The Art of Longevity

Isn’t there something really wonderful about the concept of longevity? I mean, when you hear of a couple being married for 50 years, don’t you just want to give them a hug and then grab a chair to hear them share their story.

Longevity leaves a . Longevity makes an impression.

Earlier this year, I saw a film at a local theater that tends to show movies  that aren’t so mainstream. Boyhood was a twelve year project about a boy navigating the turbulent waters of childhood and adolescence. The beauty of this project was the same cast performed throughout the project. And what’s more, every year the cast and crew worked together to craft the script for that year’s filming. When it came out in DVD, I watched it again with my youngest. Her review was mediocre at best, and that made me contemplate what I liked so much about the film. Longevity was the answer.

I loved that each cast member, the director, the producers, were committed to this long term project. They wouldn’t enjoy the praise of critics, the revenue from ticket sales, the satisfaction of a completed project for years to come, yet this didn’t stop them from doing it. They had a vision and continued until they reached the end, Mason’s entrance into adulthood. I imagine that at its conclusion, each participant was a little surprised by the final product.

In art and life, longevity is worth pursuing.

What if we didn’t opt for the Ramen Noodles of life, those quick projects that only require a little boiled water, and voilà – a filling, salty, quick activity that in the long run, has little value and will be forgotten? What if we just invested our time in something that isn’t instant, that doesn’t give us immediate applause or recognition?

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What if we chose things that took commitment and time for the pure joy of doing them? What if we let go of our constricting expectations and simply allowed the process to unfold, naturally, organically?

A long term commitment to a task or an artistic endeavor can be a beautiful thing, but you’ll never know unless you try. The results may not be immediate or even as you expected they would be, but the process is where the joy can be found.

Opportunities for Conversation and Relationship

I love when in a moment, through a book you are reading or a podcast you’ve heard, you can hear the gentle voice of God speaking. Some people get it right away. They read something and the words seem to lift off the page, setting themselves apart from the rest, asking for attention. And you know, just know, those words are for you.

And then there are times when you see them, giving only a glance, and move on. But God wants more than a glance. He wants your attention. He wants my attention. This personal God doesn’t give up. He nudges you again, this time through a song, a blog, a phone call. He doesn’t just want to be heard, He wants to have a conversation. He wants a relationship.

This morning I had one of those experiences. I wish I could say I gave Him my full attention when the words pressed against me. I noticed them and even underlined them with pencil (I read that way, with a pencil in hand. If I lend anyone a book, I am being vulnerable, allowing them into my personal world of underlining and unedited margin commentary), but I moved on and didn’t engage with them. I didn’t engage with God either. Thankfully, He is patient and persistent in His desire for relationship with each of us.

I used to dismiss these experiences as chance, coincidence. After all, some of the moments actually came from a Secular source. I say this with a little playful sarcasm because there was a  time I limited God to speaking to me only through Christian books, music, movies, and the Bible. Yikes! I was limiting God, but this is for another blog post.

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Though God might have to repeat Himself using many sources to get my attention, I don’t dismiss words that jump out at me anymore. I don’t discount a repeated theme in my daily experience. I am getting better at recognizing the moments.

They aren’t simply instructional times for me anymore, though often they are quite instructional. They are relational experiences. I sit and think about what I am hearing, meditate on it, if you will. And then I start talking or writing. I ask God questions and sit with Him. It may sound a little nuts to some, but I am convinced God is not limited in how He can speak.

Today, He had to repeat Himself, and I didn’t feel His displeasure or impatience. I felt his love and His desire to spend time with me. The same patience a mother has with her small inquisitive child, God has with all of us.

This personal, intimate God is waiting for us to hear Him speak and longing for us to respond.

The Organic Nature of Living Your Story

This morning I was baking banana chocolate chip mini muffins from the turning bananas in my fruit bowl. I lovingly say that I think they show up on my grocery list not as an item to be eaten but as suggestion to bake muffins. As I was pulling them from the oven, I started to free each muffin, forcing each bite out with a knife. By the second pan I noticed how I was working at freeing the muffins, circling the knife around the edge of each cup, popping them out. I reached for the third pan and  decided to just turn it over, and effortlessly, nine out of the twelve just fell out into the basket. I only had to use the knife for three. The final pan released ten, leaving me with two to free. IMG_4605

It made me consider how many times have I worked so hard to make my story happen. Rather than allow it to unfold, I have forced things. But what if I stepped back and waited, allowing things to fall into place, waiting for them to intersect my life? I’m not talking about passivity here. I am talking about a life that is open, that is not full of striving for everything.

