My heart is heavy. I am feeling hopeless and helpless tonight. Darkness has pulled me into its cold embrace. I look around me and see just how dependent we have become on the things that are literally killing us. It seems that a day cannot go by when we are not forced to consume plastic in some way...and thereby contribute more of it to the landfills that are encroaching rapidly upon the places and spaces we call home. Or we send it out to sea where the very animals we indirectly depend upon for our survival have grown accustomed to consuming it as a regular part of their diet.
Who can’t marvel at just how far we have come as a civilization?! We have created modern conveniences that were unthinkable to our ancestors...even just a short generation or two ago. Yet how much good have these done for us? Do we stop to think about our dependence? Do we stop and sit in the discomfort that our “need and greed” has inflicted upon others around the globe if not in the very places we live. It sickens me inside. I feel a raging fire in my belly growing to be a part of the solution yet wrestle beneath my own skin in recognition of just how much a part of the problem I have been.
To gain more awareness for our collective impact, my family committed to tracking our carbon footprint for one month. I can’t say we have come very far in our daily discipline of that task. What I can say though is that the very intention of it has seeped somewhere deep inside and I feel a growing unrest for all the ways I have been indoctrinated into and even pursued a carbon dependent lifestyle.
In my late twenties after traveling by bicycle for 6 months to raise environmental awareness in Argentina, I told myself I would never own more than what could fit in or attached to my VW Cabriolet. I lived in the city and road my bike everywhere I possibly could. In my early to mid-thirties I lived in a spiritual community where I shared most of my belongings with my housemates. After I got married, my accumulation of stuff quickly outgrew my car, but I was able to justify it because my husband and I hosted part of the community in our own home. When we left that life, we got rid of much of our stuff, headed west with our 2 young daughters and downsized to two laundry baskets full of goods from a thrift store.
Eventually we pursued life on a rented farm property and then purchased a small plot of land of our own. In addition to learning the art of homesteading and sharing this lifestyle with our growing daughters, our intention was to share our home with guests who are eager to learn what it really takes to get our food from the farm to the table...and just how deliciously wholesome it tastes when it is grown that way. But the longer we are here, the more I question if we are doing the right thing.
With a goal of reducing my carbon footprint yanking me at my core, I see all the ways this choice to be here runs counter to that value and pursuit. Getting to just about anywhere necessitates a 30-45 minute car ride. I tell myself that when our space is fully ready, people will come and it will all make sense. I am eager to transform this old farmhouse into a green travel destination so folks in MKE can have another option for an experiential culinary outing or a mini-vacation closer to home. It gives me great solace to be here and I know it does the same for our guests. Is that a worthy enough reason for staying the course? Does coming to rest for a while in a quieter place do something worthwhile for a restless soul? My own life experience tells me yes but through my spiritual practice I have also come to know that “quiet” exists within the space of sitting still and taking the time to look within. Treks to distant lands and retreats to remote spaces are heroic endeavors for the spiritual practitioner who is too restless to submit to the practice of sitting still.
What adds to my unrest is the awareness that the mono-culture farmlands our home was built on replaced a more more biologically diverse virgin landscape that was native to this part of the world. Indigenous peoples lived in harmony with these lands prior to the European settlers who tilled the earth and drove stakes into the ground. I have known pristine wilderness areas, but in our modern world it is a rarity. It weighs heavily on me that we don’t talk openly about these losses and our resource-laden habits that are the underlying cause. We don’t openly grieve and mourn the loss of our biologically diverse habitats and wild spaces. It sickens me to my core that sport’s games, social media advances, and the latest clothing trends seem to garner more air time and public discourse than the shit that really matters. Our very future hangs in the balance and we don’t have the bloody balls to talk about it!
We watched a Ken Burns documentary last night called “The West”. It was an older PBS series about our identity as a nation to pursue what is just beyond, what is around the bend or just out of reach. But in our pursuit of the final frontier we have tainted most everything we have touched. Like the dogs we have come to own as pets, we humans have a deep need to leave our mark and claim our turf wherever we go.
