Sunday, September 25, 2016

Three Labyrinths in Six Days

Sunday afternoon while Cadence was at a birthday party, a friend and I went to my favorite labyrinth. I've been thinking lately about how much I want to share my love of labyrinths with my friends who have never experienced this meditative walk.

I gave this new friend an overview of the purpose of the labyrinth as a spiritual practice. This path is situated between to enormous oak trees. Acorns were everywhere. I prefer to walk the path barefoot, so the acorns created space for me to be even more mindful of each step. Acorns dropped from the trees as we walked. It felt slightly dangerous to walk not knowing when the next acorn would make us its next target.

Walking a labyrinth solo and with other people are different experiences. With other people, one must take care to be respectful of the others' location in relation to one's own place on the course. It's a balancing act. It seems important to allow each person their own personal space as they wind the path, but also to acknowledge each other's presence in some way when our walk brings us near each other. My friend and I negotiated this balance well. 

We met in the center for a few moments, and then we began the walk back out. At one point, he shared that he'd had an epiphany about his writing as he walked. I smiled to myself. This is what draws me to the labyrinth every time. In the wordless quiet surrounded by birds chirping and traffic whirring past, I always find comfort, new insight, and peace. I was happy that he'd had his own experience on his first trip.

To me, the labyrinth is an invaluable resource for writers.

It's become a new pastime to search for labyrinths when I travel. This week I flew to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a professional conference. On the last day, my colleague and I had several hours to burn before we headed to the airport. The night before, I'd gone to a restaurant she'd wanted to try, so she was happy to join me on my labyrinth adventure.

A Google search produced Jessica's Labyrinth on the campus of Chatham University, a twenty-minute cab ride from the hotel where we stayed. We found the secluded campus and the labyrinth across from the Admissions building. Like the labyrinth in St. Louis, this one is shaded by enormous oak trees. Acorns were scattered all over the grass-and-paving-stone circuit. I moved in what I call meditative-turbo mode since our cab driver had agreed to wait for us while we walked the path.

I kept my shoes on for this walk. I liked the crunch of acorn shells under my feet. I thought about Jessica, and the memorial gift her family had created in her honor. I was overwhelmed by the diameter of this labyrinth. At 60 feet, it's the largest one I've walked.

Besides thoughts about the waiting cab driver, wondering what my colleague thought of the walk, and the stones that burst out of their place by the force of a root system, I thought about how grateful I am that labyrinths are a part of my spiritual and writing practices and how glad I am that it's finally autumn.

I continue to dream about building a labyrinth on the property of the church I attend. We have an ideal space, and I would love to share this practice with the community. This labyrinth walk solidified two things: the labyrinth I want to build will not include paving stones or grass and will be less than 60 feet in diameter.


This has been a good week. The conference courses were exceptional. There were two dedicated specifically for writers, and the content was really helpful. I felt energized. Ready to return to my day job refreshed.

This weekend I'm solo, so I decided after a morning of church and work responsibilities, I would reward myself with another trip to my favorite labyrinth. I feel drawn to the space. This time I brought a broom and swept away the leaves and acorns before I started my walk. It was a nerdy thing to do, but it felt like a way of expressing my gratitude for this path being available to me. I made the sweeping its own form of meditation. I pulled weeds that crept through the seams in the concrete. 

With the path clear, I began my third walk. I contemplated how one year ago, this walk felt more daunting. It required more of me to lean into the unknown and to trust that the future was going to be a safe, fun place. 

I heard myself say, "I'm getting so much better at this." I welcome the curves and corners of my unknown path. I trust myself and my life so much more than I have before. I am in a good place--professionally, personally, and in my writing. This walk reminded me that life is circular, not linear, and that when I revisit emotions and circumstances, I will always find myself in a slightly different and often gentler mindset. 

Walking the labyrinth in the past year has tested my mettle and my adventurous spirit. It has taught me about trust and given me confidence and courage for each next step--on and off the course.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Miscellany, Money, & Mantras

Last Christmas, Cadence's and my first on our own, I decided to buy a few things for myself. I wrapped them and put them under the tree with a label that read,

To: Mama
From: Cadence

Cadence found them as she watched the gifts add up little by little during Advent. She LOVED finding them.