There are many things that require effort, sweat, energy.  Like the three muffins clinging to the pan, they’re ready but need assistance to land in the basket. It’s obvious. We have to work to make parts of our life work – apply for college, clean the house, go to work, grocery shop. But are there other parts we could open ourselves to – the unexpected, the random, the unplanned?

I am finding that this life is much more organic than I realized. It reminds me of an English country garden – effortless, informal, whimsical, random, beautiful. Everything doesn’t bloom all at once. Daffodils peek their heads out in the spring. Roses, geraniums, daisies, black-eyed Susan’s, hydrangeas, mums, all take their turn showing off in the garden.

Gardens take work, to be sure. They must be weeded, pruned, thinned out. One cannot be passive if they want a beautiful garden, but we can’t forget, they are to be enjoyed. So much of what happens in a garden involves waiting – waiting daily to be wowed by the beauty that greets you.

Life is like that. Living your story is like that. I know you will have to tend and weed, but I so hope you will be able to enjoy the beauty that’s in store. I hope you can stop striving to make your story a good one. I hope you can be engaged in the life you have. I hope you can enjoy the way it wows you. And most of all I hope you can stop judging it prematurely.

Remember, your life is a beautiful story and it’s still being written every moment you live.

31 dAYS

Judging Our Story: Nots or Knots

The way one views life as a whole is important and will sometimes shape how you interrupt your experiences. Some people view life as a cycle of events that repeat or a spiral that repeats but moves upwards. And others view it as a line. I myself am starting to see it as a knot.

Last year I took over my daughter’s room while she was away at school in South Africa and made it my art studio. She has a wonderful drafting table and her room lets in the lovely morning light. I experimented with mediums, took some online tutorials on art techniques, and just played. One of the things I learned to do was to draw Celtic knots. My mom is from Ireland, and our home was seeped in her culture. So, I guess wanting to learn how to draw Celtic knots was bound to happen. Anyway, the process was tedious, but the product was spectacular. Even my first attempt wasn’t half bad.

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Well, those knots taught me something. The weaving, the overlapping of lines to form this beautiful, intricate knot is a lot like life for me. Life happens with all its twists and bends. We have experiences, encounter tragedy and joy, gain knowledge, and over time, we find that those experiences, the knowledge gained, the tragedy survived prepare us for things to come, in our story or in the story of others. That’s when the beautiful overlaps occur.

While it’s happening, we are unaware of the beauty that’s being created. For a knot to be completed, there has to be twists, turns, overlaps, places where the pattern meets up with a dead end. All of it contributes to the delicate and sturdy beauty of a Celtic knot.

This idea of knots is affecting my perspective on my life and is changing my writing. The other day in my writing group, our teacher gave us a writing prompt: what I am not doing. When she gives us a prompt, we are to write freely about the prompt given for usually five minutes. This is what came out of me.

What am I not doing – words that beat me up on a daily basis. So focused on the NOT that I miss the AM, and that ties my insides up in NOTS. Maybe that’s why I write – one of the things I AM doing.

I write to undo the NOTS in my life – threads of dreams, the chords of starts, the strings of to-dos, the chains of not finished yet. Writing picks the NOTs apart, threads from strings, cords from chains. And as I write, I see a KNOT, a beautiful celtic design that isn’t a NOT. It’s a KNOT of paths taken or yet to be taken, leading to the beautiful, the lovely, the story of my life.

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Our stories have overlaps, twists, bends, beauty, stops and starts. And what seems to be a tangled mess is becoming a beautiful knot. Don’t judge your life too quickly, making a intricate knot takes time, but it’s worth it.

31 dAYS

Glorious Interruptions

The 31 Day Challenge is almost at a close for me and countless others who embarked on this journey twenty-nine days ago. For various reasons, this was more of a challenge for me this time around. Last year, I wrote everyday, even if I had to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to get a post completed. And God was faithful to inspire me everyday of that journey. It was a thrill and a joy.

This year He still was faithful, speaking to me daily about Living Your Story or  umpteen other things I needed inspiration on. He has always been present and for that I am grateful. But it has been difficult. I look at my index page and see days with no postings and I cringe. A perfectionist hates to see empty spaces where there should be hyperlinked blog post titles. The team sponsoring the challenge has gently encouraged us along the way to not beat ourselves up for missing days. So, I am resisting the temptation to pinch my head off my shoulders.

I want to be the kind of girl that shows up. I think my writing mentor said that in class. I really do. I want to show up everyday and create, write, paint, love, share. I don’t want to let anyone down, but even more, I don’t want to let myself down. This challenge is for others, but mostly it’s for me, the writer.

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I am learning to be kind to myself. Being kind to one’s self is counterintuitive for a perfectionist. We relentlessly drive ourselves to complete tasks, even when life interrupts our plans. This year, I did give into some interruptions, and some were pretty glorious.

  • Seeing my uncle’s daughter get married on the beach and celebrating their union with jazz music and lovely company.
  • Spending three nights with my Irish Twin – three sleepy, funny, giggly nights.
  • Celebrating my friend’s birthday week. I love that she allowed herself to be a production this year.

And so much more.

The point is, part of living your story is to be open to the interruptions, glorious or otherwise. And when the interruptions jack up your to do list, be kind to yourself and go with it. Stories, like life, go off script all the time. But some of those unplanned, impromptu moments can be very special and insightful, and sometimes just fun.

Life took me off script this month, and I’m good with that.

31 dAYS

The Value of Questions

If I could go back in my life and change anything, I think I would spend a lot more time asking questions and a lot less trying to have all the answers. Like most people, many of the roles I had in life seemed to demand of me to have the answers. As a student, a bookkeeper, parent, tutor, women’s ministry leader, Bible teacher, people in my life were looking for answers and I decided it was my responsibility to have them.

My motives were pure, at least most of the time. I really wanted to help. I know what it feels like to struggle through questions, especially the deep ones – questions about death, healing, the meaning of life, roles, destiny. Plain and simple, I hated to see people struggle or suffer. Whatever role I had, I made it a point of trying to have the answer.

I began to see the value of questions while co-leading a Bible study on Genesis. In  chapter 3 alone, I saw how many times God Himself asked questions instead just giving answers.

  • Where are you? (To Adam and Eve who were hiding from God after eating the forbidden fruit).
  • Who told you that you were naked?
  • What is this you have done?

I don’t know about you, but it intrigued me that the God of the Universe would be in need of any information. Doesn’t He know all things? And then I started to see that God didn’t need the answers, He was pursuing relationship with Adam and Eve, a relationship that they were hiding from because of their sin. God wanted to be in conversation with those two people He loved deeply.

When we ask questions, we are inviting people into a conversation. Questions tell another person that you care about what they think, what they feel, and who they are. When people asked me questions, deep questions, I thought they only wanted answers, but what they really want is relationship, sometimes with me and sometimes with someone greater. Yes, they truly may want the answer, but behind it all, behind many question is a desire for relationship.

And what if that greater relationship is with the Answer, capital A. All along I was desperately trying to give people answers, thinking they would be satisfied once they found them. But more questions come.

So, now I am asking more questions because I want relationship with others. I want to hear their heart and connect more deeply. And when they ask me questions, I accept their invitation to relationship and we have a conversation, the give and take kind, giving my thoughts and asking theirs. The pressure’s off. I don’t have to have all the answers. I know the Answer. He lives in me, and I know He is pursuing relationship with everyone.

He is enough. He is the answer.

31 dAYS

Am I Living a Good Story?

This idea of Living Your Story really started when Kevin and I came across one of Donald Miller’s books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I so appreciate Miller’s candor and his story telling style. He doesn’t try to fill in all the gaps or give the reader a How To sort of book. He takes us on a journey, not a destination.

In this story, Miller was faced with the question, am I living a good story? The question came from the most unlikely of scenarios. Sometime after completing his bestselling autobiography, Blue Like Jazz, he was approached by two gentlemen who wanted to make his book into a movie. Flattered and intrigued, he said yes. During the screen writing process, changes and adjustments were made to his life story to make the film more engaging. The screenwriters told him in order to make a good movie, the story needed more action; it had to move in such a way that the audience would want to hang on and keep watching. This left him with a disturbing thought, if his story needed changing then maybe it wasn’t a good one. This question set him off on a quest to live a more vibrant and engaging life.

As a writer, he spent a great deal of time writing about God, faith, and life, but as he was doing it, life was passing him by.  He was writing about story but he wasn’t living his. He wasn’t engaging in his own. Let’s face it, whether you are engaging or not, you are living your story.

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Long before I had this epiphany, my close friend was already well on her way to living an engaged life. She had been taking stock of her story and saw all the ways she had been passively living her life. This revelation was painful, and as a friend, it was painful to watch her grieve. But she was present in her struggle. She stayed in it and let God heal her, transform her, and love her. It has been incredible to watch. For an entire year, she was encouraging me, her friends, her family, and anyone who would listen to engage, embrace, and enjoy life.

I wish I could say I caught on and took up the cheer engage, embrace, enjoy, engage, embrace, enjoy. I didn’t. Maybe I wasn’t ready. But when I picked up Miller’s book I was ready to listen.

It has been a journey, to be sure. Along the way, I have discovered to live an engaged life, I must be present. I must take an active role like a character rather than a passive one like a reader. I know, not all readers are passive. I have to be invested in my story, be engaged with the characters, and be part of the writing process. Passive living is technically living, but I’m not sure it’s life.

Happy early birthday to my friend who daily engages, embraces, and enjoys her life. As I often say, I liked you before, but you are a lot more fun now. Living life with this engaged you is like watching a movie in living color. “You know I love you more than my luggage.”

31 dAYS

What I Learned from the Flying Circus

Last night I got to enjoy my husband’s Fathers’ Day gift. Knowing how much he likes comedians, our crew gave him two tickets to see Eric Idle and John Cleese’s Together Again at Last for the Very First Time Comedy Tour. It was hilarious and insightful and a little bawdy, but what can you expect from two members of Monty Python?

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The evening was filled with sketches, video, music, and some reminiscing. In aging Monty Python style, Idle and Cleese sat on red oversized chairs and shared with the audience how they met and how their comedy troupe, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, began. Their story was fascinating.

When they first approached BBC with their idea, they really didn’t have much of a concrete plan, except they wanted to do comedy sketches. Even with a nebulous proposal, they were given a slot on Sunday night British television to do as they wanted. And Monty Python was born.

What intrigued me about their story is that the cast were all writers and they had no plans to hire performers. It would be a do-it-yourself production. In preparation for a show, they would break into groups to write sketches and when they reconvened, the pairs would try their material in front of the team. If everyone laughed, it would become part of the show, and if not, it was trashed. Cleese commented that the one thing they never argued about was who would play what character. If you wrote it, you played in it. In a room full of funny people, people with egos and opinions, they never fought over who would play what role. That fascinates me.

It made me think of the story each of us is living. We are individuals, and as individuals, we are also part of a group, a community, a troupe. We struggle sometimes over who should play certain roles. I know I do. But, if we are writing part of the story, why would we hand over our role to someone else? Yes, we are part of a team, but each member is valuable and there is a time for each member to take the lead.

Leading makes me uncomfortable, but from time and time I have been pushed into that place. In almost every instance, I have tried to pass off leadership to someone I thought was more confident, more qualified, more polished. One wise friend saw what I was doing, and gently reminded me, “Susan, we asked you to lead this group, not ________. You can do this. I believe in you.”

I believe in you. Those words should be edifying and encouraging, right? But all they did for me was make me feel like an imposter. I would think to myself if you only knew me and my skill level, you would change your mind in a heartbeat. Or I would think about someone who seemed infinitely more suited for the position and feel even more inadequate.

Sometimes we get to lead, with knees knocking and pulse racing. We may not feel qualified, wanting to pass our role off to someone else, but that would be a mistake. We get to be the leading character in our story. Yes, there are times we get to have a supporting role in someone else’s story – a role I’m very comfortable with –  but we can’t stay there. We would miss our own story, our own contribution to the world.

I love that the performers of Monty Python were also the writers. I love that they didn’t pass off their roles. I love that they really didn’t have a solid plan going into production except they wanted to do comedy. I love that they respected each member’s opinion and sense of humor and that was enough for them. I love that the opinion of their friends and colleagues were more important than the opinion of the critics. I love that they were creative and enjoyed what they did for years and years and years.

I went to the Comedy Tour to be entertained, but left not only entertained but also inspired. Thank you, Eric Idle and John Cleese, for sharing lessons from The Flying Circus.

31 dAYS

 

Authors: Our Special Weekend Guests

This morning began like most of our weekend mornings do – a good breakfast, hot coffee with vanilla creamer (or as my nephew pointed out, creamer with some coffee added), a random game with our girls, and a good book. I love the ritual and rhythm of our weekend mornings.

When I say a good book, what I really mean is a book Kevin and I take turns reading to each other, a relatively new ritual we added a little over a year ago. The experience has been incredible. We have had discussions we never thought to have. We have laughed and cried together, and on so many levels, we have been inspired.

These authors have become our friends, invited guests into our morning liturgy. They have enriched our day, our life, our story, and our relationship to one another.  Sometimes I imagine them pulling up a chair beside us – a rocking chair on our porch or a spot on the loveseat across from us in our bonus room. We genuinely enjoy their company.

Our guests have been poets, priests and ex-priests, storytellers, theologians, academics, children’s authors. They have been gentle, pushy, thoughtful, wordy, opinionated, bossy, charming, eloquent, simple, and down right hilarious. Some have been frequent visitors – Donald Miller and Brennan Manning. Another stayed for months – Dallas Willard. A few duds appeared, in our opinion, but we decided to make the most of our time together. Just this morning, I introduce a good friend of mine to my husband and they seemed to hit it off quite well. I think she might even be added to the frequent visitor list.

One day, after this life is over, I hope to sit at a table with these friends of mine and tell them face to face how their words, their brave expressions, have shaped and inspired me. After that moment, I envision myself leaning back into a big comfy chair to listen to what else they have to say, things they never got to say on earth or never managed to get into print and of course, their new thoughts. And you know what? I even imagine they will care about my thoughts as well. At least I hope they will.

Until then, Kevin and I will continue to enjoy our special guests on our lovely weekend mornings.

31 dAYS

The Thrill of a Name Tag

Ecstatic, overjoyed, elated, thrilled, tickled pink, giddy with excitement – these words somewhat describe how I felt for at least five minutes of my day.

My friend (and often partner in crime) and I were invited to be guests at a Women Executives (WE) Author’s Luncheon in Downtown Charlotte today. Though this was an incredible experience, and it truly was, my tickled pink moment actually happened before the event was even underway.

We walked through the doors and were greeted by two nicely dressed women, obviously executives volunteering as greeters, and they gave us our name tags. I have worn many a name tag in my lifetime, but this one, well, it absolutely thrilled me.

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Do you see it? Can you see why it made me so excited? Yes, it included my name, and also identified me as a guest of one of the authors (a big thank you to Judith Sutton), but it also had something I had never seen before by my name – writer.  IT ACTUALLY SAID WRITER!

My friend, who also happens to be a writer and so many other wonderful things, was equally excited by her title, so we did what any self respecting guest to an executive event would do – we ran like middle school girls to the bathroom to take pictures. Yes, we actually did and just thinking about it makes me smile.

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I’ve been writing recreationally for over two years. It started as a request someone made of me, grew into a blog because my sister believed in me, moved to a writing class to see if I believed in myself, and has grown into a love and a regular part of my life. And now, writer was on my name tag for a roomful of women to see, for me to see. What an incredible moment.

The funny thing is, last night I was rehearsing what I would say if an executive asked me what I did for a living. Starting with I’m a writer seemed like a good idea since that’s what I’ve been doing lately, and then I would continue by telling her I have spent the last twenty-five years working with several non-profits. You know the kind of non-profit I’m talking about – mothering, homeschooling, tutoring, teaching, Bible study, Women’s ministry, Praise Team, caring for aging grandparents, volunteering, proofing and editing papers for my husband while he was working on his Masters and PhD, and on and on. I actually got to use my rehearsed line once, and it was received well.

You know, I’ve spent half of my years living this non-profit kind of life, at least a life not profitable in a financial sense of the word. I cannot begin to express the gratitude I feel towards my husband for making it possible. I have treasured these years and all the experiences. It hasn’t always been easy but it has been rewarding, fulfilling, life changing, emotional, and life giving.

I rarely give my non-profit life a second thought, that is, until I’m with people who have careers, the work-for-profit kind. Then I suddenly find my value begins to leak and my confidence starts to shrink.

Why do people deflate themselves through comparison? Why is it so hard to embrace and celebrate ourselves in the company of others?

Today, I was recognized as a writer, and believe me, that was a high point. But a nametag doesn’t make me a writer. A paycheck doesn’t make me one either. What makes me a writer is this, I WRITE. And it just so happens that I love doing it.

Whatever it is that you do, for-profit or not-for-profit, do it. It’s a gift. You don’t need a name tag for it to be true. And you don’t need a title or a big paycheck for it to be valuable. It’s worth comes from you, because you’re doing it. No two people do anything the same. Everything you touch is a one of a kind original.

Tomorrow morning when I pry my eyes open, I will remember I am a writer even if I don’t have the name tag to prove it.

31 dAYS