simplyjan

A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Reading with a Pen: Life and Art

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

corner desk

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.

Today’s quote comes from one of my top five favorite books on writing: Stephen King’s On Writing.

I am writer at heart. Whether I will ever be an official “author” with a published book all remains to be seen. I’ve read all kinds of advice on writing and blogging. Write every single day. Write a set number of words every day. Post to your blog on a regular, dependable schedule if you want to build a following. You get the general idea. It’s great advice. I try to abide by it . . . somewhat.

Two weeks ago, I began writing this series. I got some good feedback. I enjoyed sitting down every day to create each post. I actually wondered at one point if maybe I could keep it going for the month of July. Of course, I was on week one of a two week vacation. Week one was staycation – a laid back week of relaxation. Then came week two: a week with family at my parents’ house on the farm in the Upstate, enjoying my niece’s two precious children while she was on a mission trip. The kids are 3 and 1, full of energy and life, more precious than words can describe, fun (and funny) . . . and exhausting. (My hat is off to you Melinda! I had forgotten how all-consuming parenting toddlers is!) Except for a few text messages, I did not write a single word all week long. And you know what? That’s absolutely okay, because the purpose of my life is not just to enhance my writing. My writing is meant to enhance my life.

I believe that is what King was getting at with his statement above. Life isn’t a support system for art, in whatever form your art takes. It informs art. It inspires art. It is expressed through art. I can’t imagine life without art. But art is not the main thing. Life is. There was nothing more important than the people, the experiences, the learning, the love. It’s when we get really lucky that we find ways to share the gifts of life with others through art, enhancing their lives as well as our own.

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Happy 4th of July!

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

4th

Yep, we’re still a work in progress!

Reading with a Pen: Time

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

Today’s quote comes from Quitter, by Jon Acuff:

You have the perfect amount of time each day for the things that matter most. The key is spending time on those things.

I know. It is hard to believe that we ever really have enough time for anything, much less for the things that matter the most. It’s a constant battle for me. My life often feels like the classic plate-spinning act. I run frantically from the most pressing project, to the church member in need, to my children, to the pile of laundry, to the hungry pets, to the writing project with a deadline, to the overgrown yard . . . It goes on and on.

spinning plates

I don’t have enough time for everything. But Jon didn’t say we have enough time for everything. He said have enough time for the things that matter most. When you look at it like that, the problem isn’t with the clock, it’s with our priorities.

* Having a decent yard is fairly important, but having a manicured yard is not.

* Having clean clothes for my family to wear is important. Keeping an empty laundry basket is not.

* Having a house that is clean enough to be healthy and not a total embarrassment is important. Having a spotless house that is always neat is not.

* Doing my very best to meet the needs of my congregation is important. Micromanaging every part of church life and/or making sure everything gets filed away neatly by the end of the week is not.

* Using my time and skills to make a contribution to my church and my presbytery. Attending every single meeting and event is not.

For some people, having a manicured yard and a perfect house, or having their hands in every cookie jar at work, or making sure they are seen at every event is important. And that’s just fine – for them. For me, if I try to do all those things plus everything else, the things that are most important to me will suffer. And so will I.

What is really important to me? My children. My extended family. My health. The parts of my work where I know I can really make a difference. My friends. My pets. Having time to observe and enjoy nature. Having time to write. Having time to be alone – to think, to dream, to rejuvenate.

These are the things I will have enough time for – if I make them my priorities and let go of the need to keep every. blasted. plate. spinning. all. the. blasted. time. The other stuff? I’ll get around to it – eventually. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s enough!

Reading with a Pen: For My Inner Critic

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

This is a quote I copied in my journal while reading Debbie Macomber’s Knit Together:

It’s difficult to complain to God about how terrible you are when you remember you’re talking to the original designer. (p. 39)

I have memories of one of my junior high youth leaders telling us, “God don’t make no junk!” That’s something that every young person needs to hear over and over, because the world can be pretty cruel (and so can your friends and classmates) in those critical transitional years. By the time we become adults, we may not hear the same kind of voices from around us, but we usually still hear them within us.

I have an ugly talking inner critic. Sometimes he tries to mimic the voices of real people I know or have known. Other times he is just a grouchy voice. (And yes, my voice is a he. Go figure.) I’ve written about him here.

