Of Bison and Geysers

IMG_1511Our breath bit our lungs as J and I trudged toward Norris Geyser Basin, our boots squeaking beneath our feet. Yellowstone’s winter landscape of sculpted snow stills and silences the atmosphere around it. To step outside even the quiet of a single family cabin is to enter a world that, in my dad’s words, “almost sucks the noise out of your head.”

I could use a little more silence like that.

We were on our way to Echinus Geyser which, at that time, erupted on a regular, predictable schedule with regular, predictable indicators. It began with the gradual filling of its earthen bowl–from the bottom up–until the water spilled over the top and spread out across the slope followed by sudden bursts of steam and water forty to sixty feet skyward. Then the bowl would drain and thirty-five to seventy-five minutes later, it would begin again.

IMG_1505

We arrived at Norris on rented snowmobiles with four-stroke engines, quieter than the traditional two-stroke now required in the park. The quiet, so much a gift to a weary human mind, is for the animals–an attempt to disturb less their efforts to survive Yellowstone’s harsh winter. We left the parking lot and walked through the deep winter cold over the boardwalk. It wasn’t shoveled and we made our way over a path of packed snow left by visitors who came before us.

Provided you have some way to keep from getting lost, it’s permissible to wander off-trail many places in Yellowstone. In the thermal areas, however, both rules and sense require that you keep to the boardwalk. The surface is thin in these volatile places. Some who have gone cross-country in thermal areas have gotten burned or even died.

The animals get to go where they will. During the winter, warm ground and steamy air draw the bison in. There they’ll be, gathered near a pool, or a spring, or a geyser and resting on a plot of thermal earth, hoar-frost built up on their fur like suit of armor.

IMG_1498

When I see them converged around a geyser I always wonder what they do when it erupts. I wonder if instinct tells them it’s coming. Or if somehow they know how close they can get. If they get scared and run away. Or if they just get burned.

When we arrived at Echinus, we took a seat to wait for the eruption in company with a small group of bison congregated at the edge of Echinus’ bowl.

Some sat on the snowless ground, their legs tucked neatly under their bulky bodies. Others stood motionless in the rising steam. The bowl began to fill. The bison did nothing. The steamy tower thickened and grew in size. No visible response from the bison. Hot water overflowed the bowl and spilled down the slope. The bison just sat there. And then superheated water, trapped in the earth long enough that it rose above the boiling point, burst from the bowl and into the air.  Finally, after years of wondering, I learned what bison do when a geyser they are perched next to erupts.

They move. Slowly.

They hoist their immense bodies up and lumber away, just out of reach of the water.

It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I expected because it’s not what I would have done. I would have rushed.

But they just moved away, and not until they needed to.

Just like I could use some of Yellowstone’s winter silence, I could use some of that slow, timely movement. Because here’s what happens when I rush: I run right over the most important things and like the saying goes, The most important things in life aren’t things. They’re people. And while I don’t usually run directly over them, I squash their feelings. I miss the details that matter to them. I miss them.

So here’s what I’m trying to remember today: Just move. Slowly.

Sharing today at Thoughtful Thursday and Small Wonders.

 

 

 

Because Our Moments Matter {Steps Toward Making the Most of Them}

Our Moments Matter {How to Find More of Them)

Cue the music.

It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love. Every song you hear seems to say…

I haven’t noticed the world falling in love, and if we were sitting down together to write that song this morning, the lyrics might play out a little differently.

It’s that time of year when the world …

Celebrates. Decorates. Bakes and eats. Shops and wraps and delivers. And maybe worships—when they can find a moment.

every song you hear seems to say . . . 

Do you know how many shopping days there are until Christmas? Have sent your cards? Have you addressed your cards? Sigh. Have you even bought the cards? What about the gifts? And have you decided what you’ll be serving for Christmas dinner? And maybe when you get a moment you could . . .

A moment. Sometimes that’s all we have. Sometimes that’s all we need.

To connect. To cross a little something off the list. To pursue some sanity-saving soul stillness. To remember just exactly why we celebrate.

Our moments matter. Used well, important and worthwhile things can be accomplished in a moment, or over a series of them, especially this time of year when they seem to be in especially short supply.

