Even in the moment of utmost magnificence, the realities of life cast a cloud over it all. Have you noticed?
This is truth, the here–and–now is what we hold in our hand this moment. We savor the taste, the scent, the love, the sight, the feel.
The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often applied to flowers.
It means “they. . .won’t last forever.” For English speakers, it’s tough to translate, but it’s a relatable idea. ‘Mono no aware’ describes beautiful but perishable things. Mono no aware becomes a human anthem, our song of recognition: Every moment counts.
I choose to live in this moment, right here.
The exquisite beauty of the Japanese language describes “an empathy toward things”, evoking both a transient gentle sadness, a wistfulness at their passing, as well as an underlying poignancy about this state being, the reality of life’s ending in decline and death.
We’ve traveled a lot of road together, and this is so real, so true, it’s difficult to find the language to describe it.
Even as gardens, yours and mine, are carefully tended and watched over, the beauty of nature is fleeting. All nature. We, too, come with expiration dates. We are colorful and thriving and being woven into glorious patterns of symmetry and contrast.
We are carefully tended and watched over, many of us blooming far into the future.
Embellishing options, we keep planting new life, new blossoms in new seasons. When we face the ending of one season, we water new seeds, and graft or adopt or improvise in the faith of growing new sprouts for another season.
In drought, we include the defense of closing ranks with friends and allies. We help each other. We punt for each other. We dress each other in the coverings of costumes and smile at the future. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness are the friendship fertilizers. Doing good, being faithful, being gentle, and having self-control in the face of temptation. These are the ribbons of bouquets.
It’s an aspect of being created in the image of the Creator, that we thrive best in community, rubbing shoulders. Out of one garden, another is already blooming. That bloom of friendship. Bridges through passages become the colorful things that matter. Relationships can trump protocol, can trump rules, can trump law. Friendships can trump financial resources and other competition. Grow the garden of love, and you’ve grown the blossoms of a heavenly kingdom.
I choose to travel this road with other transients. It’s a bumpy road, filled with detours – but its ours and we’re on it together. The scenery right now is breathtaking.
Washing my hair this morning, enjoying the soft, hot water rushing over my body, a message came into my thoughts, “Be easy on yourself today.”
Okay, I thought. I’ll go easy on myself and enjoy each moment. I’ll not let the tyranny of lists defeat me. I’ll make the easier decisions today and take all-the-things-I-desperately-need-to-find-out a tad more casually.
Stepping out of the shower, then, I realized that I didn’t know what this “easy on yourself” message meant. What was I to do – not do? Was it an ominous warning to prepare for something unkind seeping through the cracks of my family or work?
Was it a message to not blame myself if someone were to fall ill or die? I felt a rising doubt, anxiety.
I decided to think it over by doing a rote task. Towels from their hooks were lifted and pitched. I took the laundry basket downstairs, though carefully. Doing something that I would regret, like tripping over a trailing shirt sleeve, say, and falling down the stairs this morning, could be the reason for such a message. It could be a warning. I pulled out the shirts and pants. Spraying on stain remover, counting to sixty as it soaked in, I then began to push dirty clothes into the dryer.
This is not the washing machine, dear. The little message was showing its potential to make me neurotic! I tugged out the towels and clothing and tossed them together into the washing cylinder. Then, I switched the program to one notch lower in heat than usual.
Next, I opened and tied back the curtains on either side of our front door. That sweet light coming through those sheer panels, the green grass, longish and wet with last night’s rain, and the boughs of blue spruce edging around the corners of the sky brought a sigh. My shoulders rolled back for the gift of a new day.
Going into the kitchen, I decided to make a banana smoothy. Just a half cup, with one small ripening banana and vanilla and nutmeg. I also started the coffee. The feelings of curiosity and wonder continued to follow me. Then, I began to feel sadness at the thought that I’ve started days like this before, only to end up “doing something real quick that needed some desperate attention” and falling into extreme anxiety for all that I was unable to accomplish at the end of the day.
