Fasting and Prayer

18 Feb

When I was a teenager, my family befriended a newly ordained priest who had been assigned to our parish. He wasn’t even 30 years old yet, and having him to our house for dinner or sharing coffee and donuts after mass was a bit like having an older brother. He was instrumental in teaching my mom how to use a computer, and he taught my brother and I all sorts of funny versions of the mass parts set to the theme songs of movies and TV shows. He spoke several languages and kindled my brother’s love of language and desire to travel. And being a bit of a philosopher, he fanned the flames of my theologically curious mind and played Socrates to all my questioning. He really was the best “baby priest.”

Today he’s a grown-up priest, a servant to both the poor and the powerful; those who know him know this. Yet he still finds time to break open the scriptures in a daily blog post for all of us. His recent post about preparing for Lent was simple and inspiring.

http://frwayneball.blogspot.com/2015/02/preparing-for-lent.html?m=1

So often we focus just on fasting. “What are you giving up?” I find “giving up” anything is very difficult unless I’m replacing it with something else. For example, this lent I am giving up Facebook. (Yes, I realize this post is on FB. I can post it remotely. But if you want me to see your comment, do it directly on my website.) I suspect this will be quite difficult, because FB is such an entrenched habit. I get to be social without having to leave my home, or even my bed. I get to feel “important” when people give my comments attention or “like” my selfies. I get to feel “intelligent” when I engage in political or religious discussions. Giving this up will not be easy. I’ve been awake only two hours and already I’m feeling “hungry” for my daily, no, hourly ego stroke.

Jesus said some demons can only be expelled by fasting and prayer. Prayer is what I will use to replace the hunger left by fasting.

I will be praying about several things. First, I will pray for myself. I know this probably sounds weird or even selfish, but it is what the Holy Spirit is asking of me. I pray that I can be a better mother. I pray that my heart will remain open and soft. I pray that God will heal the parts that are broken.

I will also be praying for someone I resent. Resent is too mild a word, really. All the more reason to practice prayer. The resentment is poisonous. Experience has taught me praying for those I resent is a discipline that leads to true conversion. Mine. Bless them, change me.

I’m praying for someone who is sick and doesn’t realize it. I desperately wish I could help, but I know I am powerless, so praying is the only thing I can do. My mother’s prayer in times when she feels powerless over the lives of those she loves is for “God’s guidance and direction.” So I’ll be praying for this person to receive guidance and direction.

I’m praying for two family members who very unexpectedly lost their husbands in the last year. I know several people whose spouses have died, and my heart goes out to all of them, but these two in particular are weighing on my mind. May God comfort their loneliness. I ask you to pray for them with me.

Finally, I will be praying for my children. Each of them is so precious, and each has challenges. All three are struggling in their own way with “growing up,” and as their mother I want nothing more than to keep them little forever, or at least until high school starts. Acceptance is difficult for all of us. I pray that they will be able to let go of babyhood gradually and gracefully as they take ever bigger steps into responsibility and experience the fullness of life. Yesterday’s snow day was a great start. For the first time all three played unsupervised on the snow hill with the other neighborhood kids, and without their mom. I was so proud of them for not needing me to facilitate fun.

Speaking of children, I hear them downstairs making their own breakfast. I’m not ready for that yet. Baby steps. Pray for me this Lent!

On Soulmates, Princes, and Mermaids (the Disney rant)

13 Feb

One day I’m going to write a book about how the Disney empire has deconstructed classic European fairy tales, gutted them of their dark and beautiful lessons, and supplanted them with the most progressively noxious, neo-romantic tripe ever conceived.

Consider this: after nearly 80 years since Disney’s classic animated film Snow White debuted in 1937, we have 73% of Americans believing in a soul mate, according to a 2011 Marist public opinion poll. 80% of those under the age of 30 and 78% of those 30 to 44 believe in the idea of soul mates, compared with 72% of residents 45 to 59 years old and 65% of those 60 and older. 74% of men and 71% of women believe in finding the perfect partner. (You can read the source article at http://maristpoll.marist.edu/210-its-destiny-most-americans-believe-in-soul-mates/.)