Sometimes we carve them out of an already full day. Sometimes they just show up unexpectedly, disguised as a cancellation. Usually, though, they’re already there, buried in our actual, everyday life, camouflaged as something we might lament—something like a long wait at the dental office.

It’s possible to capture the moments that arrive unexpectedly, to redeem the ones that seem so insignificant we’ve grown accustomed to simply giving them away.

Here are a few steps toward making the most of those extra moments this Christmas season:

  1. Decide. Identify what you want to do or need to do with your moments this Christmas season. Is there a project to complete or gift to finish?  A practice you want to pursue? Soul stillness you want to seek? A book you want to read? Knowing what you want to do is a big step toward getting it done.
  2. Prepare. Can some part of that be kept close by or even carried with you, ready for those carved out or unexpected pockets of time? Christmas cards? A book? Yarn and a crochet hook? These things will all fit in a purse or small bag. Five minutes in the pickup line at school is five minutes toward your goal.
  3. Pay attention. Keep your eyes open for small moments. Don’t let them pass without realizing they are there.
  4. Focus: Use your moments. Convert that autopilot scrolling time to invested moments.
  5. Persevere: Accept the fact that you may forget to pay attention. You may not remember to use your moments. Don’t give up. Begin again and use the next ones that come your way.

Path in a Snowy WoodWhat could you do with your extra moments this Christmas season?

Fall Notes

Fall is traditionally my favorite season. Its crisp leaves and cool air combine to make it a time I want to linger on indefinitely. This one is half-gone and I’ve kind of missed it.

At least that’s what I thought before I took a look back.

I haven’t missed anything. There’s been life and learning, grace and every kind of good gift. I just needed to turn around and open my eyes. A regular recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life keeps me a little more light-hearted and grateful than when I move through life on autopilot.

A quick look back often clears the way for good forward movement. Care to join me? (I’d love to hear what you see.)

Gifts and Graces:
  • Long evenings. Because candles.
  • Wood heat. Because the ambiance of fire.
  • Daylight savings. Sunlight in the morning—or lack thereof—impacts the whole day.
  • Fleece sheets. They instantly transform the bed from a place I have to warm up to one that warms me.
  • Grace, both from God and from people.
  • Boots. The pretty kind.
  • Boots. The warm kind.
  • Doctors, dentists, emergency rooms and insurance. Between the concussions, weird stomach ailments, and sudden jaw displacement we’ve experienced this fall, I am grateful—again—for the many means God uses to heal us.
  • Farmers and the work they do that produces the food that ends up on my table every day.
Learning:
  • Those things that stress me out? Generally, they resolve themselves within a month. It’s true. I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Power Sheets for the past couple of years to set my goals and fine tune the actions steps. (And, incidentally, making more progress on them than I have in the past.) One step in the process is to make a quick list of all the stressors, worries, and concerns that are taking up brain space. Recently, I realized that the list was completely different every time. All those things that felt like they might be the end of me had come to some kind of resolution over the course of a month. Seeing this on paper has helped me take a better perspective on them and made them sit a little less heavily on my shoulders.
  • The only way to keep a fire going is through regular attention. Like a person, a relationship, a project, or a practice that we want to grow and thrive, it needs to be encouraged and fed.
  • People in the Christian writing community are generous. I attended my first writers’ conference in fifteen years at the end of September. The people I met have been helpful and encouraging in all kinds of ways that I would never have expected.
  • I am not a Charles Dickens fan. When I read David Copperfield, I thought it was just me, that I didn’t have the emotional fortitude for Dickens and the depressing lives of so many of his characters–especially poor David. When I forced my way through A Tale of Two Cities this fall, I acknowledged the truth: I don’t like Dickens. If I hadn’t wanted to read that particular book so badly, I would have quit. I persevered and am glad both to have done it and have it done. (To my Dickens-loving friends, I’m sorry. I feel a bit like a failure, but I’ll be putting my reading time in other places.)
Liking:
  • Living the Season Well: Reclaiming Christmas, by Jody Collins. Jody’s book is an encouragement to bring our Christmas seasons back from the brink of chaos through a shift of mind and heart. An evangelical who’s benefitted from learning about the church year and the liturgy surrounding the Christmas season, Jody provides a little education along with practical advice to take steps to reclaim Christmas, one small step at a time.
  • Tresta Payne. Something about her voice, her perspective, her earnest faith makes me wish we could chat. She’s currently my favorite writer on the internet.
Listening:

Show tunes. Lots of show tunes. My girls have discovered musicals and now the soundtrack of our life is a medley of Newsies!, Hello Dolly, The King and I, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and a variety of others. Up next: Christmas music.