If this reminder from Macomber won’t shut up the voices that tear us apart, whether they come from outside us or inside us, then nothing will. When I read this quote, I am reminded that it’s true. God don’t make no junk.

no junk

Reading with a Pen: Releasing the Story

I do my best reading with a pen in hand. When I stumble across beautiful sentences, or wise quotes, or unforgettable scenes, I feel like I need to put down a flag of discovery so that one day (hopefully) I can return. Sometimes I underlines phrases, sentences, or entire paragraphs. Sometimes I draw smiley faces or exclamation marks in the margin. Sometimes I initiate my own conversation with the text by writing in questions or comments. (I am so thankful that Amazon built these capabilities into their Kindle!) Sometimes I move the entire conversation – quotes and all – into my journal so I will have room to explore. Too often, however, my marks just sit on the page – forgotten until or unless I pick the book back up again at some point in the future. I thought it might be fun to go searching for the flags I’ve planted around words in some of my favorite books.

This first quote comes from Devotion, by Dani Shapiro. I ran across the book by chance at Goodwill. A few months earlier I read the sample selection on my Kindle and put the book on my “books to buy when I have the disposable dollars or when Kindle puts them on a great sale” list. Needless to say, I was thrilled by my bargain find.

My copy of Devotion is marked up everywhere. While the specifics of Shapiro’s journey and mine are significantly different at some points, other points had me saying, “Yes! I know exactly what you’re talking about!” Here is one (of a gazillion) marked passages.

Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe the knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail. Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world. (pp. 16-17)

As for yogis, I know nothing of them. As for yoga, I know only a handful of poses. As for knots of energy in the body, I am an expert. I carry the heavy energy of responsibility (at home and at work) in my neck and across my shoulders, almost as though I am carrying a yoke. I carry the energy of writing in my lower back. Maybe that’s really because I sit too long in unfriendly chairs. Or maybe it’s because words can be heavy sometimes. I carry restless energy in my legs. Anxiety, when it attacks, steals energy from my lungs. The energy of grief and regret sits heavy in my core. The energy that is created when I fail to speak when I know I should takes up residence in my jaw, and I will awake in the morning painfully sore from clenching it through the night. I carry protective energy – whether it is self-protective or a need to protect my family – in my hands, either in a clenched fist or by holding my thumb.

thumb

I know. Weird, right?

Once upon a time, I was fortunate enough to live near an amazing friend who is an equally amazing massage therapist. For several years, I kept myself on a regular schedule of massage. Some days I had no idea going into a massage how tight my body was until she began working to loosen the knots. Some days, about halfway through the massage, I found myself feeling emotional – like I was going to cry. I learned to pay attention to these things and to become more mindful of their origins. What stressors, what fears, what hurts was I guilty of shoving inside my body so that they wouldn’t be seen by me or anyone else? All of these things – the bad and the good – create an energy. That energy must reside somewhere, whether I choose to acknowledge it or not.

Each knot tells a story – a narrative rich with emotional detail.

I love stories. I get great joy from telling stories, especially The Story, in my work every week. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t record some part of my day’s story somewhere – in a journal, on my blog, through Twitter or Facebook, or in a file on my computer. On those days when I have a hard time thinking of any story worth 140 characters on Twitter, when I think that nothing has happened worth telling, maybe I should pay more attention to those knots of energy in my body. They are trying hard to tell my story – if I will just let go, if I will just risk being vulnerable, if I will just trust my circle of loved ones to love me no matter what. If I can just let go, risk, and trust, then I’m bound to become unstuck as the stories of life begin to flow freely around me.

Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world.

Happy (Atypical) Father’s Day!

I want to begin this post by wishing my own father a Happy Father’s Day. I told him earlier today that I know that I am one of the lucky ones – my dad has always been a man of faith, kind, loving, patient, interested in me and my siblings (and now in our children), thoroughly loyal and invested in our family, and so very, very good to our mother. I am blessed to have been given the parents (both of them!) that I have.

Now, in addition to my traditional Father’s Day greeting to Dad, I would also like to give a less traditional one to a few oft-forgotten folks.

Happy Father’s Day:

~ To the one who brings home the bacon and fries it up in a pan, every week and every month, without the help of a man.

~ To the one who checks the doors and the windows at 3 a.m. with her son’s baseball bat in hand because something just went bump in the night and it falls on her shoulders to protect her family.

~ To the one who inherits the icky duties such as killing the bugs, squashing the spiders, catching the lizard that found its way inside, and cleaning up the really nasty mess left by a pet . . . or a kid.

~ To the one who tag teams with herself when the days get long and the kids get wild, because there is no one else to tag team with.

~ To the one who throws chicken in the crock pot (again) before heading out to chop down the tall grass and weeds (that grow as fast as the kids), because both jobs must get done today.

~ To the one who is responsible for the cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, and bill paying . . . on top of the 40+ hours a week to earn a paycheck . . . on top of the important work and play of being a good parent to precious kids – and who beats herself up because she can’t do all of those things perfectly (or even well) every single day.

~ To the one who watches her kids watching other kids with their dads with a lump in her throat, wishing she could fill that hole in their hearts and knowing that no matter how hard she tries a part of that hole will remain. But she tries anyway.

~ To the one who holds her head high, even when the media stereotypes her and badmouths her and her “broken home” – because she knows better.

~ To the one who carpools kids to extracurricular activities, or who coaches/leads her kids’ activities, or who carries a tremendous burden of guilt because her work schedule and/or budget won’t allow for such activities.

~ To the one who goes to work when she is sick so she can stay home when her kids are sick.

~ To the one who gives up luxuries (and often necessities) so that her kids can have what they want and need.

~ To the one who strives to keep her own dreams alive even as she works to help her children move closer to theirs.

Yes, Happy Father’s Day . . . to all the single moms out there. You are giving it your very best and you are doing a heck of a lot better than you think. Give yourself some credit and keep on keeping on. Oh, and don’t stay up too late, because it all starts up again in the morning!

Love,

Another Single Mother

fathersday

When Mockingbirds Sing

I interrupt this low-volume blogging season with the following public service announcement:

When Mockingbirds Sing, by Billy Coffey, was released today! You want to buy and read it. Really, you do! (Get it here or here or at your favorite local bookstore.)

mockingbirdsing 

I first ran across Billy’s writing through the wonders of social media where someone (I can’t remember who) posted a link to his blog, What I Learned Today. Over the past year or so, I’ve shared a number of his posts with the group that gathers for lunch and prayer at our church every Wednesday. Billy has an observant eye, an honest voice, and a knack for finding truth in everyday happenings. He’s also just a really nice guy. I was honored when he invited me to be a part of the launch team for his newest novel.

When Mockingbirds Sing is about a group of outcasts: a young girl with a bad stutter named Leah, her parents who aren’t accepted in the small mountain town where they just moved, an old man named Barney whose life has taken some hard turns, and Barney’s wife, Maybel, whose stroke has left her unable to verbalize anything besides “I love you.”

Then there is Allie, an astute little girl with a wisdom beyond her years, who befriends Leah. Folks, I have to tell you, I love little Allie! I could “listen” to her talk in the pages of the novel forever. Her observations and her innocence reminded me so much of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. If you know me at all, then you know that I’m singing high praises of Allie, for few characters in all of literature have captured my heart like Scout. And now there is Allie.

There are other characters as well: a well-meaning but overly self-important pastor, a legalistic deacon, Allie’s parents, a good-hearted sheriff, and other townspeople of Mattingly. They all felt like people I knew in Landrum, or Tryon, or Columbus, or Iva, Polkton, or any of the other small towns that have graced my life.

The story gets interesting with the introduction of the most mysterious character of all –The Rainbow Man. The Rainbow Man is seen by Leah alone. Is The Rainbow Man Leah’s imaginary friend, or is he real? The Rainbow Man instructs Leah to paint pictures that astound everyone. When the scenes depicted in the paintings begin to come true, things get intense. Mattingly is in danger. Is Leah the cause, or the solution?

I was fascinated by the story of the origin of The Rainbow Man. I believe it will enhance your reading of the novel as well. Billy tells us all about it in this video clip.

There are a number of excellent reviews, interviews, and video clips out there about Billy and this wonderful new novel. I encourage you to get to know him and his writing. You won’t regret it!

billycoffey

P.S. I have it from an excellent source that we will be hearing more about the town of Mattingly next spring. Read When Mockingbirds Sing now and then join me in the countdown to the follow-up novel!

One More P.S. Click on over to Billy’s blog and you can get 30% off your purchase!

And Blessed Are the Days You Do Both!