Looking into my dining room, I spied my Bible and decided to read the next chapter in 2 Chronicles. It was about a very bad king of Judah, who had enjoyed a murderous reign until, as prophesied, his intestines spilled out and he died, unmourned. His wicked son, Ahaziah, molded by his embittered mother, Athaliah, only reigned one year. This was because he was slain by someone named Jehu who was anointed by God to execute judgment on that evil household. No-one mourned this king’s passing either, except his mother who went into a murderous frenzy. I prayed, “What am I supposed to learn from this?”
Bill called. I told him about the message-in-the-shower to give myself a break today, so I’m trying to do that. He laughed, put in a dinner request for crockpot roast, then went back to work.
I turned my eyes to the following chapter, how Athaliah, the enraged widow of King Jehoram, mother of the assassinated Ahaziah, set about killing the entire royal family of Judah upon learning of her son’s demise. But, the lesser daughter of the murderous father, King Jehoram, also being the half-sister of the bad king, Ahaziah, set her stealthy wit to act against her bitter sister-in-law, Athaliah. Raised and surrounded by a conniving, murderous family, Jehosheba had married a temple priest, who became a man of God.
Yes, somehow, she escaped the family character. Yet, she had access to the palace.
When she saw that her sister-in-law was going to kill all of the royal princes, she stole away the youngest prince and hid him in a room with his nurse and then brought him to her husband, the priest.
They raised the boy for six years while the evil sister-in-law reigned her terrors.
Then the text says, “In the seventh year Jehoiada showed his strength.” Wow. I liked that phrase. It goes on to describe how the man of God had been thinking about all of King David’s swords from his mighty men stored for posterity in the temple. He’d been thinking about God’s covenant with David’s household. Wound up, he sprang into action.
He called up all of the Levites and heads of Israelite families from all the towns. The priestly musicians came with their musical instruments used for worship and praise and other fanfare. He led all of these priests and heads of households into making a covenant together to put the rightful young prince onto David’s throne and to swear allegiance to him.
Jehoiada, the priest, warned those who were not consecrated priests and therefore prohibited from entering the temple of the Lord, not to enter because they would be put to death. Their objective was to guard the rightful king and stay close to him or sing and play a fanfare. He told them to hold up the ancient swords, focus on their jobs, and not get too curious about what was going on in the temple. He separated the whole assembly into thirds.
One third of the assembly was to guard the doors of the temple, one-third was to guard the royal palace and one-third was to guard the Foundation Gate. All other family members were to hang out in the courtyards of the temple and shout “Long Live the King!” when the young Joash was crowned.
This is what they did. When the wicked Athaliah heard the trumpets blowing, the people rejoicing, the musicians leading praises from all these areas, she tore her robes and shouted, “Treason! Treason!”
But Johoiada the priest instructed the commanders of the troops to bring out the woman, Athaliah, and kill her and all who followed her to the gate before she could get near the temple. No talking, no reasoning, no arguing. After that, the people went down to the temple of Baal and tore it down. They smashed the altars and idols and killed Mattan the priest of Baal in front of his altars.
Johoiada appointed the priests to their assignments as King David had outlined and ordered, and all of the people rejoiced because Athaliah had been slain with the sword.
What a classic drama, epic proportions!
What a fun read!
The laundry calls ding-ding-ding-ding-ding, finished! Oh, dear. I’ve been distracted.
So, the basket is filled with cleaned fabrics, and I carry it upstairs.
I see the stack of mailing boxes I’ll be needing to pick through today in order to post a set of books to a retail chain store buyer. I compare them all and pull out the largest one from my stash in the closet. Then, I find a pretty mailing label, but the labels are outdated. I’ll have to edit or recreate them and get more printed. Where did I hide those suckers? If I can find where I’ve hidden the file on my computer or perhaps a thumb drive, I need to do that soon. Sigh.
Dismissing the incident, I go easy on myself.
I open up my laptop, and instead of getting right to work. I jump up. Maybe I should take a walk first? Opening the door, I feel the chill, check the thermostat, and appraise the watery street. It’s too cold and wet to walk. I shut the door and go easy on myself.
Two projects for my books eat through an hour of time, so I hire someone to help me finish each of them. I go easy on myself.
