Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Taylor Swift World Tour Recap

There is so much to recount about last night's adjective-inadequate Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour, I'm already angsty about missing a detail. Bear with me.

Long before actually getting tickets to this concert seemed a reality, I had declared to myself that my elementary school-age daughter would not go to be stadium concerts. “What will she have to look forward to if she sees big concerts now?” I posed to myself. And then she fell in love with Coldplay, and I decided to relax my rule for Coldplay. And then they didn't go on tour. And then I watched my daughter transform into this little person who FEELS the music in ways that I didn't anticipate a child might feel it. She HEARS music and APPRECIATES it in a way that is hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

So when Christa said, “I think we should try to get tickets for the Taylor Swift concert,” I let down my guard some more and agreed.

Oh my goodness, am I glad I did!

If there's any chance that any of my daughter's musicality is going to blossom into real talent, I want her to see what class, kindness, and true showwomanship looks like. She saw all of that and more in Taylor.

We arrived in time to watch some of Taylor's best friends, the sisters who are the band Haim, open for her. I'd heard their name, but wasn't familiar with their music. They were great. I loved my daughter seeing young women singing and playing guitar, bass guitar, drums, and owning the stage with confidence.

Taylor opened with Welcome to New York and it was all lights and sound and 15,000 fans screaming their adoration. The affection was mutual. Taylor talked with the crowd throughout the concert. She thanked us for inviting the music of 1989 into our cars and our rooms. She told us how much she loved performing when everyone sang along-- “St. Louis, you know every word of every song by heart. There is no greater compliment for a songwriter than that. Thank you!”

Taylor is a motivational speaker. She stood anchored to a platform that rose above the audience and sang accompanied only by her own guitar. And then she encouraged the crowd. “Let me tell you what you are not. You are not your mistakes. You are not the bad thoughts you may believe about yourself. Those are illusions. Let me tell you what you are: You are made strong because of the mistakes you've made...” After the concert, Cadence reflected. “She's encouraging. I bet her mom is proud of her.” At least one fan was listening!

During costume changes, they played videos of her best friends, Lena Dunham, Selena Gomez, Haim, her best friend from high school and others I can't name right now. They told stories about Taylor and what it's like to be her friend. I loved these and thought about my own special “squad” of women who enrich my life so much. 
 
Taylor told us that if we kept up this level of enthusiasm, she'd have a special surprise. Before the concert, I had half-mocked about Nelly, our homeboy, being the special guest. But when he joined her on stage and they sang together, it was fantastic! He radiated joy being on stage with her. You could see he was happy to be there and they had a great time together. I was glad he was the special guest.

She also talked about the fact that with our LED bracelets, she could see everyone of us in the stadium.  "Even you way up in the seats up there.  You think I can't see you, but I can."  It feels so good to be seen. Not to mention how fun it is to wave your arms in the air, dance, and sing along with a bracelet timed to light up with the music. FAN-tas-tic.

I have to say that I was philosophic as I watched this woman 14 years my junior command the stage and own it with such grace, confidence, and generosity of spirit. I wondered, “How do we raise our girls to be like this?” And I don't mean it from the Kris Kardashian perspective. I don't necessarily want Cadence to live that public life. But I do want to help her to be that self-possessed, that generous with her life and her talents, that humble. There is a steadiness in Taylor that I do not see in many women of any age and I want that for my girl. 
 
I have written a mission statement for raising Cadence. “It is my mission to help her grow into a smart, funny, compassionate, kind citizen of the world.” That statement is my benchmark for my progress. Every time I see her put an arm around one of her brownie sisters or want to share her money from her bank account with someone else, I know I'm on the right track.

I am so grateful for my own flexibility. To have standards and principles, and to know when to flex them to allow other experiences I didn't anticipate to flow in. We skipped out of the concert early. Our eight-year-olds were fading. They'd seen all of Taylor they needed to be satisfied and to call it a good, good night.

“Thanks for spending a lot of money on this concert, Mom. I bet it's going to be worth it,” Cadence predicted before the concert. She was so right. 











Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quiet, Tears, and Acorns

In the past year, I've been seeking the quiet life. I have felt drawn to it. No TV, occasional Netflix viewing, but mostly open windows, so I can hear the cicadas and birds. I am really fond of the quiet. Better quality thinking and grieving happen in quiet. (They also happen when I listen to the beautiful sounds of The Avett Brothers, but I digress...)

Mondays don't tend to be a thing to me. I don't subscribe to the idea that just because it's Monday, it's going to be terrible. There's a bit of that “You find what you focus on” in believing that Mondays always stink. But yesterday. Sigh. Yesterday, I just didn't want to go to work. I wanted to stay at home, write my own stuff, and feel blue on my own.

Responsibility stepped in and I got myself to work. And then things happened, and I was out of sorts. I took a lot of deep breaths and remembered to focus on the present moment and breathed my way moment by moment through the day. Some messages from friends buoyed me. I had lunch with a friend by the fountains near work and that helped too.

I had an hour-and-a-half to pass between leaving work and attending book club. My new favorite labyrinth rests between points A and B. In the quiet, I could hear that the time would be best spent at the labyrinth. I took the scenic, off-the-highway drive and parked my car.

The weeping began before I stepped on the path leading to the labyrinth. It felt so good to let it out. With bare feet, I stepped onto the acorn-strewn path. I've been on enough of these labyrinths to know what's going to happen. I come with expectation now: in my soul's quiet, I will hear words that I have come to understand are not mine. They will present themselves as wisdom from God that I need that particular day. I trust this process implicitly. That's what I've cultivated in this practice of being quiet. I feel differently when the words are mine versus the words come from Spirit.

I wept the entire way into the labyrinth. I exhaled deeply, audibly. And those deep sighs triggered more tears. The labyrinth supports my vulnerability. I feel so safe on that path. I heard myself say, “These tears are just grief. Just feel it. The world is not crumbling. You're just grieving. Let it out, girl.” And I did. The path wound, my feet stepped on acorns, brushed them aside and kept moving.

I made it to the center of the labyrinth where the pulse of God feels stronger. I sat down and cried some more. I took my “made it to the center” photos. I love marking each visit to a labyrinth. No matter where I am or who I am with.

The labyrinth is situated off a frontage road from a major highway. The hums and whooshes of traffic created ambient noise. I thought of being in a womb, safe and surrounded, and the traffic was the muffled sounds of the outside world.

The weeping continued and I listened for what message would come to me on this visit. Suddenly, I began thinking about those tiny acorns that I kept stumbling over on my path. There is metaphor in that tiny seed. I was reminded that my life and my future are like that acorn. Right now it feels tiny and insignificant, but at this very moment, there is a mighty oak tree waiting to make its way into the world. All of that spectacular potential is already inside of me, and it's my job to sit quietly, do my work, and wait for the mighty oak to grow into my life on nature's schedule—not my own.

I chose an acorn for me and for a friend who I thought might appreciate the mighty oak inside us message and held them tight in my palm. I laid down on my side weary from the weeping and wanting to rest. To soak in the notion of this mighty oak potentiality inside my little acorn self.