I am just as guilty as the next and it is leaving me feeling rather nauseated. Please don’t take this from me. Don’t try to make me feel better. I don’t want to feel better! This is my karma and I want to feel the full depth of my own negative impact so that change can arouse from an equally deep place within. I beg of you to do the same. Let us bear this burden together and then we can roll up our sleeves together and work toward solutions!
I wish that I could be hopeful tonight. I don’t feel that way. What I do feel though is a lightening of my spirit as I share my remorse and sadness for some of my part in this mess. Writing about it helps. Talking about it with others helps. Strategizing solutions helps. Community activism helps! So that is where I will channel my efforts. I will not sulk or wallow in depression as that only adds to the problem but I will have the guts to feel the pain. If I cannot bring myself to feel it and get inspired to act from it, our kids and grandkids are going to suffer a whole lot more.
I came across this quote today while reading Jim Merkel’s book Radical Simplicity: small footprints on a finite earth. I will leave you with it to lift you up after this horribly heavy post!
“Wait a minute! We already have enough darkness! Adding more has no effect. Ahhh… to light a candle… let this be your life.” - K. Viswanathan, founder of Mitraniketan, a center for rural self-reliance in Vellanad, Kerala state in South India.
My social media sabbatical has been a game changer! It has gifted me with focus, clarity, insight and TIME! It has launched me in a whole new direction. I set out to clear my head in prep to write a book and lay the foundation for my coaching practice. While I have made serious headway with both, the course I am charting is looking much different than I anticipated!
When the idea of a book came up, I thought it was going to be a memoir for my daughters...to give them a way to know a bit of my past and theirs and to share some of the lessons I gleaned along the way. Then along came Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old climate change activist from Sweden! She has rocked my world and for that I am deeply grateful! She has awoken in me the young environmental activist that side stepped a life of passionate but frenzied, anxious activism in pursuit of peace and purposeful service in a world that seemed to be screaming out for so much help. It was this fiery quality in me that propelled me to mountaintops taller than I ever imagined my skinny legs could carry me and to spiritual heights that were equally as profound. It was this same urge that inspired our move to the Pacific Northwest to reconnect with our love of land...and then again to rural Wisconsin to try our hand at some regenerative farming practices in hopes of passing these along to our daughters and bringing healing to our little corner of the world.
While the book will still be a memoir of sorts, the intended audience has changed significantly. I am writing for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the climate crisis and is desperate to find their place and purpose in all of it...and I am writing for the person who is stuck to their couch, their job, their specific life circumstances because the weight of it all feels just too overwhelming but the desire to do something lays just beneath all that weight. I WANT TO BLOW FIRE ON THAT DESIRE AND IGNITE ACTION! The world needs all of us to live full out right now!!
Our kids are screaming out for us to do something NOW so they can do something, anything!, later. They want things we have foolishly taken for granted...clean air, clean water, cool winters and warm summers, seasons they can count on! They want the chance to pursue their dreams too and they deserve that chance!
I have pursued the road less traveled and have thrown myself all in when it made absolutely no sense whatsoever to many standing in observance. I have learned what it takes to pursue a difficult course and make radical changes. I want to use these well-honed skills to help people change their lives in a way that I can only hope and pray might play a small part in slowing the phenomena we have come to know as 'climate change'. Greta's voice helped me to see what has been driving me at my core through all of these crazy maneuvers through life. She and all of the young activists around our beautiful and aching planet have unleashed the flames within my heart! I am on fire to inspire and have no time to lose! Won't you join me?
Oh, in case you were sensing it too, 'slowandsimpleliving' might have served its purpose. I have loved the name and what it has given to me but it may well be time to move on to something a little more fitting for the things I feel inclined to write about! Stay tuned!
Alarming evidence stands before us. It’s impossible to ignore. Call it what you may...the result of a pest that got transported across the ocean and found its way into a foreign landscape that it quickly called home...and soon after devoured...continues to devour daily with its voracious appetite. Leaves turn from vibrant green and golden yellow to ashen brown. Swaths of landscape transform before our eyes making summer look mysteriously like winter, when barren trees abound.