I rip out two pages from a book I wrote that has now been edited to pieces. If I give this book out as a freebie, I don’t want those pages in there. After the pages go into the kindling pile beside the fireplace, I begin to regret the mess that I’ve made of this book. Then, I stop.
I go easy on myself.
Shaky with hunger, I pour half a bag of cheese onto an almond flour fake tortilla shell, cap it with another fake tortilla shell, and shove the plate into the microwave. When it’s melted, I slice up the quesadilla, add salsa and sour cream and down the whole thing in a moment.
What have I done? Is that the kind of eating tradition that will kill me?
Going easy on myself, I turn back to work.
I begin to collect all of the tip sheets for books on a thumb drive. The documents will be printed out today.
When I get into the car, and round the corner, it dawns on me that I have no idea where I put the thumb drive with the cover letter to the retailer and tip sheets inside. I say a few words about myself and round the block winding up in my driveway again. As I get out of the car, I put my hand in my pocket and realize the thumb drive’s there. Oh well, there’s a thermos of water I need from the kitchen anyway. I go easy on myself and bring the water back to the car.
At the printers, waiting for the letter and tip sheets to print, I copy the address onto the mailing label with a Sharpie, then, I tape the whole mailer together, all ten books, tip sheets, note cards, and cover letter with a packing list.
Off to the bank, then to the post office to stand in line with my retail box proposal.
Driving home, a driver of the car behind me becomes irritated. I’m probably driving too slowly. He honks, swerves around me. and when he fires by my car, he slows way down. I laugh.
I go easy on myself and on him.
My husband finds me sitting in the parked car in the garage listening to a human interest story.
He taps on the roof of the vehicle, then he flips the lights off and on and closes the garage door.
“I just wanted a minute, please!” I shout.
Fine. Shrugged off, I finish listening to the story then steal another moment to read a Facebook post.
It tells what it means for the shepherd to anoint the head of His sheep with oil.
Apparently, the oil protects the sheep from being tormented by flies that like to lay their eggs in the sheep’s wool around their nose. The hovering flies can cause sheep to panic and run wildly. This sort of activity can ruin their meat and milk and may result in injury or death.
According to the reporter, Nicky Ellis, if the fly is successful, in a few days, larvae will hatch and burrow into the soft flesh of the sheep’s nasal passages. Wounds cause irritation, inflammation, and infection. The pain will cause the sheep to rub its head on the ground, thrash through the underbrush, and bang its head on tree trunks attempting to get rid of the intruders.
In severe cases, a sheep may kill itself trying to get away from the pain. If the sheep manages to survive, the infection caused by the larvae can cause it to go blind.
A good shepherd will mix cooking oil with four parts of each of these essential oils:
Astounded, and resonating with the baaing sheep, I collect my thermos, the receipts, my phone, and purse, and go inside. “Sorry, hon.” He shrugs and begins telling me about his hours at work. I listen to his stories half-heartedly, and we give each other a break.
With the story of the anointing of sheep running along in the back of my mind, I tell him that my mom called earlier to ask for a ride to her hairstylist, but that I had my afternoon squashed with this package proposal thingy I had to mail out, so I actually told my mom I couldn’t do it today. She accepted this, and I gave myself a break from the guilt trip.
He smiles and calls me beautiful. He can be very kind.
Since I started the roast at three, it should have been ready by six.
He helps clean off the papers and notepads lying on the table in the way of our plates and water glasses. “You’re a mess,” he says. I smile.
We eat instead in front of the T.V. and watch a recorded show together. This kind of dinner and show event is something I’m unused to doing, but it feels good. We chat about the contents of the mailbox and make plans for next month.
A less-than-average meal, my husband is happy to be fed meat with green chili and hominy. “Did you notice this meat was a teriyaki marinade?” He pops a bite of it covered with green chili into his mouth. “I bought this.”
“Ugh! No, I didn’t notice! No wonder the dish turned out somewhat less than intended.” We gag at each other and laugh.
I go easy on myself.
