Tag: Grace

23Sep

Pumpkin Spice Laxity

The weather got the memo that today is the first day of fall, and I responded by indulging in one of my precious Pumpkin Spice Latte packets. If your refined coffee sensibilities are recoiling in horror right now, you might need to step back from your screen for a breather while I admit that my granulated Starbucks experience was just what I needed on this gray-clad morning. (Expats gonna expat…)

The girls have been back in school for one week now, and we’re slowly figuring out our dance of schedules for the fall. The fact that Dan and I both work from home makes coordinating much easier, but it also means that we’re not always home when we’re home, and figuring out who’s taking care of what, when, takes some trial and error. Having my right hand out of commission for three months also adds to the fun. I keep looking down at my grace note tattoo in an attempt to remind myself that it’s okay our home life is in its eighty-fourth consecutive transition phase. We’re cultivating flexibility and dodging boredom, and neither is a habit I’d actually want to see go.

Other habits remain frustratingly elusive. Getting up even one minute earlier than responsible parenting requires me to hasn’t happened yet this month. In the fantasy realm of good intentions, I’m the type to rise before dawn and harness the creative magic of those pre-breakfast hours. In practice, however, I’m deeply committed to my pillow between 11:30 at night and 7:30 in the morning. So far this year, there has been neither idea compelling enough nor caffeinated beverage strong enough to tempt me to join the 5am club, but my good intentions will not go down without a fight. You’re welcome to pray for our collective sanity once I summon the courage to change my alarm.

I may not be getting up at a respectable time, but I am writing again on a daily basis—with frequent appeals to my grace tattoo—and I’m hoping I’ll be able to share some of what I’m working on soon. Writing is such a delicate subject for me. Just mentioning that I have projects in the works threatens to tip the day’s balance toward fear again, and I’m often one sharp exhale away from succumbing to the shame-mongering voices that plague all of us who create. I have goals for this fall that feel like home to me though, and so this is where you can find me each morning, duking it out with myself in a desk chair.

There are a lot of areas of life relegated to the back burner right now… or, more truthfully, off the menu altogether. Housecleaning is a dusty memory. (See what I did there?) We haven’t been keeping up well either with friends and neighbors since coming home from our trip, and our tackle-eventually list has literally piled up around the margins of our house. As usual, I’m frustrated that I can’t do it all. The superhero myth is a difficult one to set down.

At the same time, there’s relief to be found in transition times. Nothing about our life right now says status quo, so we’re free to hold our loose ends loosely. It’s not hard to imagine that next month I will start waking with the birds, and the month after that my writing day will require only the briefest of stare-downs with fear, and the month after that the windows will get washed. It’s the first day of fall, and anything is possible. Even the notion that we’re already okay.

What is life looking like for you all these days? Are you ready for fall yet?

31Aug

It’s All in the Wrist

I have tendinitis in my right hand and wrist. Have I mentioned that here before? It’s relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of life; I can’t lift much with my hand, and Dan has to chop the vegetables for dinner, but it’s never struck me as anything to write home about. Perhaps part of that is because the tendinitis started under the dumbest possible circumstances: I opted one day to carry a far-too-heavy grocery bag to the car rather than going out of my way to get a cart, and the next day, I couldn’t hold a fork. I wore a splint on my hand for a bit, tried anti-inflammatories, electrotherapy, and corticosteroid injections, and then decided that I’d just live with the stupid thing. After all, it’s not like I could take three months off using my dominant hand in order to let it rehabilitate. I’ve got things to do, places to drive, a household to care for. Rest wasn’t even on the spectrum of possibility for me.

That, dear friends? Was four years ago. Four. YEARS. Last week, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in which I realized I’ve been living with a gimpy hand for nearly half a decade just to avoid three months of recovery time. Algebra may not be my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure this doesn’t even out. (Cancel out? Equal out? Blerg.)

