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Some of my favorite images from the year

Well, here it is. The end-of-the-year review. I feel like a lot has been said about the world in general, and I’m tired and a little sad tonight, so I’m not interested in recapping it (didn’t I do this last year, too? I remember being very melancholy last year at this time. Maybe that’s just who I am now.). So I’m going to go through the year I thought I was going to have, how it changed for me personally, and maybe some more things as I ramble on.

First, some goal-setting changes:
1. I love resolutions, but I maintain the flexibility to adapt them. I did this really well this year – mostly out of necessity but also because it just makes sense to set goals that way. To work toward what you want until you get it or don’t really want it anymore or figure out something you want more.
2. Instead of plotting all the short-term tasks needed to reach goals in a chart for each month at the beginning of the year, I plotted one month at a time and based the new standards for each month on the previous month’s actual accomplishment (it’s like I KNEW) (I did not know) (No one knew). I like this much better, and it gives me a much clearer picture of the real progress I’m making.
3. I took the month of December off from the reward system of checking things off. Mostly I did this to just take a break from it, which was needed. But also it gave me a chance to see what habits actually stuck when I removed the reward of a check mark or a crossed-off item. Very illuminating.

Official resolutions I made at the beginning of the year and how they went:
1. Read 120 books. I did not quite make it. But, considering that I went for about four months where I had the attention span of a gnat and couldn’t read for more than five minutes at a time (I read a total of six books during those four months), I think my final total of 96 is still pretty respectable.
2. Finish Fishbowl again – nope. Although I’ve made considerable progress.
3. Keep up with microfictions on Ello – yes…ish. I haven’t even checked lately to see if Ello is still a thing. But I have written a LOT of microfiction and short stories. I didn’t set a specific number to write every month, so I didn’t keep count, but that was the main creative writing I did.
4. Perform with Spiderweb – yes x2! I was in the last in-person show, collaborating with Sarah Ruth for Spiderweb Loves You on Valentines Day. And I had a spot in our online Spiderdead in November playing an original not-really-a-composition-but-more-like-a-prompt called Maybe Hope is a Terrible Idea.
5. Find a doctor – yes. Done.
6. Find a new dentist and eye doctor – not yet. Have people picked out to try, though, in the first few months of the new year.
7. Continue to build Pilates practice – yes, but not back with the in-person classes yet (although my studio has been great with upping the cleanliness standards and thinking outside the box and serving customers – really proud of the way they’ve done things). When we started working from home in March, I accepted a 30-day strength challenge with Jessica and Mary in my office, though, and I incorporated a lot of Pilates stuff in that and have expanded it and kept up with it pretty well. I may be able to test into Level 2 classes when I return.
8. Work – vague resolution about continuing to figure out what I want to do with my life that got put on the back burner when I was just happy to still have work.
9. Word of the year was “alive” and we know how I feel about that. So that’s that.

Goals I didn’t have at the beginning of the year but added and met anyway:
1. Reduce plastic use and trash production. I started putting trash day as Monday on my calendar (I needed help remembering some things – see note above re: attention span). I soon found myself finding ways to prolong it to another day to see how long I could go without filling up the trash cans. I’m up to three weeks (except in the kitchen because food-adjacent waste really shouldn’t sit in my house for three weeks but I just use smaller bags).
2. Reduce food waste – my fridge had a hard year and I think it’s on its way to dying. My freezer still works great, though, so I began freezing leftovers. I’m down to almost zero food waste, so I think that’s a habit I’ll keep even when I have a fixed/new fridge.
3. Automate shipments – toilet paper, toothpaste tabs (the Bits ones – plastic free packaging!), laundry sheets (also plastic free!), etc. I needed to take things out of my headspace this year, so I automated a lot of shipments of things I normally would just run an extra errand to get when I ran out. Now I don’t run out. Great decision – 10/10 – highly recommend.

Things I learned about myself:
1. I’m way more adaptable than I thought I was. Like…my response to chaos has mostly been to fight and thrive (relatively speaking).
2. I am very particular about who I trust. And I like that about me. I mean, I’ll extend a basic trust to most people – I don’t want into new relationships assuming they’re shady – but past that basic trust? It has to be earned.
3. I can like and get along with someone without trusting them or letting them affect me. This makes me good at standing up for other people, and I want to practice that more in the future.
4. I need to be touched. Like…regularly. I knew this already but I really really know it now.

I lost a few people I love this year (some COVID-related, some not), and that’s been hard. I also had a few heartbreaks, one in particular that was really heavy and terrible. I feel like I’m in perpetual heartbreak these days, and I don’t know how to not be. I’m really trying to seek joy in the midst of it anyway.

Finally, to end on a sort of positive note, some highlights:
1. Staying connected to Spiderweb even though it’s online and particularly to the You Are Here support group
2. Monday night text study
3. Book clubs!
4. So many artists adapting to online performance and sharing really beautiful things
5. So many local businesses adjusting to changes and finding new ways to serve customers
6. The Science of Well-Being – free course from Yale
7. Wake and Bake fundraising boxes of baked goods
8. Backyard hangouts with people who love me

Goodbye, 2020.

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Day 8 – Seek and Find

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” – Isaiah 61:1-2

“Today is the Sunday of joy.”

This is the first thing the pastor said this morning in his sermon. I usually do my daily Advent activity at night, so I had forgotten that this is the week we focus specifically on joy in the liturgy. All throughout the service on Zoom, there seemed to be an emphasis on seeking it out that carried over from the annual meeting we held the hour before. This was a hard year to recap and put a tidy bow on, but it was easy to find joy in these people with whom I worship, who avoid neither hard truths nor practical, hopeful solutions, who have patiently and faithfully made all the adjustments we’ve asked of them this year and keep showing up online and responding with grace and exuberant generosity.

I know I talk about my church and mention faith in passing, but I don’t say I’m a Christian a lot because wow, the baggage. It’s a lot to unpack. Part of that baggage is the pull of the prosperity gospel that is popular in many circles, particularly in our culture. The name-it-and-claim-it, ask-and-you-shall-receive, vending machine Jesus where you put in a prayer and walk away #blessed. The “you just need to pray harder” message. And the inevitable flip side of the coin that quips if there is a God, then why is the vending machine so broken? Why is the world the way it is and why do bad things happen to good people (or for that matter, why do good things happen to bad people)? If you’ve been hammered with these messages, it can be hard to find joy even when it’s the theme of the day.

To be fair, this sentiment doesn’t come out of nowhere. “Ask and you shall receive” wasn’t lifted off a bumper sticker; it’s straight out of the gospels. And it’s got backup:
– If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, I will answer and heal their land.
– If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you can ask what you will and it will be done.
– My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches in Christ Jesus (riches which, of course, the Bible teaches are unfathomably abundant or even limitless).

There’s a whole lot of “If A then B” going on in the scriptures.

Fortunately, this isn’t the whole story. Good news for me, because if it were, I’d be firmly in the second camp, unable to believe in a god who chooses to withhold resources and dole them out stingily based on a whim or performance or prayerful hoop-jumping. I’m interested in the scandalously extravagant God who pours out the wealth without feeling the insecure need to micromanage what we do with it (overbearing, controlling father metaphors? No, thank you.). My faith means seeing other people as the very image of God. This, too, is risky, because sometimes we people act like garbage, and that does not reflect well on any deity who would have us believe they are love.

But when I look for it, I get a glimpse of joy in actions born of that unfathomable abundance that we often try to keep locked up as only something God can access in order to avoid our own responsibilities to each other – to set captives free, to right every wrong, to feed and clothe and house and heal. It’s in every person. We don’t always see it or act accordingly and thus *gestures broadly* But I believe it’s there.

I contain unfathomable abundance. You contain unfathomable abundance.

This has been a hard weekend that followed a hard week (month…year…decade?). Seeking and finding joy has been and remains a difficult task. But yesterday, there were hours spent online with friends, sometimes talking but mostly just hanging out in the ASMR of some of us baking, some of us making art, some of us writing. And there is a church that doesn’t require me to sit quietly or to stuff everything and everyone I love into a box but instead encourages me to keep speaking up. And there are local activists, artists, and business owners who bond together to ensure mutual thriving and to bring our little corner of the world closer to what it would look like if all were true and right. And there are baked goods and rosewater that show up at my front door. And cards that come in the mail. And coffee. And candlelight.

Hello, joy. There you are.

I’m writing about chasing joy for the 31 days of December. Click here to see the whole list.

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My first small, imperfect peaches of the season. 

My word for the year is “alive.” The universe is hilarious.

I had a few thoughts about how this would go. There were a lot of lofty quotes that came to mind and many goals I made that I thought would contribute to a more vibrant existence. I had no idea how often I would have to fight to actively choose living over becoming stagnant or something else.

Today I read Joy the Baker’s post on turning 39, and so much of it resonated with me. I can list the accomplishments I’m proud of and many things I do well, but most days I can’t help but feel that I, too, have been left behind – that I missed a turn somewhere that would have taken me down the path toward those Big Life Goals™ that I just assumed would come along as soon I was ready for them. I also love her curiosity and her intention to set aside the small life story in exchange for embracing the things that sparkle – to “do them badly, then less badly, then maybe almost well.”

When our church decided to start meeting remotely, we didn’t hesitate or put it off a few weeks to figure it out. Our pastor told council, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” He didn’t mean, of course, that doing a bad job at online services should be the goal. Only that it needn’t wait until we had all the information to do it expertly.

As you can imagine, this is not my modus operandi. I am all for jumping off the cliff (metaphorically); I just want to be armed with a gigantic parachute of relevant knowledge before I do.

But I started the year with a commitment to come alive, so whether I know what I’m doing or not, here I am, doing it badly but consistently. This looks like a lot of different things:

To bake and eat the cake that I’ve been craving for a month rather than just think about making it.

To dance, enjoying the way my body – this body, the one I have right now – feels when it moves.

To choose to spend money in a way that actually makes a difference in my life and the lives of others rather than contributing to the greed of entities that exist to homogenize us.

To play Chopin. And also Joplin. And also brand new things that no one but me has ever heard.

To sing, even when there’s no one to carry the harmony.

To eat my veggies and stay hydrated.

To seek out the people who love me well and stop worrying about those who don’t.

To discover how much time I have when I cut out all the things that don’t really matter.

To discover exactly which things do matter so, so much.

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I wrote and shared this a few years ago. I’m reading through Tanya Marlow’s beautiful Those Who Wait for Advent this year and thus dealing with some things I had buried. Maybe you are, too, this season.

“I will make you a great nation.  Sarah will bear you a son!”

The Visitor always did like to make an entrance.

None of the standards –

No, “How have you been?”

Or, “Friend, that was a long journey!”

Only a big announcement would do.

She heard while she was minding the supper dishes.

And Sarah laughed.

The Visitor was perplexed.

“Why is Sarah laughing? What – does she think I can’t?!”

Abraham, sweet man, tried

To act like it was nothing

To deflect the sound coming from the other room

“Probably just thinking about something funny that happened today.”

She stood in the kitchen, listening to men make plans,

And Sarah laughed.

Wouldn’t this have made more sense, Sarah wondered,

To have told me this Himself?

Abraham’s a good husband,

But there’s only so much even a good husband can do to bring a child.

I guess I should be flattered, she thought.

They’re throwing me a surprise party.

In my womb.

And Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive promises and hopes stirred.

How long had the story been told?

Around tables and fires, shrouded in wonder and awe.

Descendants outnumbering the sand.

It need only start with one.

But the one was nowhere to be found.

She had been told of His perfect timing,

So Sarah laughed.

She remembered elusive sleep and garments rent.

How many tears had she shed?

Surrounded by a sea of children, but always on the other side of the door.

Skinned knee unbandaged, wedding unattended, grandchildren unheld.

Age showing her what it was capable of

As the bleeding stopped, and the book closed.

She had already cried,

So Sarah laughed.

Is this how promises are fulfilled?

To wait until all hope, desire, and ability are gone?

To finally bring her what she always wanted

But only after it was too late for her to enjoy it fully?

Just to make Himself look more special than everyone already knew He was.

Maybe what she wanted to do was punch Him

But she couldn’t

So Sarah laughed.

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photo (21)

The Advent/Christmas tree is up. It has pockets.

Advent started yesterday, and as is my (recent…within the last few years) custom, I put my Christmas tree up on the evening of the first day. All those little knitted pockets are pieces of a deconstructed Advent calendar, and each will hold a small task for each day (which I will distribute among them tonight). I love the practice of daily calendar, whether the surprise inside is a memory, a quote, a fun task, or a chocolate.

But there are other things I’m skipping this year.

I seem to get worked up over how busy this season is. I’m worried that I won’t have enough time to do the things I want to do (i.e., drive around and see Christmas lights, go to parties, etc.) and also still do the things I need to do (i.e., jobs, shower, etc.). My calendar is overloaded from the excess. I can’t look at it too long (which is sad, because you know how much I love my planner), or I get anxious.

None of that this year. I’m skipping the worry. Yesterday, our pastor preached a sermon on the foreboding apocalyptic text for the first Sunday of Advent, and the point he made was that this is a season not of either/or but both/and. The world is awful and everything is bleak and ending and there is joy and love and hope and peace. I love that. I’m embracing that this month, and that leave no room for worry. I’m going to do what I must and what I want, and at the end of the month, chances are good that I’ll still be standing despite (or possibly even because) all of it.

The trick is this: I’m also skipping anything that doesn’t fall into those two categories. If I neither need nor want to do something, I’m not gonna. I’m skipping obligation. I know – the holidays are a dangerous season for that. But yesterday, I also skipped our congregational meeting. I didn’t mean to. I meant to go – set my alarm and everything. But when I woke up, I was so hungry. I knew there would be donuts at the church, but donuts are only nourishing for the soul, not the body. I knew if I didn’t eat real food, it would affect the rest of the day. So I stayed home a little longer and did just that. Nothing bad happened, and I got to start the day right.

More of that this season, please. The expected busyness with a few cracks where the light can get in.

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This month went by super fast! There was one tree at the beginning of the month in the lot where I park at work that had shed all its leaves (as if to say, “Come on, you guys – it’s time! Don’t be late!” I feel like that tree understands me.), but now they’re all turning/shedding. And I love it.

November has been busy, but happy busy. I had a minor writing delay when my laptop crashed, but my sister and brother-in-law gave me one of theirs, so I’m back on a roll, and just in time for the holidays! Here’s how the month went.

What I’m into reading or listening to:

  • Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram is a gem of a book. I love the perspective and the sweet friendship he forges when he goes to see his family.
  • I’m getting through Anna Karenina. I recognize that I’m in no position to critique a translation from Russian, as I do not know a lick of Russian, but I’m going to critique it anyway. I’m liking the story line and character development, but I frequently run across a passage where I think, “I bet that was beautiful in Russian. Too bad this phrasing is awkward and awful.” I may check a copy out of the library and see if that goes better.
  • I attending the UNT Jazz Singers’ fall concert/CD release party and picked up their new collection called A Thousand Nights. Highly recommend.

a thousand nights

What I’m into doing:

  • A Club Pilates location opened in Denton, and I am obsessed. I love Pilates on the reformer machines! If you’re in or near Denton, and you’re curious, you can take a free, 30-minute intro session.
  • Our Housing holiday party was fantastic. It was beautiful, the food was awesome, and they gifted everyone with a free ham or turkey. As you can see in the picture at the top, I couldn’t decide what to drink. So many choices. I made them all.
  • I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my family. We only made four kinds of candy this year (one didn’t make it into buckets because it was only a small batch). I only suffered a minor burn, which is better than I usually do. I think my family actually enjoys the chocolate-covered salted peanut or pecan clusters I make to use up the excess chocolate more than they like the actual candy.
  • Speaking of chocolates, I refreshed our fair trade stash at church and put out a table with samples of chocolate, coffee, and tea. Hopefully the information I collected there can help guide our purchases better so that the products get bought before they go stale.

What I’m looking forward to:

  • There is a coffee crawl scheduled next weekend, and I’m very excited about it. It’s a fundraiser for the Explorium (a children’s museum in Denton), and I am happy to drink coffee to support them.
  • I’m also very excited about Christmas break. I am looking forward to having that time off.

What are you into these days?

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inspired

“They say art should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I think the same is true for Scripture.” – Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans grew up in a conservative Christian church where her passion for God was encouraged. Her questions, however, often were not. But that didn’t mean the questions went away. In Inspired, she engages the Bible, not as the facts-and-figures literal account she was always taught it was nor as the everything-is-relative figurative interpretations popular with many progressives, but as stories, told in a specific context and powerful enough to unlock truth and hope.

“We may wish for answers, but God rarely gives us answers. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, ‘Let me tell you a story.'”

This book would be most useful for Christians who want to love God with their whole hearts, souls, and minds, which probably means not having to switch any of them off when reading scripture. The Bible is full of stories of heroism and kindness and love. The Bible is also full of stories of cowardice and greed and hate. And if you’re reading literally, God doesn’t always end up on what one might consider the right side of the stories.

Take the book of Job, for example. When I was young, Job was my least favorite book. The God in Job is a real jerk, especially if you take a strictly literal reading. God allows this man’s life to be destroyed and completely ignores the pain of Job’s wife who lost everything and everyone he did, just so he can prove he’s better than Satan.

But when read not as an actual retelling of what God did but rather through the lens of instruction – and yes, even hope – it can read more like this:

“…it’s not the learned theologians who get the peek at glory, but the man who said, with candor and courage, ‘I desire to argue with God.'”

I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. I expected it to sit heavier on me, but the effect was just the opposite. I enjoyed the descriptions of the different types of stories (my favorites being the resistance stories and the wisdom stories), and the organization into these categories made it easy to follow. I also enjoyed snippets like this:

“…from Proverbs 27:14: ‘If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.’ As we say in the Episcopal Church, this is the Word of the Lord.

Although it took me a while to get started and to finish, the slow reading is more indicative of the challenges of wrestling with Scripture rather than with Inspired itself. I recommend for anyone who would like to refresh their approach to the Bible.

 

I received a copy of Inspired from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

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What I’m always into is the book stack on my bedside table.

This month is the last month Leigh Kramer will be hosting her What I’m Into link-up. I missed the deadline for linking up, but I wanted to take a moment to mention how much I have enjoyed this community of bloggers. Even on the months I didn’t post, I would read through the posts linked there. I love reading about what other people love. This group has multiplied my to-read list, improved my skin care regimen (whoever recommended Acure’s Brilliantly Brightening Day Cream? I am forever indebted.), added to my recipe repertoire, improved my taste in wine, and given me more movie and television recommendations than I could ever finish in three lifetimes. I’m going to miss it, but I’ll still post monthly(ish) updates on what I’m into and, since I follow a lot of the people who were a part of it, perhaps I will link to their posts so you can reap the same benefits I have (albeit on a smaller scale). I’m so grateful to Leigh for hosting for so long!

Right now, I’m getting back into the swing of things as the regular schedule picks back up. Church is busier because all my groups (choir, writer’s group, book club, etc.) are meeting again and also because this year is our 50th anniversary, so we’re planning shenanigans for that. Our service project got rained out last Saturday, but maybe we’ll reschedule on a weekend I’m free.