Looking:

Scripts, flames, and fairy lights. It’s the season for choosing the spring play, fire in the wood burner, and the companionable glow of white lights in my small, indoor forest.

Again, if you’d like to join me in recounting of the gifts and graces, the lessons and the stuff of life, I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or via email. (And I’m really a better emailer than commenter, so don’t be shy. Use the contact tab on the navigation bar or the mail icon in the top right corner.)

 

Joining Emily P. Freeman and lots of other writers from around the web to share what we learned last fall. 

 

 

When Christmas Surprises You

Yellowstone Christmas in August

Dad and I crossed the steamy asphalt, melty ice-cream cones in hand. We’d driven cross-country to Yellowstone for a nature-writing seminar and stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs for two reasons: huckleberry ice cream and piano music. The ice cream was a sure thing. The piano music, though? That was a different story. Randy played four or five nights a week and we weren’t sure this was one of them.

It’s a stop I make every time I’m in Yellowstone.

I heard Randy—or his music anyway—before I saw the piano that poured forth something different from his usual blend of catchy, pop music and original, Yellowstone-inspired pieces. It was something I vaguely recognized but couldn’t quite place.

Dad and I walked through the lobby, its familiar surfaces festooned with greenery and bows that we weren’t used to seeing, toward the source of the music. Randy sat just inside the double doors of the historic hotel’s Map Room. He was wearing a tie. I’d never seen Randy in a tie.

It was a Christmas tie.

The song I’d recognized but couldn’t place? It was a Christmas carol.

And the festooned lobby? Christmas finery.

In August. August 25, to be exact. Christmas in Yellowstone.

The story goes that once upon a time, Yellowstone had received one of its fairly common summer snows. But it didn’t fall on just any day. It fell on the twenty-fifth. Never mind that it was August; there was snow. People—maybe wide-eyed tourists, maybe homesick park employees—got a little festive, celebrating and decorating and sparking a tradition that continues today. (And lest our modern cynicism convince us that it’s a tradition centered on commerce, today’s celebrations are more about a little extra fun for park visitors than sale prices in the gift shops.)

I’d worked in the park. I knew the story. Still, it caught me by surprise.

How could Christmas in the high summer in the middle of a national park do anything but?

 

Click here to read the rest at Just a Simple Home.

Tracks and Transitions

Out west, our family sometimes stays in a cabin on a parcel of land plunked down in the middle of a national forest. There—with no cell service, no cable, and no wifi– we watch the weather unfold in the sky rather than on radar.

A couple of years back, a sunny September afternoon was overshadowed by clouds that rolled in over the Absaroka mountains, dropping rain and then snow as the temperatures plummeted. A splashy snow, it clung to everything it touched—the meadow’s tall grass, the aspen’s still-green leaves, and us. It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As darkness descended, a movement in the distance prompted us to pick up our binoculars and search. A bull moose was plodding across the meadow, a dark shadow making his way between the hillside and the stream.

Until that moment, the only wildlife we’d spotted at the cabin had been trout and the occasional deer. We knew animals lived in the surrounding woods, of course. The cans of bear spray lined up on top of the refrigerator and three spotting scopes stationed by the windows silently testified to that. We’d just never seen them.

We went to bed, content with the falling snow and the company of the moose.

Morning brought a cloudless sky and a balmy breeze and we left the house to explore. Fresh tracks in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass by in the night. A rabbit had wandered around on the deck. A pair of deer had meandered across the dance floor in the meadow. A coyote had preceded us down the driveway between the cabin and the road.

The snow revealed their presence. Click to read the full essay at Kindred Mom.

 

 

 

 

Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life

My great-grandma was a woman of summer. She kept a garden. She grew the flowers and vegetables that graced her table. She picked the berries that topped our ice cream. Once in a while I helped her in the garden or the berry patch and it always shocked me when she showed up wearing slacks. The garden was the only place I ever saw her dressed that way and even there she wore a dress over them, with a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat. She was dressed to work.

Right there are four important lessons she taught with her life: Wear appropriate attire. Protect your skin. Shade your eyes. And, of course, keep a garden.

I should have paid more attention.

She was teaching all the time. She just wasn’t obvious about it. Maybe she wasn’t even aware.

Grandma knew how to respond to her circumstances. In the garden, she wore slacks. In the face of a deer standing in the yard looking like dinner, she became a hunter. After an unexpected move, she looked to Jesus.

She’d moved before, first with my great-grandpa from the river valley to a rural acreage and then alone to a tidy mobile home on her daughter’s farm. When her health failed she moved again, this time to a nursing home.

Her sorrow hung in the room as we stood with awkward smiles, trying to make conversation while she arranged her few belongings on top of a dresser. She’d been there just a day or two and it was through a set jaw that she mumbled something about trying to make the best of it. I knew she wanted to. She wanted to even in the midst of her mourning.

It wasn’t long before she noticed that there were other people there with her, people who might not know Jesus. That was all it took. She got up, left her room, and went out to where the people were.

Life in the nursing home gave Grandma something she’d never had, something none of us expected: freedom. She’d never driven. She relied on her husband, and later her daughter, to take her where she wanted to go. In the nursing home she needed neither car nor chauffeur. She had shoes and a Bible, and that’s all she needed to carry out her purpose in that place and season.

Her favorite hymn was “Trust and Obey” and that is how she learned to live an unfamiliar life. She trusted. She obeyed. And it was enough. She was free to be happy, not in her circumstances but in Jesus.

My husband and I have lived in four different cities, which is exactly three more than I imagined we would. Each move was unexpected. While some have been like coming home, others were a step into an unfamiliar life.

My grandma’s quiet lesson about how to live with trust and obedience is another one I should have paid attention to long ago. It’s one I need every day, especially as I step into the unfamiliar areas of my actual, everyday life.

Not long after her move, Grandma made a small change to her wardrobe: She began to wear bead necklaces. I noticed but never asked why. At the time it seemed simple. They were pretty and she liked pretty things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe they were more than mere adornment. Each was a badge of contentment. When the direction of her life’s road led away from her garden and her home, she found freedom to thrive, not in her circumstances but in Jesus. And that, like the necklaces which graced her neck, made her sparkle.

How about you? What do you hold onto as you step into unfamiliar places in your life? Where do you find freedom to thrive? Do those things give you sparkle?


 

“Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life” is an edited version of an earlier post.

Christmas In August

 

Yellowstone Christmas in AugustSteamy air radiated from the asphalt as we crossed the road in front of the diner. Dad and I had traveled to Yellowstone for a nature writing seminar and a quick stop at Mammoth Hot Springs for an ice cream cone marked the transition from our leisurely tour of the park and three days of learning at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Huckleberry ice cream cones in hand, we wandered over to the hotel to see if Randy Ingersoll  was playing that evening. Inside the lobby, cool air carried the sound of music and slowed the purple flow of ice cream down our sugar cones. I could see Randy, but he wasn’t playing one of his original, Yellowstone-inspired compositions. He was playing something different, something I knew but couldn’t quite place.

We wove through the people milling around the more heavily decorated than usual lobby and into the Map Room where Randy sat at the piano. I waved and at the end of his song he stood and gave me a hug. He was wearing a tie.

I’d never seen Randy in a tie.

It was a Christmas tie. The song I hadn’t been able to place? A Christmas carol. And the overly decorated lobby? Christmas greenery. In August.

It was August 25. Christmas in Yellowstone. I’d forgotten.

Once upon a time, Yellowstone had a summer snowfall. Actually, Yellowstone gets a lot of summer snowfalls. This snow, however, fell on August 25. People—park concessionaire employees, probably—got a little festive. They celebrated and they decorated. Now, every year, Yellowstone’s establishments celebrate Christmas. It’s not about commerce. It’s about tradition.

