Author: becca (page 1 of 108)

Breathe

When my kids were small and in a small-kid panic, I used to tell them, “You don’t have to worry about that. Just breathe in and out. That’s all you need to do right now.”

Sometimes it worked.

Now they’re big and occasionally in grown-person panic and I can’t tell them they don’t need to worry anymore. They’re smart. They know what requires their attention and what doesn’t. But the panic doesn’t always flow away because the responsibility isn’t theirs.

I think the breathing is still key, although it sounds patronizing and silly to tell an adult, “Just breathe. In and out.”

Silly and patronizing are kind of in the eye of the beholder anyway. If I don’t say it out loud, I pray it on their behalf. Please. Keep them breathing in and out.

A Thing About Discouragement

Germans probably have a word for that feeling where everything is going pretty well, and all the people you love are healthy and fine, and one small unpleasant thing in your otherwise glad life totally throws you over the edge.

Hey, Germans, what’s the word for that?

Because I had it this week. And it’s making me weepy and mopey and generally incapable of productivity and adulthood.

And I feel the need to put on my happy face and buck the hell up (sorry, Dad). And putting on the happy face isn’t usually this hard.

The thing is, once this over-the-edging happens, everything looks darker and gloomier and there’s no actual reason for trying to get out of bed in the morning and it’s probably a good idea to watch three hours of Riverdale with the 13-year-old and probably also 4-5 episodes of Criminal Minds while I’m at it and probably eat all the food that comes in cellophane packages and definitely ignore all the phone calls and texts and for sure abdicate all the responsibilities and for also sure never write again.

Like that.

This tipping of the scales (remember — for unreasonable reasons) gives me opportunities to try on darker versions of myself. I put them on like exotic silken robes or fancy hats or even jeans with on-purpose rips in them. Here’s a fun fact: Darker isn’t so good on me.

So I am doing the one thing I feel like I can do. I am taking a little control of my physical self. I am resting. I am eating green things — lots of them. (Also beets.) I am staying away from the Emotional Foods that are generally made of hot, white, buttered starch. I am walking many miles every day. I am yoga-ing both in the privacy of my room and with my lovely yogi friend who practices Wednesday mornings for an hour in a darkened church because she is made of generosity and goodness.

And I guess there’s a little more: I am reading. I am working on school things so as not to get nightmare-y in the 3:00 am hour. I am calling a friend who will tell me that it’s okay to try on the darkness for a while as long as I shuck it back off again. I am asking my man to make dinner because he is willing and good and capable. I am sitting outside on a birdsoaked night watching the sun settle over the western mountains and turn the hills flat and blue.

I am convalescing from discouragement so that I can once again be me, filled with couragement. (Germans, that’s a word, right?)

 

Naaman and Me

Yesterday in church, a discussion about Naaman caused me to rethink my thoughts about my relationship with God. (I thought I’d just put that right out there at the front, in case you’re here looking for food. There’s no food here today.)

So. Naaman. He’s a great general and a good guy and a leper. One of his servants tells him he can be healed if he goes to see Elisha the prophet. He goes. And Elisha sends a servant to the door, who tells Naaman to have a bath in the river. Naaman is ticked, and his brave and loving servants ask him, “If you’d been told to do something huge, wouldn’t you do it?” (My quotes, not the Bible’s.)

In my congregation, we often talk about this story this way: when the answers are simple (like, go pray more and read more and serve more and do the work you’ve already been asked to do), we revolt, wishing for something that feels somehow More. Bigger. Important-er.

When I hear this story, I say, “Yeah, Naaman. I get you.” And for me, it’s got nothing to do with doing something big.

It has everything to do with who came to the door.

When I pray and beg and plead and gnash my teeth about something that I’m pretty sure God wants me to have anyway, I don’t want to be told to do something bigger or harder. No thank you. The point of my prayer is generally that I’m already doing something harder. No. Not bigger. I just want it to be personal.

I want Him to come to the door Himself. I want to feel heard.

Read the scriptures, I hear. And I respond. Yes. I’m doing that. And I’ve done it. So, so many times. I KNOW these books. It’s a simple thing. But here’s the un-simple part: When I actually do it right, read it with my heart open, I learn to speak God’s language. And when I speak to Him in His language, He answers me in MY language. When that happens, even when the answer is to go ahead and do one of those simple things, I feel more heard. And capable of carrying on. In the times that happens, it’s Enough.