Speaking of book clubs, I’ve joined yet another one, this time at work. Tomorrow is our first meeting, and we’re discussing Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I have read Housekeeping before but Evicted is newer. I recommend both, and I’m excited to talk about them tomorrow.

August at work is super busy, but it’s slowing down now. We got the residents moved in and are shuffling them around as we find spaces that aren’t booked and are able to accommodate requests and fill in some off our waitlist. We should be pretty full by the end of September.

I hosted my annual Hemingway party (where the food is good yet simple, like his prose, and the party is alcohol-laden, like the author himself) late this year, so the crowd was smaller. We still had a good time. It’s always fun to catch up with people.

This month, I’m looking forward to the Denton Blues Festival (this weekend!) and having a little time off from work.

 

What are you into these days?

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Not Friday Five

My most recent newsletter (click to subscribe) outlines a little bit about my reasons for being quiet around these parts lately. I’m restructuring some priorities, to put it mildly.

It’s no wonder then that the links in my inbox that catch my eye talk about change and restlessness and anxiety (also, that’s just pretty much the nature of my inbox in general, but I digress).

The words that have resonated recently:

  1. What if the work we see to do isn’t a burden but the way we were meant to be in the world? What If by Austin Channing Brown.
  2. Jenny Lawson is one of my favorite people on the planet. This post makes me out-of-my-mind happy. I want this so bad for her (and the rest of us).
  3. Maybe you’re going through (or thinking about initiating) a major life change. Adjustment disorder is not so rare. Consider talking to someone about it.
  4. The only business plan that matters? Keep going – from Over the Rhine.
  5. Wil Gafney’s sermon on Michal is exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe you do, too.

24in48 is coming up next weekend, so I’ll see you again then, if not before. I hope you’ve had a great weekend!

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perfect

I expected to either love or hate this book. I like good satire, but it is an art. It’s hard to land in that sweet spot between utterly unfunny and abrasively condescending. And when the book is billed as being reminiscent of The Onion, my skepticism kicks in. I’ll be the judge of that, book.

So I was surprised when my general response to The Babylon Bee’s How To Be a Perfect Christian was, “Heh. That was kinda funny.” I expected a more extreme reaction.

Throughout the book, the authors give updates on how you are doing on your journey to become the perfect (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) Christian. It was mildly humorous. I get that continuity is the bedrock of good storytelling, but unless you have somewhere new to go with a joke at every turn, it’s really only funny the first time.

There were a few snarky sucker punches that, in the context of their chapters, were well timed. Of course, I lol-ed at this one:

“The church cafe is like an inferior version of Starbucks, which is already an inferior version of real coffee shops.”

And how many of us who have attended a charismatic missions conference have not at least once thought something like this (if you have been to such a conference and swear this never crossed your mind, I direct you to Revelation 21:8):

“Is the backup singer speaking in tongues or is she just improvising absolute gibberish? That’s between her and Jesus.”

My favorite section was the part on deciphering Christianese:

  • “I’m just waiting on the Lord right now,” is code for “I am still living with my parents.”
  • “I really feel like this is God’s will for my life,” means “I’m sick of people pointing out the glaringly obvious flaws in my life plan, so I’ll just slap the handy ‘God’s will’ label on it to silence the wisdom of my critics.”
  • And my personal favorite – “We just invite your presence into this place now, Father God,” as a subtle message to the congregation: “None of you heathens were clapping during that last song. Get it together, people.”

Overall, this was an enjoyable read for someone whose experience in the Christian church has been mostly not terrible. If you know (and more importantly, have been hurt by) too many people who proselytize the works-based righteousness satirized within, I recommend passing this book by. It’s probably too soon for this to be funny to you now (or maybe ever). I also do not recommend it for those who equate praying with talking to an imaginary friend, because (spoiler alert) the wrap-up at the end might be too Christian-y for you.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books.

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