Ten (of a thousand) Reasons I Love Winter

AND HERE WE ARE in February, halfway through, heading full speed into March, and spring, and the mayhem that will arrive as May. It will hit with the force of a thousand obligations: end-of-school examinations and sports banquets and graduation parties and business meetings, so many meetings, and all the cram-this-in-before-summer-gets-here appointments that fill up our calendars faster than you can say double-booked.

winter, on cat’s mountain

How did it pass so quickly, is my question, our glorious wintertime respite? Our splendid, whitewashed pause filled to its lazy brim with cold and cuddles and warm fires and mittens?

For I love nothing if not the radiant winter days–all 59–that are January and February.

There are reasons, many good reasons, for my immense devotion. Of which 10 I will share here. Also, if I may point out, there is absolutely no order to the order. (That would have taken entirely too much effort in this civilized, chill out, re-charge season.)

1. SOUP FOR DINNER. Soup for lunch. Soup for breakfast–hey, a pot of soup can last all week and requires nothing more than a box of stock and the random leftovers lounging in your fridge.

2. ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE. Oh, the clean slate that is winter! Make New whatever you choose! Break out that spanking white journal, or head to Target and spend 45 delightful minutes checking every new notebook like it’s YOUR JOB and don’t stop until to find the very most perfect one. It’s grown-up back-to-school time, that’s what winter is, so go on and while you’re at it get the cute pencil pouch, too!

3. ALL THE NEW THINGS. Give-it-a-go with yoga*. Or P90X (god bless you). Or Game of Thrones or Instagram stories or whatever it is that’s been tickling your fancy and got you considering it from afar. You may find something that brings greater joy than you expected (see * above) and if not, I swear there’s a pass inherent in this tiny annual window that allows as many stops and starts as you want. And absolutely no explanation is required.

4. TIDY UP. Of course you know this drill. The phenomenon worth mentioning is the energy we currently have for tasks entirely too daunting the entire rest of the year. So get to that linen closet! Purge those cosmetics! And take time to fold all your panties even the ones you don’t wear into neat little stackable packages that allow you to see every single one all at the same time. Or not, if that is your preference. (You can also just watch the Kondo show to get all the feels as if you have accomplished something great without hitting a tap or arguing with a household soul over how many years of Garden and Gun magazines a person has a right to hold onto.**)

{EDITOR’S NOTE: **The answer is three. Three years’ worth.}

5. BURN THE CANDLES. On a Tuesday. An ordinary, flat winter light Tuesday. Feel your heart glow.

6. HAVE A LONG, SLOW CONVERSATION with a dear friend. With blankets and hot tea and nary a cell phone in sight.

7. MAKE SOMETHING. Knit. Paint. Color. Hand-letter. Stamp. Embroider. Draw. Weave. Photograph. THINK YOU CAN’T? You can, of course you can, but if the mere thought stresses you out grab a stack of magazines*** and make a collage of all the pretty things you see just because it will make you happy.

{EDITOR’S NOTE: Just not the Garden and Gun magazines. Or, save four years’ worth and use the oldest for this very purpose. Now look at you, planning ahead.}

8. FEED THE BIRDS. They are hungry, and food is more scarce, and they will reward you by showing up day after day and entertaining you with the bird version of Days of Our Lives. I mean–the drama!

9. NAP. NO ONE WILL JUDGE. IT’S WINTER.

10. READ ALL THE BOOKS. Read, read, read! Not just the page and a half (you won’t remember) at bedtime, but in the morning, in the afternoon, in a comfy chair with a big cup of just-the-way-you-like-it coffee, or via a reading happy hour where that yummy book takes you right into dinner. Winter is the time for diving in, diving deep, finishing one book and (I AM NOT KIDDING HERE) picking up another without so much as a rise from your chair. If you do this–I promise–you will find it to be the season of your very most favorite books of the year, more so than in summer even, because you’ll choose volumes with a little more heft, a little more weight, a little more depth and challenge. Plus you won’t have the distraction of kids in the pool or the constant worry did I or did I not apply enough sunblock?

Oh, I do love this season! And how perilously close we are to its end! There’s a pretty day just outside my window, as a matter of fact, which has me thinking maybe I should pull on my sweats, head out the door, and pound out a quick little walk. Get my lungs full, my heart rate going.

Or not. Maybe not.

I mean, it is still winter, after all.

XXOO

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the grand promise

 

I’VE A THOUSAND RESOLUTIONS at the start of this new year, something I find thrilling. There’s nothing I love more than the chance to start again, to do it better, to make new commitments that add depth and beauty and enjoyment to life. 