How nice it would be if Ash were the only tree species rapidly becoming but a sweet memory. This fall, when green normally gives way to magnificent hues of yellow and red, I see premature brown in every direction I turn...on trees of every kind. I see evergreens that have cast their lower needles and branches becoming more skeleton-like with each passing year.
These changes before me...the impact of our, MY, human existence...are impossible for me to ignore. I told my daughter this morning that we are striking for Climate Change on Friday along with other concerned citizens across this globe. She asked, ”But what can we do to fix it mama?” My face went flat then flushed with anger at the existential problem we all now face...that we are passing on to her generation and those that will follow. This existential problem is about our existence...yours, mine, hers. The hardest truth to swallow is that I’m not sure we can solve this one. We go to great lengths to make our children comfortable and safe. But the many provisions we have been conditioned to believe will achieve this end are really just more products sold to us by the same marketing gurus that got us into this hot mess! One thing I know for certain is that I will sure as the hell-fire burning in the Amazon do what I can to sound the alarm and clean up my act.
I will march on Friday with my family.
I will tend our land with regenerative practices.
I will support my spouse in his efforts on that front too.
I will eat veggies and limit my meat intake.
I will call my politicians and Wisconsin Public Radio whenever there is an opportunity to share my two-cents.
I will use less water.
I will bring my own thermos or water bottle.
I will bring a packed lunch in reusable containers.
I will lead our Green Team efforts at work with a renewed vigor and bring home our gathered compost weekly.
I will write and blog about my love and concern for this planet.
I will do all that I can to impart a deep love and appreciation for our shared home.
I will shop at thrift and consignment stores and turn off lights when I leave the room and replace light bulbs so when they are on they pull less from the grid.
I will drive my car into the ground and use my own bags to carry goods out of the grocery store...or any store for that matter!
I will call my politicians.
I will march and strike.
I will call my politicians.
But are these things enough? Does my own carbon footprint net out at zero? Will my efforts do anything to resurrect these trees...to bring the life back to their marrow and the color back to their leaves? I fear that we have set a wave in motion that has taken on a momentum of its own.
While my heart is heavy at the changes I see before me, hope and urgency rise within my belly firing me up to do more. As the earth is warming, my heart’s desire is boiling over with yearning to expand my positive impact in whatever way I can. The sickening truth is that somehow we have created a human condition such that we begin to leave a heavy carbon footprint from the moment of our birth...nay, from the moment we are conceived and the ritualistic buying on our behalf begins so that we can be safe and comfortable upon our arrival.
As I look out at the ever changing landscape before me, I will reach out to make connections with those in my community who see what I see and who feel compelled to sound the alarm and take action. I will then continue to roll up my sleeves, wipe the sweat off my furrowed brow and do the hard and collective work of cooling down this beautiful blue planet to ensure our existence for a little while longer...mine, yours, hers. Will you join me?
I vividly recall the lush green landscape of the Rocky Mountain National Forest. It was early July, 2006. I was on the final leg of my journey to my new home in Denver, Colorado. A mere five years later that majestic emerald landscape turned mostly brown thanks to the warmer winter temps that were conducive to the rapid take over of the pine beetle. In just two more years those same mountain vistas were consumed by ravenous wild fire.
During a move to the Pacific Northwest in the Spring of 2013, I witnessed the same progressive destruction of portions of the eastern Cascades. When we landed in our new home in the upper most corner of the Pacific Northwest cradled between the Cascade Mountain Range and the Puget Sound, I was relieved to discover trees that were hearty and thriving. That said, their summers now have an official "fire season" which means that there is a constant haze in the sky and breathing conditions are dangerous from what migrates through the air from surrounding territories where the pine beetle, drought and climbing temps are destructive trio.
In 2016, a return to the Great Lakes region of Southeast Wisconsin put me face to face with more dead or dying trees. To my dismay I observed that many of the pine trees appeared to be distressed with browning at the base due to a tree fungus called rhizosphaera needle cast. Upon revisiting one of my favorite hiking spots in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest, I was heartbroken to realize that all the ash trees I had enjoyed a mere 15 years prior had surrendered their lives to the emerald ash borer, an invasive critter brought to the region via the wood from Chinese shipping crates. My heart sinks to know that my daughters will never get to ride their bicycles through the magical yellow fairy forests that I so fondly recalled from a short time ago.
