Gifts and Graces: Spring Edition

Spring on the Square

Yesterday I hurried into Walmart for a few things and emerged–much more slowly–pushing a cart. Right outside the door I caught the fragrance of something I’d seen but not stopped to appreciate on the way in: flowers for sale. It was the scent of spring.

I try, with varying degrees of success, not to focus so much on the difficulties of a season  that I miss out on the good. This winter, with its perpetual grey skies that delivered more rain than snow, proved hard not to wish away.

Already the best gift and amazing grace of spring is that it arrived, just in time to remind me that seasons were God’s idea, and that as long as there are lights in the heavens to govern them, seasons—no matter how long or weird or uncomfortable—will end.

So I’m thankful for spring, for days that can be counted on to get a little longer as they pass, for green that marches across the grass and through the treetops toward my doorstep, for teasing, balmy air. What I’m grateful for this Spring Which Followed the Greyest of Winters is that no matter the nature of that cold season, spring always comes again.

Gifts of Spring: A Short List of Things to Count On.
  1. Evening light. Glory.
  2. Rain. Even though it brings clouds.
  3. Growth: Even when it brings growing pains.
  4. Girls that want to go outside. During school. A lot.
  5. Change. Even though I never like it. At first, anyway.
  6. Buds on the branches. Calves frolicking in the pasture. Mama cats looking for place to shelter tiny kittens.

And you? What gifts, graces, and even glitches is this season bringing your way?

Sharing at Lyli and Barbie’s .

Every Day We Show Up

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Dress Rehearsals

Every Monday during the winter, I drive into town. There, twenty young actors and a few directors gather to work.

We block scenes so the actors know where they’re supposed to be, when. We practice dialogue so they know their lines and how to deliver them. We fine tune character development so they know how to inhabit their role. 

In the beginning progress is slow. Details that seemed settled at one practice get lost before we make it to the next. We forget lines and props and which side of the stage to enter from.

But week by week, little by little, we improve. The actors go where they want to end up. They say the right line at the right time. And they become the character they’re meant to be.

It’s a process.

We start with blocking rehearsals. We don’t do the scenes in the order they appear in the script. We work the scenes in an order that helps us make the best use of our time. To an observer it might look as though we’d dropped the script and are performing a mixed up story.

But observers don’t matter at this point.

We just need to figure out what’s happening on the stage: How to get from here to there. How to get the props on. How to get the set changed.

After blocking, we move to polishing. We work on getting on and off stage at just the right time and in just the right way. We work on saying our lines not like ourselves but as our character. We quit relying on scripts because we can’t use them in performance and it’s impossible to act well with a book in your hand.

A few weeks before the show, we begin technical rehearsals– bringing in sound and lights and special effects and the audio-visual crew so that it all flows together. And we continue to polish. We perfect line delivery and placement and postures. We prepare for the inevitable moment when someone will forget a line, when some prop will disappear, or break, or just get forgotten.

And then it’s dress rehearsal, probably the cast’s favorite one of all, with costumes, a dark house, and directors glued to their seats, unable to stop things and ask them to “run that one more time.” It’s the moment they’ve been working toward. They take the stage. They perform the show. Just as they’ve practiced.

When it’s over they’re tired and hungry and ready to go home, but first they sit together on the stage and we talk. They talk about how they think it went, what went well and what they hope doesn’t happen again. Then the directors and even the technical crew do they same, because it’s important to know what went right and what still needs some work.

In just over twelve hours we’ll all be back, putting on makeup and costumes, and–because they’re all teenagers–eating, rested and ready for the show.

The lights will go down. They’ll take the stage. And the show will begin.

The cliché is right. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But it’s not a performance, either. Life is living, one day at a time.

We show up for practice. We block so we know where to go, when. We polish so we know how to communicate, what we need to say and how and when we need to say it, how to make ourselves heard and how to be silent so others can be heard. We practice the technical stuff and grow more and more into who we already are.

Over and over again.

Every day we show up with what we have,  ready to do our part and do our best. Every day we block the new, polish the old, and hold an imperfect dress rehearsal for the day to come. And every day we learn from that day how to better move into the next one, how better to run the race set before us, how better to attend to and apply the Word that lights our path.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It isn’t a performance. It’s a story, blocked, polished, and lived out one day at a time, with new mercies raining down.

And you?  What are you showing up to today? What’s it teaching?

Linking this post at Jennifer, Lyli, Brenda, Barbie, Jen and  Dawn‘s.

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Overwhelm: A Bridge Toward Saner Living

Trout Lake BridgeJ and I took our first trip to Yellowstone together twenty-two springs ago. As we zipped down the interstate ahead of schedule in the middle of the afternoon, I realized we could make it to the park that night. We could cancel our along-the-way reservation, drive to the Old Faithful Inn, and wake up already there rather than still long hours away.

I calculated the miles and the time. I figured we’d pull into the Inn’s parking lot by ten.

What I didn’t do was reckon on a sleet-spitting storm and the sludge that passing semis threw over the windshield of our little red Plymouth Sundance. Or factor in the one hundred thirty-nine deer that crossed the highway on their way down to the Shoshone River. Or consider Yellowstone’s speed limits, which are 45 miles per hour at best.

