Day 59: Fall in like.

Friends can be said to “fall in like” with as profound a thud as romantic partners fall in love.  ~Letty Cottin Pogrebin

I’ve had a number of women friends over the years who I knew the minute we met we’d be great friends. I fell in like. But just as with the men I have quickly fallen in love with, some became real relationships/friendships and others did not. Perhaps it was not the right time or season in our lives, or we did not have the opportunity to deepen that bond that was made in the first few minutes of meeting. But to you others, thank you for falling in like with me.

Friendship is a true joy in life. There is little in life more satisfying than having a dear friend who you can call at all hours if you are in trouble, or to share a joy or just to talk — and to be able to pick up where you left off the conversation, days, months or years ago.

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It’s important to me to be able to maintain long-distance friendships because we move so often. If I relied only on making new friends with every move, it would be far too exhausting for this introvert. But often I do make new friends — I’ve made wonderful friends in NY, and I hope to make wonderful friends where we move next.  But those friends who stay close over the miles have become more and more important the older that I get.

Do you have a story of falling in like with a friend? What did that look like for you? I’d love to hear your stories and what those relationships have meant to you.

Day 58: Warm it up.

If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it. (Lucy Larcom)

Today was again in the single digits (with a plus or minus sign) and about the two-hundredth day of cold weather here in the Northeast. Ok, so that was an exaggeration, but truly, Polar Vortex, would you let up already? My friends in Chicago are cursing you to the North Pole and back.

We can’t control the weather any more than we can control when my kitchen counters and sink will be delivered. But we are trying on both counts, and likely failing on both counts. There is a lot about life that we have little or no control over, like the weather.

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At different points in my life I have felt the world to be a cold and lonely place. Some people live in a world that is for them cold all the time. But the world isn’t inherently cold any more than it is inherently pleasant. Life is what it is, it deals us into the game.  Sometimes we get a crappy hand, and we have to play that hand as it was dealt. But thankfully that’s not the end of the game! We get another hand and another, and sometimes the hands are great, and sometimes we win. And other times we don’t.

We get to choose how we play that hands that we are dealt. We can continue to complain about the cold (which feels so good right about now) or just live with it until Spring comes. We can complain about not having a sink, or we can remember the millions for whom the thought of clean water is an unattainable luxury. We can decide to play our hand all out, or keep our cards close to our chest.

We can always just learn how to start a fire, and perhaps we can even throw in the hands we don’t like.

Day 57: Adjust your sails.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”  (Dolly Parton)

One of the things I am most grateful for during the years that I lived in Chicago are my friends. To this day, some of my closest friends are from the ten years that I lived in the Windy City.

So what’s better than having a friend in Chicago? Having a friend with a sailboat. I learned to sail on the Puget Sound many years before I moved to Chicago, but it was in Chicago on the boats with my friends who were proficient sailors, that I truly got my sea-legs. There is nothing that compares to sailing on Lake Michigan on a beautiful summer day.

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I miss Chicago and those days on the lake. I crew well if you are ever looking for someone to hoist your main or go forward to get a line free. I’ll even reef your main if the waves aren’t ridiculous and the winds ferocious (and those of you who sail know that those are exactly when you need to reef your main sail, so perhaps I’m not the high quality crew that you may be looking for.)

There are many lessons that I learned on boats with friends. The first is, if there is a breeze, you can sail. Maybe not fast, but you can sail. Pay attention to the direction of the wind, and adjust your sails.

Second, know your limits. If you don’t feel comfortable with the conditions or your equipment or your mates — don’t chance it. Save it for another day. There is always another day.

Third, respect the water, the lake and the wind. I lost a neighbor to a sailing accident during those Chicago days when the boat he was on ran into a breakwater. It was a horrible tragedy where everything they did (and they were experienced sailors) went terribly wrong. It can happen. And anything that happens ashore is worse when it happens on the water.

Sailing taught me patience, judgement, agility and resourcefulness. My friends taught me to love sailing. In life, as in sailing, when the unexpected gust or dearth of wind happens, adjust your sails and carry on.

Day 56: Keep breathing.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”    — Maya Angelou

There are days and times and events that take our breath away in good ways and in not-so-good ways. At both of these times our hearts flutter, our palms sweat, and our nerves stand on end. When it’s good, we can’t breathe because we feel that our heart is so full that we can’t expand our lungs. In more challenging times, we can’t breathe because we feel as though we have (literally and figuratively) been punched in the gut. These are both moments that take our breath away.

As I get older and have more experience under my belt, I am learning that it is in both of these experience (both the exceptionally good and the horribly bad) that life is measured. Both the good and the bad times remind us that life is lived in between these two extremes. Today is one of those days for me.

