Sleep in Sunday: On Choosing Joy

You know what’s been missing? JOY.

There are any number of reasons for this lack of JOY. One of those reasons, though, is the idea that we must do things “because.” There’s no phrase or clause after the “because.” Just doing things “because” can result in a loss of JOY.

I grew up going to church. Every Sunday. I believe we were at one time Lutheran – maybe a short stint as Presbyterian – and a fair number of years in the Baptist church. My mom played organ and piano. Dad was a deacon. My sisters and I attended Sunday school and then church, and, when we were very little children’s church. You know: that’s the part of the  service where the little ones get called up to the floor near the pulpit, get a short object lesson of some kind from the pastor, and then get shuttled off downstairs for stale animal cookies, watered down koolaid, and cotton ball craft while the adults listen to Bible readings and a sermon.

(Full disclosure: I don’t know if that’s how church still goes in any of the places I have ever attended.)

I’m not singing hymns this morning; I did not have to get dressed up; I have not brought a casserole to share after the service; I do not intend to return later for a business meeting followed by Sunday evening services.

Because the fact of the matter is: I don’t go to church any more.

And I’m going to tell you: Sunday mornings are JOYFUL.

I am making brunch. Or getting coffee. Or going on a walk. Sleeping late. Planning the week. Doing laundry. Reading a book. Texting friends. Writing poems. Playing with the dogs. Watching a movie. Composing letters. Fixing the sink.

Sunday mornings are about enjoying life for me.

There are people who find that JOY in church, but, you see, church started out for me as a chore. That’s what we had to do Sunday mornings when I was growing up. It was a job – we all had our tasks at church. Not the least of which was to sit still. When I was in college, less church and more hangovers, but I digress. Then, as a young mother, I made my family attend church in much the same fashion I had as a young girl. Perhaps even more so  because – ta da! – we became missionaries for a while. Talk about a job! Later in life, I attended church because it was required; part of the social contract of living in the South is church. In fact, I will tell you that when I lived in Georgia, and I would introduce myself to someone, I was usually asked my husband’s name and then what church we went to.

Do you notice what’s missing here?

JOY.

There was no joy in church for me. Church was a task to be performed, a show to play a role in, a Bible verse to memorize, an outfit to wear, a song to sing, comparisons to endure, a series of conversations to tolerate.

Now, you may think that I simply chose churches poorly. As I intimated at the beginning of this: I have been Baptist, Lutheran, Non-denominational, Presbyterian, Methodist, Open-Bible (the speaking in tongues kind), and Episcopalian. In all of these iterations, I found one common denominator: Burden.

I held on to church for so long because it was the “thing to do.” Because the neighbors did it. Because I had been brought up in the church.

Not because I wanted to.

The past few years I have let church go, and I have found more JOY on a singular Sunday morning than I had over decades of pew-sitting.

I do not know how you choose to spend your Sunday mornings. Perhaps you attend church. Vacuum your carpets. Visit the elderly. Bake pies. Watch crime shows. Wash your cats. Detail your car. Brew beer.

What I want to say is: whatever you do with your Sunday mornings: do it with JOY.

Or whenever – it doesn’t have to be about Sunday mornings. It is about JOY.

As we look toward the upcoming holidays and our schedules and our obligations, maybe you have something that is a task you’ve wanted to get rid of for a while. Perhaps you want to resign from the committee or put the brakes on a project. Do it. No explanations needs. No self-excoriation.

Just choose JOY. 

 

 

 

 

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Choices.

There is a dark at the end of the tunnel of this week for many of us. The looming transition of power worries or horrifies 4245115019_68ff9e4355many people in our country. I have read real news; I have seen the memes; I have watched some speeches. I’m among the scared and horrified. There is a scarcity of joy in much of this country; even for much of the world as January 20 approaches.

There isn’t anything I can do to stop January 20 from coming, but I can do things in real life. I can engage in purposeful activities to manifest joy for others and for myself. I can make a difference for my community; I can be a source of comfort for friends and neighbors. I can make choices.