I rested for a few minutes. I noted that the weeping had naturally stopped and I felt ready to unwind the path back to my life. The quiet has also taught me about life's cycles and that I can trust that the way I'm feeling right now will certainly not last forever, but maybe not even for the hour or the day.

I stood up and walked out of the labyrinth just as I had walked in. Only stronger. And with two acorns in my hands as a reminder that there's good reason to look forward to what the future has in store.











 

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Big Month Ahead

The next six weeks contain unending activity for me. Here's a rundown: 

Tonight – book club meeting
September 29 – Taylor Swift concert
October 1 – write31days.com writing challenge (40/40 list)
October 3 – host four college students for dinner
October 4 – trapeze class (40/40 list)
October 9-11 – photo assist at a wedding in Lake of the Ozarks
October 14-18 – Cadence's fall break and a visit with friends
October 24 – all day Girl Scout activity
October 27 – ice skating lessons begin (40/40 list)
October 30 – Mat Kearney concert at The Pagaent
November 6-8 – Take the train to Kansas City and test drive a MINI Cooper (40/40 list); reconnect with friends
Sometime in the midst of all of this – start draft two of the novel

I look at this list and think a few things: complete overwhelm! I'm going to be exhausted! I'm so excited I can't wait for each one of these fun things! I'm going to need a nap, pronto!

And then I think of my nephews on the weekend of my grandmother's funeral and the MIZZOU football game. They joined Cadence and I in the breakfast room at the hotel. They were excited and discussing things with their dad before they made it to the table. I didn't hear what they said, but I heard my brother-in-law's amazing response: “There is no tomorrow. Let's only think about today.” It was his way refocusing his boys to stay in the present. There was mild impatience in the tone, but as is often the case when it's not you and your own conversation with your child, it cracked me up. I thought to myself, “There's a blog post in those words.” 

I was struck by how these two short sentences really did stop my nephews in their conversational tracks. They got it on some level. This phrase got funnier to me as my oldest nephew remembered and repeated it several times over the next day-and-a-half. It may seem like they have selective hearing, but our children really are listening to the words we say—they hear the deeper meanings, I know.

As excited and mildly overwhelmed as I am about the next weeks' fullness of activity, I keep remembering my brother-in-law's words and their truth. There is no tomorrow. Let's only think about today. Each of these activities will come in their own time. All I have is right now. Recent history has shown that I handle life far better when I concentrate only on today—the day on which I have the most influence. 

Carpe diem!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Abundance Quantified


I wrote recently about a new prayer I've been saying to help me remain in an attitude of gratitude and to help me remain open to good things, possibilities, and God's abundance. There's a saying something to the effect of “What you look for, you find more of.”  That is coming true for me these days.

Here are my newest examples:

Last Sunday before church started a friend slid into the seat next to me and handed me two sets of notecards. This is one of the best gifts ever! Just as my supply begins to wane, more stationery finds its way to me. I love the way this happens—repeatedly.

Then as the weekend began, I experienced an explosion of abundance. Friday was a long day. I went from the office to the Ritz Carlton for a work dinner and didn't arrive home until nearly 11. I checked my mailbox before I pulled into the garage. What was waiting for me helped ease the exhaustion: a response to a letter I recently sent to a friend from junior high camp who I have reconnected with, another beautiful sympathy card to honor my grandmother, a letter on Italian stationery from one of my Havenites, and this gem:


My friend told me over the phone that she was sending me a surprise that was “SO YOU.” My friend was right. I love this muse. She's going to keep me company and offer me encouragement as I begin the second draft of my book. The words that accompany her really are perfect for me. “Unleash your joy. Surrender your seriousness. Shine brightly. Find the sacred in the ordinary. Embrace the chaos and keep your heart open. Quiet the inner critic. Tell Your Story.” Oh my word. Each of those phrases have particular meaning for me right now.

Abundance!

Then yesterday another dear friend texted me and asked if I'd like to come over and look through some clothes she was letting go of. It took me no time to answer Yes! This friend has great style and beautiful taste. I was just recently thinking about the season change and how this autumn I would need to get creative with my wardrobe because there's just not money in the budget for a trip to my favorite store. I wasn't even super upset. I just recognized that that's my reality and moved on. But now! My closet is stocked with beautiful suit jackets, sweaters, skirts, and tops that will definitely add a burst of energy and happiness to my work ensembles. I can't wait to see what Cadence does with these new additions.

She and her husband are also gifting me with a dining room table and chairs they no longer need and she's going to help me refinish them. I am breathing in all this goodness and saying, Thank you, Lord!

This post is not about the acquisition of new things, though that is what has happened this weekend. This post is about the ways that I am creating space for my needs to be met in creative ways. I am open to my needs and wants being met in ways I cannot anticipate. It is a practice in not trying to assume control over things that honestly, I do not have control over. Coming to that conclusion is quite a liberating notion. 

I can't wait to keep logging the abundance that comes into my life and finding ways to also be a part of that equation for others too.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Time Travel: Letters from Steeleville

As a homesick middle schooler away at church camp for the first time, Grandma Steele's letters were a lifeline. She spoiled me with multiple letters during that one-week period. Each day after lunch, the camp director would call out the names of campers who had received mail that day. I received at least one every day. Her camp correspondence gave me a camp identity that I was proud of: recipient of high volume mail. It was an embarrassment of riches—the kind of embarrassment in middle school that can be endured, to be sure. 

I lived in the same town as my grandparents, so until this week away at camp, there would have been little reason for her to write me letters. Four years later, my family would move away and more letters would come my way.

I have a box devoted to our correspondence. Those letters from camp are missing and I am holding my breath that I will find them next time I visit my parents' home.

It is this grandma who passed down her love of words to me. Sitting down to read one of her letters was really like being in the same room with her. She wrote the way she spoke. This is a gift now that she is gone.

Another gift that time and perspective have given me is the ability to come to terms with the unusual family dynamics that emanated from this kindred woman. These dynamics were contradictory and confusing for me as a child. Being a daughter-in-law and being a grandchild at Steeleville produced two very different experiences. Twenty years of exploration and excellent counseling have taught me that two opposing perspectives can both contain truth. I was exposed to this lesson early in life and in recent years have come to understand its power. I have gushing experiences and memories of my grandma while others have less positive anecdotes. 

This is okay, as it turns out. Both of these things can exist together. I used to feel bad about it, but turning forty has changed that for me.

My experience with my grandma is my story, so it's the one I'm going to tell.

Of all the things I collected for my time capsule, the three letters my Grandma Steele sent me between my sophomore and junior years of college are the most poignant. They have the strongest time traveling power, too. Stowed away in those letters for me to rediscover again and again is my grandmother's love for me.

She sent money in nearly every letter she mailed. That's not why I love her letters, but one of the unique features of each letter is the fact that she would snip a short piece of masking tape and tape the currency to the inside of the letter or card. I'm not quite sure why she did it. Maybe she was afraid a gust of wind would be present when I opened the letter and the money would blow away. This was one of her quirks, and I love it. The money has long been spent, but those snips of masking tape are firmly in their place.

You don't have to have known her to get a sense of who she was as my grandmother in the letters below.