I grew up wishing I had Sleeping Beauty’s hair. I prayed “God bless Snow White and the Handsome Prince” every night at bedtime, and I may or may not have made my dad and the boy next door play the part of the handsome price when I was three. I will neither confirm nor deny “Some Day My Prince Will Come” played at my wedding reception (but if it did play, everyone had the decency not to turn it into a “wedding night” joke).

Of course I believed in soulmates.

When I was in my early twenties, I dated a guy who was quite a bit older than me. He was a very decent man, rather philosophical and religious like me, and having had more time in the world than I did, he vigorously challenged my belief in soul mates. He said a soul mate is not someone you search for and find, but something you become to each other, together, over time.

He said a lot of things like that, most of which I completely disregarded because in my early twenties I still believed I knew everything. Long story short, we weren’t soul mates – not the kind you find, nor the kind you become. In spite of our differing romantic philosophies, I was naive enough to believe he was “the one” because of how I felt when I was with him. As far as “23-year-old Christy” was concerned, we were made for each other, and the fact that he couldn’t see it was a painful disappointment.

What freedom I found when I finally released my belief in soulmates and embraced his philosophy that love is a choice supported by action. It meant he wasn’t “the one.” Not only was that okay with me, it was a true relief. It meant I got to have some say in who “the one” is, and isn’t, based on our actions rather than our feelings. I got to choose. That’s not what Disney taught me.

My intention is not to bash all things Disney or romantic. I love Disney. I have wonderful memories of my childhood princess fantasies (even if they were like crack to a baby love-junkie). I’m also thrilled that Disney has produced some modern animated stories with strong female princess characters and beautifully crafted music that engages my daughters’ imaginations. If I have any complaint, it’s to protest the rampant merchandising that has all but taken over toy stores.

I also love romance; I believe otherwise healthy intimate relationships are incomplete without it. Whole industries are dedicated to keeping the spark alive, whether it’s a pseudo-religious marriage strengthening program like Marriage Builders, books like the famed “Men Are From Mars” franchise and “Love Languages” series, or a personal boudoir photography session or trip to the local adult toy store.

One of the miscalculations I made going into marriage (after I tossed the baby out with the bath water and gave up romance along with soulmates) was not fully appreciating both the importance and potential of romantic connection, or the lack of it. I boycotted my first Valentine’s Day as a married woman because I was so let down by our first few months of sharing a home together. Not one of my better choices, I admit. I was still in my ego-driven twenties. That girl was a mess.

I got my first valentine gift as a divorced woman last year from my fella (chocolate infused tea and frog tea strainer, perfecto!), and the emotional high still pays dividends. Every time I make that tea, I get warm all over. That’s partly because gift-giving is one of my primary love languages. But it’s also because I stopped wanting a man to be my perfect fantasy of a soul mate and instead started accepting men, and myself, for who and what we are, and what we aren’t. This is not the kind of storytelling formula you’ll see in a Disney film (although I think Brave and Frozen take steps in the right direction).

IMG_0417

I have several mommy friends on opposing ends of the liberal/conservative pendulum who go to great lengths in protecting their daughters from having a princess complex. Not that I blame them. Princesses are weak, selfish, immature, love-crazed sexual objects, right?

Actually, the Disney princess is rarely any of those things, with the exception of being the object of her prince’s desire. Disney does, however, serve up some fairly predictable character types: attractive female protagonists who are socially rejected, isolated, rebellious, or don’t fit in (Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine, Belle, Mulan, Rapunzel, Tiana, Merida, Elsa & Anna) and male “prince” characters who are either loveable rogues (Aladdin, the Beast, Flynn Rider, Prince Naveen) or idealized to the point of stereotype (Prince Phillip, Prince Charming, Prince Eric, Captain Li Shang, Gaston, and Hans). Kristoff is the only “average guy” Disney male protagonist I’ve seen. Still, his theme song is all about being a “fixer upper.” The problem isn’t so much the message about princesses, but the messages about princes and true love. At best, the modern Disney princess films send mixed messages about accepting men for who they are yet “improving” them with just a little love.

This set-up apparently sells, probably because it reflects our American culture. Society pays lip service to admiring the strong female, as long as she’s easy on the eyes and is just enough of a victim that she needs saving or is somehow incomplete without a prince by her side. We like the underdog or victimized female because at some point in our lives most women have felt rejected, isolated, and that we didn’t fit in, no matter how well we clean up after emerging from the awkward tween years. And many of us have been emotionally if not physically abused. The Disney princess is relatable.

Our society also glorifies the handsome ramblers who are “diamonds in the rough” and just need the love of a “good woman” to polish them up. Or, on the flip side of that coin, we expect our princes to live up to impossibly high standards. I’m surprised more men aren’t offended by the portrayal of their gender in Disney films. They should be.

The Disney plots follow a formula, too. Princess and Prince fall in love; the rogue or royal proves himself worthy by doing battle against a foe who is usually the personification of anything that would separate the two lovers; there is some sort of deception on the part of one of the lovers which must be brought to light and forgiven; but after a successful battle with the forces of evil, they live happily ever after with singing birds and magical rainbows.

We who grow up with that storyline repeated season after season carry this expectation into the lifelong commitments we make with the opposite sex (or maybe the same sex; I don’t know how it works for gay and lesbian folks). Women get married believing their men will change, and men get married believing their women won’t change. It’s a modern joke too true to be funny. We equate marriage with unconditional love, while at the same time equating love with feelings that are in fact capricious and conditional, dependent on the actions of our beloved, who is human. And if he’s a “diamond in the rough” variety, in real life he’s likely to be a heartbreaker. Literally.

If you hunt down the source materials for the most of the Disney princess fairy tales, you’ll find stories that bear little resemblance to their animated versions. Sleeping Beauty, for example, was not wakened by true love’s first kiss; she was raped in her sleep, gave birth to twins as a result of that union, and awakened when they sucked a poison flax seed out of her finger. Rapunzel was all but abandoned by her biological mother to the witch, who in turn abandoned the young woman in the wilderness when she naively became pregnant while locked in the tower. Snow White wasn’t awakened by love’s first kiss, either; the prince tripped while he and the dwarves were carrying her glass coffin, and the piece of poison apple dislodged from her throat. And Cinderella’s father may well have been an accomplice in his daughter’s abuse, along with his wife and horrid stepdaughters.

Protesters were voraciously vocal when Disney reinterpreted the Pocahontas story and turned it into a romance. Where is the defense of the brothers Grimm?

Beauty and the Beast is subtlety and exceptionally different from its Disney counterpart. The Disney version plays right into the modern American myth that the love of a good and beautiful woman can transform an ugly and difficult man into the prince hiding within. In the real story, the beast is indeed physically ugly, but he is unfailingly kind, and a bit dull, and it is Belle who changes from someone who judges those closest to her based on superficial appearances to a discerning soul who learns the hard way to see things as they are and to appreciate loyalty and affection over her unrealistic expectations. The story is the epitome of what it means to become soul mates over time.

My favorite, though, is The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. Disney’s re-entry into full length animated moviemaking was a charming and beautifully crafted romantic tale with a happy ending. The real story is a layer-after-layer, heart-rending tragedy about unrequited love. And although the ending offers redemption, it comes at great personal sacrifice. The Little Mermaid is the antidote to every Disney storyline. Even though it is fantasy, it gets closer to the truth of what often happens when mismatched people become fixated on an illusion of what they think they want.

