Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Shame on Me.


Mom voices in my head at every move. I hear the constant murmur of advice laced with warning. Moms should...moms shouldn’t...shame on you, Mom. Blogs and books and self-help—newspaper articles and magazine columns and radio talk show hosts.

 Those voices were loud when my kids were babies. I trembled in my tired, baby-weighted body when I realized I did the opposite of the latest advice. I struggled against my instinct to snuggle my crying one and let them “cry it out”...that only lasted with the first...and it didn’t even last—45 mins of crying and I couldn’t handle it. I raced upstairs at 2 a.m., snatched him from the crib he had gnawed on as he screamed, and implemented midnight co-sleeping for the rest of my motherhood of babies. I can easily admit that now—but four kids later, I will also admit the sharp guilt that stabbed me at every turn away from the latest and greatest mom shoulda’s. (BTW, my kids grew up and sleep in their own beds—mamas, it doesn’t last forever).

Last night, I made a mama call. And, I wasn’t ashamed one bit....um, well... Shame does seem to lessen when you are over 40 and master selective-hearing/reading/advice-seeking. So, hubs was out of town and Mama and oldest had to divvy up driving kids everywhere. I opted to let my 2nd grader skip her activity to help us all out.

Even though I was relieved to find a solution to our crazy, I confess—some mom perfection niggled at my tired brain—Don’t let the team down! The coaches are spending their night for your kid! You need to teach responsibility and commitment! Ok, that was more than a niggle.

Moms, did the activity priority make its way to the top because of all the experts out there? What kinda guilt is piled on one parent to invest in their child at a professional level by the age 2?

 I am preaching to myself—the mom who’s kids are in a high level sport development program, the mom who sought the best dance program for her 3 year old, the mom who just makes the crazy work for the sake of her kids’ [future]. Holy moly, if only our limited view wasn’t so flawed. If only I’d look up every once in a while and realize I am not really in control of futures...I am only a mom trying to invest in her kids’ present. Jack Black is screaming in my head,”Stick it to the man!”

But really, I am going to do what I can do—I can’t let expectations or columnists or activity directors or—even more powerful—other parents—(yikes)—dictate my philosophies. Philosophies? How about survival to bring up decent humans and enjoy some of the process? A low key philosophy I am beginning to own more and more. I will do a lot for my children, I have... but I might start doing more with my hands covering my ears—and my heart focused on being...and NOT doing so much.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Standing in the Contrast




Last night, I sat with my husband and celebrated 19 years of marriage. Almost 23 years of knowing him. That’s over half my life with the guy. I can honestly say...we’re not sick of each other yet. :P
Trust me, there have been seasons....

 The last half of 2018 was weird for me...and it has stuck through the New Year. It’s like I am standing in a big room of treasures and all the shine has dulled, and I want to fall to my knees and cry. Pretty specific, right?
But life’s joys have only come hand in hand with trials and heartache, and the world’s stuff has suddenly become clutter and ridiculous—like partying among the starving, dumping money while a man without a roof sits and watches. I am not saying that I don't enjoy life, but in some instances I sense that my heart is stripped bare, and I realize that I've been a sucker for a wrong way of thinking--being. I feel like 1984, Brave New World, and The Hunger Games are more than fiction, but dire warnings of what world I am offering to my kids.

Yesterday, I sat in my son's counselor’s office and flipped through the book of The Great LIFE Photographers. The photographs mostly dated between 1930’s to 1980’s. I’d see dolled up Marilyn Monroe amidst horrific shots of massacres and POW’s. There were gorgeous first photos of life in the womb and devastated humanity weeping over carnage. I wish I could say I walked away appreciating life, but my heart is still disturbed by the contrasts.

No one moment in time is pure and good. I breathe air in my comfortable suburban neighborhood and kiss my kids before they leave, while someone sits among rubble and weeps over their dead child in a war-torn country.

 The gratitude I felt for this media mingled with the hypocrisies I hear for/against the same media. These days, we think reporters, photographers, newscasters are either lying to us in the most underhanded way, or we completely devour what they tell us if it aligns with our own opinion.

I see the poles of extremism wreaking havoc on our world when I look at the pictures of the past. And after the humanity captured in these pages, and shown to us in each generation,  I don’t understand how we are still gathering around those poles today.

We are just not enough. Everything is dulled. We can't save the world, and the world is certainly not saving us. Our cultures are bankrupt--some in the physical sense and some in their very human spirit. The good deed will always pale in comparison to the horror over there.

I sat at our anniversary dinner last night and shared with my husband my impressions of the book. I am pretty careful with him when it comes to “overspiritualizing”. I used to be preachy and angry, but then I grew up. Now, we have some great conversations learning to talk in the contrast of atheist vs. believer.

 But, last night, I was so overwhelmed by the havoc of that book on my heart I just spilled it...

 “I get Christ more.”