"What did I give you, Mommy?"

I shrugged and smiled.

"You'll have to wait and see. Just like me."

A new tradition was born. It was my proactive response to knowing that on Christmas Eve with just the two of us, there wouldn't be any gifts for me to open. As a minimalist, I don't want or need much, but on the evening we celebrate, I knew I would feel sad and nostalgic about not having anything to open because there was no one to shop for me. It's not something I expected my then-eight-year-old to manage, and this way I would get exactly what I want. I'm great at delayed gratification, so it knocked out a few birds at once.

The pleasant surprise was her excitement.

This summer I found the Hamilton behind-the-scenes book on sale. My daughter loves the soundtrack, so I decided it would be one of the gifts she would give me. I told my coworker and dear friend, Jana, about this new tradition.

"Can I wrap it for you? I love this idea!"

A few weeks later, she brought this package to work.

I love my friend's support of my off-beat ideas.

I start my Christmas shopping early each year in an attempt to pay cash and as an investment in a stress-free Advent season. Today I began shopping for Cadence in earnest. I have another Advent idea up my sleeve, and while I was shopping for it, I found another gift for myself. I texted Jana:

"I bought another from Cadence for you to wrap. :) I'll bring it on Monday! This is so fun!"


All of this shopping and Christmas scheming is taking place with the backdrop of metabolizing my credit card debt, car repairs, and enrolling in a class that suggests that getting one's head and heart involved in one's financial affairs will change how one thinks about one's money, finances, and prosperity.

The class discusses how thoughts of deprivation are not a productive way of getting out of debt, but cause a bigger problem: blocking the flow of abundance (in all of its forms) into one's life.

New strategies for cultivating abundance and gratitude--repeating a mantra and looking at daily account balances and expressing gratitude no matter the number--were part of module one.

My mantras are: I am a love and money magnet. I take care of my money and my money takes care of me. Each time I feel overwhelmed by bills or the amount I have to pay off, instead of worrying, I say these two things.

I've gone back to using my debit card to slow down my credit card dependence. Looking at my balance every day really does help me feel like I have control over my spending. I am grateful for my electric bill, which is $30 less than last month. I am grateful for the $10.08 refund from my mortgage company for the overage in flood valuation-something-or-other. Awareness is a powerful tool for overcoming denial, worry, and hopelessness--in money matters and life in general.


As I anticipated the completion of my 40/40 list last year, I wanted to keep the momentum in the new year. I created an informal 41 list. It became a list of 11 things I was interested in pursuing. One of the items was practicing Random Acts of Kindness.

This morning, I stood in line for donuts and coffee at our favorite donut shop. I remembered that to use a debit card the shop has a $5 minimum order. I didn't want to step out of line to run to the ATM for a $3 order. I noticed a young man standing behind me.

"I'm going to buy your breakfast this morning."

A faint smile registered on his face. "Thank you. You don't have to do that."

"I know. Consider it a Random Act of Kindness."

"Don't worry. I eat cheap," he added.

I smiled and we continued to wait in line in silence.

When it was our turn, I ordered my two old fashioned donuts and a medium coffee. I gestured to the young man behind me. He ordered a breakfast burrito.

"What's your name?" I asked.


I told him my name, and we shook hands.

I asked him if he wanted to order a drink.

"I'll get a cup for water. I'm a big water guy."

The woman behind the counter handed me my bag and cup. Adam got his order number.

"Thanks again." We parted.

I walked out to my car with my refreshments to accompany me on my errands. I felt light. Buoyant. Prosperous.

I can still be generous while my finances aren't where I want them to be.


Somehow the early Christmas shopping, the money mantras, and buying breakfast for a stranger feels like agenda items on my self-directed writer's retreat this weekend. In all of these seemingly disparate activities, there's creative energy flowing through each, building one on top of another. They are feeding me and filling me after a few weeks of feeling depleted. I am so grateful and excited to see what this weekend produces.

Friday, September 9, 2016


I had a panic attack today.

They don't surface often, gratefully, but when they do, I am rattled.