Wednesday was my Duh Day, and I strapped the splint back on before adding up the next three months and putting them into the calendar as milestones. The final one is on Thanksgiving Day, when I will be able to eat turkey with my right hand if it still remembers the mechanics. The timing of this feels like no accident. Six days into rest therapy, and the reasons for gratitude are already piled up to my ears… though to be perfectly honest, I’m having a hard time differentiating between gratitude and guilt.

I’m really ridiculously bad at letting others take care of me. I first noticed this tendency in myself the day during junior high when I got faint in class but instinctively turned down my long-time crush’s offer of water and attention. (Commence six weeks of private head-desking in my diary.) Being as little trouble as possible is a virtue in my weird brain. I want to do All The Things myself, thank you, and the scenario most likely to drive me demented is having to rely on others for the basics of life.

So, pretty much exactly what’s going down right now.

For the last six days, my husband and girls have been taking care of everything for me from food preparation to deodorant application (#truelove), and only one of us is chafing under this arrangement. It’s like I’m still in junior high, unable to grasp that someone’s caring actions might be rooted in genuine care for me. I have been tempted dozens of times to fling off my splint and this whole three-month recovery attempt because it’s too hard—because accepting the gift of rest is far more difficult than working my tendons to shambles. The next twelve weeks lurk beyond the limits of my imagination.

This is the same strain of ridiculous, however, that prompts otherwise sane adults to ignore injuries for four years. Rejecting help out of misplaced guilt is dumber than giving yourself tendinitis. I know this, no matter how poorly I demonstrate it. The fight begins and ends in my head.

It helps, actually, to look down at my wrists, the source of so much maddening incapability right now. On the right one, I have metal guides velcroed into place; on the left, a grace note. Helplessness twinned with gratitude, my limitations the backdrop for gift. I am still frustrated with myself and still predisposed toward guilt; I hate having to ask so much of my little family, cheerful though they are to pitch in. This time is good for us all though, I suspect. My girls are going to learn to clean the bathrooms, and I’m going to learn to chill. We’re all going to survive these three months, and maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls into town, it won’t be the recovered hand that I’m celebrating so much as the recovered ability to rest.

(Also, the amazing left-handed typing skills that are sure to kick in aaaaaannnyyy time now… right? Right?)

24Apr

Motherhood, Incidentally

(Photo by our sweet friend Emily)

As of last month, I’ve been a mother for a decade.

I can’t tell you how foreign that sentence feels to my fingers, as nubbly and impenetrable as Braille. “You must have been a young mother!” friends and neighbors say, and the fact is that I still am. This is especially true by Italian standards, where most women don’t start thinking of babies until they’re comfortably settled into their 30s. I feel young in terms beyond age though. Even here in my own comfortable 30s, I’m taken aback by my lack of expertise at each new parenting stage. It’s like being handed a pop quiz called “Congratulations! Despite the fact that you did not expressly condone the passage of time, nor have you had longer than twenty seconds to get used to the idea, your child is now a tween. How are you going to parent her?” and being told that your GPA for life depends on your answer.

(Apparently test anxiety is my go-to analogy for parenthood.)

You may either relate or conclude that I need Xanax when I tell you that my heart clenches up on itself every night when we tiptoe in to check on the girls. One is always nested down inside her covers while the other is sprawled in a modern dance pose on top of hers, and I start to ache immediately. It’s not just because great swaths of time are slipping by disguised as ordinary days, though there’s certainly an element of “Sunrise, Sunset” to it all. It’s more that—to me—love has always been closely linked to fear of failure.

It shares a spot in my top five fears alongside clowns, spiders, dementia, and Jack Nicholson’s grin. The more I love someone, the more terrified I become that association with me will be his or her great undoing. This isn’t based on any kind of logic; it’s more a knee-jerk reaction of the soul, a seesaw ride with perfectionism and the gospel of low self-esteem. Never is it stronger than when I look down at my sleeping girls and see the trust pooled just where their eyelashes brush their cheeks. I’d thought I would be more inured to this after a decade.