                                                                 “after a wild, rainy nite! Wednesday Morning
Hi Julie Dear!
A happy surprise in Steeleville's Mailbox. “Wuthering Heights” - Now here's the deal. YEARS ago, I saw that movie!! Sir Lawrence Olivier was the star, and (I think) Merle Oberon was the female lead. That show has “haunted” me for years- it was set in the bleak, moorish, cragy hills of Scotland, and for some reason, every once in a while, my mind has gone back to it. So, you can bet your boots, I'm already reading it. Emily Bronte goes into such detail, so it begins slow. But how delighted I am to have it here for my reading. Thank you. I'll really enjoy!
Can hardly believe it's time for you to be “packing out” for your third year at Graceland. Where did this summer go?...(flip flop) [her phrase for page turn]
What a blessing to be your Grammie at Steeleville
May God Bless

[postmarked May 23, 1995]
Hi Julie Dear!
Well, now, if I could speak French, we'd have a chat! ha. You're bilingual! How about that!
I know it was exciting in Canada, and opened up a whole new “world” for you to think about and enjoy remembering.
I am so delighted over the beautiful, inspiring, and “weepy” Grandma card you chose for me. I read and read it.
I called, but missed you at Graceland before you went on your trip. I knew you were busy, busy, but took a chance of reaching you. My love and prayers went every inch of the way with you.
You and Sarah are your “father's daughters” when it comes to flying!! So glad you both like to fly and are capable doing it “solo.” That means you'll always be able to get where you're going as you venture about.
I know it's good to be home...
We'll keep in touch via AT&T. Call anytime—and hang up, then I'll call you back in a few minutes so we can chat!
Again, Welcome Home! And I'm so proud of all the excellent work and activities you took part in at Graceland this year- and thanks for including me.
Always always what a joy and privilege to be your Grammie at Steeleville
May God Bless
Hugs
Hugs

[postmarked January 3, 1996]
She added musical notes next to her return address to signify the happy birthday song to me.
Letter accompanying a card:
Julie Dear,
If this can be the start of a year for you that will hold half of the love, the excitement, the imagination, the joy, and the love of our Dear Lord that YOU continue to give to me and others in your life, then You are in for a wonderful, wonderful year, my dear precious Granddaughter. It's such an honor to be YOUR Grammie at Steeleville
Hugs
Hugs
May God Bless

I re-read this letter and reflect on what she would think of how I've spent my 40th year celebrating. She would clap her hands together and gush about all the fun things I've done. We would sit on her green “devan” and talk endlessly about each one. The conversation would be punctuated by stories from her own life and I would drink in every word. Since she wouldn't have access to my blog, I'd print out all of my essays about my activities and she'd read them. She'd pause, point at a particular line or phrase and tell me that she liked how I wrote that or ask me to tell her more about it. Just another one of her ways of communicating her love for me—caring about my words, my craft.

This daydream—it's a balm.

In case it isn't clear already, I miss this woman. Desperately. The idea that I should have to live the rest of my life without her feels like a great injustice to me. She understood me—my quirks and eccentricities—in ways that few in my life have. She reveled in the things that made me different from everyone else and her revelry helped me feel good about myself. It shored me up. She showed her affection for me in hugs, kisses, pats on my arm, and soothing words. She also nurtured me through our shared laughter. Oh my word, did we laugh! Her absence does not get any easier with time, but these letters she sent bring her right back to me. 








 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Feeling my 40s for the First Time


In the past few months, I have experienced a strange sensation in my right eye. It's been hard to describe. And to be honest, it's worried me. I just haven't experienced this kind of discomfort before. I have a great imagination and can on occasion leap to grand worst-case scenarios. In this case, I was imagining a tumor. I know. I know. That's ridiculous, but I'm just telling you that that's where my anxious mind was taking me. I don't wear my glasses regularly, so I thought a good option would be to wear them more. When the discomfort eased, my worry about a tumor also eased. I'm pretty sure that glasses aren't part of the protocol for tumor treatment. 

I made eye appointments for my daughter and me. I described my concern to the optician. She put me through the battery of pre-exam tests. My doctor came into the room shortly after. I told him that I was concerned and then suddenly a thought came to me. “This doesn't have anything to do with the fact that I'm forty, does it?”

He smirked and silently nodded his head. He explained how the muscles around the eye continue to do their work, but as we age the lens gets stiffer and doesn't flex like it did when we're twenty. So my eyes have to work harder to see clearly. He said he'd check the health of my eyes when they were dilated, but he was certain there was nothing more than age playing a role.

My prescription didn't change much from the last appointment, but my current lenses are scratched. While my eyes dilated, the optician, Cadence, and I started shopping for frames. It was fascinating how we all three would agree on the frames that didn't flatter or fit well and on the ones that needed to go into the “these look great” pile.

I decided to get dreamy as I shopped for glasses, so I said, “Let's think about what frames would look good on the Today Show when I appear for my book launch.” The optician looked at me, smiled and said, “Okay! Let's do it!” She didn't laugh or suggest my dreams were unattainable.

When we'd narrowed our selections to two frames, we roped the doctor into our Today Show fantasy. He chose the same frame we were all leaning towards. “It's professional and polished, but has personality. And I like the dark line on the bottom of the frame.” He was dreaming with us!

By the time we sat down to place the order for the frames, my vision was completely blurred. I couldn't read the text on my phone and I really couldn't see the fine detail of the frames on my face. The optician went through the coatings they put on my last pair of glasses and recommended the same for this pair. “The anti-glare will be really important for TV appearances, so I'd recommend definitely keeping that on the order.”

I looked at her blurry face and felt such gratitude. She said the bit about the television without one bit of sarcasm and tease in her voice. She was really pulling for me and this writing dream of mine. 

I am relieved that there wasn't anything more serious with my eye health. I can deal with wearing glasses more. Especially if they are cute. I find it interesting that in the nine months of being forty, this is the first time I am really feeling my age. In every other aspect, I feel younger and lighter and happier than I ever have.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pray, Then Pay Attention


My finances have presented new challenges as a solo homeowner. My financial terrain will be steep for awhile, and so I decided to pray my way through this time rather than chew my nails with anxiety. My new prayer is this: Please, God, help me be open and receptive to the abundance you want for me.
      
I like this prayer for a few reasons: 1. It keeps me in a state of gratitude and positivity. Even on my lowest bank balance days, I KNOW that I have more than most of my brothers and sisters around the globe. Keeping this perspective helps a lot. 2. This prayer acknowledges that God's imagination and long-view is broader than mine. It keeps me from pigeon-holing God. 3. It's exciting. It invites an air of excitement and adventure in my spiritual life and relationship with God. 4. It's working.

How do I know it's working? Let me tell you. Since I began praying and then paying attention, three separate side job opportunities have come my way. Three friends have reached out to me to help them in some particular way. This is not a coincidence, dear Reader. This is prayer at work.

And then one day I looked down at my phone and found that I had a message from a friend from a long time ago. He reached out to tell me that he enjoyed reading my blog and shared other unexpected words of encouragement. Words that I didn't know that I needed to hear until I read them.