My chest tightens. My breathing labors. I have a Rational Voice in my head telling me that none of the worries that have brought on these physical symptoms are serious or life-threatening. The Irrational Voice responds, "Yes, RV, I am well aware of this. It doesn't matter. I am currently in no position to talk myself out of this scary, circular, mess of an internal monologue."

I know how it happened. I've spent the past two weeks dealing with car troubles. These circumstances cracked open my vulnerabilities. I remained mostly calm and composed, but it took it's toll on me. Then in my exhaustion, I said yes to an invitation I knew I should have said no to. And then I felt another yes coming. These struck hard because I've been doing so well at my boundary drawing of late and these yeses or near-yeses felt like self-betrayal.

During my panic attack and the hours that I was a muddled mess, I kept asking myself What Would Glennon Do? Glennon reminds us that We Can Do Hard Things and that our pain is where our lessons and the good stuff of life can come from, but we have to dwell there for a spell. I didn't ask people what to do, an old tactic. I opened my journal and wrote down all the things causing this physical and emotional tension. Writing always clears the cobwebs. I also breathed deeply, prayed, and trusted that the right answer would come and the tension would ease. I was right. My chest loosened and my breathing returned to mostly normal.

With a clearer head, I cancelled the plans remembering that no was the answer I should have given days ago.  This was a pop quiz, and it was okay to not ace it. I've aced a lot of other emotional pop quizzes of late and perfect scores are not the goal. Only learning lessons matters. Sometimes it takes extra practice to master the material.

I knew that saying no was creating space to say yes to my writing life, which has the power to heal and restore like nothing else does.

I spent the afternoon away from the office with colleagues at a team-building event. One of the breakout sessions was a version of balderdash--a game where each player gives an exotic word a definition and then the person whose turn it is has to pick their favorite definition and compare it to the actual definition. This word nerd loved it and learned several new ones including: 

Today's panic attack and the resulting reflection is a perfect example of eustress. They provided me with an opportunity for personal growth. Facing my yes and changing it to no taught me the importance of listening to my needs. Of the importance of making decisions for the right reasons, which do not include people pleasing--the source of this particular yes.

This eustress also led to brainstorming what I need creatively.  Rob Bell often talks about creating that thing you need instead of waiting for it to appear. As I drove my newly repaired pathfinder home, the Honey Locust Creatives' Collective was my answer to what I've been seeking: creative space that welcomes and encourages creatives in their particular pursuits. I have no idea what will become of it, but I do know a lot of creatives: writers, painters, designers, knitters, to name a few. I want to create space for us to live and express ourselves creatively.

This weekend the Honey Locust Creatives' Collective is a retreat-for-one taking place in my bedroom. Maybe some day it will be a retreat for others--or not. It doesn't matter. Tonight it's feeding my soul and creating the space for me to feel supported as I plan to write on and off from now until Monday when I return to my day job.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Woman of the House - Vol. Four - Labor Day Yardwork

My parents made a stop through town on their way home from Kansas. On these quick trips, they always offer their help on a project. I'm learning to accept their help more gracefully than I have in the past. I used to feel like accepting help was somehow confirming that I couldn't do things myself. I saw it as a weakness.

I'm so glad I'm getting over that because we had so much fun sweating and working side-by-side on Monday.

Here's a list of what we accomplished:

  • Dad repaired my fence. Mom gave him a suggestion that required far less effort and netted the same results.
  • Mom and I weeded the overgrowth that had sprung up around my patio.
  • We removed the crumbling wall around the tree and determined that there was no chance of planting anything around the base of the trunk: the root system had begun growing on itself. Instead, we filled in the gaps with top soil and mulch.
  • Dad dug up scrappy weed-trees that had sprung up near my air condition unit. 
  • We cleaned out my garden shed; found tools with broken handles (Dad's going to repair them at home and bring them back on another visit.) We reconfigured the space in the shed so that I can maneuver the lawn mower with less struggle.
  • Dad gave me a tutorial on using my edger/trimmer. I'm so glad he did! Turns out the handle also has different settings, which explains why I couldn't figure out how to edge near my fence line. MAJOR LIGHT BULB MOMENT!
  • Dad installed the piece of siding that had blown off in a storm.
  • Dad mowed the tallest part of the backyard. He is so patient. (I mowed the front yard.)
  • Mom potted chrysanthemums for my front porch. Instant improved curb appeal.
My parents' help was an elixir for my recent bouts of sagging energy where my yard is concerned. It felt good to work side-by-side and conjured up some of my happiest memories from childhood where I worked beside my dad or played near where he worked on projects.