This summer I am observing a whole new round of tree die off. While I am not for certain the cause, it appears that the polar vortex of winter took its toll on many of the trees and partially or fully deprived them of any color this summer. It’s bizarre to look through a forest of trees that appear to simply be dormant for the winter knowing that it’s actually midsummer and 90+ degrees outside. I am painfully aware that their leafing days are likely over.
When I contemplate all of this during my daily commute, what saddens me the most is nobody seems to be talking about it. Even my own husband who takes pity on a drooping tomato plant thinks I am a Negative Nelly when it comes to the state of our trees. He is right that others are thriving while I tend to take notice only of the dying ones. For me it’s like the big pink elephant in the room that we go on pretending is not really there. It’s a sunny day and we delight in the warmth and talk about the fun ways we are entertaining ourselves this summer. Meanwhile the trees are silently screaming out to us to pay attention...to take action. We pretend not to hear because what the hell can we do at this late stage in the game of human life on earth. We have tipped the balance and what was once an earth with seasons that favored our existence is forcing us to seek refuge indoors from the increasing discomfort we feel when we are outside of our artificially climate controlled environments.
We lost 3 trees to Dutch elm disease this spring or perhaps they suffered from severe frost bite. I know I couldn’t last more than five minutes out there for a stretch of days this past winter, but I had the good fortune of legs to carry me closer to a source of heat provided by burning fossil fuel. These trees seemed to be offering themselves up as a sacrifice lest we have to succumb to the shivering cold.
It seems we have convinced nature that she exists merely to serve us. We have taken for granted her resiliency. Mother Nature has always seemed so willing and able to bounce back for our benefit. Her changes have always seemed slow and gradual to the untrained eye...with bursts of change here and there that she could withstand. Her seasons have been so dependable that we rarely call into question how she might behave this time around. Times have changed in the seeming blink of an eye. Our climate seems to have taken cues from we humans and quickened her own pace to keep in step with our own.
When I was my daughter's ages, there was no reason to question whether my favorite tree swing would have a canopy of leaves above my head to shelter me from the midsummer rays. And if those rays happened to kiss my virgin skin, there was no reason to fear that I would be dangerously sun burned and at greater risk for developing skin cancer one day.
Call me a pessimist if you like. I see myself as a realist and I feel called to draw attention to the things I see. If I could slow the clock down on anything it would be climate change. How about you? Do you have a different view? I’d like to know.
I awaken with a start with a stir of adrenaline in my heart, prompted by these tireless gnawing thoughts. Have I done enough? Have I served her well enough? Did I go off track somewhere along the way? Has my hasty compulsive desire for tidiness and order unintentionally squashed her God-given talents? Her creativity? It’s undeniable that my presence in her life impresses upon her emerging self in a profound sort of way. Have I provided enough opportunity or exposure? Have I nurtured in the right ways through word and deed?
I am imperfect by design so that I may depend upon the One who molded and shaped me. But it is difficult, neigh, near impossible at times, to accept and embrace my full humanity as mother, parent, nurturer. I can be hasty, rash and painfully abrupt. I can brush things aside quickly with disregard for the time and attention that went into creating the very things that I regard as obstacles to my forward movement. I have need for things to be in their place because that keeps me at ease inside and appeals to my aesthetic taste. She has a pension for tucking things above, below, behind, beneath because it feels good to her to be surrounded by her things. “It feels like mommy, comfort, being taken care of” was her response to my question, “Why do you like scattering your stuff all over the place like this?” I’m not even sure how to respond to these wise beyond-her-years words. Slowing down to digest them would surely reveal deep insight but speeding up to tidy more assures me that I am not destined to live amidst her clutter for the next 10 years.
I compare myself to the mothers who take the time to stand in observance of the countless awe-inspiring creations that are manifested by their budding artists each day. I feel a twinge of jealousy at their patience and ability to sift and sort through the multitude of sketches, drawings, paintings and hand-written narratives of all kinds. If it's something that appears to be more of a means to an end, I’m quick to scrunch it up and feed it to the recycling bin. When it arrives at the fire pit for a ritual or get-rid-of-shit burning, she informs me of the care she put into creating it and her sadness at my lack of appreciation.