According to park lore, for a lot of years, park concessionaire employees forded the Firehole River, hauled themselves up onto a boulder to decorate a tree which had managed to carve out space for its roots and its existence on top. The decorating was reportedly then undone by rangers who subsequently crossed the river and climbed the boulder themselves. It makes sense. There’s nothing natural about a Christmas tree in the middle of a river.

Christmas in Yellowstone. I’d forgotten. Actually, some days–the balmy ones and the cloudy ones, the snowy ones and, maybe especially, the scorching ones–I forget about Christmas.

That makes me sad, because Christmas forms the bedrock of my actual, everyday life. It’s as much the foundation in the middle of summer’s hottest months as it is  in December. Christmas is a celebration of a birth and a life, of a death and subsequent resurrection, of rebirth and new life. Christmas is not a one day deal.

It’s a celebration of a baby, God’s son, who came to earth to grow up, as baby boys do, into a man. He lived a fully human yet sinless life. He bore sin on his shoulders and suffered separation from His father. He died an unjust but necessary, sacrificial death to pay the debt for our sin so that we could—once again—be in relationship with God. And after three days, God raised him from the dead.

That’s something that matters every day. I live with the mercy and grace  of Christmas every day, but sometimes I forget to remember Christmas. And Christmas is worth remembering all year long.

If you’d like encouragement to remember Christmas in the coming months, I have something for you: I’ve recorded three short Christmas audios that can be delivered right to your inbox on the first of October, November, and December. If you’d like to receive these, just email me at natalie at alongthisroad dot com (or click the email icon at the top of this page) to let me know.  I’ll get you all set up.

Linking at Lyli’s place today.

Summer Notes

Summer Notes

Seasons–the days, the weeks, and even the months they are made of–are easy things for me to give away. I saw this tendency when my son and daughters were small and I referred to them as the age they would be on their next birthday rather than the one they were in that moment. I see it more often than I’d like, when I give away bits of a day that had stretched into the distance like our straight gravel road to things that don’t matter. And with a month of summer still left, I struggle not to feel like it’s already over. 

Do you feel that way too? If you do, I have good news: It’s not.

Summer still holds thirty-seven days on the calendar. Recounting the gifts, the graces, and the things that have made a difference helps me remember that. Care to join me?

Summer’s Gifts and Graces:

  1. Kittens. Period.
  2. Warm sun on my skin.
  3. Summer school. AKA reading by the pool.
  4. Shade. Because too much of even the good gift of sun is too much.
  5. Watermelon. I’m not usually a fan. This summer, though? Different story.
  6. Long days and late nights. Even though it means the sun is up before I am.
  7. Breezes. There’s nothing quite like the gentle rustle of wind through the leaves.
  8. The return of school. My girls mentioned their desire for its rhythms and routines before I did.
  9. Gardens. Where else is it so evident that worthwhile things require time, effort, and cultivation?
  10. Rain. It waters the roots, settles the dust, and, some years, there doesn’t seem to be quite enough.
  11. Time. Even though summer is still busy, the space-time continuum is just different during this season.
  12. Central air. Because even morning’s singing birds and evening’s chirping frogs can’t make up for the heat of high summer.

I keep track of more of each season’s gifts and graces on Instagram. If you’re on IG and you’d like to join in, use the hashtag #thegiftsandgraces.

Learning:

Diligence is good but deadlines are better.

I’ve never been one of those works-best-under-pressure sorts of gals. Back in college, I believed it when professors told me I would need the whole semester to complete an assignment. I started right away and finished without a lot of stress and pressure. In my current life I’ve been working diligently on a project. For a long time. I added a deadline and made huge progress. Fast.

Diligence paves the way. Deadlines provide the fuel to actually arrive.

Liking:

Watermelon, Cucumber, and Burrata Salad. Find it here. Sweet watermelon. Savory lots of other things. Love it!

Listening:

To my body: It needs more sleep. Either the 5 a.m. wakeup call or the late bedtime had to go. I’m getting up a little later. I’m not getting as much done, but that really isn’t the most important thing in life.