Fortunately, one bit of parenting wisdom that I came across when Natalie was a newborn still holds true at ten years in: Keep her clean, fed, safe, and loved; the rest is incidental. That line of thought put a merciful end to my angst when we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and our baby didn’t even have her own diaper pail much less her own princess-themed nursery. These days, it’s soothing my angst over how much screen time to allow* and what extracurricular activities to pursue and which tweenage fads might be gateways to meth. (Rainbow Loom, I’m looking at you.)

*As I understand it, the formula for insuring your child remains technologically on par with her peers while retaining her imagination and the majority of her brain cells is Pn=∆x [f(x0)+4f(xn-1)+f(xn)]/3-∫abf(x) where x is the number of minutes that your child would willingly play Minecraft each day, f is the force vector of whining to sanity on a mortal human parent, and n is the current price per barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon. You’re welcome.

When I was pregnant with Natalie, I showed up at my second prenatal appointment armed with a typed, MLA-formatted list of questions for my ob-gyn. It was full of gems like, I know you said X brand of antihistamine was safe to take, but we’re staying with friends who own cats, and I’m worried that prolonged antihistamine use will hurt the baby, but I’m also worried that I’ll accidentally sneeze her out or something, and also I might be extra-killing her when I put lunch meat on my sandwich? I still remember the doctor’s laugh, kind but genuinely amused.

“I have patients who smoke crack every day of their pregnancies,” he said. “And nine times out of ten, their babies turn out just fine.”

It was nearly the opposite sentiment of the book I’d been reading (What Kinds of Harm to Expect From Totally Normal Foods, Activities, and Social Interactions When You’re Expecting, 2002 edition), and it took some time to acclimate to the idea that my child wasn’t so fragile after all, that my love for her and my good intentions really did carry weight. I’m still trying to get my head all the way around it. The good news is that kids are excellent teachers. The best, really. They’re repetitive and patient, and if you don’t feel like a proper grownup yet after a decade of parenting… well, what of it?

You’ve kept them clean, fed, safe, and loved silly. The rest is incidental.

Bassett girls 2

15Apr

To Shake a Predator

March came strangely to us this year, in like a lion, out like a sharknado. Our usual exhale of joy when the yellow mimosa trees bloom and our gloves are swapped for sunglasses was overshadowed this time by a huge upheaval in our local community. I will write about it one day, once time has smoothed out the creases in my perspective. For now, I’ll simply say that we’re in recovery mode as a family.

I’m still engaged in my odd tango with anxiety, sashaying close and dipping apart to a tune I’m unable to hear. I started taking supplements a month ago after I realized it wasn’t normal to associate worst-case scenarios with every object in my line of vision. I could hardly bear to drive; every other car was on a collision course with me, the engine thrumming through my grip on the steering wheel was a half-second away from explosion at all times, and what if I suddenly developed narcolepsy on the freeway? It was a funny kind of horrible. It still is sometimes. Like I wrote last month, I’m no good at identifying cause and effect—what causes anxiety to swoop toward me on its slick shoes or what spins me, however temporarily, from its grip.

I do know one thing: that writing for me is intricately connected to the dance. This makes me want to spontaneously combust. When I’m writing regularly, I feel strong, easy in my skin, and fundamentally okay. Anxiety can snatch away my ability to write in a hot second though. It tells me that I have nothing of value to offer, that all the opportunities of my life are behind me, that I am incapable, lacking, and so pathetic that I should curl up in bed wearing a burqa for the rest of my days as a favor to the world. It turns writing into torture and not-writing into a slow death.

This is where I’ve been this year, dancing with a predator. It’s why my blog has been so quiet and my email inbox so full. This is not the 2015 that I wanted for myself, and I keep butting up against the impulse to bazooka this whole mess to smithereens. I don’t want to be in recovery mode. I don’t want the ebb and flow of process. Drastic decisions sound so much more appealing: Convince the family to move to Bali. Start a new career in data entry. Say yes to crack. (Kidding, of course, kind of.) Fake invincibility until I convince even myself.

Staying human—that is, staying vulnerable to the learning experiences of life—is always the harder choice, but I’ve tried shortcuts enough times to know for certain that they don’t lead to peace. Inevitably, I’d end up again and again at the choice to slow down, face my limitations, and work through anxiety until I took it. I suppose then that this qualifies as a dispatch from the dance floor. I’ve written this, with actual words, which is the kind of victory worth celebrating with gelato. Tomorrow, however, I might be back to gripping the steering wheel with bone-white knuckles and imagining a large red F scribbled on every last aspect of my life.

It’s okay.

I mean, it’s not okay-okay; I have no intention of spending my life in partnership with anxiety. It’s okay to be working through it right now though. I’m reminding myself day by day that I’m allowed to focus on the tango, even at the expense of normal routines and productivity, because predators aren’t shaken off on their own. It takes two. And also celebratory gelato. And the kind of grace that turns small steps and staying power into eventual recovery.

1Dec

Open-Source Parenting: Advent

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Christmas season tends to barrel into me somewhere around mid-November and then plummet me toward December 25th strewing intentionality, budgeting, and more than a small percentage of my joy in its wake. I resolved to find a way off the Polar Express this year—to reclaim giving without all the slapdash spending, to create a magical holiday for my girls without piling presents to the ceiling, to keep the twinkle lights in our souls lit all month long rather than building up to one big event (and the subsequent crash).

And then I got too busy to do much of anything about it.

That’s how it goes, doesn’t it? Idealism and real life rarely play nicely, especially when children are thrown in the mix. However, that’s where grace comes in.

Grace for ourselves for not having it all together.
Grace for our kiddos for unPinterestifying our charming family projects in about two seconds flat.
Grace for holidays that go according to plan exactly zero percent of the time.
Grace for me for sharing this advent activities list with you the day advent begins instead of sometime, you know, when it might have been useful. (Hi, 2015 readers!)

I put together this list of family activities this morning with inspiration from my friends Andrea and Adriel, plus my own Elf-esque love of sugar. I tried to make it a healthy (figuratively speaking here) mix of fun and meaningful activities, and there are more than twenty-four options so we’ll have a buffer in case December gets a little unruly on us. Most of them take less than half an hour out of the day. Also, all of these activities except for the first two are free or nearly so.

I’m doing nothing fancier with this list than printing it off on a sheet of Christmas stationery so we can read over it as a family and choose which activity we’d like to do every day of December. We plan to do this in connection with reading a chapter each day from The Jesus Storybook Bible, a gorgeously written children’s Bible that focuses each story on Jesus. (Even if you don’t have kids, this book is a gem.) And… that’s it! Christmasy magic without a zillion trips to the store.

If you’re interested in doing something similar, I’m sharing what I came up with below. Feel free to tweak it, wreck it, truss it up in tinsel, or use it as a springboard for an original list of your own. The idea is to make December meaningful for our kids without losing hours of sleep or shelling out big bucks.

Ready? Here you go:

An Advent Activities List for Designated Magic-Makers

  • Pack a shoebox online for Operation Christmas Child ($25)
  • Sponsor a child through Help One Now ($40/month) and write an introduction letter to him or her
  • Go through old toys and games to give some away to a shelter for battered women and children
  • Make Christmas cards to send to great-grandparents
  • Fill an extra grocery bag when we shop to give to someone who needs it
  • Make a pinecone bird feeder to hang outside for the birds
  • Have a Christmas music dance party in our living room
  • Take a family walk around downtown to look at Christmas lights and get a treat
  • Make hot cocoa
  • Offer to help someone with a task they don’t want to do
  • Go on a Christmas shopping date with Mom
  • Put on our best Scrooge faces and watch The Muppet Christmas Carol together
  • Make Christmas cards to send to grandparents
  • Invite a friend over to play for the afternoon
  • Read I Spy Christmas or Snowmen at Christmas (or another hidden picture book) together
  • Make a Christmas card for friends who just moved away
  • Go to the local animal refuge to play with the dogs and cats
  • Wrap Christmas presents with Dad
  • Make almond bark pretzels and share some with our neighbors
  • Babysit a friend’s baby so the mom can go do some shopping alone
  • Play a Christmas piano concert for relatives on Skype
  • Write a letter to Jesus thanking him for all the gifts we’ve received throughout the year
  • Make origami star ornaments
  • Look up how they celebrate Christmas in other countries
  • Watch Elf (with plenty of sugary treats, of course!)
  • Write a letter to troops stationed away from home
  • Put on our Santa hats and read Christmas stories on the sofa
  • Write little love notes to each other and put them in our stockings
  • Make edible Christmas wreaths
  • Rewrite the words to a Christmas carol for fun

Your turn! What would you add to the list? Do you have any tried-and-true tips for making December special without stress? The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is to share our collective wisdom for the good of all. I’ve learned more from other parents’ stories than I have from expert advice, and I’d wager you have too, so let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or over on Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing your take!

 

21Nov

Jesus Gives (or, How Is This Thing Worth It?)

Possibly the most significant search of my adult life has been for honest theology.

By that, I mean I’ve been seeking out ways of understanding God that don’t require me to shut down my curiosity, ignore my doubts, or twist pieces of the puzzle until they finally fit into the bigger picture. This isn’t to say that I’m against any sense of mystery in my spiritual journey. In fact, getting comfortable with not-knowing has helped me more than textbooks full of pat answers ever did. I just want to be sure that the experts who talk to me about God and the Bible and the difficult points of Christianity have wrestled their way through the kinds of questions that I do. I want my doctrine to come with rug burns. 

I’m sharing today at A Deeper Story about one such question and the grammar lesson that helped me toward an answer. There’s no expert advice here, but I can guarantee you this—

It’s honest.

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

My philosophy professor was a bright-eyed man with a Shakespearean sense of humor, but even that did not help me feel goodwill toward him the day our class discussion turned toward Jesus. It wasn’t that our views on Jesus were so very different. After all, we were at an evangelical Christian university with a strong Southern Baptist bent; folks there might disagree on whether the wine of Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t in fact Welch’s grape juice, but we all took as a given that Jesus was God incarnate and the basis of our faith.

It was the why behind my professor’s faith that made me feel as though a swarm of midges had invaded the classroom.

“We follow Jesus because he is The Truth,” my professor declared, all but dusting his hands with the certainty of his words. “Seeking truth is our greatest motivation in life, and God is true. That’s why Christianity has flourished throughout time. It’s why all of you are Christians today.”

I had to fight back an impulse to jump to my feet spluttering like a shaken can of Coke.

Instead, I raised my hand and explained—hopefully more calmly than I felt—that I disagreed. That not even God expects us to follow him out of a pure, Buddha-esque devotion to truth. That the Bible is full of incentives: healing, hope, blessing, joy, the divine trump card of salvation, even imperviousness to poison. That we follow God not out of some sense of philosophical duty but because he makes us an offer we can’t refuse.

My professor looked at me like I had just stepped off the madman set of King Lear, and I spent the rest of the class silent, fuming, and a little shocked by the intensity of whatever was fizzing around inside of me. So what if my professor approached spirituality as a quest for truth? Why should his view on the matter provoke such wild resistance in me?

The answer, as I was later able to articulate to myself in the privacy of my dorm room, was that I’d already experienced enough Truth to last me the rest of my life and then some. My childhood faith had been mapped out in the stark lines of right versus wrong. I’d learned to follow God because he demanded it of me, and how else do you react to a deity holding all the cards? You play along. You nod your head yes sir and no sir. You worship as instructed. You sing “I love you Lord” while trying to convince yourself that the emotion sweeping you isn’t actually the definition of holy terror.