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This morning I received a text message from a good friend that read, “Happy anniversary of the day your life had to get worse before it could get better!!” It was exactly the reminder that I needed to read as I started my day. My life is better in immeasurable ways and I am grateful to God for the opportunities that I have been provided with to move in more healthy and life-giving ways in my professional life. I breathe more deeply than I used to. I have less stress in my life than I used to. My quality of life, and the quality of life of my spouse and the life that we share has gotten exponentially better in the last year and for that I am beyond grateful.

Most of us live in between those moments that take our breath away. So keep breathing. Remember daily to take a few minutes to truly breathe in life in a deep and conscious way. Roll your shoulders, straighten your back and trust that you will receive what you need from God or the Universe. Breathe in this life force, and release all that might prevent you from being present in significant ways. Life is what happens to us while we are busy making plans.

At the 70th Anniversary party for some dear friends, someone asked the wife of the couple how they stayed married for 70 years. She responded, “You just keep breathing.” And so it is, that in marriage as in most of life, we move forward one breath at a time. Keep breathing, friends, and be grateful for all the moments that take your breath away.

Day 55: Sink or swim.

 “We all understand situations where it’s swim or drown. Sometimes we surprise ourselves when we start swimming and see how well we can do it.”  — Charlize Theron

Swimming is not my forte. I can do it well enough — I wouldn’t drown if I was in water over my head, but I’m not one of those people who can “swim for exercise.” I love people who can do that, I am simply not one of them. Maybe someday I will make that a priority, and perhaps I will surprise myself.

I do love the water, and have ever since I was a child. I do not fear it like others of my friends who experienced near drowning as children or adults. And yet I very much respect it. I have had several friends drown while swimming, kayaking, boating or diving in the past few years, which has been a sad reminder to me of both how precious life is, and how dangerous the water can be.

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Unfortunately, there are times when we may feel that we are “drowning” in our burdens. We are overwhelmed by financial obligations, familial responsibilities, and commitments at work and school. The pressure can seem more than we can bear. But in very real ways, we have to hold our breath and start swimming, even if it isn’t pretty or graceful or fast. We need to keep moving forward in a way that allows us to gain greater perspective on the challenges that we are facing. 

Sometimes you may need a counselor or coach to throw you a life preserver from the shore, even though you may feel the need to save yourself. Sometimes we feel so buried by life’s circumstances that we can’t even see a way out. It’s ok to ask for directions, support or assistance. It’s ok to grab the life preserver and be pulled to shore.

Day 54: If Spirits Walk.

“If Spirits Walk” (a poem, by Sophie Jewett)

If spirits walk, love, when the night climbs slow
The slant footpath where we were wont to go,
Be sure that I shall take the selfsame way
To the hill-crest, and shoreward, down the gray,
Sheer, gravelled slope, where vetches straglling grow.
Look for me not when gusts of winter blow,
When at thy pane beat hands of sleet and snow;
I would not come thy dear eyes to affray,
If spirits walk.

But when, in June, the pines are whispering low,
And when their breath plays with thy bright hair so
As some one’s fingers once were used to play–
That hour when birds leave song, and children pray,
Keep the old tryst, sweetheart, and thou shalt know
If spirits walk.

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According to the Society for the Study of American Women Writers, “Jewett was born in Moravia, NY, but lived most of her life in Buffalo. In 1889 she was hired as a professor of English literature at Wellesley College. Using the pen-name “Ellen Burroughs,” she published The Pilgrim, and Other Poems in 1896.” This poem was written in 1899. Thanks goes to Society for making it available on their website; this poem can be found here.

Day 53: Hard work becomes you.

“Being a woman is hard work.” — Maya Angelou

Do you remember the Enjoli perfume commercials from the 1980s? A woman comes out in a business suit and sings, “I can bring home the bacon (and puts on an apron) fry it up in a pan (enter the husband) and never ever ever let you forget your the man, ’cause I’m a woman. Enjoli.” It was to the tune of “I’m A Woman” first sung by Peggy Lee and re-done by Bette Midler. The point was this: in order to be a woman, you needed to be able to be a career woman by day, the perfect homemaker in the evening and a sex kitten at night. That’s more than hard work — that’s impossible. But apparently, if you wore Enjoli perfume, then life was a breeze. You could do it all and you could have it all. (And in case you were wondering, you can still buy Enjoli on Amazon.com although I haven’t seen it advertised in years.)

Thirty years have passed, and women now make up more than half the workforce. But the expectations of  women have changed little during those years. To have a husband that more than carries his weight at home (if you are married) is still an anomaly. I hope it’s getting better, but I haven’t seen it. Certainly among my generation (women in their 40s and 50s) and those who are older have been expected to not only work outside the home but do the lion’s share of the work around the home — cooking, cleaning, child-rearing. My relationship with my husband is a real anomaly among my friends and colleagues in that he does as much or more of the cleaning than I do. Even after children leave the home for college or careers, most of my women friends still find that they have two jobs — one they get paid for and one they do not. And it’s hard work. It’s such hard work that many women have opted to go it alone — working and parenting without a partner. As one of my friends has said, “It takes an awfully good man to beat no man at all.” No wonder that 1 in 2 marriages ends in divorce.