So if I ask for help and my answer is pray more or serve more or go dunk in the river seven times, it’s my job to discover the Voice behind the answer. To find the connection that makes it personal. So I’ll be able, willing, capable of saying, “Okay. I can do that.”

That’s when the miracles happen.

Legend

 

This is the legend of the poet whose pen’s ink ran dry when he attempted to write the truth.

He spent years writing and performing amusing tales and poems and songs, bringing laughter to the lives of people near and far. He kept the tales and poems and songs written in a large leather-covered book, fastened with a strap.

But the tales and poems and songs that lived in his heart were less amusing. There he held the tales of heartbreak, redemption, loss and pain. Sometimes, of an evening, he could sing one of those hidden songs, and the audience who remained to hear would cry hot tears. They would reach out and touch his hands, silently thanking him for understanding the hidden parts of their own hearts.

But when he opened his leather-covered book and attempted to ink the words of those songs inside, his pen’s ink ran dry, leaving no mark but an invisible path in the parchment.

The poet continued to open his mouth and amuse audiences near and far with his tales, and he rejoiced in the laughter that surrounded his performances. But through the joy, an ember of pain burned. The poet wanted, desired, needed to share his other tales, his other poems and songs. And in the crowds of eager, happy listeners, he could see the pain-filled eyes of those who needed to hear the other kind, to read them, to keep them. To reference the true tales and to feel they were not alone.

When the happy crowds wandered away to grin and laugh their way to their beds, the others stepped in from the edges of the circle, closer to the poet. Closer to his laugh-crinkled eyes that now relaxed and shone with another emotion. And now, the poet opened his heart. He poured out tales and poems and songs of the other kind. And his remaining audience nodded their heads, reached out to comfort the strangers among them, grasped hands in solidarity. And after, the poet walked away relieved, the ember of pain still glowing, but surrounded now by peace. And the people, the people nodded and smiled and bowed him on his way, through their tears.

Again and again, he tried to write the deeper tales of his heart. Again and again his pen’s ink ran dry. He scratched the poems into the pages of his book, but no ink flowed from his pen and no marks would rest on the page. He beat his fists against the traitorous pages of his leather-covered book. He snapped his pens into pieces. He flung inkwells until they bled black puddles on the floor.

And then he sat. He sat and gripped his hair in his fingers, pressing the heels of his hands into his aching eyes. He moaned out the words of a heartbreak tale. He sang a song of darkness and redemption. He spoke a poem of loss and pain. With every word, he felt the thump of his heart echo the truth. His heart that held such vast wells of laughter and sadness.

For a time, he sat that way, clutching his hair and feeling his heart send his lifeblood through his body.

The poet picked up an unbroken pen. He opened his leather-covered book to a fresh page. And he scratched out the words that lived in his beating heart. He saw no marks on the page, but he continued to write, the words pouring from his mind and heart through the fragile pen until he saw it. The stain began to flow, a pigment not black but red and rich and alive, beating onto the pages of his book, inking his precious and needful words into the parchment forever. Words that he knew for him must be shared, and for others, must be read.

 

More Found, Rather Nonsensical

If you’re looking for deeper meaning, look elsewhere. This is a moment in my (former) life – the life when all four of my kids lived in my house and I was better at writing moments down.

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How to vacuum perfect lines in my living room carpet: First you have to move out all the furniture. Not all the furniture, because if you try to move my piano, the front legs will snap off. So leave it. Besides, it’s parallel to the wall, so… straight lines. But move out the bench. Move out the couch. Move out the huge ottoman. Move out the two wood-and-leather chairs. Take them to the front room or to the kitchen or just scoot them into the other half of the living room if you want, and then you can scoot them back when it’s time to do that half.

Now the extras: take Katie’s violin stand and her scads of loose music sheets and shove them in the closet. Pick up Ellie’s piano books (which are always right next to the piano so they’re easy to find) and toss them into her piano bag, which also sits right next to the piano, but rarely with any books inside. Pick up blankets, which we always need in the mornings, because in summer we sleep with the windows open and the living room is so, so cold after all night with open windows. Fold and stack the blankets on the kitchen table if it’s clean and a kitchen chair if the table is foody. Pick up the books from the floor. Matthew’s reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” right now, but only in daylight (because it’s a pretty good scare), so it’s sitting on the floor by the big living room window. Move the plants and the three-foot-tall yellow vase into the kitchen.

Now look. You have a nearly-empty living room. Now, starting with the wall the piano’s on, plug in the vacuum cleaner. From the corner where the fireplace wall meets the piano wall, move straight along the wall from north to south, slowly. You’ll see a line forming in the carpet where the vacuum makes all the carpet fibers stand up at attention. When you hit the bookshelf (but don’t hit the bookshelf, really, because it leaves a black mark on the bottom where the vacuum tries to kiss it), turn the vacuum cleaner 180 degrees and move it so the edge matches up with the edge of the line you’ve just created. Then travel along that straight line from south to north until you reach the fireplace wall. Turn 180 degrees again, and shove the vacuum over so you can match up the edge with the previous edge. Repeat until you’ve arrived at the far (west) wall. Step back to take a look at your amazing work and see how nice it looks when all the lines line up.

Found

I was looking for a thing in my “writerly things” file. I came across a pile of essays. Here’s one from what must be 8 years ago. There are more. I may unearth another soon.

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When my kids were small, hours were eternal. And there were so many of them in a day. It was impossible to find an activity that could adequately fill one without driving me to lunacy or complete physical exhaustion.

Years passed, full of those ceaseless, relentless hours.

What happened, then? When did the space-time continuum shift? Why is it that now, hours are scarce, precious, and all too short? Time, that monster that used to hover over me, huffing out the moments like hot breath, has disappeared, been replaced by a frantically-ticking clock, spinning seconds into hours, into weeks and years.

These days, it’s my most important work to wrangle that clock into submission and slow down one hour a day. Keep my finger on the second hand so it won’t get out of control and run away with my family’s moments.

A few minutes of that hour happen in the morning, when groggy, bed-head kids and half-primped teens and at least one sweaty, post-work-out parent (the other parent may have abandoned the work out ritual, again) meet at the kitchen table for scripture study. It’s one time in a day that I’m grateful that school is in session. The forced schedule kick-starts our morning motivation. Even through the yawning, the paper-scorching morning breath, and the zoning out, the words get spoken aloud. And we pray together, and I pray in my heart. I pray for the sinking in. I pray for the application. I pray they’ll remember the sweet moments here, not the other kind.

The rest of the wrangled minutes come at the other end of the day. Back around the table, in what have become “our spots,” we gather for dinner. It’s my one consistent offering. We don’t do fancy. We don’t even always do tasty. I’m no Julia Child. I can’t even spell “gourmet” without looking it up. My kids didn’t know meat came on bones until I accidentally introduced them to KFC. Now they think of The Colonel as a kindly uncle who stops by once a year to clog our arteries.

Dinner is simple around here. I don’t mean easy – give me credit, please. I mean unadorned. And while I try to feed these people healthy meals full of green and growing things, that’s not even the most important part for me. The nourishing I aim for is the other kind. These minutes, the ones carved out of every evening, stolen from work schedules and rehearsals and practices and play time, these minutes hold the moments.

At the table, between passing the white salad dressing to that kid and the pink salad dressing to this kid, we hear the stories that make up the missing hours of the days. We hear the giddy stories about the boy who almost said the most charming thing. We hear the angsty stories about the friend who is, if not actively in trouble, heading that way. We hear the hilarious stories that don’t translate to any place but that table. Sorry. You had to be there. We hear the frustrating, the exciting, the proud-making stories. We hear and we tell the stories of the other parts of our lives.

And in sharing the stories, we recapture a few of those spinning moments. Every day, a few minutes at a time.

 

Charming Weekend Read

Friends, I read a thoroughly adorable contemporary romance this week. THE DATING EXPERIMENT by the lovely Elodia Strain (and yes, of course I asked her when I met her several years ago, “Is that your real name?” and yes, of course it is her real name, and yes, of course I’m jealous that she has such an awesome real name).

Elodia has graciously consented to give us an interview here on the ol’ blog space. And since I am a person who loves listy things, she has listed things for our benefit.