Like the animated Ariel, the little mermaid does save her prince in the storm, and does trade her beautiful voice for legs. What the Disney version leaves out is that when she uses those legs, it is like walking on knives. The prince adores his “little foundling” as he calls her, but he loves her as a sister because his heart is in love with the woman he mistakenly believes to have saved him – a temple girl who he never expects to see again. Without a voice, she cannot tell him the truth. The little mermaid is willing to endure excruciating pain, not to mention exile from her family under the sea, and settles for a platonic relationship with the prince until he discovers that his “temple girl” is actually the princess to which his parents have betrothed him. He marries with great joy while the little mermaid awaits certain death when her prince marries, because she did not win true love’s kiss. Her sisters in their great compassion trade their beautiful hair for a knife that the little mermaid can use to kill the prince on his wedding night and thus rejoin her family under the sea. She can’t do it. She would rather sacrifice her own life for his happiness than kill him to save her life. But at dawn, she discovers she has not died, but has become like an angel, a “daughter of air” who can earn a soul and immortality because of her act of selfless love.

Romantic love was only what the little mermaid thought she wanted. What she truly wanted was to have a soul. And mermaids don’t have souls. They can only get a soul by winning the love of a human. Like so many of us, she believed romantic love would be the means to satisfying her deepest longing, and like many of us, she was completely wrong. She abandoned her greatest talent and gave up her very identity, just to win a hopelessly unsuitable man’s affection. He wasn’t bad, just dense. Yet her choices and her sacrifice ultimately won her heart’s true desire – a path to immortality. I doubt Disney could pull that one off, and I don’t fault them for not even trying.

I can’t wait to share the real Little Mermaid with my own “daughters of air.” And the other tales as well. They may not be as palatable as their Disney counterparts, but the original fairytales give us soul-guiding lessons about love and life that we need now more then ever.

If pain is a parable

1 Feb

If a field is a kingdom
If a heart is a chest
If a kiss is a key
If a tear is a lubricant
If choice is a hinge
If anger is a treasure
If feelings are children
If parenting is unconditional
If growth means release

then surrender
love
labor
value
open
leak
join
contain
heaven

Ready For Reconciliation

20 Jan

I should read the daily scripture readings more often. Today’s first lines from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews was just what I needed to hear:

“God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name by having served and continuing to serve the holy ones.”

Like most people who believe in a “traditional” God, I worry about God judging me. I think it goes hand in hand with organized religion, for better or worse. I was in the shower this morning thinking about my need to go to confession, and about what our deacon said at Mass this weekend – we don’t listen to God because we are afraid He will tell us to do something uncomfortable. Ya got that right!

My daughter is currently going through preparation for her first sacrament of reconciliation, and the director of the program handed out an anonymous survey to parents at the first class, assessing our attitudes about the sacrament. One of the questions was a multiple choice about why we don’t go. We could choose more than one. I don’t remember all the choices, because my reason for not going wasn’t on there.

I don’t believe it’s unnecessary, nor do I doubt my own personal need for the sacrament. And it’s certainly not because I haven’t sinned or done something the church tells me is wrong.

I don’t go because I’m not really sorry.

I DO feel guilty that I’m not sorry, though.

Maybe I should go and confess that. I suppose it’s a start.

Part of my spiritual practice includes being willing to be willing. This is particularly helpful when I am just not quite ready to let go of an outcome or a behavior or a relationship I know deep in my heart is not serving God. I’m rarely willing to let go immediately. I joke and say there’s not a relationship I’ve had that doesn’t have claw marks in it from when God wrenched it from my tiny, clenched fists of rage. I may not be willing, but I can ask God to help me be willing to be willing to let go.

Help me to be willing to seek You in the sacrament of reconciliation.

I have a tool borrowed from the 12-step tradition that helps me with this. It’s called an inventory. There’s no one right way to do it. The 4th step talks about a “fearless and searching moral inventory” while the 10th step talks about a continuous inventory.