Abundance, people, Abundance.

Yesterday, I was in a funk. Several hiccups occurred at work and I felt weary and spent. I was weepy missing my grandmothers and other long-distance friends I don't see often enough. I was frazzled. I was melancholy. I was hormonal. The funk felt big. I wondered how I'd pull myself out of it. I drove home with the windows down, hair blowing, and the radio blaring. Singing helps with my funks. So I sang and remembered to pray my go-to prayer.

I spent the evening puttering around my house. I'd made a mess of creativity with several projects on my kitchen table, so I spent some time creating some order there. Then I read a chapter of the book I'm currently reading. And then it happened. I felt this strong pull toward my piano. I lifted the lid of the piano bench and rifled through the music. I am not a good piano player, but last night it didn't matter. Sitting at the piano, plunking my way through the notes was a way to get outside of my head and to concentrate on something else.

I started with A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. “We have no foe to fear, Our strength, our help is near; Whose power is manifest To lay our fears to rest. There was that word that creeps into my bones and threatens to settle in: fear. I'm not coping with my fears well lately. I played this tune three times. By the third time, it sounded a little bit like a hymn.

And then I propped This Is a Day of New Beginnings up against the piano. It's an unfamiliar hymn in our denomination's new song book. It had three flats, which ordinarily would have convinced me to not even try. But I was up for the challenge. I plunked my way through it a few times before I even tried to look at the lyrics. When I finally did, this is what I found:

"This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that's gone.

For by the life and death of Jesus,
love's mighty Spirit,
now as then,
can make for us a world of difference,
as faith and hope are born again."

At this point I stopped playing, and started crying. Those words! They were what I needed to hear in that very moment. I needed to remember that it's time to remember and move on. I needed to believe in what love is bringing.

"Then let us, with the Spirit's daring,
step from the past and leave behind our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Christ is alive, and goes before us
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings;
our God is making all things new."

I had texted a friend asking for a big brother pep talk earlier in the evening. A few hours later his response came through and it did not disappoint. I smiled (and cried) because his words echoed the words of this hymn. He was part of the answer to my prayer. He reminded me about hope and faith. That I was on this journey for a reason that is bigger than me. He reminded me that my future is not up to me. It's in God's hands. He told me to be positive. Be hopeful. Pray for opportunities. And love the life I am living.

I am going to keep praying this prayer. I want to see the abundance God has for me.  I want to share what comes my way with others who need it.  I feel better this morning. Better able to take on the world. To walk through the day with joy and tuned to being a blessing to someone else.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mathilda

I have meant to post this for awhile, and today feels like the right time. This is a reading excerpt of one of the pieces I drafted two summers ago at the Washington University Summer Writers Institute.

In adjusting to life without both of my grandmothers, I have days where the ache for my paternal grandmother, who has been gone for five years, is palpable. On those days, my chest literally aches. There's something about sunny, Indian summer weekend afternoons that makes me miss her most. She gave me so many intangible things that I am carrying through my adulthood without her. Mathilda is one of the tangible things that brings me comfort and makes my grandmother feel close. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to Mathilda, an unlikely childhood friend.


Mathilda was a complete bodice: black fabric skin with golden glints woven in. Her neck was collared with gold metal and capped with a black circular handle for adjusting her measurements. Her trunk stopped just below her hips. She was minimally busty, just like Grandma. She rested on one leg attached to a four-footed platform. In childhood Mathilda towered over us, and though she didn’t have a head or face, she seemed complete.

My family of four lived just a few miles from Grandma and Grandpa’s home, Steeleville, as it was affectionately called by the family. We visited weekly, which never seemed frequent enough. Our visits always began with Grandma offering glasses of sweetened ice tea – a necessity in their un-air-conditioned Kansas home—as we caught up on the recent highlights of each others' weeks. My little sister, Sarah, and I would sit awhile and visit, but the possibilities for imaginative play were too powerful to resist for long. Our parents and grandparents would continue to visit as the miniature roll-top desk in the living room beckoned us to play “office.”

Grandma’s dress form, Mathilda, stood still and silent in the upstairs closet. By the time I knew her, she was retired from her duties helping Grandma, who once made clothes for herself. Previously a closet used by two little boys born in the 1940s, it was now a messy container for their mother’s wrapping paper, knitting needles, and fabric scraps. Mathilda’s reign was supreme.

Grandma would take the lead up the steep, red carpeted steps. Like ducklings, we would waddle behind her. She would open the closet door, reach up and turn the switch for the one little sconce on the wall. Grandma would call out a friendly “Howdy, Mathilda!” Sarah and I would quack our own greeting to the dress form.

On those visits when Grandma was entertaining downstairs, I approached the closet and Mathilda with more reserve. The idea of her up there—headless—was a little unnerving. The closet was DARK. The light switch was a reach for us to turn on. Mathilda’s presence in the closet intensified my fear of the dark. But once the light was on, Mathilda was my friend again. She kept us company.

Our family moved to Michigan when I was in high school. Sarah and I grew up and out of playing dress-up, but we visited Steeleville on summer breaks and Christmas vacations. I always peeked into the closet and “howdied” to Mathilda. As a college student with textbook-sized worries about papers, majors, a boy, Mathilda’s presence reminded me of happy childhood memories. A wave of nostalgia would wash over me.

One weekend soon after college graduation, I visited Steeleville. Grandma and I were an unceasing flow of conversation. As we talked and giggled, our memories came in waves. I yearned for a way to preserve them in a tangible way. I was now living in a nearly-empty studio apartment. I imagined Mathilda’s presence could once again keep me company.

“Grandma, what would you think about me having Mathilda someday?” I was reluctant to ask, to take away this long-time friend of Grandma’s.

“Mathilda’s such a big part of my childhood here. If you wouldn’t mind me having her one day, I would love it.”

“Take her home with you tomorrow, Sweetie,” Grandma offered without hesitation.

“Really? Now?”

“Of course! I’m so relieved that someone actually wants her. I always figured she’d wind up in the dump when you kids clean out this old place. It does my heart good to know she’d be with you.”

Sunday afternoon, I carried Mathilda down the stairs and lifted her gently into the back of my grey Volvo station wagon. A new chapter was beginning for Mathilda and me. As with the end of every visit, my eyes filled with tears. Grandma waved to me until I was out of sight.


This is how Mathilda's been dressed the past few months. She's wearing a plum-colored formal I wore my senior year of college when I was on homecoming court. Her newest responsibility is to display my race medallions.

Then two weeks ago, she had a new assignment: to display my maternal grandmother's 1940s nursing cape. I was so proud of how Mathilda looked in this beautiful cape. I was certain both grandmas would be pleased.


I've got to figure out what dress Mathilda is going to wear next. I'll post a picture when I decide.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Few Words about Silver Linings and Lessons Learned

By Friday evening, I was pretty sure I'd learned the week's lesson: my posting selfies was more than an assertion that I am here, visible. It was a subconscious act of seeking external validation and approval. The self-reflection unearthed that my own validation, self-acceptance, and approval is where I need to place my energy, and of late, I have not exercised that enough—if at all.