I am part of groups: a writing group and an activism group. Both address equality, creativity, social justice, understanding, and the power of voice. By conversing with and learning from others, I can check my perspective, broaden my horizon, engage with others in social justice. I can also support others in their creative lives.

I have signed up to get training (not sure a 20 year teaching vet needs it, but…it’s required, so okay) to teach English and assist with cultural information for refugee populations in my community. I have lived abroad, and it’s not easy when you choose do this, much less when you flee for your life to a country where some neighbors may not want you to be there. I choose to help marginalized families.

Poverty is everywhere, and I can’t solve that problem; but years ago my sister and I gave my parents a Kiva loan as a present, and I continue to reinvest it in women’s businesses.  Our measly contribution has been reloaned in five different countries to support five different businesses, including a bar and a sewing shop. I have a friend who sponsors and visits two children in other countries. Choices to support others in our world.

From an early age, I learned that love is love. It doesn’t matter who you love. People are damn lucky to find someone to love who loves them back –  gender, shape, color, geography, culture – none of that matters. I celebrate your love with you, and I will fight for your love with you.

bbd9a73ca9d14cf9647799c6d308a325At any given moment, I can make a choice to make someone’s life better. I can make a choice to speak out. I can make a choice to support others. I can make a choice to love.

Can I let someone with two items go in front of me at the grocery store and then pay for my 23 things? Yes. Would I make a road trip snack pack for a friend who is traveling to take care of an ill parent? Sure. Will I support my friends’ successes and happinesses without envy? Yep. Might I sit in the hospital room while you doze and recover from surgery? Absolutely. Should we hold hands and talk earnestly about what matters to us? Always. Little things perhaps, in light of the world’s precarious situation, but every bit of good helps.

As David Foster Wallace suggested, the day-in and day-out of adult life is filled with frustrating crap  – regardless of and sometimes because of who is in Washington – but, we can choose what we do.

What are you going to do?

Choose.

 

 

 

 

Between a Laugh and a Tear

We do not know what is going to happen.

god laugh

We don’t.

You can’t argue on this because it is true.

We can plan, but that’s about it. Well, I suppose we can hope. Of course, we can work. But even the most strong willed person cannot make everything she wants to happen. God. Fate. Karma. Something can and almost always will interfere with human plans.

Are we at the mercy of unknown devils then? Those devils that interfere with dates, keeping us single and unfulfilled? What about the baby devils: unexpected joys or sorrows knock people off their feet. Unemployment has lots of minions it likes to spread around, wreaking havoc with our lives, doesn’t it? Disease keeps its own special brand of fiends to send out into the world – no one is safe. And, of course, death sneaks in through the cracked door just when we least expect him. We really don’t know.

How about some examples? Let’s make this is a little more concrete, shall we? Did my friend know five years ago that she would meet one of the loves of her life when she met an old classmate for a drink? Was I thinking about returning to Iowa on that hot June day in 2000 when I was moving to Georgia? What do you think my dad might have had to say if he could have foreseen the hideousness of Parkinson’s disease before he was diagnosed?

plan aNo, we really don’t know what the hell is going to happen. But we keep going. We are resilient. We adjust our plans ever so slightly. Not a dream job, but a good job. Kids leave their hockey equipment on the stairs, but they are laughing and eating pizza in the basement. Or maybe our adjustments are a little bit bigger. We love unexpected babies. We have joyful reunions despite the funeral. We stay up late. We get up early.

Someone once asked me – in a sincerely concerned way – if I were ever happy. (I guess my resting bitch face was working overtime that day.) My answer is pretty simple: No. I don’t know that I have ever been happy. I have been unhappy. I have felt ambivalent. Lately, my overriding feeling is contentment. I told that inquirer that I really didn’t know if happiness needed to be the goal to which she replied, “Everyone needs to be happy!”

I disagree. Maybe the goal is to just live. Keep those demons at bay when we can, and adjust when we can’t. Maybe the goal is to drink wine with our friends; be there when times are hard; enjoy a sunny day; give advice; and, try to go to sleep contented.