College is where I finally began to extricate myself from the tyranny of Truth. Friends prayed with me weekly that I’d be able to absorb the idea that God loved me—really loved me, with the kind of crinkle-eyed affection that might just mean he liked me too—and I started to curate bits and pieces of a new perspective on Christianity that would welcome my heart and soul and experiences and emotions and curiosity in addition to my mind. I was only toe-deep into this process though when my philosophy professor declared that our ultimate goal is Truth and sent my fragile new setup spinning.

Why, REALLY? I wanted to ask him. My soul had been chafed threadbare by esoteric arguments; what I needed was for God’s goodness to be real, observable, woven through the fabric of everyday me. I needed someone to look me straight in the eyes and tell me what drew them back to Jesus when the costs began to mount. How was following God worth it?

/ / /

Just over a year ago, we moved from one side of our neighborhood to the other, a distance of about half a mile. My husband and I decided to move partly because it would reduce our rent by half (one small plus of the economic crisis) but also because we felt cut off from our purpose in the beautiful large house on the hill. The image that we felt ourselves projecting from that house was one of wealth, self-sufficiency, and pulled-togetherness, even if reality sang a different tune. To be honest, it was gratifying to be seen as people winning at life. However, we felt the hollowness of that as well, the vertical distance it was creating between others and us. Our pulled-together appearance was only an illusion, but it was an isolating one, and after four years there, Jesus’s words on social justice had stopped making sense to us.

So we moved. We found a fifth-floor apartment on the other side of the neighborhood that would meet our work-from-home needs, and we began to understand just how much of a difference half a mile can make. Where my writing desk used to look out over olive groves, it now faces a row of gray government-subsidized housing. Our girls play with neighborhood kids on the concrete patio beneath our building instead of in a private backyard. The cloak of respectability is worn thin here, and we see brokenness lived out on the public stage of our block every day—domestic disputes, child abuse, mental illness, shouts of “Whore!” and “Bitch!” reverberating through broad daylight.

We’re out of the bubble just as we’d hoped. We’re finally getting the chance to wrap our arms around neighbors in crisis and engage meaningfully with our community. The cost though… Oh friends, the cost. I’d anticipated the sacrifice of our time, our mental energy, and our convenience, but I hadn’t considered that we’d also have to let go of our expectations. I hadn’t realized that the happy ending clause I’d tacked onto my willingness to serve was going to be rendered obsolete almost immediately. I’ve had to face that, in all likelihood, the people I help aren’t going to reward me by getting better,and it’s shaken up old questions to splutter and fizz around inside me.

Why continue? Why carry out Jesus’s directives to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger and love the enemy when I don’t get to claim any [immediate or measurable] benefits? How is following God worth what it’s costing me? What gives, Jesus?

For better or worse, I’ve always needed to know what God offers in terms I can wrap my hopelessly practical mind around. “Fire insurance” isn’t a good enough reason for me; neither is the search for truth or the promise of heaven or any number of moral pats on the back. My impatient streak takes over and requires that I know exactly what Jesus is bringing into my here and now.

Which brings me to the major difference between my questions twelve years ago at college and my questions today: an answer.

A few years ago, I was reading through Raising Hell by Julie Ferwerda when a certain paragraph stopped me short. In it, the author points out that John 3:16 was originally written in the present progressive tense instead of the future one that most of us are familiar with. (Any of you allergic to grammar, just bear with me a second.)

“For thus God loves the world, so that He gives His only-begotten Son, that everyone who is believing in Him should not be perishing, but may be having life age-abiding.” (Concordant Literal Translation)

Ferwerda argues that the use of the present progressive—is believing, not be perishing, may be having life—is intentional and meant to convey that both salvation and soul-death are current processes. “Think of it like a green plant thriving by a water source, or withering away for lack of water,” she writes. Spiritual life or death now. Heaven or hell here. Salvation not as an insurance policy but as an active component of the life I lead every day. Kingdom, come.

