Thursday, December 29, 2011

the trap of perfection

One of the challenges I always face when I'm considering changes in my life is that I'm a terrible perfectionist. I have this picture of the life I want and the person I want to be and frankly the life I have is very different from that picture. I want to eat healthy and exercise regularly. I want to write in a much more disciplined way. I want to simplify my life and my home. I want to get rid of our debt. I want to practice compassion and kindness. I want to pray more regularly. The list is pretty much endless. Any of these changes would make my life so much richer. But any time I think about change, all of these desires rush at me like frightened animals with their claws dug into my skin. I want perfection and this is a problem.

Perfection is a trap.

One of my favorite blogs is called Zen Habits written by a man named Leo Babauta. Don't let the name scare you if you're a Christian. Leo is one of the wisest guys I've come across and he talks a lot about habit change. Here's an article that I've been thinking a lot about as I've considered changes in my life. It basically talks about selecting one change and starting with a step so small that you can't NOT do it. One small thing. I wonder what it would be like to take something on in such a simple way. As I think of it, it almost seems impossible to me. All the frightened animals are fighting for my attention. My desire for perfection almost paralyzes me before I even begin. Isn't it funny that something simple seems impossible?

Here's what Anne Lamott has to say about perfectionism in the area of writing:

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.”

I think she may be right. I've posted this in the sidebar of my blog to remind me that I don't have to be perfect or cramped and insane. So the first step in choosing change will be to practice letting go of the need for perfection. I'm going to be spending a lot of time calming the wild-eyed animals, speaking in a quiet voice, petting them gently until they relax enough to retract their claws. Then I'm going to look around for the one that seems to need the most loving attention. That's where I'll begin. I'll let you know what I choose to focus on when my lovely beasts settle down a bit.

How about you? Does perfectionism get in your way when you think about change? What small step would open up the possibility for something new in your life?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

all is well

I think maybe we moved significantly south and no one let me in on it. It's been warm and sunny for the last couple of weeks. I can't even describe how lovely that is. I can't tell you how content I feel. My body is relaxed and alert and open to the world. I'm grateful and reflective when I see the rays of sun slipping through the open blinds. All is well. This photo was taken about an hour from sunset, but the sky is still bright and kind.

I'm thinking today about the new year that's just around the corner. I don't usually make New Years' resolutions, but I'm wondering about some changes that I want to take on. I'll be talking about that in the next days. For now, I'm just wondering what's on your mind as the year slips through our fingers? It's a challenge to practice contentment while directing your life in a particular direction. What are you grateful for and what are you inviting into your life that is new and hopeful? I'm listening.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

remembering christmas

Well, the hand-off went really well. Actually, it would be more accurate to call it an apprenticeship. My parents spent the night at my house Christmas eve and we all got up early and started preparing the meal. Honestly, it's gonna be a while before I could pull something like this off on my own. But everything turned out wonderful and we all had a great day. I think from now on we'll be having all of the winter holidays at my house. It's a perfect place to host a lot of people. The only real problem is my dogs. They love to steal food. (Bad doggies!) Other than that, it's heaven here. Here are some photos of the day. Enjoy!

my great-niece josie

my great-nephew mason (the kid has serious hair)

my great nephew calvin

my niece jessi: isn't she beautiful?

the mob opening gifts

my nice big table

joey, wyatt and danny :)

linc and his momma opening his art supplies. yay!

cowboy waiting to pounce

wyatt trying out josie's rocking horse

my aunt susie with calvin

my mom with calvin (that little guy gets around)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

winter solstice

Today is the darkest day of the year, but that's only if you're in the northern hemisphere. If you were to travel to the south pole you would enjoy 24 hours of sunlight today. I have to discipline myself to remember that. Place is everything. There is sunlight in other places in the world, and this means the world does not revolve around me. That's a good thing.

Somewhere in the world right now a child is playing in the warmth and sun. She is picking up shells on the beach and thanking God for the ocean and the sea birds overhead. She is wearing a pink swimsuit and dipping her toes into the surf. I'm glad for her. I don't begrudge her the warmth and light.

Beginning tomorrow the sun will gradually travel back to where I live. She will turn her face to the north and remember us again. I'll be waiting here, marking her return even when it still seems forever ago since she graced my body. I'll be counting the days until spring and watching the sky with anxious eyes. And I'll be thinking of a little girl building a castle in the sand. I'll join her in my mind, crafting a room for myself facing the joyful sun.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

cheating death

Last night we had no hot water or heat. But it's a little more complicated than that. We're having some work done in our basement and the gas was turned off for a while yesterday. When they hooked it up again, no one realized that the pilots for the boilers were out. Gas was leaking into our home little by little for many hours. Providentially, in our efforts to "fix it" we turned the gas off (thinking we were turning the heat back on). It was a cold night, but if we hadn't done that I'm thinking we might have all died in our sleep. Seven of us with three dogs...all gone. Poof. (Or bang.) 

This is going to sound weird, but I love these little brushes with death. It wakes me up from my tendency to sleepwalk through my life. Last week my good friends and their two kids were in their car when another vehicle blew through a stop sign and very nearly hit them. We might have been mourning their deaths or serious injuries but for a few precious seconds. I'm deeply grateful that they are still here with us. I'm glad I'm alive today too. 

Each of us every day walks a little tightrope through lives that will end someday. We don't know how or when. Each moment is a usually unnoticed gift, unopened and unappreciated. I'm opening this gift today and thanking God. And I'm inviting you to do the same. Aren't you glad you're alive? The sun is shining outside and I almost hear angel footfalls around me. It's good to be here, to be breathing and living one more day. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

on light

sunlight through my little tree

I think God must have read my blog yesterday because today the sun is making an appearance in the wide open sky. It's much colder and windier, but I don't care one bit. My heart has lightened about 300% in the course of only a few hours. I never realized before how vulnerable my mood is to the sunlight. I used to be puzzled when I would hear people yammer on about the weather, but I think I get it now. In a place where weather plays such a huge role in our lives, these things matter.