There is a wrong way to do it. It doesn’t say “list only your failings.” That is what most of us do when we examine our conscience, isn’t it? Today’s first reading encourages me to see myself the way God sees me – with justice. He doesn’t overlook the love just because I have sometimes failed to love. He doesn’t overlook my service to others just because there are times I’ve neglected to serve.

Truth be told, I’m afraid to look at why I’m not sorry for some of my willful disobedience. I just don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go there alone, and I don’t want to go there with God.

What I’ve learned is that God will take me there whether or not I want to go. It’s up to me whether I open my eyes or keep them shut. What am I missing if I keep them shut? I miss seeing my virtues when I shut my eyes to my vices, and seeing my virtues is what fills my heart with healthy esteem for myself. Without taking that fearless searching inventory of myself with a just God who sees it all, I’m dooming myself to a life of low self-esteem and a bottomless black hole in my soul, and an ever-widening gap between myself and the God I profess to love and serve.

Well, if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what else is.

The Gospel reading today also touches on this idea of being judged – not by God, but by our peers, or people in authority. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples because they were picking heads of wheat in the field they were walking through on -GASP – the Sabbath. Was it breaking the church rule? Technically, yes. Was it a sin? Well, Jesus doesn’t actually answer that question. He merely tells a story about old King David and states, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” We can extrapolate and say the same of any of the commandments, can’t we? After all, God created humanity in Genesis, and it’s not until the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy that we get Ten Commandments and all the other Hebrew laws.

I’m not saying that we start calling them “the ten suggestions.” I’m not saying that the church doesn’t have the authority to say what is right or wrong. That would be justifying harmful behaviors that those commandments address directly. What I am saying is that sharing my struggles with Jesus may yield some surprising answers. But I won’t get those answers unless I invite Him into my fearful heart.

Weekly One Thing

4 Jan

Some of you may recall that when I first started my blog, I kept a list of the “one thing” I felt God was trying to tell me at each Sunday mass. Sadly, I didn’t keep the list very well past 2012, and I didn’t add to it at all during 2014. While I’d like to think this was not indicative of my spiritual condition or willingness to listen to God, I have to admit my other choices were not ideal in 2014. We all have a rebellious period, though. Most of us experience it when we are in our teens; I decided to go through it in my late 30s. Fortunately, I’ve chosen to close that chapter.

So once again I will be listening for my “one thing” whenever I go to church. And for the sake of being accountable, and also to keep a record for myself and others, I’m going to start adding to that page of my blog again. If you’re on the same reading schedule as Catholics, I’d love for you to do it with me and compare what you heard. That whole “where two or three are gathered” thing . . .

Here’s the link:

http://holeyheart.com/weekly-one-thing/

A quick side note . . . just because I completely stopped doing it for a year doesn’t mean the exercise wasn’t useful. Apparently, my friend Laura was inspired by the “one thing” exercise and started doing it herself. This summer, she became the middle school youth minister at my church. And one afternoon when I was volunteering at their faith formation class, she encouraged the kids (including my son) to go to church listening for their one thing, and even gave them all prayer journals to take to church with them! I felt as though my own words had come back to me full circle. Thank you, Laura.

Living My Intentions, Part 2

2 Jan

I love the classical image of Janus, the ancient Roman god of transitions. Two faces, one looking forward to the future, the other looking back at the past.

My friends who are recovering alcoholics have been known to quote from the AA Promises: “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” That is one face of Janus. Regret and guilt can be driving forces in our lives without us ever even realizing it. I remember how free I felt when I finally understood at “heart level” I’m powerless over the past and nothing I do today can undo choices I made two minutes, two days, or two years ago.

Even in recent years as I’ve learned to cut myself a little slack and have the grace to let myself off the hook, I still find lingering feelings of wishing I could change the past or punishing myself (or others) for mistakes I think were made. The former is an illusion and the latter is a waste. The past was either a blessing or a lesson, so the best I can do today is be grateful for it, learn from it, admit that I was wrong, or forgive.