In the quiet of tonight, the voice in my head is anything but. It taunts me suggesting that I could be doing more, am not enough, have not done or given enough. It’s a fucking broken record with a nauseating tune. Yet when I fail to change the channel quickly enough, I am convinced that what I am hearing might be true. My influence over my offspring is enough to frighten me at times. It makes me want to be more, do better, work harder.
But what if it’s less about being or doing more in any way and more about stopping the looping track, pulling the needle out of that old familiar groove and placing it back down to resume the track or tune that is her, that is God’s unique way of expressing through her? What if I stopped to watch, observe, listen? What if I take 30 minutes, or even just 5, to notice what and who stands before me? What if?
‘slowandsimpleliving’ is my mantra because nothing of real value seems to come from hurry and complication. Help me to heed the call to slow down and simplify my thinking above all else, to pause and reflect while standing in observance of her and all the stuff she brings forth as an extension of her growing self. Whether it’s messy creative flow or her final masterpiece, help me to appreciate it just the same...because it is coming through her, a co-creator in her own right with the one who called her into being.
Some say transition and change is hard. I think the aftershock that is felt in the space of calm, quiet and settling is harder. So do my girlies apparently. Today I came home to finding them ‘moving’ to each other’s rooms. They managed to move a desk that is bigger than both of them put together. Everything else was in a state of migration. I knew they were proud of themselves yet hesitant to see how I’d react. I tempered my response sensing what they both were thinking and feeling. I shared how much I appreciated their enthusiasm and initiative yet how eager I had been feeling to finally get to repaint and decorate my own room and how seeing their rooms in such a state of disarray left me feeling like that eagerness just slipped into hopelessness. I mostly felt a little sad that all the love and energy poured into making their spaces feel like home to them (or perhaps me) felt for naught. My oldest shared that what was really going on for her was homesickness for the homes and heartsickness for the people she had left behind. Moving rooms was a way of staying in motion so she wouldn’t have to feel the discomfort of settling away from places and people she longed for. Oh how I can relate. Sometimes I wish I possessed the power of a genie in a bottle so I could twitch my nose or snap my finger and go back. But to where? ...and to what? ...and to whom? Time has moved on for everyone just as it has for us. What she remembers is an experience in time that is frozen in her memory. She described a hole inside of herself...deep and hard to fill. I know that hole. It’s what propelled me forward onto a spiritual path that those closest to me severely questioned including myself at some point in time. But for all it’s negatives, snipping and clipping away the things I held so near and dear to my heart opened up breathing room for an experience of the Divine that I dare say few humans have fully experienced. That’s a hard truth for me to admit as it calls into question my decision to leave. In the end I knew that my path had shifted and the one calling me the most at my point of departure was that of partnership and parenting. My husband and my daughters challenge me daily to a fuller acceptance of my humanity and a deeper love that is selfless and unconditional. I have a long way to travel on this current path I am on. But as I learned in the discipline of daily meditation and spiritual practice, resisting the urge to run and turning toward that which my heart yearns to know and understand the most leads me to the kind of intimacy and connection my heart longs for. I call out for the wisdom to be still when her desire to run makes me want to don my own tennis shoes. I summon the virtues of fortitude and strength to stay put when my internal tendency is to bolt at the slightest discomfort and unrest...to turn toward her with a stillness and embrace that eases the ache until she develops the resources to do this for herself. Thank you.
This 4 letter word has captivated my curiosity for quite some time. The meaning of 'time' itself first impressed upon me in my late teens when I moved to Brussels, Belgium. People seemed to live at a different pace than I was accustomed to back home in the Midwest. If you were enjoying what you were doing, there was no perceptible rush to be anywhere else. Coffee was a drink to be savored over an equally delicious conversation. Lunch was an actual meal you sat down to during the middle of your workday vs. something you inhaled at your desk while knocking off a few more tasks from your trusty to-do list. Siesta and afternoon tea, although beginning to lose their place in the bustling hub of the European Union, were still regarded highly by many as a sacred daily practice. Dinner was an event that religiously drew people back together as the sun set on the activities of the day. Exercise was a leisurely stroll in the most beautiful and serene of green spaces, an atmosphere that was maintained even when teeming with Sunday guests.