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First off, I just have to say I am thrilled to the moon to be visiting the blog of an author who is everything good in this world: Gracious, funny, kind, and bright. I thought I’d include a list of 17 random facts you might not know about me:

  1. The first scene in my new book was partially influenced by my experience working as a palm reader in the Girl Scout booth at a carnival when I was in 6th grade.
  2. My first job was at Carl’s Jr.
  3. One of my earliest memories is of my kindergarten teacher asking our class to describe an apple with adjectives starting with every letter from the alphabet. When she got to Z, I said, “Zesty!” I knew the word from reading the label of Kraft Zesty Italian salad dressing.
  4. I come from a very large Mexican-American family on my dad’s side, and grew up with the last name Saavedra and the nickname Dia. Sometimes on Facebook one of my dad’s cousins will post something about my books and there will be tons of comments from other relatives asking, “Who is Elodia Strain?”
  5. I lived right on the border of Kirkland and Bellevue, Washington (circa 2008) and fell in love with Bainbridge Island.
  6. I’m so Mormon that I worked as a hostess at a restaurant when I was 18, and the first time I took down a drink order it said, “Ginna Tonna.” The bartender laughed and said, “You mean a Gin and Tonic?”
  7. I’ve been terrible at organized sports since elementary school. But I always won a blue ribbon on Field Day for hula hooping.
  8. I co-wrote a song for my high school’s graduating class with now lead-singer of the punk band Survival Guide. Clearly, she was the more musical one.
  9. I used to be really afraid of bugs. Then I lived in Texas for a few years. Now I have a much higher tolerance.
  10. I’ve never finished a piece of black licorice.
  11. In high school and college I drove a red 1967 Mustang.
  12. My first live concert was Third Eye Blind. 90s forever, man!
  13. Whenever I hear a first responder siren, I say a quick prayer for the people those sirens are headed to.
  14. I met my husband in the Cannon Center cafeteria at Brigham Young University.
  15. My parents took me to a fancy lunch at the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco to celebrate my grades, and I saw Courtney Cox and David Arquette’s wedding (mostly just cars and a lot of people) at Grace Cathedral across the street from the hotel windows.
  16. I’ve been a Webelos leader. It was pretty awesome.
  17. The fact that anyone reads anything I write astonishes me.

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Well, I read what she writes, and I find it adorable. in THE DATING EXPERIMENT, Gabby Malone suffers through a ridiculous job as a telephone psychic as she deals with the fallout of… all the parts of her life. Then an opportunity arises for her to join an online dating study, complete with the danger of crossing paths with her ex. There is a vast array of swoon-worth dates (along with the cringe-worthy ones), a sassy and awkward heroine, a gaggle of elderly quilters, spunky teens stuck in a hospital, and the return of a secret crush. It’s a sweet, funny, charming read. Go give THE DATING EXPERIMENT a try.

I though I knew what Busy was

Once upon a time I was a high school student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and family responsibilities and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was a college student with a full load of challenging classes and a job and no social life to speak of and plenty of food to cook and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was a young mom with four little kids running in at least seventeen directions and I thought I was busy.

Once upon a time I was serving in a Relief Society presidency/Young Women presidency/Primary presidency in my church along with all the wonderful family things, and I thought I was busy.

Then I got a full time teaching job. And kept most of my other things. And I was pretty busy, and I learned how to be okay with sandwiches or pancakes for dinner (because, after all, sandwiches might be my love language, and pancakes are undoubtedly Kid 3’s) and a clean-ish home, and significantly less awesomeness in pretty much every aspect of my life: I still do all the things, I just don’t do any of them very well.

I miss naps. Wait. How did I take naps back in the day if I were so busy?

I miss small kids on my lap for story time. Wait. I had time to read books out loud back then when I was so busy?

I miss making bread. (Blessing: our congregation meets at 1:00 on Sundays now. Huzzah! Bread last Sunday! Cinnamon rolls the week before!)

I miss writing whenever I feel like it. Instead of its being a casual fling, I have to make time for the writing. We have to make a date with a beginning and ending minute. I have to get SERIOUS about this. And do you know what? I think it’s making me like it more. I have more respect for this thing that requires careful planning. And I have to think that’s a good development. It requires me to be grown up about it. As if, perhaps, this were a job. Which – well, they’re paying me, right?

I am in a place of perspective today that allows me to recognize the probability that I don’t know what busy is. And that it’s likely to arrive someday on my doorstep. And I want to be able to embrace it – that thing that life may bring me – wholeheartedly and generously. And I want to keep pressing forward with the other important things. And to do them better, more graciously, more gratefully.