One of these is morning devotional time. It is a practice that has been made more beautiful via two things: (1) New Morning Mercies, (a most thoughtful Christmas gift), and (2) Daily emails from Franciscan friar Richard Rohr. To heighten the intention, I’ve decided to record a sentence I find particularly meaningful from one of these teachings every day in my journal. It is a practice that has borne beautiful fruit; I find that I read with greater focus, and I consider more deeply the lessons shared there.

 

WHICH BRINGS TO MIND A QUESTION with which I have long struggled and one I find difficult to admit because it’s such a foundational Christian belief. (To tell you the truth, I’ve worked on this post for two weeks and am still not sure I’ve effectively articulated the point I’m trying to make. ) Still, here goes.

I believe in a God of love, an omnipotent God, the great I Am. And because of that Almighty Pure Love–so beyond our earthly comprehension–I don’t quite get why Jesus had to die on the cross. To be clear, I don’t mean I have trouble believing. What I can’t wrap my head around is the literal need for it. I struggle to reconcile God’s boundless love with a requirement that, for our sins to be forgiven, Jesus had to endure unconscionable pain and suffering.

It is a simplistic view, I am quite sure. And those who are more learned scholars–who have a much greater understanding of scripture, of the God of the Old Testament vs New, etc.–these people could no doubt offer perspective I am missing. Still Rohr’s January 4th meditation landed in my inbox and he offered an insight that made my heart flip. The crucifixion is not really a matter of substitutionary atonement, he writes, where “Jesus takes the punishment that this angry God intended for us.” Jesus died to show us, he says, that the other side of suffering is transformation.

Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.

 Whoa, as they say.

Jesus shows us that the pattern of everything is death and resurrection. Jesus is the archetypal pattern for every life, including yours and mine. There will be suffering and death along with love, joy, and resurrection. Most of us are so resistant to accepting suffering that Jesus walked through it himself and said, “Follow me.” He showed us that on the other side of suffering is transformation. 

We had to see the pain, we had feel the ache in our bones to truly know and believe the pattern, which is evident in all things around us, which is life:

Suffering. Transformation. Resurrection.

 

 

In the cosmos, in nature, in our own lives.

 

 

 

It is faith, that’s what I believe, the grand promise.

Something beautiful will come of this.

 

 

Tomorrow will be better.

 

XXOO

I’ve written of Richard Rohr’s meditation series before on The Daily Grace, and perhaps you’ve already received the passage referenced here. If not, here is a link to the January 4th devotional, titled Original Blessing

 

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Resolutions and Such

 

morning sky

 

There is the immense possibility of it all.
That is, I suppose, what makes new beginnings so wildly compelling.
So absolutely irresistible.

And then there is the attention we bring to the things, our aim narrowly focused on the act of manifesting something valuable and life affirming on our own clean slate–one barely wiped free of last year’s grime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Just yesterday–the first Sunday of this new year–I opened to the first page of a beautiful new journal, one sent to me by my sister-in-law, Colette. It was many years ago; she brought the book home with her from Florence, Italy, her thoughtful note suggesting I might fill it with “lots of great stories.” Instead I tucked it away in my library for safekeeping, my saver’s heart insisting I hold out, insisting I wait–as if expecting some grand inspiration worthy of such a magnificent volume.

For years the book has rested there, patient. Empty. Silent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have found it to be true that when you noodle around with an idea, when you toss around a thought but don’t do anything to give it actual shape, or form, it will fade–even if your noodling keeps it alive (but barely breathing) for many years. But the moment you write it down it becomes something else entirely, an intention, a force in the universe. Not only that, but the universe will rearrange to accommodate it, to support you, to give mass and momentum to your little creation.

And so I spent a good part of the day Sunday sifting through the things that float around in my head, the hundreds of maybes and what-ifs and I shoulds, many of them new and shiny, others tired and thin but still hanging on. I gave each of them equal weight as I considered their place in my life today. What matters now?  I asked. It was a question that came as if I have moved beyond something, toward something, into something new as I wade deeper into my 57th year. And then for the first time ever I also considered: What good intentions can I bless and release?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I pulled the elegant Florence journal from the bookshelf and opened it to Page One. I began to write.  2016 Life List is what came first. Then I captured 10 thoughts into which I could put my heart.

Some of these are easy:

4. Schedule exercise.

Some require a bit more effort:

10. See the best in people.

Then just as I finished the list something came to me, divine direction that formed of its own, a whisper from God, an addendum.

Live in the space of joy, it said.