Aside from the camping outings and retreats of my youth, Europe was my first impressionable taste of life lived at a slower pace. Moments seemed to spread out more and time itself was something to be luxuriated in and enjoyed. A return stateside for university and work and the accompanying frenzied pace made me hungry for more of 'slowed time' or timelessness altogether. An invitation to travel through some of the most remote and pristine provinces of Argentina via mountain bike held the allure of satiating that craving. Days were marked by the rising and setting of sun, pangs of hunger and the satisfying feeling of ‘full’, the need to relieve oneself of bowel and bladder and the welcoming bliss of pillow and pad at the end of a long day. Sore muscles or an invitation to tea or traditional barbecue gave good reason to pause from pedaling and resume when the rest and merriment felt sufficient. I was distinctly aware that in the absence of ‘time’ and schedules, there was some kind of solace in daily routine...wake up, fetch water, break fast, clean up, pack up, pedal til you drop, settle for the night, rise with the rooster or barking dog and repeat all over again. The scenery, terrain and witnesses to our journey changed but the daily routines grew fairly consistent.
After Argentina, I returned to work and to a more hurried daily grind once again. I grew ravenous inside to stop the clock altogether. I felt a deep internal hunger to experience the meaning of each moment and the impact I had on these moments, if any. In hindsight, this longing began on the bike as I battled against my own will to keep going. When I applied meaning to the moment, I realized that the courage and stamina to overcome the external challenges before me, or the physical limitations of my own body, came from an internal mindset as much as anything else. While pondering the meaning of life and my purpose in it, in between thoughts of "what the hell am I still doing on this bike?!!", I also devoted much mental energy to planning my next big adventure. The impending return to western civilization with its inevitable ticking clocks made me anxious to create a life in which I had some control over its pace. I loathed the idea of settling in one place amassing a lifetime of stuff I knew I could live well without.
While planting the seeds of a global bike tour volunteering at spiritual retreat centers along the way, I sought out ways to help me cope with a deepening sense of restlessness. The outer world felt as if it was flying by at break neck speed but few around me seemed to take any notice or feel visibly disturbed by it. Discovering and cultivating a daily interior spiritual practice gave me the experience of boundless time that only my restless soul could know to long for. Quickly this practice shifted all of my priorities in life as I yearned to teach others who were hungry for this same internal experience above all else. Fast forward several years through living in spiritual community, ministering to others, marrying a fellow priest and birthing a family of our own. My longings began to shift once again. Life was happening all around me and I felt as if I were missing it while immersed in my own world of spiritual practice and ministry. Everything around me had to speed up so that I could afford the time to slow down in those seemingly self-serving experiences. My spouse, kids, co-workers and patients got my leftovers.
Aside from how I felt while engaged in spiritual practice, I lost all sense of me. I was on auto-pilot performing a role and a function that looked good on the outside. On the inside I grew more and more numb to the world of sense and tangible life experience. It’s as if I could see it through a looking glass but I couldn’t taste or touch it anymore. Mealtime and mothering were chores to get done so I could move on to the ‘work’ and experiences that really mattered. Something felt painfully off-kilter and time felt all out of wack, stretching out in some areas while cramping up in others and in ways that began to feel all wrong. Once again I found myself needing to right my relationship with time and the things and people that occupied it. Don’t get me wrong, the people I ministered to were important and deserving of all the attention they were given...but at what expense to my partner and children...and even my own self in the end?