I had an opportunity to put this new insight to practice as I stood in my race get-up in the middle of Frontier Park waiting for the 2nd Annual Illumirun to begin.


My eyes scanned the scene: the Missouri River in its majestic flowing-ness, the softened light the setting sun cast. A row of port-a-johns formed one boundary while a line of food trucks created another. People milled about in the grassy space in between. Parents chased toddlers with balloons. Others with race bibs began filing into the park. I breathed. I felt a little less out of my element, but I still felt alone. I missed having my faraway running partner with me.

Pre-race jitters ran laps through my body. My stomach felt uneasy. I made my way over to the Depot where the race would begin. I settled into standing alone until the race began. Runners stretched. I stood in my race t-shirt wearing number 3506. I breathed. I flirted with the idea of relaxing into my solitude. I had an epiphany: I COULD run a race without a running partner, and I COULD finish a race without my own cheering section. What this week on a selfie diet had uncovered was that I AM MY OWN COMPANY AND CHEERING SECTION. Turns out, I am great at both!

And then a miracle happened. I saw faces I recognized. And they were wearing race bibs! Our families had made plans to reconnect in this very park for the Thursday evening concert series, but a rainy summer coupled with other activities had kept us apart.

This family of three invited me to hang out with them until the race began. We walked around. They shared their glow-in-the-dark bracelets. We visited and caught up on the summer and the other races they've run lately.

I cannot express how grateful I was for their company, but I also know that if they had not appeared, I would have been okay. I talked myself through the hardest part of being alone in the crowd and I survived.


It was a beautiful night for a race. The course was lined with glow-in-the-dark sticks. It was lovely to look at though not always sufficient light for the uneven trail surfaces on which we ran. I wished my friends good luck, turned on Imagine Dragons on my iPhone, and hit my stride. I enjoyed the run. I felt good, strong. I finished in 38 minutes. No stopping. No pulled calves as before.

I sent a few post-race texts while waiting for the awards ceremony. The chill and wind from the river sent me across the street for a scoop of ice cream since the food trucks had closed. The shop was warm with foot traffic. I bought a scoop of turtle ice cream. As I stepped outside I heard the announcer conclude the awards ceremony. I missed it, but no matter. I didn't need a trophy or anyone's approval. I was thrilled with my own performance and how energized and empowered I felt post-race.

While I'm no fan of feeling criticized, I am hard-wired to find silver linings in less-than-ideal situations. The selfie diet's silver lining: self-acceptance is its own shiny, sparkly reward.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Quotation of the Day - September 15, 2015

I have been thinking about this quote all day. I have it hanging on my work bulletin board. I'm not great at memorizing and this is a long one, but there are snippets that will come to mind. They comfort me, push me forward and out of my rut-like thinking. Today I feel like there may be some who could use this juicy, affirming quote. I have taken the liberty of bolding the lines that stand out to me today. Without further ado, read on:


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure

It is our light that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves "Who am I to be brilliant, talented, gorgeous?

Who are you not to be?

You are a child of God, your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing 'enlightened' about shrinking, so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It is not in just some of us, it is in each and every one of us.

And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
"

- Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

Monday, September 14, 2015

6. Go to a festival I've never been to before - COMPLETE

4040 list Housekeeping: This festival activity was originally on the 4040 list and then I removed it because I wasn't feeling inspired by it. Make Before and After Yoga Pose Calendar was on the list and I was really excited to do it, but then time got away from me and I didn't get the before photos taken. Figuring out how to make this activity meaningful stressed me out. I heard that Avett Brothers were coming to LouFest, so since this is my list (and my rules), I did a switcharoo, and boy, am I ecstatic that I did.

Thoughts I had about The Avett Brothers before I saw them live:

*Their lyrics are pure poetry.

*They make the banjo one of the coolest instruments ever.

*I like listening to them when I'm reading the presidents' biographies, particularly the ones leading up to the Civil War.

*They make me SWOON.

*They are a band I can listen to in every mood: roadtripping, melancholy, happy, distracted.

Thoughts I have about them the morning after their concert:

*I knew very few of their songs because I hadn't heard their new album before the concert. It didn't matter. IT DID NOT MATTER. They were PURE JOY to watch and listen to.

*Minus the three tall boys who thought they were at a private concert and made it hard to see around, we had a great view of the stage. We were close enough to see the range of Scott Avett's facial expressions and theatrical stage presence. He is magical on stage.

*The mutual affection between band and fans is palpable. The fans were so happy seeing this band. There was much sing-a-long-ing. There was a guy behind us who sang along much of the concert. It would have been so annoying if he hadn't had such a good voice.

*These brothers clearly love their mama and their sister because the way they write and sing about women is kind and loving and refreshing.

*The Avett Brothers have moved into Coldplay territory as far as this fan is concerned. Completely different music, but the joy they evoke for me feels the same. I will see them in concert again.

*I swayed to the music and heard myself say “Happy Birthday” over and over as I thought about the 4040 list being the reason I was here. God Bless this list! I know it will be one of the highlights of this year's activities.

*Christa has a new dream for us: When we publish our books, we're going to spend a summer following them from concert to concert. We cannot get enough of them!






Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rejection #3

As you may or may not know, this blog was named 300 rejections as a chronicle of my writing pursuits. I figured the more rejections I got the better because it meant I was writing more.

I am writing the most I've ever written in my entire life, but have submitted very little work of late.

Last week I submitted a short piece to Huffington Post about my grandfather in honor of Grandparents Day, which is today.

My piece wasn't selected, so I get to add it to my list of rejections and share what I wrote here.

The maximum word count was 250, so it's short. I could go on and on about this man. But the following is what I wrote for HuffPost's call for submissions:

At 93, my grandfather, M.L. Rupard has redefined himself in his senior years. He inspires me to see aging as an adventure and full of possibility. In his late eighties, this man who retired from a facilities position at the local university, took up typing. He sat at his computer daily working his fingers closer to his 40 word per minute goal.

He faces adversity with grace. When he wakes up from a flashback from a difficult period in his life, he recites poetry to soothe him back to sleep.

Grandpa has had a life-long passion for horses. He visits his friends' stable every evening to feed their horses and serves as an advisor when issues arise.

Until my grandmother's recent death, Grandpa visited her three times a day to ensure that she was receiving the care he wanted her to have and feed her at meal times.

Grandpa demonstrates that age is simply a number. He teaches me that as long as you pursue your interests—at any age—your life can remain fulfilling and you can maintain your vitality.

His storytelling is my favorite of his qualities. He gets so tickled by the story he's trying to tell that he has to pause to collect himself. His eyes crinkle shut. He holds his breath. When he's ready to resume, his eyes open, his smile widens, and he exhales loudly. This pattern occurs repeatedly before he finishes the story. Watching him laugh so hard is one of my deepest joys.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What I could use these days

A friend sent me the link to this post by Kathy Escobar earlier this week. Go ahead and read it before you continue reading my post. That way we're on the same page. Using the same emotional lexicon.

You finished?

Whoa.

Right?