 And, my husband, gracious as he is, was ok with it.

I get the message more. The absolute explosive message of Christ. Everything Christ pointed out and condemned was followed up by Grace that really didn't make sense to the listener. Obviously it didn't because look at us still--cringing at the different, celebrating death for gain, ignoring the breadline forming beneath the billboard of a happy suburban family living "The American Dream".

These worldly boundaries that defy, or deny, the human spirit aren't in Christ's message at all.

Yet, in our corrupt humanity, we are valuable. Christ came to salvage it all because we are all valuable. Do I treat every person I see as valuable? I am the worst of these...

 So, these past 19 years have brought me to a place where I stand in the contrast. I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to be duped by the pull of bankrupt life. I have this partner who allows me to weep and fume and smile and share—for 19 years we are finally getting real.
 Life is real.
And it’s fleeting. It’s fleeting here in Suburbia, and there in war-torn Syria. I pray that for as many moments my husband and I have shared in 19 years, we discover and grapple with the realness of life enough to fill up and pour out my humanity for another 19.

Friday, November 30, 2018

I remember Jimi

Leni and Jimi's wedding
When I was a freshman in college, I went to this wedding. It was my first ever (that I can remember). I was even a bridesmaid, too.

I looked at the bride and groom and thought,

"I am soooooo not ready to be like that!" 

They were so in love with each other--so ready to commit. This college party girl could not imagine such a thing.

No thank you.

But, my cousin (the bride) was someone I had looked up to all my childhood. She taught me about the Bangles, and fashion, and rollerskating (in our yiayia's basement), and, on that day of her wedding, even if I wasn't quite ready for owning the reality for myself, she gave me a glimpse of what life could be like on the arm of a dream guy.
My daughter and Leni's daughter, look-a-likes

Fast forward (after meeting my dream guy a couple months later...and then marrying him a few years later), my new husband and I visit my cousin Leni and Jimi--and I fall in love with their toddler who had been an infant on my wedding day. She was the sweetest little toddler I'd ever seen. My husband and I weren't ready for children yet--no way. But, I can't deny that hanging out with my cousin's daughter that weekend planted a smidge of longing in my heart for my next adventure--motherhood.

More forward motion...and I find myself with four kids, one little daughter (who is literally the twin of Eleni's oldest--especially during each of their toddler/elementary years).  Jimi, now an Orthodox priest lends me his ear, over a message here or there, and then in brief conversation as I struggle in the darkest valley of my life. I'll not forget the man's wisdom, and his declaration of God's grace and love that I had hardly grappled with until that point. Those were probably some of the last conversations I had with Jimi, come to think of it.

Leni and me with my oldest, and her second
My cousin Leni and her husband Jimi have not just been in my life as extended family, but as I look back, God used them in my life in pretty significant ways. I never had older siblings--maybe they filled in those roles without knowing it? I don't know. All I know is, that I can honestly say that Leni had an impact on my growing up, and they both gave me an unmoving example of solidarity in love and faith through my young adult years.

Why am I writing all this?

Well, Jimi, the dream guy of my cousin, the other half of the couple who showed me the path that I wanted for my own life, (even though I didn't realize it until I'd followed the path on my own), over the past few years, that man has struggled, triumphed, and struggled some more with brain cancer.

I didn't really see him during that time. I had the chance to spend a few hours with them this summer. And I am so grateful for those moments--no matter how short. Because on this last day of November, Jesus decided that Jimi and his family had finished their battle, and Jimi went Home.

My husband and Jimi--a long time ago
Through all I know, or the little that I really do, even with distance constantly between us--and communication lacking because of seasons, I can honestly declare that Leni has proven a good and faithful servant, caring for, hoping for, loving so much--Jimi, the good and faithful servant ushered through Heaven's threshold today.

My sweet cousin has been a light of true faith in all this--doing everything a woman can do to care for the love of her life until the end.

Oh, PRAISE GOD it's not the end, really.

Jimi's there, beside His Savior, no wheelchair, no tumor, just JOY in the God that He chose to serve on Earth.

I'll always remember his enthusiasm for things he loved, for the people he loved, for his three children, for the amazing Leni. I didn't see them often, but when I did, nothing ever changed. They were a solid rock of a couple. A reason to believe that God brought them together, and they were meant to be.

Thank you Father Jimi Foreso, for taking Leni's hand and setting an example for all to see--as a husband, a father, and a child of God.

God Bless Your family, and May Your Memory Be Eternal.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Join Me in an Advent of Solitude

"One of the new challenges of our generation is the impact of technology on spirituality. This warrants serious consideration. If we are not careful, technology has a way of compromising our ability to present to ourselves, to God and to each other--all of which are fundamental elements of spiritual life...Exhaustion sets in when we are too accessible too much of the time.

A soul-numbing sadness comes when we realize that a certain quality of life and quality of presence is slipping away as a result of too much "convenience"."

-Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton

MY LONGING:

The author just described the underlying reaction I feel after a bout of losing myself behind a screen:

Soul-numbing sadness.

I can hardly go an hour without reaching for my phone, just to check in--no matter what I am doing-- writing a novel, playing with my kids, praying, reading a devotional. Everything I do, has room for a screen check.

I've trained myself to be connected ALL.THE.TIME. But, when it comes to connecting with God, I've squeezed that time to connect into the slivers of seconds between life and screen checks. Hardly any time at all.

Something deep inside me knows this is not how I am suppose to live the moments of this life. Deep down inside me, I know that I've been sabotaged, and I've allowed it to happen.

MY QUEST:
So this Advent season, I am going to be more mindful of SOLITUDE, rather than screen time. I am going to use the extra moments, or the actual moments, to tap into the quiet, to dip my attention into the present, and to find a new rhythm for my living--I hope to be transforming to spiritual wakefulness on a consistent basis.

I am dedicating this next season as an ADVENT OF SOLITUDE.

Does this sound like something you'd like to do? Does this resonate with your heart at all? I've spoken with many friends who feel the same longing, who have actually taken time apart from social media because of the noise, and the need for quiet. Does this interest you, too?

Check out the invitation below:


THE INVITATION:

Join me in an ADVENT of SOLITUDE.

First things first.

WHAT IS ADVENT?  The period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

WHAT IS SOLITUDE? The quality or state of being alone (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) OR according to Ruth Haley Barton, "An opportunity to interrupt this cycle {constant noise of our society} by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing."

The only relationship that I've found to satisfy my longing, has been through Christ. He is the wholeness of life, the one who has given me a hope and a Way to live into each next step. I've lost my connection with Him, to be quite honest. And so, I am going to offer Him this next season of Advent where we focus on His birth, to bear a new rhythm that connects me to Him.

An ADVENT of SOLITUDE  is  a season of FASTING from social media connection, and instead, connecting to God in   SOLITUDE,   PRAYING,  AND   BEING   PRESENT, with the hope of transforming  daily life into a rhythm that syncs with God (more than WiFi). ;)     

THE CHALLENGE:

A SEASON: For the weeks of Advent, I'll disconnect from social media for a certain amount of time, and carve in time for Solitude. I am choosing to disconnect all Advent long, except for the Monday morning check-ins. If you choose to join in this Advent of Solitude, do what you feel is best for you (although, I strongly recommend disconnecting for a good long while. It truly is good for the soul. :) )

DAILY: Each morning, I'll spend some quiet in prayer--just God and me. I am going to buy an actual alarm clock and keep my phone away from my bedside. I hope to buy a journal as well. It has been a few years since I journaled my prayers. It's a wonderful way to stay focused on what my heart wants to say.

WEEKLY: Each week, I will carve out an extended amount of time to just spend time in Solitude. God and me only. Praying, but not reading. Sitting and listening. Breathing. Allowing God to speak, to move, to enjoy my undivided attention. (I will probably do this on Saturday morning for an hour or two while the family is asleep.)

CHECK-INS: Each Monday morning, I will get on to social media (for me, it will be just this day only), and check in on my Facebook Page (facebook.com/dicken.angie). If you choose to join in the Advent of Solitude, you don't have to share what is between you and God at these check-ins, just stop by and receive some encouragement, and let us know that you are spending your Advent focusing on Solitude.

MY HOPE:

I am going to do this to re-prioritize my moments. To become more present for my family, and more attuned to my relationship with God. I want to start a new rhythm this Advent, so I can step into 2019 without that "soul-numbing sadness". I want to transform my days into being and not just doing. I want to meet God again.

If you choose to join in the ADVENT of SOLITUDE, please join me on December 2nd, the first day of Advent. Stop by my author page (facebook.com/dicken.angie) for pre-check-in.





Friday, November 2, 2018

From An Author, After A Year


As an author stepping into the second year of publication, a few thoughts have rolled around in my writer’s heart. Five to be precise. If you are on this journey too, I would love for you to add to this list:
1. You never arrive. You just take a next step, or two, and find yourself in new territory with different challenges and triumphs.

2. If you write something that you want to shout from the roof tops, keep it. If you write something that makes you cringe, delete it. Drive and passion blossom a story, but edits are essential to confidence in sharing the story.

3. Don’t ignore those on the path behind you, and don’t envy those ahead of you. Community is the greatest treasure in the writing journey. I will never change my mind on that.

4. Writing is more than publishing. It’s a calling. It’s hard to distinguish the two..without the calling, a published book is just another product for a consumer. With the calling, the published book is art to be considered. I’d much rather be considered than bought.

5. Dreams start out small—if you settle with the seedling, you’ll miss out on the bloom.

I have always adored a good show of color, so while I wait, I will keep writing.