And I didn’t know about the road.

It was ten p.m. when we crossed the park border. Still, we passed the gate and entered Yellowstone with a sense of euphoria. We’d made it. We were in the park. We still had sixty-five miles to go, but we’d be out of the vehicle and headed toward bed by midnight.

Except, just inside the gate, there was this sign. ROAD CONSTRUCTION, it read, along with something about how many miles this road construction was going to last. Something about a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Something that meant it was going to take a very long time to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.

I drove past the sign onto a road that had been reduced to its dirt base. Obeying the speed limit was not simply a matter of compliance with the law. It was a matter of survival. Even at twenty-five, the car lurched and bounced, jarring our bones and rattling our brains. Twenty-five became more of a dream than a reality.

Between the nonexistent road, a mountain pass still blocked by winter’s snow, and the potholed highway that led to our destination, four more hours went by before we finally arrived, worn and weary at the Inn. In my optimism and desire to get to the park, I had made a gross miscalculation.

I do that in life sometimes.

I tally up the tasks and the time and figure I’ll be able to pull it off before the deadline. But I forget to factor in life’s squalls that throw sludge and limit what I can see and do. I don’t factor stopping for one hundred thirty-nine unexpected obstacles. I forget how fast I can—or can’t—go.

And I don’t always know about the road.

Sometimes it’s smooth. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy. And sometimes it’s a bone-jarring, brain-rattling surface that brings me to my own life worn out and shaken up.

It isn’t the math, not the reckoning or the factoring or the considering. It’s a tendency toward optimistic and often delusional thinking, a belief that the little things don’t really add and the road will always be clear.  It was this delusional thinking that defined last fall.

I felt overwhelmed. And stuck. Every day.

And then, one day after a morning (morning!) nap, I realized I wasn’t as stuck as I felt. I had options. Not a lot of them, but enough to make life more manageable for the now and better for the next time this always-packed season came around. I postponed a self-imposed deadline and enlisted help for current projects and one that would come back around in a year.

Overwhelm, I saw, was not just an unwelcome companion on that leg of my life’s journey.  It was a bridge, a rickety one, between a land of delusion and one of saner living. Seeing it for what it was allowed me to be grateful, not just for the bridge but for the road that brought me there. Crossing it taught me a few things. Here they are, in print, so I can remember them and so I can share them with you, just in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed.

Six Ways to Use Overwhelm as a Bridge to Saner Living

  • Resist the urge to panic. While panic comes easy and calm takes effort, it never helps.
  • Realize you are not as stuck as you feel. Feelings serve as good indicators, but they aren’t good at telling the whole truth.
  • Rest. Whatever that looks like for you. Somehow, things look better after a night’s rest. Or a morning nap. Or a bath. A walk. A conversation.
  • Reconnoiter. While this is a military term, it’s helpful in navigating life. It means to go to an area to gather information about an enemy. Basic reconnaissance. And, while enemy may be extreme in describing overwhelm, the concept of an intentional information-gathering trip into your own life applies.
  • Remediate. Based on what you learn, make changes where you can—both for the now and the later. Even a small change is movement.
  • Request help. About the truth that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, CS Lewis said that sometimes the strength is simply to ask. Sometimes it’s to carry on. Sometimes it’s to do less. And sometimes it’s the strength to face the truth that we need help.

And you?  Have you ever found yourself in need of a saner way of living? What did you do? I’d love to hear.

 

 

 

Sharing stories at Jennifer Dukes Lee and 3D Lessons for Life

 

Winter’s Good Graces {and Why to Keep Track}

Winter Gifts and Graces

The bleak midwinter, Christina Rossetti called it. And while her poem is lovely, living with continual strings of short, cold, sunless days is not.

I believe that there is a time for everything, even bleak days. And yet. It’s at such times when my practice of pausing occasionally to ponder the path, to take stock of each season’s gifts and graces saves me from giving in to cabin fever and its ilk. Winter’s good graces are less obvious than those of the more temperate seasons. I find it’s possible to uncover them, though, when I’m intentional about looking.

Here, at winter’s midpoint, is a list of some of the gifts and graces currently keeping me sane, reminding me to be grateful, saving my life in the little ways that matter.