He gets my inhaler when I start coughing, probably from the strange combination of spices. Recovered, we watch the mystery together enjoying a cheap date.
Like anointing oil pouring over my head, I soak up the good fortune of this man, this husband, my great gift in life.
Then, taking a gander at the published blog post I’d prepped for one of my authors, I realize I hadn’t fully edited it and it is in the public eye! I’ve misrepresented her style and quality of work. Anxiety begins to rise as I immediately begin to doctor and update the blog. There is no taking back what is published, even if it is retracted and edited, and updated. Some people have read the original.
The inner critic cries out my shortcomings, flogs my awful failures. I wonder if our relationship will survive. Then, it occurs to me that giving myself a break simply means that I forgive myself. Hopefully, she will, too.
Forgiving myself is simply agreeing with God.
Forgiving myself is simply agreeing that I mess up pretty regularly, that I don’t have enough time in the day, that my hands are too full of responsibilities, that I don’t care enough for those I should care for. And, yet, He forgave me, puts protective oils on my head, and the sovereign Lord forgives me daily!
“Going easy on myself” means allowing myself to experience that moment-by-moment feeling of not being rushed to fix one thing and then another. After all, I can’t save the world, so my urgent efforts to do so robs me of resting in my own forgiveness.
I’m always struggling to improve myself or improve others. It’s a gift and a curse. Two sides of a coin.
“Going easy on myself” means living slowly and enjoyably in certain forgiveness and grace. I allow myself to agree with God that I’m actually forgiven for all of my failures and shortcomings, and I will rest in a grace I’m giving myself because He’s given it to me already. That’s all.
How about it?
Go easy on yourself.
If you are an author looking for solid ideas to promote your new book, I’m going to make it a little easier on you today, too, by giving you this list of help.
I’m engaged in a move from one house to another, and I realize that I am also attempting to embrace the silence of springtime.
Twittering birds and peeping peepers are the loudest consistent noises I hear as I am carrying boxes to my car. My mind goes to the quietness of my friends and family during this season. I walk my new puppy at my new house and I continue in the silence of springtime.
Good and bad things happen during quiet moments.
Everyday things happen in contemplative silences.
That being said, some of the most persuasive people I know are the quiet ones. Laura, one of my best friends in Pennsylvania, is not only a good listener – I’ll say this, she asks brief questions, and listens for the long, drawn-out, weepy responses – but she also uses her persuasion of love to help me through some of the most difficult moments of my life. She exerts her time, her muscle, her car, her ideas.
Quiet people are often a stabilizing influence in a world jangling with noise.
A Spanish proverb says it like this:
abre la boca solo si lo que vas a decir es más hermoso que el silencio
(“Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than the silence.”)
Silence helps us understand ourselves. We can be fully present and connect with others. When we are stuck or confused, silence brings us little epiphanies. Silence can be a life–long friend. But we need to pay attention to it. For some of us, solitude is water to a parched soul; we must have it. For others, solitude is too deep, too sad, too isolating. But it can be a shared place for hunkering down and listening.
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence.”
– RACHEL NAOMI REMEN, AUTHOR
Silence is a patient friend. Waiting always, watching over your comings and your goings, hoping you will join the hush and wonder.
Here’s what happens during just one minute while you remain quiet:
255 babies will be born
Your Heart will pump 83 Gallons Of Blood
A hummingbird will flap its wings 4,000 times
A single woman will move all her earthly belongings heavy, precious, difficult to look through, to another home, alone
31,600 tons of water will flow over Niagara Falls
1,800 stars will explode
A widow will be laying in a clinic, will be waiting for a doctor’s report and advice, will be looking at her bare toes and a pile of clothes
You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.
Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.
If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turn–of–phrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.
Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.
Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.
We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give usloud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.
I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .
God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.
“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.
“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”
Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.
There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby. I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.
Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.
I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:
Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”
I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!
Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.
We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.
When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.
There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.
Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!
“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.
“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”
Wow. The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.
Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.
I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.
I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”
I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.
This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.
Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.
How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.
I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.
Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.
This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.
To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.
Listening is love
Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.
This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.
Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.
Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.
Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her. But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.