One of my goals for 2015 is to do a more thorough job of looking back. It’s great to take annual stock on New Year’s Eve, like I did yesterday, but how much more effective would I be if I checked myself daily? An annual review may reveal the big picture, but daily reviews can uncover the patterns that unconsciously permeate my everyday life. So I’ve made a 30-day commitment this January: take inventory of my behaviors and attitudes before I go to bed each night. I can’t wait to see what I learn about myself, and how it changes the way I approach the other face of Janus, the one looking toward the future.

As I’ve written before, I prefer setting “goals” and “intentions” rather than making “resolutions.” Usually I don’t choose the intention; if I quiet my mind and observe myself through the last month of the year, the next year’s intention reveals itself. I usually know in my heart what I need to work on, but making a resolution about it is setting myself up for failure. An intention, on the other hand, becomes a guiding theme weaving its way through all areas of my life.

My intention for 2015 is “simplify.”

If 2015 is anything like 2014, I will be offered many opportunities to do the exact opposite of my intention. And if 2015 is to be a truly “new” year, maybe I’ll resist the temptation to complicate and clutter.

Along with an intention, I like to set a few specific, measurable, and attainable goals, and one “BHAG” (that’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal). This year’s small goals are:
1. Nurture my creative side;
2. Set up a will;
3. Meet with my financial advisor;
4. Finish the back porch;
5. Reduce my sugar consumption;
6. Pursue an additional career path/income source (oops, did I say “simplify?”); and
7. Take a vacation for my 40th birthday in September.

My BHAG is to craft a story that has been germinating for nearly a year and a half (this is the “big hairy” part) and get it into the hands of the man who inspired it (this is the “audacious” part only God can facilitate).

All this talk of looking at the past and planning for the future is a gentle reminder that I have only the present moment, whether it’s January 1, December 31, or any day in between. What can I do today to meet my goals and live my intentions? What lessons did the past 24 hours hold for me? Life doesn’t exist in the past or future, but only in the now.

And right now, I can copy, paste, publish, and share. Thanks for your encouragement through the past few years of Holey Heart. Happy birthday to my blog, and Happy New Year to you!

Living My Intentions

31 Dec

I’m surprised to discover I didn’t write anything about New Years or resolutions last year at this time, except for a little piece on the calendar day book I created (which unfortunately got very little use). It’s kind of a shame, too, because it would have been nice to compare me then with me now, and take stock of how well I lived my intention for 2014.

I had a two-fold intention: responsibility and fun. I very much wanted to show more responsible behavior in all areas of my life, especially time management. How well did I do? Well, that calendar stopped getting any use sometime in mid-April. But I did get myself to the doctor for a much overdue physical.

One of my big goals of 2014 was to use my income tax return to build a deck and pergola off the back of my house, and that little project has taxed my sanity in countless ways for seven months now and counting. I could write volumes on what I’ve learned about myself through this process. Perhaps that song from the “Frozen” movie would be a good place to start.

Speaking of things with which my children are obsessed, I somehow stumbled into my true intention for the year – focusing on my kids. And this intention, I’m pleased to say, is one I’ve lived well. For the past few years I’ve devoted most of my spare time to self-care and recovering from years of losing myself in an unpleasant marriage and the natural erosion of self that happens in parenthood, not to mention years of stuffing my feelings. 2014 saw me getting my groove back and giving myself again, first and foremost to the little ones who often got and continue to get the short end of my stick.

I became involved with my son’s Boy Scout troop, chaperoning camping trips, pushing him out of his comfort zone into a week of overnight camp, and co-chairing the popcorn sale this fall. I enrolled the girls in gymnastics in the spring and dance class this fall, even though it’s a bit of a sacrifice to make sure we all get where we need to be on any given afternoon. And in spite of their belly aching, I make sure their spiritual education isn’t neglected. I sure wish we could have old fashioned Sunday School like the Baptists though!