I grabbed it, wrote it down, gave it form.

#11. Live in the space of joy.

 

It is the perfect #11 for my 2016 List of Ten, don’t you think? This sweet thought that has come and wrapped itself all around, reminding me joy is a choice to be made.

It’s going to be a very good year, I believe. A very good year, indeed.

XXOO

 

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the moon, the stars, and the sunrise

 

IMG_4393

It’s all coming so fast: the push to college graduation, the pollen dive into Spring, the walk through this Holy Week. Today’s Maundy Thursday leads inevitably to the solemness of tomorrow’s Good Friday. But even in that darkness we rush to Easter, our sights trained squarely on the coming joy. We know how the story ends, we Christians, and it’s somehow less awful if we somehow skip straight there.

(Is there any other explanation for the misnomer Good Friday?)

There’s an extra detail to mind this time around. Saturday night we’ll also see a full moon–the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. It’s called the Paschal Moon, and it tells us Easter will fall on the next Sunday. How fabulous that this year it just happens to be the very next day.

I’m fascinated by the earth and sky, the moon and stars and how they keep us in time. I’ll be watching.

And I’ll say a little prayer of Thanksgiving for the appearance of the Paschal Moon that comes to signal this sunrise–the one that brings our joy as the light of lights shines bright over the Earth, and once again, we receive the grace of the greatest miracle of them all.

 

 

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Word for the Year (v.4)

http://instagram.com/thedailygraceIt came to me easy this time, so obvious a choice my reaction was resist. It was still December, after all, and entirely too soon for the thing to appear. Still there it was.

Listen the word said. Listen.

THAT’S JUST WHAT I WILL DO! I thought.  I’ll wait, and watch, and in due time–typically a week or two after the new year has begun; once panic has fully set in–in due time, my word will drift in and alight, knowing eventually I will take note and grab hold. It’s happened three times before, you see, the January arrival of My Word for the Year, my guiding star as I move through the next 12 months of my life.

Listen is what it said.

~~~~~

This word business is not the sort of thing you can force, that I have learned. You can’t pick it out of a hat, or select it just because you like the sound of it, or adopt someone else’s–not if you want your word to do its work in your life. You can’t choose it at all, if you wanna know the truth, because somehow, in some mysterious way–if you pay attention–your word will find you.

~~~~~~~

And so I waited as words came and words went. And then this morning I awoke with it both in my head and on my heart, unmistakable in its insistence.

Listen, it said.

Listen.






Past Words:

2014:  Word for the Year (v.3)

2013: Word for the year (v.2)

2012: Word for the Year (v.1)

*A continued thank you to Winn Collier for introducing the concept of a Word for the Year to me via his marvelous blog four years ago.

#2: On Becoming #LifeYouWantDC

you-are-builtMany, many years ago, I was standing at the movie popcorn counter (so long ago the movie was An Officer and a Gentleman) when I began to feel faint. The next thing I knew I was lying on the floor looking up into the concerned face of my boyfriend–a face that in that moment was familiar but that I couldn’t place. I remember working hard to figure out where I was, feeling as if I were making my way back into consciousness and my body. More specifically, I remember scanning and thinking Okay now, which life is this?

And that’s not the most interesting part of the experience. What’s more remarkable was the sense I had just before “waking” that I was in a space of complete calm and serenity. For a nanosecond, and in a nanosecond, every gigantic life question I had was answered, every grand mystery was solved. It was as if the universe unfolded before me, perfect and complete, and I felt no struggle or doubt at all, just a deep and divine understanding of how it all works, how it has worked since the beginning of time.

I was questionless, and therefore, at complete peace.

I felt a similar moment of divine clarity last weekend at Oprah’s The Life You Want Conference. In a magnificent red dress, Oprah opened the conference with two hours of the personal stories that ignited her passion for helping others find and manifest their own calling. If you want to live the highest expression of yourself, she said, you cannot go about it passively. You have to pay attention to your intention. Then she put it more simply.

You become what you believe, not what you wish for.

Boom.

You are living the reality of your beliefs right now.

Boom. Boom.

I heard her, and I wrote it down. And then I sat there in that dark venue surrounded by thousands and thousands of people unable to let go of the thought, unable to hear what came next. Instead I sat there thinking about how true the concept is, how layered, how profound. I thought about how much of my life is joyful, and how my beliefs have shaped that joy. And then I got honest about the time I’ve spent wrestling, how much energy I’ve devoted to the ’round and ’round dance of intention and doubt. What space will open up, I wonder, when I acknowledge and deal with my true beliefs?