It’s simplistic perhaps, but I really wonder if we don’t make life harder than it has to be when we refuse to roll with the punches. Think about it.

Join me.

 

Changing Seasons: Not Home for the Holidays

Christmas lights

He’s done it again. Son #1 has altered my Christmas.

The first time he did this was twenty-three years ago when he arrived seven weeks early thanks to my preeclampsia and his wanting a Christmastime birth rather than Valentine’s Day. Even though that first Christmas was in NICU, we have spent each of his birthdays and every Christmas together since then. Academic calendars being what they are, the poor guy was even home for his 21st birthday.

Despite the life changes that I have created or endured, I have always imagined that all the boys would would want to be home for the holidays. Of course, intellectually I understand that this may not be the case. I can envision a future wherein they are all spending holidays with their own families or in far-flung corners of the world. That’s a path that I once trod, as well. I get it – in my brain. My heart whistles a different tune, though.

And this year – for the first time – the son that changed my world in 1992 has decided he would prefer to mark the holiday season and his birthday on his own. At first I was sad. Quite sad.

Of course, there are those who have different Christmases every year: traveling and adventuring; or, in the case of one woman I knew: every holiday season seemed to usher in a new round of stress and death in her family. However, I have found a kind of comfort in the traditions that the boys and I have created over the years. Perhaps the holidays with all of us at home served as a sort of anchor for the rest of the year, no matter what curve balls came along.

That Christmas in 1992 launched the ship that relied on my holiday anchor. Still life changes, and shifts are felt most acutely at the holidays. Babies are born; people die; students study abroad; neighbors move away; loved ones decide to stay home; sons forge their own paths – it’s all part and parcel of this world.

Looking into a future where Christmas includes only me and my dog is weird. Maybe I’ll sit home and eat chicken pot pie and watch bad TV and feel sorry for  myself.

No, no, (I don’t even like pot pie!).  I’ll find a Tuscan lodge and mark the holidays there. Or, I’ll work in an African orphanage over the New Year. Or, I’ll take the dog and visit children in the hospital. A Christmas in Wales appeals to me, as well. Or, I’ll show up unannounced at my sister’s house.

Changes are just that – changes. Some can be sad. If you have lost loved ones this year, my heart goes out to you. If you are struggling with illness, I send you light and health. If you’re just sad, I empathize. Changes can be good, too. Perhaps you have a new baby. Maybe you’ve moved to a great house. You’ve gotten engaged or landed your dream job. Regardless of what is happening around us, our joy depends only on us.

Candles can be lit. Prayers can be offered. Meals can be made. Toasts can be proclaimed. Greetings can be exchanged.

Life is a continuum of change; we must embrace it at all times – perhaps most especially at the holidays.

Join me.

 

 

Gone to the Dogs

On October 21, third son and I picked up our new family member: an 8-week old Dalmatian we call Jasper.

My sister said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking – it’s another mammal to take care of.”

I have trained puppies before, most notably, a Dalmatian when I was young and impetuous. Now, I’m not so young but still pretty impetuous it turns out.

There are those who say having a puppy is like having a baby: not true.

Still and all, Jasper’s presence and the care he requires is instructive:

  1. The pre-dawn starlight holds a special kind of magic, a sort of contemplative radiance that helps a person consider her life in a different way. I had gotten in the habit of rarely seeing the sunrise – not so any more, and it’s a good thing to do from time to time.
  2. Mitigating the play between a puppy and a five year old cat is not unlike managing any number of modern relationships: the play can become hurtful, and then an adult has to step in. It’s okay to take a break if needed – just remember to always snuggle at the end of the day.
  3. Puppies do not come housetrained.
  4. Walking in the cold fall rain is not romantic. Maybe summer rain will be different.
  5. A part of my heart had been dormant, and the first time Jasper fell asleep in my lap that part awakened. It’s a good feeling.
  6. Addendum to #1: pre-dawn snowstorms also have a certain kind of magic; I’ll let you decide what kind.
  7. If you have misophobia, a dog is not for you.
  8. Dalmatians are open-minded about their diets; they eat everything: leaves, mud, kleenex, snow, pencils. We have to keep rescuing Jasper from his appetites, but I really should consider trying some new things – maybe not mud, though.
  9. Sleeping is best when one can snore slightly and not feel badly about it. IMG_3220
  10. Looking at the world from the point of view of someone who has never seen things before is good for the soul and attitude. Jasper burrowed in the snow; he delights in apples; the sound of geese flying overhead confuses him (he never thinks to look up).