Looking:

At some public gardens and a nearby pretty little city: The flowers demand attention. They’re reminding me that effort and patience produce good fruit.

How about you? What gifts and graces have been part of your summer? What have you learned, liked, listened to, or looked at that’s made a difference this season?

Linking over at Emily P  Freeman’s today, with lots of others sharing what they learned this summer..

No: A Long Bridge to Yes

HA Spring Bridge Collage

When I slipped off the wide gravel road and into the woods, I knew it was a risk. The worn, earthen trail between the trees was wore a dark, saturated look, as if just a few drops of rain would transform it into shoe-sucking mud. At first it was solid and often grassy. Before long, though, I heard the unmistakable squish of a boggy trail under my feet. I picked my way over and around and through the sloppy path and emerged at the edge of a clearing that could have been called a swamp. Because it was shallow and my toes were already wet, I tiptoed in and picked my way across. There was something on the other side I wanted to see.

A bridge.

Finding a bridge in the woods is one of my favorite things. It’s unexpected. A gift.  After walking and walking and walking on dirt, suddenly there’s something different, something meant to make the way easier or maybe even possible, depending on the nature of the impasse.

As I approached the bridge, I thought it seemed a little odd. Out of perspective. Off somehow.  When I reached it, I saw that to cross the bridge required three steps down and three back up on the other side. Usually you just walk straight onto and across a bridge. It’s a zero-depth entry operation. To cross this bridge required me to climb down onto it just to cross.

I thought it was weird.

The people who built the bridge could have used a little extra wood and added a few feet on each side and it would have been like the others. Straight on. Straight off.

Those bridges are easy. Familiar.

But this one, I realized, as I leaned over the railing and inspected the cleft in the earth below, mirrored one I’d been walking for a while. Not a literal bridge, of course. This one mirrored one of those figurative bridges I’m fond of. They’re as unexpected as the ones in the woods, and possibly a greater gift.

No. That’s the bridge. And it’s taking me to yes.

It’s a long one. I climbed down onto that bridge one yes at a time only to discover that I’d yesed myself into a whole lot of noes. Noes to people. To sleep. And to fun. All those noes prompted my husband and me to take a close and prayerful look at our life. A close and prayerful look led to the realization that what we need now are more, different, noes–noes to Big And Very Good Things, things we enjoy, things we’re good at, things where we make a difference. All in the name of crossing the bridge back to yes.

Yes to people. Yes to rest. And yes to joy.

It’s a long bridge and I’ll be on it longer than I would like. It will take a lot of  steps to cross from one side of the chasm to the other, steps I know will be small and halting because I’m more prone to overcommitting than to cutting back.

But now that I’ve walked down the steps and onto the bridge I can see that it’s a good place to pause and count the cost, to ponder the conditions of current commitments and attend to God’s leading in order to press on, better able to stand behind my yeses and my noes. It’ll be awhile before I make it across the long bridge and climb the stairs on the other side. Along the way I’ll be learning to make better use of my noes, my yeses, and—for now—my summer, a season in which I’m trying to put my yeses in the right places, places like people—including my kids and the pool.

How about you? What are you doing with your yeses and noes? 

Linking over at Lyli Dunbar’s place today.
Click on over and see what she’s been up to!

What Gives Her Away

 

Backyard Brilliance

Elyse was four when she first showed us how brave she was—and what mattered enough to bring that bravery out. We’d moved, pulling into the driveway at a new house after dark on a Sunday night and popping out for a pre-school visit at nine the very next morning. During our tour she cast clandestine glances at the other children and when they invited her to stay for their Valentine’s Day party, she smiled and took a chair at their table.

It was her smile that gave her away.

Elyse is known for her smile. It’s ready and open and real. But not that day. That day it was manufactured and careful and maybe a little bit hopeful.

Thirteen years and another move later, we watched as the landscape of her face gradually flattened from its gentle contours into the hard line of a midwestern highway. Her smile gave her away again. It was gone. I knew why, and that we had to act because when my own smile had faded away a few years before, it was action that saved me.