As found on Jon Acuff’s blog:

remember this

Why Haven’t Been Blogging

Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.   ~Stephen King

Unlike dozens of previous posts over my many years of blogging in which I beg for forgiveness and berate myself for being a slack blogger, that’s not where I’m headed with this post. First of all, there’s only a handful of you who read anyway and I know your lives are so full that you probably aren’t losing sleep over my silence. And second, I’m learning to give myself a smidgen of grace. My life isn’t about blogging, but my blogging is about my life, which has been full to overflowing lately.

Have I mentioned that I have three kids? And no husband to co-parent? Spring gets crammed full of activities when you have kids. My oldest is three exams away from being a senior. In college!!! I gladly serve as her proofreader/editor/sounding board any time, but the end of the semester has been crunch time for her – and thus me. My other two have had spelling bees, math bees, character trait of the month award ceremonies, art shows, and (soon) concerts. They keep me a wee bit occupied.

Life with a church family is just as full. In addition to our “normal” church life, we’ve had more people with special life events that have required me to spend much more of my time as pastor, leaving less time to squeeze in the preparation for the preacher/teacher/administrator parts. I love all parts of my job, but when my scheduling gets out of whack – and the out of whack scheduling coincides with an out of whack family schedule – I become very ADD. Well, worse than my normal ADD anyway. On those days, about the best I can do is write a to do list, try to stick with it as best as possible, and hope for the best.

In the meantime, I have been writing, just not blogging. I’ve rediscovered the joy of journaling – like handwritten pen-on-paper writing. What a novelty! And I worked hard on a couple of applications for a summer writing seminar that I really wanted to attend, but is hard to get accepted into. And . . . drum roll, please . . . I got accepted! So happy! Shortly after that, I won a spot in an online writing class. I’m working with an amazing instructor who happens to be working on an amazing dream.

So that’s why I haven’t been blogging. And while anyone who knows me well knows that it is super-easy to make me feel guilty, I’m learning to let go of that guilt. My blog might not get written. My grass may grow longer than looks attractive before I get around to mowing it. Laundry might get done in one marathon laundry day instead of a little at a time during the week. My books in my to-read pile may stack up beside my bed (or on my Kindle) for awhile before I get around to them. I might not vacuum as often as I should. I might eat out too much and cook too little. But I am living one heck of a life and I’m loving it. No regrets – only joy and dreams . . . and more dreams!

Maybe I’ll blog about it later!

Space

sunset on the farm

Sunset on Stony Point Farm

As anyone who is associated with ministry knows, the marathon known as Holy Week and Easter is an exhausting undertaking. It’s not just that there are extra services to plan. I love planning and leading worship, and while the season adds extra commitments to my calendar, I really do love it. I think it’s more about the expectations placed on those particular services. They are expected to be bigger, flashier, more dramatic, more . . . just, more. Seriously, you can’t make things any better than the story of Easter itself, yet still it feels like that expectation exists, even if (possibly) only in the minds of pastors and worship leaders.

As anyone who has children knows, the marathon known as the school year is an exhausting undertaking. Rousing sleepy children before they are ready to get up. Convincing them to stay in forward motion until they are ready to head out the door – on time, preferably – instead of staring blankly into space as their cereal grows soggy. Fighting the morning traffic which seems to grow worse every day. Juggling the after school pick up schedule with my work schedule. Homework. (All children believe that homework was created to torture students. All parents KNOW it was actually created to torture the adults responsible for seeing that it gets done.) Supper. (Again?? Didn’t I just feed you?) Bath time. (Yes, you DO really need a bath – even if you took one last night.) Bed time. (No, you can’t get up to look for that book. Yes, I’ll make sure all the doors are locked. I BETTER NOT HEAR ANOTHER SOUND FROM UP THERE!) And then, before it seems possible, the alarm goes off and it’s time to start again.

Because of these things, I am thankful that Berkeley County schools saw fit to schedule spring break for the week after Easter again this year. It gave me and the kids some space, some breathing room. We did a lot. We had a lot of fun. We spent quality time with our family. We laughed a lot. We heard and told a lot of stories. We made good memories. And none of these things would have been possible without space – the precious space of open air and open time.

Life seems less claustrophobic today as I get back into the routine. Even the number of meetings on the calendar for the week isn’t getting me down (yet). I will miss the space I enjoyed last week, but at least it gave me the energy I needed to get back to the work before me and the determination to find small bits of space to breathe even in the midst of my life’s marathons.

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