Today I am bursting with energy and happiness. I am thinking about all the goodness around me. The goodness was here yesterday too, but it was harder to notice. I wonder what I can do to immunize myself against the dreary days when there is nothing but clouds and bitter cold for days and weeks on end? What do you do to keep your mood light when nature seems to be plotting against you? I know there are people out there (I'm thinking primarily of my husband) who don't really seem to be affected by the amount of sunlight in the world.

If you think of anything, let me know. Any minute now the friendly sky will probably hide it's face from me and I'll feel its loss like a little death. I'm clinging to its bright beauty while she's blessing me in this moment. I'm warming myself by her loving beams.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

on darkness

This photo was taken at 1:30 this afternoon. It's 4:30 now and nearly night. The last few days have been warm and dark. (Warm, for those of you who don't live in the tundra, is upper 30's.) I've been busy with Christmas preparations so that's a little distracting, but living in the dark creates a cumulative effect of heaviness in spirit. It's like a constant state of twilight and gloom. Our Christmas lights are glowing day and night to bring a little cheer, but I'm already dreading January and the inevitable drag on my heart.

In years past we always took a trip to a warm climate in the dead of winter, but for the past couple of years we couldn't afford it. So we hunker down and dream of the coming of spring and hope that the cold season is merciful. I'm searching for something warm inside of me, something that will last until April when the flowers start to push through the cold ground. I am lighting a fire to shine through my eyes. I'm searching for something that the darkness cannot penetrate.

Oh Holy Night.

Maybe I'll leave some of my lights up through the winter this year. It only takes one little point of brightness to chisel a hole in the gloom.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

family breakfast

Every Saturday morning (as everyone's schedule allows) I cook my family breakfast. My parents, my sister, my niece, my kids, my grandkids and Amanda all come for a time to relax and connect. I make eggs, sausage, hash browns and carmel rolls. Here's a little peek into my favorite time of the week. These are the moments when my heart practically bursts open with joy. Pull up a chair and join us!

Friday, December 9, 2011


This is an old coal chute outside our home. It's majestic, as you can plainly see. Our home has been around a long time and it's had to adjust its heating source three times over the years. First it was heated with coal, then oil, and now there are a couple of boilers to do the job. 

I like to think of my home's history and all of the people who have lived here over the many years. In the short time since we purchased it I think there have been over 20 people coming and going. Maybe closer to 25, but I've lost count. There's life everywhere and there's always something new to discover. It's an old, creaking home that needs many repairs we can't afford, but it's perfect in all the ways that matter. 

I think of all of the emotion that has haunted these walls, strong enough at times to glow in the woodwork: love, anger, sadness, peace, anxiety, contentment, restlessness, fatigue, excitement, curiosity. They emanate from the radiators and bang on the pipes like friendly ghosts. Sometimes I swear a vapor of old emotion passes through my skin and curls up in my heart to rest for a while. There are memories at home here that are not mine, traveling easily from room to room like a draft under a door. I'm content to let them stay. They like this place too.

I imagine the first owner, shoveling coal on a cold winter day like this. He is covered in coal dust as he enters from the back door, but he doesn't mind. He hangs his wool coat on a hook in the hallway and washes his hands and face until the black water runs clear. He warms himself with a cup of coffee and some bread just out of the oven. He listens to the sounds throughout the house, the chattering and laughter filling his body. He is quiet and grateful. I know this man. He reminds me of someone who is sleeping as I type this. Someone warm and strong and close. 

I'm glad for all of the life here, past and present, for every soul who has called this place home. Their memories are safe here. I'm glad to be in this spacious place with so much room for my heart. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011


One of the things I grieve about wintertime is the color that seems to go out of the world. Everything turns from deep green and floral gems to cold whites and blues and lots of brown. Christmastime brings more green back for a bit. It's a short respite in the long wash out.

I'm thinking more about the reality behind the buzzing and blinking and rushing that has always accompanied this time of year for me. I'm remembering the waiting silence that preceded God's entrance into the world. Incarnation has become an important word for me. It's an invitation to come and be present in the midst of a world gone mad. Long ago, in a place no one could have expected, Jesus came to be among us. He came simply and scandalously and dared us to notice. So I'm noticing. Each day, I'm straining to listen to his voice and participate in his coming that is still unfolding.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come here into this cold and barren place and make your home with me. Come with life and peace and the deep, deep green of your love.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the hand-off

I had the flu or something else equally horrible for the last several days. Today was the first day I was able to haul myself up and get out to run errands and get groceries. I also was able to decorate for Christmas. I'm not really one to go crazy with holiday glitz, but I did it up a little more than usual this year because we'll be having my family's Christmas celebration here for the first time ever.

I feel like this is a signal of a great sweeping shift in my family. Holidays have always been at my parent's place for as long as I can remember, but in recent years it's become quite obvious that the responsibility is taking a toll on them. It's a strange thing when your parents begin to creep up in years and can no longer do the things they've always done before. I feel a little sad and a little panicked about this hand-off. I wonder what it will mean about the future?

It's good to remember that I don't need to be my mother (who is amazing) to host a holiday meal that is meaningful and good. All I have to do is provide a place for all of us to remember together what Christmas is really about. And cook food. Lots of food.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

silent night

I have to admit: it's beautiful.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

making me smile

Today it's colder than it has been, but it's sunny so I won't complain. I finished a chunk of the book I'm writing and that felt delicious. Here's a few other things that are making me smile.

hazy sun with a light dust of snow

memory of life before the cold

cutest little mush face ever

he always looks sad but he's not