I gasped at the accuracy of her words to describe what I have been thinking and feeling for awhile, but didn't have the language or the bravery to admit. I'm still nervous about admitting this need to be held. I loathe feeling needy. And my need to be held is great. Huge. Enormous. This is one of those technicolor truths I've referred to recently, and my heart is palpitating as I own it. Pal-pi-tating. I'm afraid that if you're one of the people I see regularly that you'll see this admission written across my face and it will be too big a burden to bear. That you'll feel some added pressure to start holding me. I promise I won't start carrying a sign that says, “I need a hug, pronto.”

This passage of Escobar's is illuminating. It takes my breath away every time I re-read it:

“Over the years as I began to ponder and experience what “incarnational” meant—“God, in the flesh” through meaningful, honest, raw, messy relationship with other people—I began to experience God’s healing in a new way that has brought so much greater freedom.

God is at work, in us and through us.

And there are a whole of people in this world in desperate need of being held.

But I’m not only talking about crawling up into Jesus’ lap and being held in a spiritual sense.

I’m talking about flesh and blood and spirit, all tangled up together in a real hug with a real
person.

Where we are held.

Where skin touches skin.

Where some weird and beautiful and unexplainable security is passed from one person to another in all the right ways.

Where we experience a sense of God’s love in ways we can’t even put words to.

That isn’t something just physical. It is deeply spiritual, too.”

I visited with a childhood friend two days after my grandmother died. He was in town for a conference. We've been in touch frequently over past months, but we've only seen each other once in 25 years until that Wednesday.

His friendship has been fortifying. His humor has been a balm. His confidence and belief in my abilities to cope, to write, to mother, to do everything that needs to be done has been scaffolding to my wavering heart, head, and confidence.

I looked at him and asked, “Could you just hug me for a minute?” He generously agreed. He put his arms around me and held me tight. I clung to him. And I began to weep. He didn't flinch as the tears streamed down my face and my body shook with the sobs that have laid dormant for months—maybe years. He spoke quietly about the grief of my grandmother's passing and of the difficult year I've weathered. I kept crying, and he kept holding me. He suggested that we sit, and that he hug me more.

He sat down and I climbed into his lap. I literally folded my body into a ball and felt his arms wrap around me. I put my arms around his neck and started to exhale. I felt places inside me—rooms whose doors I had closed to protect me—begin to open. My breathing evened. I felt a “sense of God's love” as Escobar describes. We sat there for a long time. He reminded me that he would always be my friend. His words compounded the benefits of his holding me. I felt what Escobar described as a “weird and beautiful and unexplainable security” as my friend held me and honored my layers of grief.

I know that being held is part of the prescription for my aching heart and the hollow loneliness that takes hold of me on occasion. I know that because for hours and days after my friend held me, I felt better. The weight I'd been carrying didn't feel so heavy. I also wondered what I would do when his conference ended and he returned to his busy life one state away.

I've managed to keep the heaviness at bay for more than a week, but I can feel it beginning to creep back in. I am getting better at recognizing these moments for what they are--fleeting moments of intense emotion. I let myself feel the feeling and then I let go of it and allow it to pass like a cloud in the sky. This technique of self-soothing definitely works, but sometimes the storm clouds last longer than I'd like.

The other night after work I retreated to the rocking chair in my bedroom. I sat still and began to let go of my weariness from the day. I watched the cloud formations. Hot pink and orange painted the sky as the sun began to set. I breathed and watched the beauty of the evening unfold before me. Without realizing it, I'd begun to rock in the chair. I thought about the baby I used to rock in this same chair and about the comfort I felt holding her as I rocked. I lamented for a moment that she wasn't little enough to tuck under my chin and against my shoulder as I had when she was an infant. And then the thought crossed my mind, Maybe this chair can hold me and rock me when a friend's arms aren't available. I contemplated how the rocking motion brought comfort in a way I hadn't anticipated when I first sat down. It is certainly no substitute for a loving friend's embrace, but it's better than stewing in the momentary juices of sadness and anxiety. I am grateful for the myriad ways comfort and relief find their ways to me as I practice self-care and self-acceptance. And I look forward to a time when my hugs are able to be a refuge for someone else.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rambling thoughts on September 2001

Fourteen years ago.

I had a new name.

I had a new address in a new state.

I had just returned from my honeymoon. I had flown on the last flight where going through security didn't feel like public undressing and wasn't a big inconvenience or cause for massive concern.

I drove to a job interview as hell broke loose in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C. I had my radio tuned to NPR and heard a very brief, early report. There was something going on, but it was too early to comprehend the magnitude. I turned off the radio. I wanted to stay focused and upbeat for the interview.

I arrived early and sat in the car. I turned the radio back on and could not believe how much could change in a 25 minute commute. I couldn't tear myself away from the reporting.

It was a surreal day to interview for a job. We spoke about cancelled business travel and just how sad the circumstances were. We still didn't know enough details to feel the full impact. I hadn't seen the images on TV yet.

The interview was strange for reasons unrelated to a national tragedy. We concluded the meeting and I drove back to my new home, the apartment on Colonial Hills Drive where I was only beginning to unpack and settle in. Tom Brokaw and other anchors kept me company as I adjusted to my new life and our nation's new circumstances.

I kept plugging away at my thank you notes as I watched the television and cried. I also read a lot during that time as I waited to hear about the job I would eventually be offered and would accept. It was a comfort to sink into the couch in my unfamiliar new home and escape into an imaginary world where airplanes weren't used as weapons, skyscrapers weren't collapsing, loved ones weren't missing, and first responders weren't dust covered and beyond exhaustion.

While I didn't know anyone immediately affected by the terrorist attacks, I could feel a collective shift taking place. There was a division now: the lives we lived before, and the lives we would live after.

September will always be a month tinged with grief and sadness for me. Last week as I was settling into the news of my grandmother's passing I was also grappling with how to wrap my brain around a day that is no longer a wedding anniversary. That occasion occurred one September afternoon fourteen years ago. I could not have foreseen that it would have an expiration date. What do you do with that day moving forward?

I reached out to women who have walked this path ahead of me. One friend's advice: “honor it for who you were at that time and the noble commitment that you intended. Life does not follow through for us as we once hoped and you have to accept it and soldier on. Our hearts are strong and full of purpose, but the changes that sweep over ourselves and other people have to give leeway for the heart to adapt to what is....and not what we might wish for...remember, it will get easier. But it will never, ever be a casual memory that you can whisk away. You are not that kind of woman.”

Today I pray for the families and loved ones for whom September is not a little memory to be grappled with, but rather a month seared into their hearts and memories leaving emotions raw and jagged and never to be fully healed. These brave souls have unimaginable courage. They soldier on every single day. The magnitude of their grief helps me keep mine in perspective.

I must admit I'm struggling with how to end this post. I stumbled on a quote from Martha Beck that just might do the trick. “Every time you avoid an event or activity because it's painful, you automatically connect the discomfort with whatever you do instead. Suppose I'm having a terrible hair day, and to not feel that shame, I cancel a meeting with a client. Just thinking about that client brings on a pang of shame. If I watch a movie to distract myself, I may be hit with an unpleasant twinge just hearing the name of that movie. This happens with every form of psychological suffering we try to outrun. When we run from our feelings, they follow us. Everywhere.”