Regardless of housetraining mishaps and early morning barking, this impetuous decision called Jasper reminds me to keep trying new things – to keep seeing with new eyes.

Memento vivere.

Join me.

First of All

The first years of our children’s lives are filled with, well, firsts. Joyous firsts. Photographic moments for scrapbooks, FaceBook brags, and mentions in the yearly Christmas letter.

First poop. First smile. First time sleeping through the night. First turn over. First crawl. First step. First tooth. First soccer game. First gymnastics class. First day of school.

Somehow after school starts, there are fewer firsts. Perhaps they dim. By middle school, our offspring’s firsts turn uglier. The first bullying. The first time to the principal’s office. The first F.  The magic of childhood dissipates. “You’ll never guess what happened today, Mom” stomps in surrounded by a cloud of doom. Those happy tears of joy-inducing moments seem to have vanished by the preteen years.

Once teenagerhood hits, there are some more firsts that are fun – maybe even interesting – but it’s just not the same. The kid’s first cell phone, the first time driving with a permit, the first outing with friends to the movies where no parents go along, the first time driving after getting the license. These are all notable, but not precious. Trepidation overshadows the teenage firsts.

There are other firsts that parents are quite rightly not a part of. We all have those memories: first time holding hands, first swig of an illicit beer in a friend’s basement, first kiss, first date, first sneaking out and getting back home without getting caught. These are firsts that provide individuals with varying degrees of nostalgia and mortification, but these are not parent-child firsts.

I’m on my third child. That is to say: his two older brothers are through high school. One lives on his own: working, studying, and generally being a 20-something; the other is in college: happily ensconced in study, friends, and trips to New York City. If forced to classify myself as a mother yesterday, I would have said that I’m jaded. I’ve done a lot of it – the good things two or three times. And, I’d probably have added that although my third child has been the recipient of a wiser mother than the first was, he has been a bit short-changed when came to celebration of the joyous firsts.

Until today.

Last night it snowed.         FullSizeRender (4)

My third son is born and bred in east-central Georgia until three months ago.

The night time snow lit up his eyes like a two-year old’s on Christmas Eve. He played; he made snow angels; he declared, “This is the most beautiful…” Words failed.

This morning, two inches of snow on the ground, he woke me up to announce that he was going outside to shovel the drive. I got up to take pictures and smile and laugh at his wonderment. Okay, okay, I’ll be real: upon seeing the neighbor snowblowing, he did complain, “Dude, we need one of those! Seriously, this shovel is so last century.”

Still, in these moments, the gunk of middle school has sloughed off, and I can see all of the beauty of all of his joyous firsts shine in his appreciation of this new, wonderful first.

Snow is fanciful for him. Something that only happened in the movies or in light dustings every eighth year in Augusta. For Midwesterners, it didn’t snow much last night, but he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t need to.

Snow Sunday

He didn’t realize that I was watching when the city snowplow came down the street. In that moment, this thirteen year-old boy who is too cool for anything was a one year-old taking his first step; he was a five year-old after the first day of kindergarten; he was a baby giggling at his first tickle. It wasn’t just seeing the plow in action, but it was also realizing that the plow pushed street snow onto your driveway. No matter, it was all great to him.

And for me, I am reminded that having moved to a completely new life I have been given a chance to have some joyous firsts with this third kid — and that’s a first I don’t want to waste.

 

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