I’d been lonely. Devastatingly so. We’d moved again, this time to a place where I found myself surrounded by people who called me friend but hadn’t made room for real relationship. Without companionship, I lost hope and withered away spiritually, emotionally, and physically, enduring rather than enjoying my life. So when I stepped out of the shower one morning–already weary and ready for the day to be done–and turned on a random podcast, I expected diversion. What I got was direction: There are friends who need you and friends who you need. If you need a friend, go out and find one. It sounded like a simple solution, but it was new to me. Click here to continue reading. 

Loneliness. It’s painful,  deeply personal, and seemingly pervasive in our culture today. There’s  a conversation underway over at kindredmom.com  this month about combatting loneliness. Join in and read more at Kindred Mom about our family’s experience with loneliness and steps we took to combat it . Click here to read the full essay.

 

Embracing a Big Summer {& a Giveaway}

Summer Scene: Morning on Table Rock LakeWhile the rest of the world waited for February 2 and  Punxsutawney Phil to declare just how many more weeks winter would hold on, I looked to February 1. That was the date I allowed myself to count the days until my kids would be done with school and off on summer break so we could all be home together and do summer things.

The key words in that sentence are home and do, because one always seemed to exclude the other and I ended up fragmented and frustrated in my approach to life.

The kids are older now and so am I. More than that we homeschool. I don’t have to count the days until we’ll all be home together. Still, every February, I find myself counting the days until we can focus more on the freedoms and gifts of summer.

But my desire to be home and do are still at cross-purposes, leaving me feeling as though I’m living in the battle field of my mind, my calendar, and my expectations. And I too often find myself a summer version of Ebenezer Scrooge, bah-humbugging away the season I was anticipating—feeling too overwhelmed to do all of those things I was looking forward to, telling my littlest that we don’t really need to go to the pool, and sometimes counting the days until fall.

This isn’t how I want to approach summer. It’s not how I want to live. But I’m learning that the way I meet seasons and months and days becomes the way I live  my life. So I’ve been working on it, putting on a new mindset about summer–the one I actually have instead of the one that exists only in my mind and Hallmark commercials.

Here are a few ideas that have helped me on my quest to better embrace a big summer. I’m more successful at some of these than others, but I’ll take progress without perfection over the pursuit of perfection with no progress.

  • Let summer be summer. Not a continuation of spring. Not a runway for fall. Just summer.
  • Let this summer be this summer. Not last summer. Or next summer. Every summer is different.
  • Look at every opportunity as a blessing rather than an obligation. 
  • Ask and adjust. Ask yourself what you want to do this summer. (Which isn’t the same as what you’d like to accomplish this summer.) Ask your family. Ask what’s realistic. Adjust.
  • If you need to let some things go, let them go and move on. Without guilt. Don’t dwell.
  • Say yes to the people who live in your house. It’s their summer, too.
  • Plan a few no days. Most days you’ll do things. Set a few apart to not do things.
  • Go to the pool. Or the lake. (And maybe get in the water.)
  • Eat outside. Even better: Put your dinner in a basket and go on a picnic.
  • Simplify your meal planning. During the summer we eat taco salad most Mondays. My girls love it, especially when we take it to the lake and go for a walk afterward.
  • If you travel, lighten up. Take less stuff. Make packing less of thing to contend with.
  • Consider this question: What is summer for?

I’d love to hear your answer. Let me know in the comments. 

The Giveaway:

There’s a new book on the market: A Family Shaped by Grace: How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most. It’s by Gary Morland, a believer in connecting the dots of life, in the power of encouragement, and in God’s care for the state of our family relationships. It’s practical and encouraging, a story and tool-chest for how to bring about small changes in your family culture, not by changing your family, but by changing your heart, attitudes, and actions toward your family. I’ve been privileged to be on the launch team for this book and because I believe family matters and am grateful for Gary’s voice, I’ll be giving away two copies of his book, one to blog readers and one to newsletter subscribers. To enter, leave a comment on or before June 29.

Blog reader winner will be announced June 30, in the comments on this post. (Newsletter subscribers will be notified by email. If you’re not a subscriber, there’s still time. Subscribe in sidebar.)

 

Sharing at  Lyli’s and Barbie’s.