Two friends in particular are coaching me through these intense emotions I have been experiencing. They have different perspectives, but they agree on one thing: I should write about my feelings in all of their technicolor truthiness. I was so scared when they first suggested such a thing.

“Share all of these things on my blog?!?”

“YES!” they replied half-exasperated, half-amused.

I've stopped running from my feelings. I'm writing through them now.

One friend suggested that those stories would help other people. I must admit I do like helping. The helping argument has emboldened me. I am grateful to heed their advice even on the scariest subjects. I am meeting that suffering on the screen and through my love of stringing words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into posts, I am finding relief. Dare I say, even healing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Few Words about Third Grade

Less than a week ago I wrote about the hard days of mothering. I am now back home, back to my regular routine, and feeling the beauty of raising my strong-willed, open-hearted girl, and I want to share this part too.

Four and five were magical years. More language had developed. There was sweetness in most interactions. She was full of discovery and wonder and joy. Six and seven struck and threatened to knock me out. Sass entered the picture and colored almost every conversation. If I said up she demanded down. It was hard to see my way through that season.

And now eight is upon us, and I am catching my breath. She has new confidence. Responsibility and being accountable for oneself feel good and “grown up.” We still have our moments, but they come more predictably when she is hungry or tired or both.

Here are just a few vignettes I'll be entering into her journal for her to read later.

*For her daddy's birthday, she insisted that I withdraw $20 from her savings account. “I need to give him MY money for his birthday. DO NOT give me money from your account.”

*We have a deal that when she outgrows clothes and toys, I will take them to the resale shop and she can keep the money. This last trip brought her $14 in profit. I asked her what she would like me to do with the money. “Put $10 in my savings account and keep the four dollars for me, please.”

*She had Brownie homework to complete before the next meeting and was going to be with her dad for a few days before the meeting. She did her homework after school at her after care program. After the meeting, her co-leader told me she was the only Brownie to have completed her assignment.

*She is thriving and flourishing in her new two-household arrangement. She is excited to see the parent she has been away from for a few days and doesn't seem distraught from the distance.

*She loves her third grade teacher and life in her classroom. She misses a friend who no longer goes to her school. He made her laugh a lot and his absence is felt. She mentioned it to me and then moved on.

*She and her friend at church have decided that they want to be baptized. They are taking this decision very seriously. Cadence loves the class she is taking to prepare and the teacher who is guiding her through this process. She has asked the special people in her life to be a part of her special day. She has made those decisions on her own.

A few years ago I found a lifeline in the book Raising Your Spirited Child. It provided comfort and understanding for some of the mysteries of raising my particular child. As it turns out, she and I are both spirited—though in some very different ways—and that key information has created space for me to better guide her through our tricky moments. The author discussed how the qualities of spirited children would make them into spectacular 30-year-olds, but until then sometimes raising a spirited child would entail more fatigue and require more patience than raising a less spunky child.

I am reveling in this respite of parenthood because I know there are more tricky, exhausting, and exasperating seasons of parenthood to come. I am filling my tank now for the hard days ahead and expressing gratitude for the loveliness that is age eight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Eulogy for My Grandma

These are the words I shared at my Grandmother's funeral last Friday. It felt good to put these words together and to share them publicly in her memory. I was a really lucky girl to know and love this woman. I am so grateful that I got to have her in my life for so many years.

I am Julie Margaret Steele Mahoney, Margaret's eldest granddaughter. I am proud to share her name. It took a few years for me to grow into the regal name of Margaret, but I finally did. And I have always loved being Juliemarg to my family. I have long believed that when it came to grandparents, I hit the jackpot. Each one of them gave me such different and important things. They showered me with unconditional love and attention, and were really interested in the person I was and were an integral part of who I have become.

My grandmother was a beautiful woman inside and out. She taught me how to be a lady. I loved watching her get ready in the morning. Her pin curls, her powder and pink lipstick. These were all a part of the routine that was the same whether we were going to hang out laundry in the back yard or go out for lunch. She made getting ready for the day an art. I am wearing her signature pink nail polish in her honor today. Her smile lit up her whole face and her eyes always twinkled. Even in the last six years when communicating was difficult for her, her smile and eyes said everything she needed them to.



As I've reflected on my memories with my grandma this week, I am reminded that it is almost never the big moments in life that I go back to, but the quiet, just-between-us moments that leave impressions on our hearts. I'd like to share a few of those small precious memories now.

As a nurse, Grandma expressed her love for us in the way she took care of us physically. She fed us healthy food every meal. I could taste her love in each bite. Even my favorite treats were healthy. During the week we spent in Pittsburg each summer, Grandma made orange juice popsicles for the hot afternoons. She poured orange juice into molds. That's it. No special ingredients. But to me they were delicious and refreshing. No one has ever made rice krispy treats the way my Grandma could, though Grandpa's came in a close second. She had just the right ratio of marshmellow filling to rice krispies and she always sprinkled coconut over the top. When she was concerned that our calcium intake was low, she began paying us a quarter per glass of milk and would pay up on our next visit. She knew that we loved Twizzlers and ever concerned about our dental health, one Christmas when we were grown she told us that she'd heard they were discontinuing the production of Twizzlers. We just smiled knowing this was wishful thinking on her part.

I learned how to needle point from her. We would pick out new iron-on Martha Gooch patterns at Wal-mart at the beginning of our week's visit. We would spend our evenings watching television and she would help me undo whatever knot I'd created or demonstrate how to undo an errant stitch.

I had so much fun traveling with my grandparents in the summers as we grew up. I remember how excited we were as the Great Circus Parade began its route in Downtown Milwaukee. We thought it was the greatest thing that one of the elephants was named Margaret. We experienced a fancy hotel when we stayed at the Pfister. We attended a fancy lunch, and I know that Grandma was proud of her eight- and ten-year-old granddaughters who managed appropriate table manners in the presence of strangers.

Grandma was gentle and kind, but one time a man in a truck cut her off in traffic while Sarah and I were in the backseat. The Grandma bear in her came out. She fumed and followed him to the store where he parked. She told us to stay in the car. She walked into the store and gave him a piece of her mind. I really wish I could have witnessed her lecture. I'm glad that wasn't her regular approach to life, but in that moment I saw a fiercely protective grandparent and I felt deeply loved.

As time goes on, I pray that I share more than just a name with her. I want to emulate her hard-working, no-nonsense, kind, and graceful demeanor.

Grandma told me often that she was proud of me and encouraged me to be my best. She loved me despite my quirks and bookwormish ways.

On the last day of each visit, I would get an ache in my throat that wouldn't go away until I burst into tears. I hated to see our visit come to an end. I loved spending time with them so much. Today I don't feel that ache as I say goodbye because I know she is finally at peace and her suffering is gone. But I carry these memories and my love her with her every day. I will miss her the rest of my life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A few words about Selfies

A dear friend reflected on my writing as we Skyped. “You can really hear your voice come through loud and strong when you are writing from your heart. When you aren't, your blog posts are so different.” This isn't the first time I've heard this recently. I commented that the past week had been so hard for so many reasons and that my writing had been off.

“You need to write about all of that, Julie.”

“I can't write about THAT. I'm not ready.”

“Julie, that's precisely what you should be writing about. In those places where you are hiding from writing are the stories people need to hear.”

I went to sleep and woke up at 2:28 hearing the following words forming. I laid awake writing this post in my head and waiting for sleep to find me again. Here I am coming out of hiding from the emotional stuff I'd prefer to keep to myself. I am grateful for my friends who keep encouraging me as I write and to be brave in doing so.


**

This weekend I received two unsolicited comments about the frequency of my selfie posts on Facebook and Instagram. I was taken aback the first time. I laughed it off. This person is always teasing me about something. I had a ready defense, “When you spend most of your time alone, selfies are the only way you can document yourself in whatever activity or place you're in.” Later the person who commented on the selfies admitted that he hadn't thought about my explanation and that it made sense.

The second comment came and this time I was embarrassed and mad. Other people who post selfies with greater frequency came to mind. I had never imagined that I might be put into the same category. I don't want to be lumped into that group.

I could have gotten defensive and mad and blown off the comment, but since two comments came within days of each other, I decided it was time to examine my selfie practice. I stopped the chatter in my head. I got quiet and began reflecting on what these comments had to teach me.

The era of selfies has been linked to a rise in narcissism. I have become aware of the fact that I am a magnet for narcissistic personalities. I am doing the hard work of setting boundaries with people whose narcissistic tendencies so easily crush my confidence and my energy. The idea that I might have fallen into the trap of a narcissistic behavior by posting too many selfies made me sick to my stomach.

As I continued to reflect on the heart of the matter, I recognized that deep-seated loneliness is also at play. With each selfie I post, I try to convey self-expression, thoughtful reflection, and deeper contexts than the typical, “Look at me!” post. This approach to my selfies led me to believe that mine were not attention seeking.

I was wrong.

I am processing a lot of difficult emotions right now. I spent thirteen years in a marriage where I was invisible. I burned myself on a match one time and yelled out in pain. My partner was in the other room and didn't say a word. I didn't hear an, “Are you okay?” Another time, I dropped a bowl and it shattered on the kitchen floor. Again, I was met with silence. It's hard to understand what it feels like to be ignored in such basic ways until you're the one running a finger under cold water. Alone. Or picking up the broken ceramic pieces. Alone.

I see now that posting selfies has been a way of asserting that I am, in fact, here. Visible. It feels good to have a photo get “liked,” but more than anything posting them has been my way of saying I'm here. I'm in the world. I am experiencing life and I want to document myself in my space.

Mothers often are the ones behind the camera. They are most often the planners of the activity and then the archivists of said activities. They wind up in fewer photos than the rest of the family. It makes me sad when I don't see my friends in their own family photos. My selfie posts were trying to tip the balance of that equation. And when you become a single parent, selfies are the only way to create a family photo.

I've worked through the embarrassment and shame of these comments. I've decided to take a break from posting selfies for awhile. I'll keep taking them to document my experiences, but I'm going to keep them to myself. My blog is the only place that I feel it's reasonable to lift the ban of the selfie. I am the subject of my blog and so including photos of myself there seems appropriate.

Fasting from posting selfies will be a deepening of the process I'm already engaged in. I know that I am the only one (with the help of God) who can heal and repair these deep wells of loneliness and sadness I am experiencing. I read a quote that said, “Love when you are ready, not because you are lonely.” That resonates for me right now. I want to embrace my loneliness as a truthful marker for where I am right now, but I do not want it to be a driving force in the decisions I make and the photos I post.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

For the Love of my Nephew

My sweet nephew and I have bonded over his love of zoo animals, Star Wars, Mizzou Football, and his very nuanced understandings of each category. None of these things are of particular interest to me, but they are of utmost importance to him and he's found an avid listener in Aunt Julie. Last summer as we ate hamburgers and french fries in a restaurant he asked me, “Did you see the game when Mizzou crushed the...” I can't complete the sentence because as he began talking about football my brain froze. I laughed to myself and thought, “In ten years, this child will realize how futile it is to be having these conversations with this woman.” I did my best to ask relevant questions and keep the conversation going. His excitement for all things Mizzou football is contagious.

His parents bought tickets for a Labor Day Weekend Mizzou home game and invited Aunt Julie and Cousin Cadence to come along. A college friend who lives in Columbia dropped the six of us off at the stadium. We watched Luke's eyes and smile widen as he took in the entire scene—the sea of humanity dressed in gold and black, Tigers logos everywhere, a stadium full of fans. It really was a wonder to take in.

We presented our tickets at the gate and grabbed Mizzou paper fans, which were a God-send on such a warm, sunny afternoon. We bought water bottles and made our way to our seats behind the end zone. We sat down and I must admit, I was overwhelmed. The sheer number of people wearing the same color, the band playing. It was something else, all right. I thought of all of my friends whose weekends through autumn are overtaken by college football. I felt a pang of jealousy. I wanted to belong to this club.

I thought back to my best friend's dad trying to explain the game to me as a freshman in high school before I moved away. I thought of being the girlfriend, sister, and friend of band members at my new high school and how each Friday night the game went completely over my head.

Later I married a man who'd played football in high school and college. I made some progress in following the game, but not enough for either of our satisfaction. Finally, I just gave up.

Yesterday I decided to approach watching football the same way I have approached so many things in my fortieth year. I was tired of being the one who “didn't get the game.” Training for a 5k, baking pie crusts, and helping my daughter with her third grade math have all confounded me. But with practice and a new attitude, none of these things have beat me.

My sister and I admittedly used the time to catch up with each other while our children were consumed by the game, but in between those spurts of conversation, I watched the field. I still struggled figuring out who was holding the damn ball, but I was undeterred. I watched the scoreboard and kept track of the game's progress. Mizzou scored several touchdowns and a few of them brought me to my feet cheering on the Tigers.

I experienced a few moments that were like my language immersion in Quebec. The longer I studied French and practiced speaking it the easier my fluency came to me. I remember the time I told my teacher that I had so much to say, but didn't know how to express it. She encouraged me to start speaking and she'd help fill in the blanks. That very thing happened as I sat in the bleachers. I just watched the game at the level I knew and then asked questions for clarification. Suddenly, I was watching the game and enjoying it!

I let go of the need to understand every single intricacy of the game and just enjoyed applying what I did know. Who knew that watching football could reinforce these life lessons I am trying so hard to master: Letting Go of Outcomes and Letting Go of Old Stories I've Long Told Myself.

Mizzou won the game 34-3, and there was a little boy from Michigan cheering on his favorite team. He squealed with delight.

I can't believe it. I am nowhere near being part of the club of football-loving fans, but I also am no longer feeling completely clueless. I'm am actually looking forward to watching football again. Especially with my nephew.


Luke met me at breakfast in the hotel on Game Day. He said, "Since you don't have a Mizzou shirt, you can wear one of mine." I LOVE that the shirt he loaned me combined his love of Mizzou and Star Wars. I wore it proudly!