Fast forward a year or two beyond our departure from the ministerial life when my husband took up rustic Italian cooking and the dinner table replaced the altar as our place of daily sacrament. His culinary journey led him to the concept of ‘slow food’. That discovery inspired in me the idea of ‘slow living’. After naming my Instagram feed accordingly I discovered, with joyful surprise, that it was an actual thing...a movement...a lifestyle that growing numbers of people around the world are aspiring to and working intentionally to create! While my Aries-nature derives satisfaction from being a trail blazer and a leader of the pack, I am happy to know there are way-showers before me who can teach me a thing or two about slowing down and getting the most out of life’s most precious and fleeting moments! 'Slow' has become my daily mantra and a form of spiritual practice. The word itself begs me to pause, reflect, take in the beauty and gift of each moment. It shifts my perspective to the bounty and abundance of the minute I am living in. Incorporating the concept of 'slow' has transformed ordinary segments of time into extraordinary experiences.
I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit more of my own journey to slower living. Please share with me yours! Where are you at in it? What do you struggle with? What daily rituals have you put in place to help time spread out? Sending you good thoughts for your journey to a slowed down life rich in meaning and purpose.
It’s the eve of my 49th birthday. What a crazy number to be turning! Over the past few days I’ve flip flopped from depressed to elated to somewhere in between. If you were to have asked me a few weeks ago, I’d shrug my shoulders and say it’s just a number without much relevance.
As the clock ticks toward midnight, 49 feels significant in ways I hadn’t expected. I’d be lying if I said my body feels as it did half my age ago. I’m beginning to understand my patient's caution that aging ain’t for sissies. My joints stiffen up when I sit too long. My hips and ankles make me seriously question whether running is ever in the cards for me again. I can walk and hike til the cows come home but running makes me remember the residual impact of my long ago gymnastic days. While these sensations vie for some of my attention, I am simultaneously aware of a new fire and vitality churning in me...to identify and do the things that matter most. I feel a call to slow down and simplify along with an urgency to get busy doing what I’m here to do. At this juncture in human development I’ve seen people shrivel up, give up and slip into oblivion. I’ve witnessed others grab life by the horns and take off. I certainly identify way more with the latter. I can't imagine for a second wasting a precious moment of this life I've been gifted with.
Aside from my premature entrance into the world, I was a late bloomer developmentally. In some ways it’s been hard to shake that...making me feel like I had to ask permission to be present at the big kid’s table. There is something about ‘almost fifty’ that takes that need to ask away. I know what life experiences I’ve come through and nobody can take that from me. I know time is of the essence so waiting til it’s my turn to speak up is no longer an option. I’ve got stuff to say and shit to do...and 49 feels like a warm fire under my ass. Get the picture?!
Heading off to sleep after lingering in each moment of my final evening in not-so-sunny Florida. I cannot recall the last time I spent six consecutive days with my mom and dad alone. I think I can almost say for certain that it was before the age of three. Florida was overcast and cooler than usual but felt like warmth and sunshine in my heart. As the oldest of five, I wandered through so many of my formative years trying to secure love and affection.
Although my love for her is unremitting and unquestionable, I resented having to share parental attention with my first sister. I discovered I could secure it again through my good works, especially after siblings three, four and five were born. I was next in charge and the leader of the pack. I was praised often and well for my good example. There was no way for my parents to know the motives of my early behaviors nor the impact of their every word. Certain words left their indelible mark and shaped the course of my life for better or worse. My parent’s stamp of approval reinforced which path to travel and when to shift course.
At a certain point I discovered I had to charter my own course. In a strange sort of way, their raised eyebrow or outright lack of approval affirmed that I was indeed beginning to find my own way. This week in Florida afforded me the opportunity to clear up a few matters but mostly the chance to just be without feeling any need to 'try' anymore. We did many of the things that were among my favorites as a kid...ate 'Jonas' popcorn (it's a legit thing), watched movies snuggled up on the couch, listened to live music, strolled around a farmer’s market, dined on Mexican, enjoy long walks and good talks, clothes shopped with my mama and simply just enjoyed time and space together. I got to say how awesome it was to finally have them all to myself for several days without having to share time or affection with my siblings or kids of my own and without feeling selfish or guilty about it!
It took me a good number of years to acknowledge that I deeply resented having to share affection and attention from the two most important people in my life. I yearned for something good that I just wanted more of. It took me a good number more to vent out all that negative emotion to the point of finally letting it go. Wisdom and spiritual practice have taught me that no one or two humans can ever fill our reservoirs completely...that is reserved for the Divine alone. Being able to identify and label the deep longing has been a vital part of my life's journey. Having the courage to speak candidly and unabashedly with those I held responsible to divvy out all that love was the next most essential step.