The name Immanuel has been breaking me open and putting me back together lately because I really can sense God with me, setting the world right through touches of divine nonsense–my door opened to a neighbor who’s not going to change but who needs love anyway; a neighbor’s door opened to me even though my savior complex is showing; grace in the present progressive for us all. This grace is the why for me, the offer I can’t refuse. It’s what redeems the everyday moments and the cost of persistence. It’s the truest evidence of Immanuel to me, the truest expression of healing and hope and salvation-in-real-time, so true in fact that even I might be persuaded to call it The Truth.

 

image source (art by Banksy)

30Sep

Uneven Melody

We’re into the third week of the school year now, and time is a concerto played by an inexperienced pianist. Some days rush stumbling past while others hesitate a beat too long. We haven’t yet found the cadence that will let us relax into the work-family balance about which I stubbornly daydream each September, but there’s still the hope.

Maybe in October, I’ll figure out how to fit in a good workout every day instead of ducking out to the track at dinnertime on random Thursdays.

In October, the kitchen counters will not wear so much as a crumb.

In October, my brain will get along perfectly with itself and enjoy many happy hours of productivity on command.

In October, no one will come down with one of those ubiquitous beginning-of-the-school-year viruses.

In October, all four of us will go to bed on time every night and get up early every day and eat balanced diets with high percentages of kale-laced quinoa and have lots of people over to our house—which will remain company-ready at all times, naturally—and read for hours in an old-fashioned family huddle each evening because such will be the nature of our spare time.

Right? Right.

Riiiiiiiiight.

The fact of the matter is that tomorrow, life will continue coloring outside the lines as it has done since the first cave woman carved the first to-do list into her Day-Timer®. I know this like I know the spelling of my own name, but I can’t help hoping that that one of these years, I’ll accidentally step on life’s Easy Button™ and watch time unfurl itself in front of me. Why do we do that, by the way? Cling to the completely untenable idea that we will, eventually, against all odds and several millennia of experiential proof, figure out the secret to breezing through life?

Dan often tells me that I set my expectations for my days way too high, which… well, maybe he has a point. My dead serious to-do list yesterday included blogging, ironing the three-foot-high stack of clean laundry, coming up with a menu for the week, working out, and reading over a friend’s book manuscript. In the end, I… worked out.

I suppose that my to-do lists could be better termed “wish lists,” and I’m learning and re-learning to think of them as such. September is an especially hard time to keep my perspective in check though. It’s the time of year when syllabi are handed out, those crisp and bullet-pointed promises of what students will have accomplished in three months’ time. It’s when the acronym NaNoWriMo begins to pop up around the interwebs as brave souls assure themselves that they can write an entire novel in a month. (I couldn’t, but that doesn’t stop me from rolling the “what ifs” between my brain lobes each year like a prospective buyer.) It’s the time of year when I can’t help slipping brand-name office supply names®™ into my blog entries because September has and always will smell to me like the inside of a Staples—highlighter ink and pencil shavings and unlicked envelopes and possibility.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of setting goals, but the lesson I face with each new autumn is one of acceptance: Understand that “according to plan” is not a phrase in life’s vernacular. Greet each day with a preemptive dose of grace. Enjoy the happy surprises that take place outside the realm of to-do lists—snuggling sessions with my girls, emergency pumpkin pie fudge (because we can’t have our precious hand-puréed pumpkin going bad on us), piano duets, running into friends at the grocery store. Allow time and space to process the hard surprises too—neighbors in crisis, work contracts failing to materialize, children coming down with every single variation of the cold virus to creep within 100 miles of our house. Accept that perfection is almost definitely a myth, a pristine projection untouched by either the grime or the warmth of reality.

Maybe in October, I’ll remember how to relax into this uneven melody and the joy tucked in between each unpredictable note.

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