Mom suggested that perhaps my five-year plan should be to get the house ready to sell. "This is a lot of work for one person who also works full-time." I assured her that I am determined to conquer this solo homeownership thing. I am acutely aware that there is no way I could purchase another home for the dollar amount I currently owe on this house. Since I plan to be here long-term, the to-do/to-dream list seems far more do-able than it did last summer when mowing the lawn every week seemed so daunting.

As I've been writing this post, my daughter has been texting me. She asked me what I was writing about. Then she said: "How does the yard look? How much from a scale 1 to 10 have you accomplished? I replied, "We got a lot of little things done."

The next message I read said: "AWESOME! AM SO PROUD OF YOU."

That one line in all caps makes all of the solo homeowning efforts worth it.

Home Sweet Home

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Woman of the House Vol. 3 - More car trouble

Yesterday on my way out of the office, I jinxed myself.

"Well let's see if I can get home tonight," I said to my boss and smiled.

Less than three miles from home and Cadence's school, I paused in a left hand lane and that's when it started. Or rather, didn't start again. Talk about deja vu. Like 48 hours before, the battery light illuminated my dash board and I was going nowhere.

This time, on the eve of what used to be a wedding anniversary, I felt a little more angst. I felt the grief that comes with knowing that because of distance or dysfunction, the people one is "supposed" to rely on aren't available.

I had car trouble one cold evening when Cadence was two. I had a conference call and was going to take it at my boss's house where her older children could occupy Cadence. Then in the dark I couldn't find the house, so I parked in a restaurant parking lot. My battery died and so did my phone. It was stressful and frustrating.

And when my husband arrived, I did not feel relief. I felt the stress peak. My evening's snafus had been inconvenient.

The location of this car failure was inconvenient too. AAA's roadside assistance kept me on hold, so I abandoned that task for the moment and arranged for a friend to pick up my daughter. Next on the list was finding transportation to and from the evening's girl scout meeting where my junior scout was a featured presenter.

With those details secured, I was able to call AAA again. My friend pulled up and watched the precarious location and how impatient drivers were whipping to my left and right to get around me.

"I thought I was going to watch an accident right in front of us!"

The contractor towing service arrived and lifted my car onto his truck in no time. With my car in good hands, my friend drove me home to meet her husband and my daughter who were waiting for me to bring her materials and for her troop leader to take her to the meeting.

Cadence's evening plans were back on track, so I stood with my friends in the kitchen. With some compulsion, I tore a book away from its spiral binder as we talked. I explained that I planned to put the paper in the recycle bin, but couldn't do it with the spiral binder and I was feeling a little keyed up and this repetitive motion seemed to help.

My voice quivered. "Moments like this make me feel more vulnerable than usual."

I mapped out the calls I'd made before I reached the friends who had saved my day and were now in my kitchen.

"Well, next time you can move our names up to the first-to-call, okay? We're family. We're here for you."

I expressed my gratitude and sent them on their way. They had their own anniversary to celebrate.

I was grateful for a little time on my own to decompress before my responsibilities to feed my child and guide her through homework began. I watched an episode of West Wing.

The swirl of the evening woke me up at two-something. I tossed and turned. In my insomnia, I thought I heard a dripping noise. I convinced myself as Woman of the House I should check into the noise. It was the hallway toilet running. I went to bed. The noise was indeed water torture. I got back up and prayed my way into the bathroom. "Please let me be able to fix this. Please don't let this be the next thing on the list that requires money and someone else to fix."

I inspected the problem and found that the chain had slipped off the bar that keeps the thing...I don't know plumbing terminology. Anyway, I reattached the chain, the tank began refilling and the noise stopped.

I sighed.

I went back to bed.

I congratulated myself on fixing something.

Eventually I fell back to sleep.