13.1 any day over another full. Everybody has their distance.

Dear faithful readers, you heard me complain about the training, more training, and all the training. By the time I laced up race day I was so glad the training was over I didn’t care if I finished.

Okay, that’s not true, but I would like it to be true.

Running a full marathon was a bucket list item. I checked it off, have the t-shirt and don’t feel the need to punish myself like that ever again. There are a lot of things you learn about yourself running a marathon, how far you can push yourself, how much confidence you truly have, and how much pain your body can handle.

My body can handle a lot, just in case you wondered. What I didn’t expect, however, was how much I learned about myself afterwards; how my body needs rest, how sometimes jumping back in the saddle isn’t the best solution, and sometimes recovery is more than just physical.

There were a lot of weeks I just couldn’t fathom running again. It took all I had to run miles 18-26.2 and I wondered if I had used up all my running for life in those last 8.2. When I did run, it hurt. My hips, my plantar muscle, my calves, shins and back all groaned as I slogged through slow miles.

A lot of days I didn’t run.

Disney 2014 RabbitBut, every February I run a race in Florida with my sister. We started four years ago to celebrate my 5 years cancer free. It being December I needed to kick my training up a notch or the fairy godmother is going to have to use her fairy dust to get me to the finish line. And this year I celebrate 9 years cancer free. I can’t really wimp out on this.

Today, seven months out from that marathon, I ran my 4th fastest time. Ever. I pushed myself, I felt like crap, but I ran. I focused on breathing, moving my legs, and the music in my ears. I have been edging closer to my pace pre-marathon and all it took was for me to stop trying so hard.

I didn’t just rest my body, I rested my mind these past seven months. A lesson I need to learn in more than just my running. Because I can see the parallels in my life after cancer, and after weight loss, in parenting and marriage. Rest isn’t just something we do for our bodies, it’s something we do for our souls.

 

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Revising

I may be deep in editing mode. I just spent ten minutes reworking my husband’s email to a teacher.

Ten minutes.

Not because what he said was wrong, but because it could be said better.

That is how my brain is working right now. Every morning and afternoon I sit down and comb through my writing. I look for places that could be clearer, the tension more active, the dialog more engaging. It is a slow slog through the pages. Two weeks and four chapters, which is funny considering I just wrote 50k in a month.

Revising is a whole different animal. Since I am not much of an outliner, there is a lot of work ensuring the story makes sense. I love revising though, there is nothing better than going through a section and finding a better word, or a better way to show something.

“Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
― Raymond Chandler

That about sums up my writing process.

The tricky thing about revising, is it is hard to shut off my brain. The rest of the day I have one foot in the present and the other is stuck somewhere on page 40 of my manuscript. Or I spend 10 minutes arguing with my husband about the clearest way to communicate with a teacher.

The kids, my poor kids, will get a lecture on how to tell a story to make it more effective, or I chuck the book I am reading to them across the room because the author got lost in their own brilliance.

Revising is the thrust of writing, for me, it’s where the story comes alive, the words dance, and the plot grows. The road is uphill and rest is out of sight, but I know when I get there, it will be worth it.

If I don’t annoy everyone in the process.

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Do What Lasts

 

It took cancer for me to learn to live life this way. It didn’t happen overnight, but it was a long journey towards what really matters. Everyday I fight against the tide of what the world says is important. Somedays I lose and I get caught up in the wave and crash against the shore. The days I live for are the ones where I don’t get lost in all the junk of life.

We only get this one life, and this life matters. Start treating it like it does.

The above quote is from Bob Goff, who I heard on a radio show. He impacted me because every Thursday he quits something good, to make room for something great. It took a while for people to understand what he was doing and why, but the power he demonstrates in creating space in his life is one we should all embrace and own in our lives.

We spend a lot of time, especially as parents, doing things we think matter. We sign our kids up for lessons, sports, enrichment classes; chasing the American dream. All of those things keep our eyes on the future instead of the present, and when we live in the future, we miss people who need us right now.

When someone asks us to spend a few hours volunteering, we say no, because we are too tired from all the other things; activities that keep us circling our tails and believing we are going somewhere.

But what matters more?

The sporting practice we take our kids to, or the food bank we volunteer at?

The scouting event, or spending time with someone who is lonely?

Dialoging about race relations or finding people who don’t look like your neighbors and sitting with them.

We do everything else first, because we mix up what lasts with what doesn’t. Sure, we have good intentions, but we never find joy, because there isn’t any in busyness.

What lasts, what really lasts, is life-giving not life draining.

I challenge you this Christmas season to quit something that doesn’t matter for something that does. You won’t just change your life, you’ll change someone else’s as well.

 

 

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The Santa Myth

The day I knew was coming is here.

Rebecca and Isaac don’t believe in Santa.

Rebecca has had her suspicions for a while. Last year I found a book she made with pictures of the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Santa, and underneath the words, not real. She never said anything to us about her suspicions, but at some point she said something to Isaac because he ambushed us a month ago and asked point blank,

“Is Santa real?”

Michael and I looked at each other and took a deep breath. Our plan was to ask, “Do you want to believe, or do you want to hear the truth.” We asked the same question when Rebecca started to vacillate and it worked well. She wanted to believe, so we continued.

So we asked, and the Isaac said, “Truth time.”

And we told the truth.

This is a good reminder that not all kids want the truth.

Rebecca took it in stride. She’s older and has been thinking about this for a year, but Isaac is devastated. His 6 year old world just crumbled around him and last night he came to me in tears and said, “If Santa isn’t real, that means the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and the Sandman aren’t (Thanks Rise of the Guardians.)

“Why did you lie to us?” he cried.

And I don’t have a good reason other than, because that’s what people do.

I want to blame some 19th century overachieving mom, think pinterest elf on the shelf mom but via 1800′s, and that woman said,  ”You know that St. Nick tradition we have? Why don’t we fluff it up some and pretend he comes down our chimney, eats our food and watches us like the government. The kids will love it. In fact one article said, it was akin to a viral video today.

Here we are a few hundred years later lying to our kids about the presents we give them, pretending that some fat man in a red suit breaks into our houses, and gives us exactly what we see on the shelves at Target. It’s a lot of work to perpetuate this tale;  all to have the kids realize at some point you are a big fat liar.

Can we have the same joyful spirit without all the lies?

It’s the question I have been asking myself because Margo is just hitting her Santa stride. This is the year we push it and continue the story or find a different way to handle the holidays. And after Isaac’s reaction to the truth, I’m not so sure I want to do the same to Margo.

This blog post, Santa:Innocent fantasy or harmful lie has some great ideas. I don’t truly think the Santa story is a harmful lie, but I do agree with the author that our kids, especially young ones, need a concrete world. And there is a way to bring make-believe into the world with care and consideration. So this year I think we are going to be real with the whole Santa myth and treat it like it is. A myth. A myth that we all enjoy, but recognize that it is still make believe.

The problem begins when we pass the story off as truth.

The kids can still celebrate the joy of Christmas, including Santa, and not feel lied to at the same time. We all recognize it as a story, but one we choose to act out. Christmas is one of my favorite childhood memories and I want to make sure how we handle the whole Santa myth enhances Christmas this year instead of ruining it.

Yesterday I tested the waters with Margo and we talked about the story of Santa and how Mommy and Daddy like to pretend to be Santa by hiding gifts and surprising them on Christmas day.

And she was totally fine with it.

All these things we do for our kids to preserve the sanctity of childhood and sometimes the best thing we can do is be honest.

The kids still wake up to gifts of grace, they get to set out cookies, sing carols, watch Christmas movies, and spend time with family. None of that is ruined by saying Santa is a fun story we like to reenact. They are all fine with it.

And if they are fine with it, so am I. It sure makes Christmas a lot less crazy. And makes it easier to explain why we buy gifts for kids whose families can’t afford Christmas. In fact, the kids are excited to be Santa Claus for others.

That’s pretty cool.

I always wanted the kids to believe in Santa, because I wanted them to believe in magic. I wanted them to understand there is an element to this world that we can’t understand, can’t contain, and can’t predict. Now I understand disbelief doesn’t lead to a disbelief in a world of magic.

It enhances it.

 

How have you handled Santa and the other make-believe characters of childhood?

 

 

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I’m only happy when it rains . . .

 

There are some weeks that defy description. The kids are sick, all of them, with a fever that will not end. The van breaks and is in the the shop for the third time in a week. The snow comes down and then comes down more. The temperature hovers somewhere around February instead of the middle of November. My sinuses feel like nails.

Date night is canceled and canceled again.

The water pipes freeze and bust causing a pool to form in the basement, and my thought is, “Eh, I wanted to clean the carpets anyway.”

There isn’t much you can do with weeks like these. They are what they are. But, a friend stops by with coffee and donuts, the cost of repair isn’t as bad as I thought, my husband takes care of bedtime so I can sit under a roaring electric blanket and read, and I still get my words on a page each day.

I even left the house without the kids for two whole hours. That is bliss. That is something to be thankful for.

We aren’t promised an easy life, although a smooth path once in a while would be nice. When the bad things keep pouring down on you, lift up your head and remember what you have to be grateful for. Sometimes it isn’t more than a coffee from a friend, or driving in a car, or reading a book. But every day there is something to be grateful for. It doesn’t mean the bad stuff doesn’t suck. It does. There is no Pollyanning your way of this. But with a little perspective you can still have Joy.

It just takes a little perspective.

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Kids Teach

I have absolutely no spatial reasoning. When I was younger we used to take an exam that required us to visualize how a paper would be folded and figure out what the next step was and what the finished product would look like.

Let’s just say my gift is words and not math.

If I read a set of instructions they better have pictures and concise written instructions. Most times I end up having someone else walk through the instructions with me, because not only do I need to read, see and follow along, it all works better if I can watch a demonstration. I’m all the learning styles wrapped up in a big ball of impatience.

When it comes to creating a 3-D object I’m a firm believer in the school of good enough, or don’t even try. Anytime I read a sewing pattern successfully (or close enough) I do a happy dance, because I really can’t read instructions and visualize a final product.

Geometry was a very dark period in my life.

Recently, I got into my head I wanted to make origami paper cranes for Christmas. I saw some online and they were gorgeous. Rebecca has been making them for about two years, so I figured if she could do them, I could YouTube it and figure it out myself.

What ended up happening was thirty minutes later I had a balled up piece of paper I was throwing at the disembodied voice on my laptop. Those YouTube demonstrators are so smug with their ability to see shapes and manipulate paper with their fingers.

After a few failed attempts I gave up and put aside the idea. Until yesterday. Yesterday afternoon we were having a lazy Sunday. Isaac was sick and Michael had been running all over Cleveland and finally sat down with a book to read. Margo was chattering to herself in a chair and Rebecca had paper strewn all over the living room floor. We have an art supply cabinet in our living room that has been a godsend on snowy, rainy and too hot days. It has paper, paint, paper hole punches, markers, colored pencil, finger paint, acrylic paints, etc. If it is a normal art supply, it is in there.

I found some cranes that Rebecca had folded, some origami paper and asked, “Hey Rebecca, could you show me how you make these?”

“You don’t know how?” Her eyes lit up. The thought of knowing something I didn’t was exciting.

I shook my head, “I couldn’t figure it out on my own. I ended up yelling at Youtube.”

Michael laughed because 1) He undertands my lack of spatial reasoning knows no bounds and 2) He’s seen me flustered and yelling at inanimate objects. 3) Even if he knew how to make the origami cranes, there was no way he would show me and get yelled at for the next hour.

Rebecca didn’t have a clue what she was getting herself into.

First off, that girl is patient, which is incredible to see that side of her. Her teachers always told me how patient she is in school, always spending time with another classmate who needed help. I don’t always see that at home with her siblings because they are, well, siblings.

She sat in front of the fire with me and went slowly through each step. When I folded the paper the wrong way or couldn’t remember the next step, she would take her paper, undo a couple steps and walk me through it. Again. And again. And again.

After an hour I could do it.

And when I thanked her she said, “It is so cool to be able to teach you something. Because you’re the mom.”

I laughed, but as she headed up to bed, I thought about that simple statement. Can our kids never be the teachers? Are we always the ones showing them the way? Isn’t there room for them to teach us once in a while?

Imagine what it does to their confidence to realize that they can help their parents.

I saw that in Rebecca’s eyes. Not that she didn’t gain anything out of the experience. It allowed me to show her my vulnerability, how I struggle with something, and that I can ask for help even when that help comes from someone I typically take care of. But the bigger lesson was for me. I put her, ahead of me. In my mind that is the definition of dignity, and I got to experience that with my daughter yesterday.

So often as parents we think about what we have to teach our kids in the short eighteen years they are with us. Everything we want them to be, to think about, to live. Everyday is a lesson and they are they students.

What I learned yesterday is sometimes as a parent, I can be the student, and that allowing my child to be the teacher is better than any lesson I can impart. It shows that I trust her, I am interested in something she is, and that no matter her age, she is important and has something to give to others.

Kids can teach us parents. If we stop talking for a second, and start listening.

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Uniquely Me

I am on Day 12 of Nanawrimo, and I am more than halfway done with the 50K goal set for November 30th. That seems pretty incredible to me. It took me about three years to write my first version of my book and that was about 63K. Last year I worked the entire year polishing that copy and turned it into an 85K book, that I was meh with. After I got my critique back from the Rising Star contest I knew I had to change my book.

I had to scrap what I had written in order to find my authentic voice.

For three months I struggled. I tried about five different ways to take what I had and turn it into a book that would keep people reading. What I heard from the judges is my writing was strong, but my plot was weak, and I could see what they meant. My characters didn’t change over the course of the book. It was a lot like my first attempt at writing when I was a kid. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

The end.

November rolled around and I decided to sign up for Nanowrimo. I didn’t think it would help me break out of my block, but sitting at my desk day after day in a vortex of shame didn’t help either. So I signed up, took the elements of my story and how I could make it different, and ran with it.

And now I am 12days in and I have written over 30,000 words.

It isn’t particularly great writing. There are plot holes I could fly a blimp through. Character names aren’t consistent and there is a lot of dialog floating around in space with nothing to anchor it. But the bones are there. I can see the arc and how my character is changing. It is my story, the story I started writing three years ago,  but with a twist that makes it all my own and different I hope, from all those other women’s fiction books out there.

There are no new stories out there. The first storytellers around the fire, they had new stories. But thousands of years later, all of them have been written. The only thing that makes my story new, is my voice.

And my voice finally came through and now I have a story that is uniquely me.

At the end of November I will have a book. A very bad book, but it is a book. Revision is where a story becomes great. After several years of writing this one story I understand the hardest part is getting the words on the page.

And now they are there and growing.

Every day I sit down and wonder if I can put down the 1660 word goal each day. And every day I surpass it. I haven’t plotted out the story, I haven’t outlined the arc. I write and lot the story goes where the characters say it needs to.

I don’t worry about what the writing blogs say about writing.

I don’t worry about whether I am writing high literature.

I don’t worry if my story is cheesy.

I don’t worry if I am writing a book that agents want.

I am writing what comes out of my head and heart and it is working.

Sometimes I think we all get caught up in being original and new. In life, writing, work, parenting, etc. That isn’t really the point, is it. Our voices are what make us unique, different from the person next to us. We may see the same things, but we will tell it different ways. There may not be any new stories to tell, but how we tell it, that is all our own.

How will you tell your story? Whether it is writing, in business, art, or parenting; we all have a voice, a perspective that is unique and all our own.

Now go out and share it.

 

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Past Lives

In a past life I was pretty muscial. I sang, I played trumpet and piano. Most of my high school years were spent in a band of some sort, interspersed with plays and musicals. And in the evenings when homework was over, I would hunker down with the piano and practice.

I was never particularly outstanding at anything. My voice was decent, my trumpet earned my first chair, most years, and I could pick my way around the piano. College came and slowly I divested myself from music. The choir was too big, the pep band too time consuming and the piano was an out of tune hunk of wood that every college freshman who could play piano would sit down and play Fur Elise.

Every single time.

Although we have a piano in my grown up years, it was hard to play. As soon as I would sit down the kids would hover around me like moths to a light. Crashing and banging while I tried to remember the chords to a Chopin tune, or yes, even Fur Elise. It only highlighted the fact I wasn’t a musician.

Rebecca started piano lessons this year and she has really blossomed, she’s skipping her way through the piano books and I am thrown back to a time when music was a major part of my life. This afternoon I was listening to some Chopin which always makes my fingers itchy. I rolled back the lid to the piano and felt my way through the pieces I used to know so well.

After all these years, I could pick them back up, but with a new understanding. I could hear the rhythm I always missed, trying to change a passage into a tripelet instead of the marching sixteenth notes. I understood why my piano teacher always bemoaned the clicking of my nails across the keyboard, now I realize how cumbersome they make playing.

My fingers are weak, but they remember the way. And, although I had to stop when Isaac decided it was his turn, I felt like I had brought back a piece of myself that was missing for a long time.

I wish music didn’t feel like it belonged to another life, but much like the passions of our youth, they get put aside when we decide we no longer have time for childish pursuits. If our hobbies don’t get us anywhere, we often drop them.

I like that as I near the middle point of life, I am embracing the things I put in a box when I was a teenager. Writing, music, and even dreaming. Back then I labeled the box, unrealistic dreams and only opened it when I felt a little nostalgia waving over me.

But today, I understand the dreams of our youth, are just good for the soul. I may not be a master musician like I dreamed,

But I can play, so I should.

If, of course, I can wrestle the piano away from the kids.

What did you used to do in a past life?

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Going out on a Limb

I have never been great at trying hard things. In my youth, I would pick the path I knew I could travel successfully, I picked the classes I knew I could ace, and I tried to stay out of situations I couldn’t control the outcome.

Cancer changed all that for me.

It was the first time I couldn’t take a path other than the one set in front of me. I had to have surgery, I had to have radiation, I had to go months without synthroid. The only way through the hard stuff, was down the path I didn’t want to go.

But that experience changed me. I learned I could do the hard thing even when I didn’t want to. And since then, I have stopped avoiding the painful path, because I know that is where the most happiness lies.

 

 

This month I had to go out on a limb. I want to finish my book, but I couldn’t. The voice I had been writing in wasn’t mine and I had to scrap everything I had written and restart it. As soon as I decided this, I got a call from an organization I have been waiting to volunteer with. Out of the fifteen hours a week I have to write, six will now go to reading to kids. And it is the time of year I need to get serious about my half marathon training, or Goofy will have to pull me in to the finish line in February. My precious mornings are full of the three things that are most important to me.

The easy path would be to get rid of one of the above. But, I have already pared my morning life down to the necessities; service, writing, and running. I have slowly divested my life of things I liked to do in order to make room for these three important things.

So I am taking the hard path. The one that requires a lot of faith and a lot of courage. The path that pushes me out of controlling everything and onto the one that allows me to ask for help from my family. The path that says life doesn’t have to be perfect to get things done. I may not have three hours in the morning to write anymore, but I have an hour every afternoon while Margo is in quiet time. I have weekends and evenings where I can ask Michael to step in.

Running, I just have to shift the days and realize those are the days I have to run. No more scheduling things when I should be running and no more, “Eh, I’ll run tomorrow.”

And volunteering, that is what fits in the space I made by readjusting my writing and running. I know I made the right choice, because of the little girl who before she left the waiting room gave me a big hug and said, “Thanks.”  And all I had done was be present. That’s why I am readjusting my life. Because of that.

I trust, I believe, I hope and I have courage.

That’s all I can do, and I know it’s enough.

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