Mostly I see myself as a guardian of their childhood. Playtime is as much a priority as homework. They only get to be kids once. I sure hope when they are adults that they appreciate that I won’t allow them to grow up too fast. It’s the best gift my parents gave me, even though at the time I couldn’t wait to be an adult.

I’ve taken us on fun little excursions to the river, 4th of July picnic, apple picking , and this Christmas, to the lake. Tomorrow I’m driving us up to D.C. for the day to see the National Cathedral because Teague expressed an interest in catacombs.

I try to allow their opinions to make a difference in what we do as a family, within reason. I’ve disciplined more consistently this year, and I’ve remembered to “let it go” like the song suggests when the battle isn’t worth the collateral damage. I’m unbelievably proud of my kids. They are smart and sensitive and responsible and creative, and I’ve been present enough to see it all unfold every day.

I worked on a few other relationships as well. My connection with girlfriends grows ever more trusting and secure. I’ve reached out to new friends, and I’ve responded to women who have befriended me. I have conversations with other moms at the bus stop. The bus stop is a triggering place for me going back to the teasing days of middle school. To be “part of” for the first time in my life is such a gift!

In a special way, I’ve worked on my relationship with my mom. She and I have always enjoyed each other and have gotten along well for the most part, but like most mothers and daughters, we have our moments! This summer, I made a heartfelt commitment to give to her what I want most (and usually get, too) – a listening heart. And I discovered the old axiom is true – we really do get what we give!

I had two big fights: one with my ex and one with the carpenter who is building my porch. These fights had three things in common – my expectations, the resulting resentment, and making a decision to let it go. There’s that darn song again.

I can’t think of “fun” without thinking of dating. 2014 saw me venturing outside my comfort zone a bit, and what it taught me is a deep appreciation for my comfort zone! The excitement of a temporary infatuation or the novelty of a date with a long-time acquaintance is really no substitute for the trust and emotional intimacy that grows over time. This year I learned to appreciate all the good that was present in my expired marriage, and also the special men in my life today who are worthy of both my platonic and romantic attention. I have the best guy friends, and a friendly sweetheart whose affection is a gift.

My relationship with myself has grown stronger, too. Thanks to all that Boy Scout camping, I rekindled a long-buried desire to hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s a resolution for another year, but I joined a few meet-up groups dedicated to hiking and went on two backpacking trips. I dug a hole to poop in. I learned how to cook freeze-dried meals. I carried a 25-pound pack up steep climbs. I camped alone over Labor Day weekend and saw arguably the best bluegrass group in the country with two complete strangers. I survived an encounter with a bear in the dark in the middle of a wind storm. And I’m pretty sure that when I get my REI reward points this spring, I’m going to have to reexamine my financial priorities! I just hope I can share this newly nurtured passion with my kids in 2015.

I’ve grown creatively this year. I designed a new 200-plus full color book for my long-time client Kimberly Wilson that stretched me to the point of tears. The best thing about hitting a wall in the middle of a project is being told with all the faith in the world, “I know you can do this, Christy.” I did not believe her, but I did believe that God could give me the power to deliver what I’d promised, and when I asked, He made miracles happen. Shortly after the project was completed, a friend literally placed in my hands “The Artist’s Way,” and I’ve slowly digested the first few chapters. And I’ve begun writing my own book.

There are so many other little meaningful milestones I could share. Mistakes and regrets, and moments of gratitude and genuine wholesomeness. It’s a lot like the unfinished back porch. God is in every beautifully-crafted detail, but the timing and the pace and the engineering are completely out of my hands despite my attempts to control and manage.

In the end, I’m responsible for being willing to do the next right thing, to do my best even if my best sucks, to let go of outcomes and practice flexibility. I’m responsible for my own fun, and that starts with attitude, which my children will tell you is something I say I repeat like a broken record. I can control my attitude when everything else is out of my hands, and I have the power to find fun anywhere.

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