Friday, March 24, 2017

Blue

Writing Prompt: She had a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair.
Writing Time: 30 minutes
 

Over the bobbing heads of the dance floor crowd, I stare at the woman in the blue dress. She has a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair. Her lips are parted in laughter, the sound lost in the noise of the music. My fingers curl into fists against my stomach, mimicking the tightness of the air in my lungs.

Jealousy. It is nested in my chest.

It is not that I wish her to be otherwise. The night is better for the glow in her eyes. I do not wish it gone. I only wish to know it; to know the release of that laughter and the pleasure of my limbs swaying to the song.

"What are you thinking about?" my husband asks, his face close to my ear so I can hear him.

"Do you see her?" I point my chin in the direction of the woman. "In the blue dress."

He cranes his neck to see. The silver hairs at his temple catch the light of the dimmed sconces behind our table on the perimeter of the dance floor. For a moment I'm transfixed by his profile, then he turns and catches my gaze. He is confused.

"Was I ever like her?" The question is spoken before I can filter it. I expect more confusion. Instead his face is transformed by a broad smile.

He leans in close again. "Even better."

I rest my forehead against his cheek. His stubble is soft; a comforting texture on my skin.

"You still are," I hear him add at the pause between songs.

When I close my eyes, a memory plays like a film projection. My roommate and I walking past the fountain at the center of the university campus. A small congregation of other students, strangers, with a radio blasting and an impromptu dance party coming to life. One of the guys pulling me into the group. Dancing with them until the song ends; laughing through every second.

My husband speaks now and I am startled to realize he is reliving the same memory.

"I'll never forget watching you dance the night before we met. Sitting on the edge of that fountain, seeing you approach. You started singing along to the music. I hoped you'd stop and you did. I hoped you'd dance and you did. I hoped you'd keep laughing and you did."

I finish the familiar commentary. "You hoped I'd sit down to rest on the edge of the fountain and I didn't." I require a deep breath to keep the tears behind the border of my eyelashes.

"You were transcendent."

A sigh falls from my lips. "That girl is a stranger now."

"Not to me." He lifts my chin with his fingertips. "I still see her every day."

Baby blues. Such a trite, pretty name for the darkness I dwell in presently.

"You're still her. You are her and more."

I tuck his words into the deepest corners of my mind, where they are needed. Then I watch the confetti scatter from the hair of the woman in the blue dress.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.

St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that "joy is a net of love by which we catch souls."

"Man cannot live without joy," according to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be "apostles of joy."

What brought on my daughter's supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That's all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn't want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.

In the hours since, I've contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It's easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It's worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment - as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn't have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible - God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don't apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.
An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don't know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Not Damaged - A Note to Moms

Today, I came across an online article about a mother who photographed her torso after the birth of her second child. She took a photo at 24 hours post-birth, then a new one at 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and so on. As opposed to yet another "look at me, I look amazing in only a short period of time" sort of social media post, this mom wanted to show the public a realistic, normal transformation post birth. When I clicked on the article to read it, I felt proud of this woman. I was glad that by her brave choice to share those photos, more people might understand the reality of a woman's body.

While I was proud of the woman and her intention though, I was disappointed in the author of the article. Not only disappointed, I was angered. The brief paragraphs written to accompany each successive photo were filled with the same language that I see in every article about a mother's post-partum body.

Damaged. Fix. Ruin. Recover.

The word choices in this and other articles make clear the accepted perspective that a woman's body has been damaged by pregnancy. Her body is flawed now and needs to be fixed. The appearance of her physical form was good before pregnancy and bad now. I have even seen it stated as strongly as saying her body has been ruined. Every bit of body advice post-partum is geared toward recovering your pre-pregnancy form.

It took until my second pregnancy before I fully realized the error of this way of thinking. It bothered me before that, needling at my brain that there was something off. Somewhere along the way my second time around though, it clicked. Plain and simple, if you'll allow me to say so, it's bullshit.

Pregnancy did not damage your body; pregnancy changed your body. You don't need to be fixed. Your physical form is not ruined. Lastly, now that you've had a child (or two or four), nothing else in your life will ever be the same as it was pre-pregnancy, so why, oh why, are you told your body should be the exception?

Your body was specially designed to accomplish pregnancy, to carry and deliver a child. Many women are unable to do this since there are many factors that contribute to it occurring, so please, when you are blessed to be one who can and does accomplish this great feat, do not fall into the trap of believing you've ruined your body in the process! Our culture claims that we must teach girls to accept their bodies as they are, to be proud of their figures and not succumb to the pressure of airbrushed supermodel expectations. How can we ever instill in our girls a genuine, lasting respect for their bodies while perpetuating the current attitude toward the changes caused by pregnancy? Pregnancy and birth, while far from the only incredible abilities of a woman's body, are the pinnacle of the unique, amazing design of a woman.

Stop comparing yourself to other mothers whom you think have 'recovered' better than you have after pregnancy. Scoff at those who would label your stretch marks as flaws. Tune out those who wonder why you haven't fixed your abs yet. And please, please, correct those who refer to the physical effects of pregnancy as damage. Aim for health and strength, but do so with your eyes open to the reality that having a child has changed your body just as it changes everything else in life.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Saying Yes

I did it. I signed the book contract that was offered to me recently for the publication of my debut novel. Let's just make a list of all the words that come to mind when I try to describe my current state:
  • Excited
  • Relieved
  • Nervous
  • Peaceful
  • Floating
  • Thrilled
  • Scared
  • Thankful
  • Eager
All the feels, as the kids say these days! After reviewing the contract and researching its terms and language, as well as communicating with the publisher on questions I needed answered (and being satisfied with their clarifying responses), I said yes to my dream.

I've been saying yes for years. At the start, when it was yet another story idea taking shape in my imagination but this time something caused me to follow through on it. Then the year and a half spent writing the first rough (so, so rough) first draft. Oh, the hours spent and chai teas consumed at Copper Rock coffee house in Appleton! I swear, I need to arrange an author reading there. After the initial rejections from publishers when I naively submitted my barely edited draft to them, I kept saying yes. Through the years of gradual editing and fitting in writing time in tiny, occasional increments, still I said yes. And throughout 2016, when I made it a year of heavily editing the manuscript and learning skills I needed as a writer, I continued saying yes.

Over and over, I said yes because that is the only way to fulfill the dream of your heart. If there's another way, I don't know it. Today, I said yes to a publisher. It's the yes that's waited for me here, biding its time until I showed up to meet it. Each yes led to this one.

Because the Saints Said So: Short On Time (St. Therese)


Time. We can't hold it. We can't create it. We are directed by it at every turn. Morning/Evening. Day/Night. Early/Late. Hours, minutes, seconds are the context of our lives. I operate in a constant state of 'not enough time.' At any given moment, I could list a handful of things for which I don't have enough time. I suspect a few of you can relate, and for you, I have an announcement: It's a lie.

It's a lie.

You have enough time.

How do I know this? Because God knows better than I do the time I need. How much time I have is not a changeable reality. God is the wise and perfect designer of time and of my personal share of time. So, if we can't change how much time we have and God designed our time perfectly anyway, where are we going wrong? Why at the close of the day are we saturated with the perception of inadequate time?

Because we waste it.

We have only short moments of this life to work for God's glory.
The devil knows this and that is why he tries to make us waste time in useless things.
O, let us not waste our time!
(St. Therese of Lisieux)
 

Typically (typical of most of us), my mind goes to entertainment when I think of time wasters. Streaming video services, smart TVs, smart phones, online games, social media, and apps galore have all brought time spent on entertainment to a new level. It is easier and more enjoyable than ever to waste time on entertainment. However, condemning entertainment across the board as the cause of our supposed lack of time is a dangerously narrow view.

There is a place for entertainment in our lives. It is not, in itself, evil. God made us in His image: capable of both creating and appreciating sources of joy, laughter, deeply provoked thought, and beauty. Like so many aspects of our world, there are options of entertainment that can do good and nurture the mind and spirit, and there are others that will do harm and undermine our call to be the best versions of ourselves. These matters become time wasters when they, even the truly good ones, are given more of our time than they deserve. Measure each entertainment activity honestly: is it at the service of my best self? If not, give it none of your valuable time. If so, give it only a share of time that doesn't infringe on the time deserved by greater things.

Entertainment is so far from being our only time waster. For some people, it is hardly even an issue. The other matter I'd like to highlight is expectations. Oh, the time I waste on expectations! Now, before you think I'm advocating lowering all our standards for how well we do what we do, let me explain.

It is the plague of constant comparison and competition. We see the ideal Pinterest how-to guides; the Facebook posts of family vacations and activities; the hosted parties in spic and span homes; the celebrity glow of perfection reported and printed and photo shopped. We don't witness the trial and error before that blogger posted their picture perfect meal display. We don't hear the fights or know the stresses in the marriages and families on those vacations or participating in planned activities. We don't see the piles of mail and toys and laundry stuffed behind closed doors so the hostess can present a perfect home. We forget the bank accounts, the personal trainers and assistants, and the marketing strategy all contributing to the projected image of professional athletes and gorgeous celebrities.

We are immersed in expectations. Often without even realizing it, we strap on the yoke of earthly perfection and waste our precious time. In our aspirations to be good, successful, and happy, we mistake worldly expectations for worthwhile standards. They are not and never will be synonymous.

Stop sapping your time for other people's approval, or even for your own short lived self-satisfaction. You do not have enough time for that. You do have enough time to be the best version of yourself for you and everyone within your range of influence. You have enough time to live in a manner that glorifies God. You have enough time.

Can you repeat that to yourself? I have enough time. I have enough time because God created my time. I will not give it away to that which isn't worthy of the gift, be it undeserving activities or self-defeating expectations. Lord, I am not short on time. Help me to not be short on wisdom in my time.