Before I discovered the sweetness and fullness of God’s deep and unconditional love and before I had children of my own, I regretfully took the liberty to inform my parents of their insufficient love with great accusation. With all my heart I wish I had the insight, wisdom and self-restraint then that I do now. There is nothing quite as humbling and educational as being a parent myself to teach me about the challenging predicament inherent to that courageous role. We are our kid’s everything until our “everything” is no longer enough. We hold, coddle, embrace and protect while simultaneously teaching, empowering and letting go. My girls struggle with jealousy for my attention and it drives me to want to run for the hills because dividing myself down the middle just doesn’t work. But it’s right for them to want more...to want it 'all'. 'my all'. Without that yearning and without my failing to fulfill, how could they ever sense that internal drive to seek the face of God within.
I have been reminded often enough in life that when I look outside myself to anyone or anything else, including those who stepped in for God for a good number of my formative years, that the love always comes up short. Sometimes it feels more full and satisfying than others but it’s never quite enough no matter how good it might be. I make it a point often to inform my girls that while I will try my hardest to give the best parts of me to them, it will never be the 'all' they are yearning for. As painful as that reality might be, it’s Gods perfect design to bring us back home to the great and whole parental love that lives inside of us. It never betrays or leaves or falls short. I still need to nudge myself to go there...to drink of that deep cup, to feel that holy embrace. As I learn to do that more consistently I also learn to be a better 'asker' for the things that are available to me here and now from those I have chosen to have in my life including my parents and partner. This same kind of initiative allows me to access God’s love more fully too.
While our culture has a pitiful habit of worshiping youth and all that goes with it, I am growing to appreciate more the wisdom that comes with time and life experience. I am grateful to have the perspective that comes with taking a longer view. I still struggle with jealousy and the feeling that others might be more deserving of love, affection and all things good than I am. It is a part of my humanity that I strive daily to cull out, have compassion for, and ultimately transcend. I am deeply grateful for the two who gave me my first taste of something so good that I simply wanted more of it! May I plant and water those same good seeds in those I have been gifted to raise and have the wisdom and wherewithal to help them know what to do with their feelings of jealousy and longing when my love inevitably fails them.
Today has come and gone like so many other days of the year. But today was different...it was Christmas. 365 days of anticipation fulfilled in this one day. There were actually no more or less seconds than any other day. But we hoped for it, prepared for it, prayed for it to come quickly...and then when it finally arrived...for it to slow down to an almost stand-still so we could linger in each magical moment. As today comes to an end, the kids are nestled all snug in their beds once again, giving me time to reflect. Will they greet tomorrow with the same zeal of today? Will they look back in reverie for “today” which will, by then, be yesterday? Will they have their sights set on 365 days from now? I pray to prepare for, live in and cherish each and every day like it’s Christmas so my girls can know how to do the same. Perhaps that is why today felt like the best Christmas ever...because slowing down and simplifying is allowing me to do just that. Wisdom nudged me to stick with the essentials this year and let go of the rest. It changed my preparation for and experience of today. I wasn’t perfect at it but I took more occasion to pause, reflect and shift gears when necessary. As I sit in the quiet close of today, staring at the babe in a manger before me, I am reminded of the gift of such humble beginnings...the magic of a rather simple moment...when a star shone bright enough for long enough to awaken us to the magic taking place at the birth of a king. His resurrection is the fulfillment of that birth, the perpetual rebirth of that same powerful presence within us, and an eternal bright star calling us back to the magic of now...when time stops and nothing else matters. Isn’t that what today is all about? Merry Christmas my loves near and far. I am blessed to have shared time and space with you at some point along life’s way...even if only in Spirit. Wishing you more magical moments everyday in this year to come.
I'm Kelly Isabelle.
Full-time workin' mama & spouse aspiring to live a slowly paced, sustainably minded, creatively expressed, clutter-free life shared with kindred folk.