What a gift it is to move on through life with the clarity that this is how it works.

You become what you believe, not what you wish for.

Oh, yes.

Thank you, Oprah. Thank you.

 

 

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Being Resolutionless

When the ball dropped and the champagne flutes clinked and the lovers kissed and the calendar clicked over to 2014—signaling that greatest of “do-over” opportunities, a brand new year—I missed it all. I was in bed with the covers over my head, so sick with the flu the best I could do was try to make it through the next five minutes.

It. Was. Awful.

And that is how I find myself here, now, without a single New Year’s resolution.

It’s the thought that was on my mind when I woke up Saturday morning, looked out at the lazy, rainy morning and wondered what I might have on the Okay, it’s January agenda. Without a “get serious about exercise” or a “drink more water, for real this time” or an “okay, now about those carbs” in sight, I decided to create a new kind of resolution list, one designed purely to up my happy quotient. Here goes.

  1. Cook more in Mom’s cast iron skillet.
  2. Hang out with friends.
  3. Buy presents, just because.
  4. Burn the candles.
  5. Make things.
  6. Play outside.
  7. Laugh. Out loud.

I think it’s a good list, don’t you? A happy list. A list of resolutions that, for the first time in my life, I might actually keep.

To which I must say: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! And happy 2014 to you!

 

 

New Beginnings

This is what I love most about tennis: The game starts over with every serve. 

It has to do with the way the game is structured, from the unusual score-keeping Deuce (clean slate) to a new set (clean slate) to the tie-break (clean slate). Every point offers a shot at redemption.

~~~~~~~~~~~

How blessed we are that life is like a game of tennis is the conclusion I came to this morning as I lay in bed looking toward the french doors, the ones that offer such pretty views of Bickley’s Pond. It is Thanksgiving, and I was thinking about my life, all its colors and textures, all I have to be grateful for. That’s when the question came to me, the one I pondered a good long time.

But what am I most thankful for?

I watched through the doors as the flat gray sky burst into the brilliant orange that marks a November sunrise.

I am thankful every day offers the chance to begin again.

To make good on promises, to get things done, to go in a different direction. To learn something new, to plan for tomorrow, to live in the moment. To be a better friend, sister, mother, daughter, wife. To forgive more freely. To love more fully. To look beyond, to look within, to go deep. To laugh out loud. To be still. To pray with conviction. To believe. To hold close. To let go. To give away. To receive, wide open and with joy. To be whole-hearted. To be contented. To stretch. To remember. To celebrate.

To give it another try.

To be thankful. To be truly, humbly thankful.

 

I wish you rich blessings, my friend, this Thanksgiving day, and always.

 

On Being Insanely Nice*

Mrs. Cibber as Cordelia (King Lear), Yale Center for British Art

I’m headed to Birmingham, he said, softly kissing my sleeping face in the darkness. Be back tonight.

I swam hard for the shore of awake that I might properly tell him goodbye, have a good meeting, be safe. But of course by then he was gone, the sound of the garage door closing behind him. And so I lay there thinking of the dream I had just been in, wondering where the story came from, what it all meant. And in a matter of moments I was fully awake, ready to get on with the day.

Coffee in hand (yes, he made coffee for me before leaving), I opened my laptop to find this email among the heap of overnight arrivals.

I clicked, and here was Number One the list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

1. “Take your time. I’m not in a rush.”

This one is great for the grocery store, the takeout burrito restaurant or anywhere else that involves really tired people trying their best, even as they fumble and flail. For example, the woman in front of you pays the cashier but then has to rifle through her overstuffed wallet to put away the change, then store the receipt, then mash the whole fat leather money accordion into her purse. She will usually complete this action with frantic fingers because she knows she’s delaying the whole line; she knows everybody just wants to go home; and she knows she should not save old, mostly-used-up gift cards with 63 cents on them. Telling her to “Take your time. I’m not in rush” always sets off the same reaction: first, surprise (really? because everybody’s in a rush…) and then a flash of sweet wide-open relief. You have just given somebody a three-minute holiday, not from the stress of life, but from the stress we put on ourselves.

Yes, I thought, remembering the power of my recent grocery store exchange. Yes, such a tiny little gesture, a gift returned to me in the kind acknowledgement of a stranger, this woman who, like me, is simply doing the best she can.

I clicked to #2. And #3. And on through Leigh Newman’s list of 10 Insanely Nice Things You Can Say To Anybody.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. What important kindnesses to remember.

*As it turns out, this is a 2-part post. Part One: On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter