May the blessing of Light be on you, light without and light within… – Irish blessing
Today is the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. In many ways this day is a pause, a time to look toward lighter days, to begin anew, to put those things which weigh us down behind. It can be a passage from darkness toward light.
This year has flown by, and has been filled with joy in many ways, and yet it has been difficult, as well. Sometimes, I’m quick to wonder about the hard days. Why do we have them? But without the difficulties and darkness, the light and our growth would not seem as bright. Without the challenges, we aren’t stretched and pulled out of our comfort zones so that we can grow and become stronger. When we grow stronger, we also shine more brightly.
2017 has taken our world to places we couldn’t have previously imagined. The road has been winding, involving politics and natural disasters and diagnoses, but also has held the beauty of births and friendships and travels and the blessing of the grind of busy days. The normal days with dinnertimes and work commutes can wear us down, but it is in those busy times when a moment of truth will catch my breath. The normal days are gifts, too.
In January, I decided my 2017 word for the year would be Love. Before and after and during all of life, the most important element is love. Probably the hardest thing to do in life, especially when things are difficult, is to love.
Tonight, I take inventory of the past year. What do I want to continue? What do I need to stop? Where am I heading? And where do I want to go with my life? The days we are given are fleeting. At times like this I remember how important it is to live fully, every moment. These dark days of December are precious, perfect for reflection, for remembering what is most important, and for calibrating where we want to go in the new year.
Light, Life, Love
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5
We are each gifted in a unique and important way. It is our privilege and our adventure to discover our own special light. – Evelyn Dunbar
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within. – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Love is not consolation. It is light. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. – Rabindranath Tagore
At the beginning of every recent year, I search for a word and / or quote for my year ahead. It’s something that is a balm to me for the coming changes and the daunting climb ahead through a new year.
The team at GreatNewBooks.org all talk about our words / quotes / or lack thereof. I’m fascinated by others’ choices and reasoning behind them. Definitely, listening to friends working through their hopes for the year ahead affects me. This year has been one of a prolonged search.
I first found this quote by Saint Teresa of Avila:
It is not a matter of thinking a great deal but of loving a great deal, so do whatever arouses you most to love. – Teresa of Avila
My word for 2017 is love. Love works through and in everything for the better. There is no one situation that love will not solve. Even (especially) in a house full of teenage boys, love smoothes out each day, each interaction, each word.
I tend to overthink things. I appreciate Teresa’s words on not thinking a great deal, but simply doing what brings us to act in love. Yes.
A writing friend I met several years ago at a conference, and have stayed in touch since, has been through tremendous pain and suffering in the past month. Her daughter, who had cystic fibrosis, was put into surgery for a lung transplant after more than 2 years of waiting at the hospital far from their home. She didn’t make it, after all the complications. My friend has written prolifically since then. Part of their story can be found here: https://9livesnotes.com/
One of Maryanne’s photos she shared was of a quote by Tennessee Williams, which her daughter Caitlyn wrote out. This quote has not left me. This is the truth of life …
Isn’t this the truth of life?
“The world is violent and mercurial–it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love–love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”
― Tennessee Williams
There are only so many days ahead to love well those who have been placed into our lives, whether they’re a passing stranger or a family member. More than anything, we need to love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
Along with so many, I’m deeply saddened by the week’s events, first by the news story coming out of Stanford about an Ohio male’s acts of disrespect, and then out of Orlando and the devastation at a nightclub there. It’s unthinkable, and makes me want to bury my head in the sand. But that’s not ever helpful.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said so well, “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”
If we could remember and live out that everyone is a person of worth, differences or no, our world would be a different world altogether. This is what I believe.
As Martin Luther King Jr. also said,
“Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.”
“You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.”
And so there are always limits to what the human spirit should bear. There must be limits. There is always a boundary which needs to be drawn, a line in the sand which says, “Do not cross this.” There is always a consequence every decision, either for the better, improving life, or destroying it. There is no in between. Again, as Martin Luther King Jr. said so well …
“The time is being fulfilled and the light shall shine, perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.” – Eberhard Arnold
There is something about this time of year in the depths of December when the winter solstice weighs on the Northern Hemisphere. My friend Lindsey Mead writes extensively about the winter solstice and it being a touchstone for us in the patterns of our lives. The darkness, the quiet — they define late December for me, too.
Another dear writing friend, Katie Noah Gibson, recommended a book to me last year, one that because of her rich recommendation and the compelling title and the featured authors, I bought a copy and dove in. It became one of the books I treasure and knew I would come back to year after year, especially in this Advent season. It is called WATCH FOR THE LIGHT.
Watch for the Light. Yes. During the darkest time of the year, we look to, and for, the light.
It’s not that the frenzy of the end of the year and heading into Christmas is dark, but sometimes — oftentimes — it’s missing meaning. What is the rushing around for? Why do we give and share gifts? How can we rediscover the importance of watching for the light, as we light candles and look to the true gifts of the season? A book like WATCH FOR THE LIGHT is a sort of reset button, that puts a pause on many of the things that steal my time and energy and help me remember the perspective in it all. This dark solstice Christmas and Advent season is one of my favorite times of year for pressing reset.
In Watch for the Light, there are essays by favorite authors of mine: Annie Dillard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Merton, Lewis, Nouwen, and Madeleine L’Engle, but it is one by an author I hadn’t previously read that I’ve ear-tabbed and underlined and read many times since that has impacted me the most. His name is Eberhard Arnold, a German who defected in the early 1930s with his family and community to the Alps, who had lived not far from the Czech / German border, a region which I’ve traveled through and stayed in many times. He says:
“The time is being fulfilled and the light shall shine, perhaps just when it seems to us that the darkness is impenetrable.” … “Wherever love proceeds from us and becomes truth, the time is fulfilled. Then the divine life floods through our human relationships and all our works. Then everything that is lonely and scattered and seeking for the way of God shall be bound together by divine power. Then, of human effort and of the divine miracle, shall the world be born in which Christmas is fulfilled as reality.” – Eberhard Arnold, page 284
Love, truth, darkness, and light. Light will and does shine.
During this season of frenzy and dark, we can watch for the light.
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“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” – Edith Sitwell
Winter is an enchanted time for me. I love the cold, dark nights and days of frost and snow (though the snow in Boston sounds horrific right now). I love the pots of soup my husband cooks up on winter weekends. I love time beside the fire, snuggling down beneath heavy blankets, and the warm hand of the one I love in mine. I enjoy a bit of hibernation, as we call it around our house, but by February, I’m feeling the nudge toward light, and spring.
4 Things I Love This February
This week at Great New Books, I’m recommending a book I enjoyed very much, Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner. It is the story of Emmeline and Julia, two sisters evacuated from London before the Blitz bombings in WWII. If you liked Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper, or Jojo Moyes’s The Girl You Left Behind, you’ll love Secrets of a Charmed Life. Click here to read more (live on Wednesday, 2/11/15).
Also, I’ve recently finished reading the stunning novel The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s the story of a Baptist preacher-turned-missionary who takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The voices of the females are captivating, and the story is oh, so powerful. I loved it.
“For women like me, it seems, it’s not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings. Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either–the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart. Let men write those stories. I can’t. I only know the middle ground where we live our lives. We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending. Don’t dare presume there’s shame in the lot of a woman who carries on.” -page 383, The Poisonwood Bible
This chocolate is fueling me through the winter. My favorite is the Venezuela Dark Chocolate with Brazilian Coast Sea Salt. It’s a mix of salty with rich. I hope Costco will sell them forever.
There is nothing like a new canvas on the easel, the smell of oil paint as it dries for weeks as I write daily, and the accomplishment of a painting created entirely with my own head, hands, and heart, where once there had only been a blank white canvas. This is my latest, of Venice, Italy.
We’ve had frequent snow and ice here in Cincinnati this winter, and in an otherwise bleak, brown landscape, I love seeing (and feeding) the birds. The backyard birds become long term residents, and if I might say also, friends. Here, two favorite photos I’ve taken this winter.
What do you love this February? Have a wonderful Valentine’s week, showing that extra bit of love to your loved ones. xo
O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
-Francis Scott Key, 4th Stanza, Star-Spangled Banner
Just days ago, I reentered the USA for a few weeks’ visit after 3 years of living abroad. I’ve lived in Prague, Czech Republic, Eastern Europe with my family as expats. We really have enjoyed our time and incredible experiences there. But, there is no place like home: the United States of America.
A few months ago, my boys and I agreed to take care of a friend’s birds while she was away from Prague this summer. Since my 10-year-old son also has a sweet parakeet, newly acquired with his allowance and doused with doting and love, we all thought we knew what to expect. But within the first day, we knew we were wrong. The two visiting parakeets were the bird form of Jackie Gleason and Audrey Meadows with their tempestuous relationship in the Honeymooners. The male ignores the female, and, in turn, she picks—or pecks—on him endlessly. The poor blue male is now bald on his head and lame on his foot, and his tail feathers are all askew. There is not much left of the male from all of the female’s pecking.
It reminds me of a human situation that happens so often, don’t you think? Spouse to spouse, parent to child, child to parent – the pecking happens. The result becomes a miserable cage.
I have long admired American poet Maya Angelou, and especially love her poem, excerpted above and below, with the famous line “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“A free bird leaps on the back Of the wind and floats downstream Till the current ends and dips his wing In the orange sun’s rays And dares to claim the sky.”
“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” -Martin Luther
There has always been a place in my heart for springtime … for singing birds and burgeoning buds and subtle colors of the world reemerging. Winter and the brown, bleak world of bitter cold brings me to the place in February that when I see that first hint of green, I rejoice. The world comes alive again. In the monochrome flatness of winter, life seems impossible. And yet it comes.
Every year at Easter, I experience that same wash of feeling — that wonder of knowing that despite all the bleakness of our world, love comes in and makes all things new. That despite me and the countless offenses within and lived out, that the God who loves us all knows all the darkness within me and still freely gives new life. A gift, unspeakably great.
This Easter, the rebirth seems impossible as every year. And yet Love comes and makes life and light. A promise lived out in every leaf in springtime …
You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle. -Steve Jobs, excerpted from his 2005 Stanford University commencement address
I remember one hot August evening, sitting with my husband after putting our three boys to bed for the night. It was one of those nights where exhaustion was a key word, yet I still had energy. I felt restless …
I had to ask the question, WHY? I was living a vivid dream. I had always hoped to be a mom, and our boys at that time were tiny–ages 4, 2, and 1. It was fun, and yet demanding in a way I had never imagined. Being a mom (and having fun at it) is hard work! I loved what I was doing, but I felt like something was missing. Something that was me, the essence of me.
My husband asked, then, “Well, what can I do to help? What do you want to do? Go back to work?” I couldn’t imagine going back to work full-time for my degree, mechanical engineering. I had the degree from a prestigious university, but it was something I didn’t like doing or even remotely enjoy. What did I want to do? What had I always wanted to do?
“No. No engineering, no matter what the pay. Can’t do it.” Long pause. A whisper came out that took us both by surprise. “I want to write a book.”
From that day forward, I knew what my heart wanted to do. Write. What began with non-fiction soon veered toward what I truly love: writing novels. And though it is long, hard work full of endless study, critique, and rejection while trying to break in, it is what I love. A matter of the heart.
I love Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech from 2005 because I find it to be so true. He talks about the Calligraphy class he took in college and how it later affected his development work with Apple. (My favorite class at college was Flower Arranging.) Those little things, the pieces of life that we enjoy but don’t really add up at the time, someday can be seen as a dot on an ever-emerging picture. That picture is us, individually and collectively, doing and immersing ourselves in the work that we love deeply. The picture of doing what we were created to do is amazing — the sky is the limit with the possibilities. Just ask Steve Jobs, college drop-out and calligraphy connoisseur. It’s amazing what we can do when we pour our hearts into our work, and become our best because we’re doing what we love to do.
How about you? What do you love to do? Haven’t found it yet? I’ve heard advice on finding what it is we love to do — three things to consider:
1) What is it that you loved to do as a child and growing up?
2) What can you be doing and lose complete track of time? When five hours feels like five minutes?
3)What does the quiet tug on your heart tell you that you’ve always wanted to try?
Probably the best thing is not to quit the day job to do what you love, at least at first. Even Steve Jobs started working with his dreams from his parents’ garage.
Start small, pursue the dream, don’t give up.
How about you? Have you found what you love to do? Any tips to share on trying to find that thing that you love to do?
One of the most marked-up books in our home library is a book that changed my life. Years ago, several years into the Mom journey, I bumped into a book called Tender Mercy for a Mother’s Soul by Angela Thomas. With a title like that, and knowing how little mercy I felt in my role as a mom, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t read it just once, but many times, highlighting and taking notes as I went. Somehow, Angela’s words touched me and changed my life forever.
Specifically hard-hitting for me was a section on Grace, something I knew very little about (and am still learning more of everyday). Angela talks about a Woman of Grace and writes out a humorous but true List of Rules every mom thinks she should abide by. She writes, “We believe there is a list of rules out there, and if we can just find the list and keep all the rules, then life will be happy and good.” And so starts her top ten list of things every “good mother should do.” (1. A good mother should prepare homemade, well-balanced meals…) It is too easy to believe that if somehow we can just keep the rules, then we’ll find “happiness.”
Every area of life has a list to abide by, but Angela writes “grace has the power to free me from all the unwritten lists that want to steal my joy and run my life. Thanks be to God, grace makes life more than a list of rules to keep.” Grace, she says, frees us from bondage to enjoy the blessings in our life.
I remember also one of the stand-out stories for me—Angela recalls a friend’s biggest personal news to share was fixing the screen on her sliding patio door. The woman’s life, she writes, completely revolved around her children. How easy it is to procrastinate taking care of our own souls, as moms, and say things like, “When the baby is out of diapers … or when the kids are out of school …” etc, then we’ll start to think about cultivating ourselves. Until we can take care of ourselves and invest in what also makes us tick, our lives can be just about as fulfilling as fixing the screen door.
From my own experience, I’ve watched parents pour everything into their kids without thinking a thing for what they are doing—pushing their children onto a pedestal and putting them into a role that they certainly cannot fulfill. Our children are not made to be our everything. They are made to be loved. And out of love for our children, we as moms have to invest in ourselves as well. Our families cannot be it. They cannot complete the hole in our hearts that can only be filled by God, and pursuing also that for which he created us to be. For when our children leave home, and they will, we need to have something other than their absence to dwell on, and something more than falling to pieces to do with ourselves.
Maybe one of the greatest gifts we could give our spouse and children comes by investing in ourselves—even just a smidge every day—so that when our children grow up we still have something of ourselves intact and healthy. It’s important to find sanity as a mom—three basics I think help tremendously:
I heard one of the best pieces of advice for moms from a pediatrician, who recommended a guilt-free “prescription” for Me time for every new mom—minimum one hour each week. However it happens, every human being needs a block of time to remember who they are, separate from the endless demands of work and / or motherhood. Time to go out to lunch with a friend, to take a run through the park, to find the perfect flowers to plant in the Spring garden—time to be.
Invest in yourself, learn a new skill—read a new book, take a new class, learn a new language, travel to a new place. We need the opportunity to continue becoming our very best—to continue to learn even while we are moms.
The First Book of Corinthians, chapter 13 speaks on Love, and says Love is to guide all we do. When we take some time each day to be still, pray, and let God take the edges off our hearts, He refills us with love and grace for our lives and for our families. We don’t even have to try to do it all ourselves.
The Result is to Thrive:To Thrive is the picture of health and vigor, growing naturally and allowing the life from within to take root. Like a beautiful flower, dazzling with dew in the sun, we can thrive, let our lives shine, and let love take root to grow and bloom with healthy lives.
I count my husband and children as some of my greatest blessings. Each day is truly a gift. I want to enjoy these days, this short time I have to be with them until they are on their own. But it can’t be done by smothering them, by hovering over their every move, or by making them the center of my universe. It can only be done by starting with myself …
To grace, and health, and all things new during this season of rebirth and Spring and Lent,
PS. A friend of mine, TJ Wilson, blogged about being a mom, and a book that helped in her life: click here for the link to her post on She’s Gonna Blow!
Starting the conversation(click below to leave a comment): Is there a book, or mentor, or other help in your life that has helped you become a healthier human being? What pieces of your life can you count as investing in you?