Is there a way for us, as liberated women and men to come together and share the work so that we can all flourish — especially our children? We want our children to be able to become whomever God has called them to be without  stereotypes and defined roles putting limits on them, but it’s increasingly harder (rather than easier) to find toys that are gender neutral, and do not send implicit or explicit messages about what girls should care about (being pretty) and what boys should care about (being tough.)

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As humans who desire to be in relationship with each other, we have some hard work to do. We need to work hard to encourage our children to be good and brave and smart. We need to encourage our girls to be smart engineers if that’s what they like, and our boys to be tender caregivers and excellent cooks. We need to push our society to value child-rearing as much as they value monetary success. We need to value balance — true balance. We need families where both partners cherish the unique skills that each brings to the table in equal measure. Couples that love one another fully and equally, and share the joys of parenting as well as the work involved in sharing their home and their lives with children.

Hard work looks good on you, friends. It becomes you. Don’t shy away from it, or become troubled by it. Roll up your sleeves and get busy. It’s tough work creating the kind of world we all want to live in.

Day 52: Be inspired.

Your personal life, your professional life, and your creative life are all intertwined. I went through a few very difficult years where I felt like a failure. But it was actually really important for me to go through that. Struggle, for me, is the most inspirational thing in the world at the end of the day – as long as you treat it that way.  — Skylar Grey

Inspiration comes from struggling to do that which you don’t think is possible. You run a marathon, you write a book, you raise a child, you comfort a dying friend. Life often throws us pitches that we never saw coming. But we rise to the challenge. And from that, we feel inspired to do more than we ever thought we could.

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Growth is a muscle in that when we use it, it gets stronger. The more we grow, the more we are able to grow. When we struggle (and we all do struggle at one point, or many, in our lives) and we treat it as an opportunity to grow and get stronger, it helps us move forward. If, on the flip side, we see struggle as a defeat, as just one more way that life is getting the better of us, then we shrink. We lose a part of ourselves. As Friedrich Nietzsche is attributed as saying, “That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

Life has been challenging (in a good way) over the past year as I have moved from a full-time position to creating a ministry from the ground up. But as my husband reminds me, for many people life is always challenging and stressful. For people in this country at both ends of the income spectrum and most of us in the middle, work life and family life can seem out of balance with work, financial hardships or illness seeming more than we can bear.

What are you struggling with right now that you can choose to see as an opportunity to grow? How can it be reframed to help you move ahead? How might it inspire you to grow into the person you were created to be?

Day 51: Hold your grief.

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.”

Ellen Bass

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Day 50: Find your voice.

 “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman. But the search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.” – Melinda Gates

Everyone has something to say. It’s finding the words to express those thoughts, ideas and feelings that can seem impossible.

It’s 50 days into this project and I’m still wondering what I was thinking when I decided to wade into these unknown waters. What if I run out of words? What if after 364 days I simply don’t have another original thought? What if I decide that I really don’t have a good enough voice to be the kind of writer that I want to be? (What kind of writer is that, you ask? A good one. A really, really good one.)

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I’m still in the process of finding my voice as a writer. This project has forced me to write daily or more and I’m finding these themes often come up in my writing: my work as a life coach and spiritual director; my life as a minister and an interim pastor’s wife; my preaching, speaking and facilitation work; my writing. But 50 days in, I don’t feel that I am any closer to finding my voice.

Perhaps this works like learning to ride a bike — you try and you try and you fall and you almost fall again and then you try again and you wobble and your dad holds you up and then he lets go and you wobble some more and finally, you ride. And you don’t ever wobble again because you can do it now. And you keep doing it because it’s fun and it’s not hard anymore. Something tells me that writing is NOTHING like riding a bike.

But if there is a voice within me to be found, I will find it. I will find it because I will keep looking until I do. I will keep writing and playing and staring at my blank computer screen and praying for inspiration and occasionally praying that a sink hole opens up and swallows me whole.

And yet there are other days when one thought brings to mind another thought and they aren’t too terribly crappy and they just might go together. And something magical happens because someone reads it and likes it or at least doesn’t think it sucks.

So it’s only day 50 — which seems like so far into this, right? But it’s only 13.6% of the whole 365 days of this year. And yet, I am trusting that this voice that is struggling to come to life, this way of being that is waiting patiently to be birthed into the universe will indeed find a way to come out.

Where is your voice?