  1. Fire, as in, that it’s not a mystery and I can build one:  Whether atop a candle or tucked into our wood burner, it warms our home and lifts my spirits.
  2. Down: Over the past few years I’ve turned into one of those cold people. Down makes winter survivable.
  3. Unseasonable weather: A reminder that even in the deepest winter, autumn existed and spring is on its way.
  4. The sun: No matter how rare its appearance, it reminds me of fresh starts and new mercies.
  5. Tea: Because cold, dark mornings.
  6. Coffee shops: Even though I’ve never taken to coffee, I like people and people like coffee.
  7. Boot weather: Because boots just don’t work in the summer.
  8. Cast Iron: Because the crock pot doesn’t cut it for The Pioneer Woman’s Spicy Shredded Pork and this beef stew. (I adapt these recipes to make them friendly to a lower-glycemic way of eating by cutting the brown sugar out of the pork, and skipping the flour and substituting radishes for the potatoes in the stew. The family didn’t notice when I axed the sugar even though I’ve been making the pork according to the recipe for years. Also, I won’t eat radishes raw, but roasted or cooked in a stew, they’re mild and lovely.)
  9. Fleece Sheets. (See #2) Sleep comes faster when I’m warm.
  10. The sky: Even during a winter that’s given up precious little sunshine, the sky often puts on a quiet show as the sun sets. Somehow, this gives me hope.
  11. The days following winter solstice: The longest nights give way more quickly than I’d realized to increasing daylight. It’s noticeable by early January.
  12. Home: After lots of days running here and there with extracurriculars, I’m grateful for a landing-place.
  13. Rhythms: That abundance precedes want.
  14. Bedtime reading: Because sometimes there just isn’t enough time during the day. This winter’s favorites (so far): Jane Austen’s Persuasion (a regular reread) and Michelle DeRusha’s  Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk.

What gifts and graces are are making a difference in your life this winter? 

 

Joining the conversations at Modern Mrs. Darcy and 3-D Lessons for Life.

 

Seeing Blue Beyond the Grey {and Welcome!}

Because it intersects with two subjects which fascinate and teach me,  the rhythms of the seasons and Yellowstone, I bought a book, For Everything There is a Season: The Sequence of Events in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone Area. Through it, I see the general happening of Yellowstone’s year from afar. Week by week, it lays out which birds generally return when, the expected arrival of the young of the year, when a particular wildflower will bloom.

Week by week.

Except for December. Not too much happens in December. Twenty-seven of its days get one chapter, six pages, to themselves.

And the stretch  we’re in? January 1 – February 26 warrants only one page, a paragraph. One. Ninety-two words describe the happenings of eight long, cold weeks.

 One of the first bird species to re-establish and passively defend a nesting territory will be the ravens. Paired ravens may be seen sitting side by side on days when the weather is fair and their appetites satisfied, a situation that occurs more frequently as spring evolves. With spring in the air and time to spare, the ravens play, a luxury most species do not have. Red crossbills may initiate nesting during any month of the year. Boreal and great horned owls may be heard calling, this being their courtship period. ~ Frank C. Craighead, Jr.

Apparently Yellowstone doesn’t see much change in the during deep winter. It’s loveliness walks alongside a sometimes cruel companion of cold, windy days under a stark, steel sky.  It’s a quiet time, stagnant even.

It looks like not much is happening. And not much is. There. In the park or on the surface.

But away from the park migratory birds are living a temperate life. The elk have wandered south to a reserve. The bears have denned, sleeping their way through winter and giving birth to tiny offspring who will do nothing but eat and grow through their mother’s slumber.

We can’t always see what’s happening but deep winter reminds us to hope.

The raven operates by instinct. It knows that even though it’s winter on the ground, spring is in the air. In the space opened up by the absence of activity, the raven, mascot of hope, is satisfied to enjoy the little luxury afforded by the sameness of the season. It doesn’t just endure its environment. It more than survives its season. It plays.

Sun sightings and blue skies have been rare this winter, each one a relief and a reminder. No matter the color of tomorrow’s sky, the seeds of spring will sprout from today’s frozen ground and these words from Isaiah are true: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

He’s always doing a new thing. Even when the grey keeps us from seeing it. Maybe especially when the grey keeps us from seeing it.

And like the blue sky is a gift, so is the journey to learn to embrace the truth that what believing what we can’t see is as important as seeing what we can with proper perspective.

And you? Are you in a crowded season or one with a little open space? What helps you to see blue beyond the grey?

Sharing stories with other writers at Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory linkup.


Welcome to Along This Road’s New Home.

Do you remember when I mentioned that because I want someday to publish a book, I needed to make some changes to help myself and my cause? Here they are.

The biggest is the domain name.  Since I’ve never even given my last name on my blog, this feels kind of weird. But, it’s how it is and after too many years of ignoring how it is, I’ve complied and now it’s out there for everyone on the internets to see. Less obvious is that, because I want to publish a book, I need a way to get in touch with people–outside of my blog –interested in either in  me or in reading my work. (The FCC has rules about how one goes about these things and I am all about following the rules.)

The best way you as a reader can support me as a writer would be to subscribe to an as-yet-unnamed quarterly(ish) newsletter. If you’ve read here for long, you’ve probably noticed I have a thing about seasons. Quarterly fits me best, even though the blog-world experts say that you’ll forget all about me if I don’t contact you every week. I think you possess better memories than that.

If you’d like, you can subscribe in the sidebar, where it says Subscribe to Quarterly(ish) Newsletter. Thanks! (Also, if you’d rather not receive notifications of blog posts any more, you can click the envelope icon at the top and send me an email. I know the weight of an overflowing inbox. I’ll take care of it.)

Thanks for reading, for your encouraging words and kind comments, for sticking with me during these years after I stumbled into blogging, and as I figure out the next steps.