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?

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.

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.

Waiting For What We Can’t See

Waiting for What You Can't See Along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and  Cooke City, the meadows are open and greening, quite in agreement with the calendar: spring has arrived. Leave the dry, temperate north end of Yellowstone and try to head into the interior, though,  and you’ll see a place still in waiting.

The most obvious sign: You can’t actually get there. Many of the roads are covered in snow. And closed.

It’s too bad, because there’s something there I want to see and never will.

In winter, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River develops a cone of ice, constructed by cold air and the mist churned up the river’s three-hundred-foot drop. In spring, warmer air and the same mist break down the structural integrity of the cone, eating away at it until it can no longer support itself. Eventually, after a series of thunderous pops and cracks, it collapses.

I’ve wanted to see this ever since I was eighteen, since that winter’s day when I stood next to the Lower Falls, marveling at the shield of ice and listening to a guide explain what would happen later that spring. But when the cone collapses, there’s no way into the park. It’s completely inaccessible.

Waiting For What You Can't See The roads that close every November to accommodate the transition from asphalt to  snow  close again every March for the reverse. Unlike fall’s reliance on the natural buildup of regular, seasonal precipitation, the transformation from snow road back to asphalt is a systematic dismantling, one which requires heavy equipment and weeks of labor. It’s a slow process, one which renders most of the park effectively closed.

Yellowstone—its wildlife and its woods tucked away from the eyes of all but a few employees—is inaccessible but busy,  pressing on toward that  burst of growth that spring’s increasing sunlight and warmth will unleash. The park does fine without observation. It doesn’t need us to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Buds swell on their branches. Bears wake and wander hungry from their dens, ready to hunt and gather. And bison, the largest of Yellowstone’s animals, trudge through the receding snow and their final bulky weeks of gestation.

But, like the collapse of the cone, much of this happens out of our reach. It’s entirely inaccessible. No matter how much we might want to see it.

Waiting For What You Can't See

It’s spring. The calendar says so and there’s evidence all around.  Here at home green sweeps though the timber and makes its way across the pasture to the front door. Birds sing with the dawn. Morning and evening light cast their influence over our activities and our moods.

While the temperate regions in my life make their way into the light of spring with ease, there are interior pockets that are slow to join them. There’s no road to get there, so I can’t see what’s going on. I can’t hurry it along. No matter how much I want to.

Because I’m learning to pay better attention to the seasons, I’m starting to understand some things about those inaccessible, wintry pockets.

Just as the arrival of the vernal equinox does not mean that winter has fully released its hold on the earth, there is no one day to look to for the thawing of the wintry places in my life. What it does mean is that winter’s power is weakening. Spring is on the way.

Spring is always on the way.

Those wintry places will feel the light in their time. They don’t need me to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Spring’s got this. It’s blowing its warm breath across the landscape of life, creating the right conditions for the ice to crack and the cone to collapse. It’s slow sometimes and hard to wait, but the rhythm and inevitability of the seasons work in our favor, even when we can’t see it. Maybe especially if we can’t see it.

And you?  Are you prone to wonder and worry over what you can’t see? What could you do instead?

 

 

(You can see a photo of  the ice cone toward the end of its life here.)

Sharing at Barbie’s and Lyli’s places this week.

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

 

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.

 


 

Taking the Best of One Year into the Next

I parked and considered my options. Distracted momentarily by the sun rising in the direction of home, I stepped out of my vehicle to take a picture and I turned around to look at the capitol. And when I got back in, I noticed a sign across the road: Mercy Urgent Care.

City Sunrise

The problem wasn’t the Garmin. It was me. I’d picked the wrong destination.

I needed to make a course correction. I still couldn’t picture Mercy or the roads that led there, so I followed the Garmin from where I was to where I needed to be. I had to take the interstate during heavy commuter traffic. And because I managed to make a wrong turn, I ended up in the tangle of one way downtown streets before I made it to the hospital. But I arrived in time to see my mom before surgery.

And at the end of a long day, I got into my vehicle and chose my own road home.

/ / / / /

For some of us, these unclaimed days between Christmas and the new year are days of picking new destinations and plotting paths to get there. Some years, in the rush to get from where I am to where I want to be, I’ve made navigational errors. I’ve set a course for where I thought I was going only to find myself in the equivalent of a dark, empty parking lot across from a tiny clinic when I needed to be at a sprawling hospital.

I’ve been guilty of trying to create a whole new way of living when I needed just a course correction, a tweak to the path I was already on.

Here’s one practice that helps me figure out the difference: Take a pause to look back over the last year. Ponder the path with an eye for what’s already happening, for what’s working and what’s not. Then press on, holding on to the things that work and looking for ways to correct what’s not.

WHAT  WORKED IN 2016
  1. Sometimes, after thought and prayer, saying “yes” even when I knew it would be hard.
  2. Setting and sticking to a writing day. 
  3. A (mostly) low glycemic way of eating. More energy for me and fewer migraines for my husband.
  4. Asking for help.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK {AND THEIR TWEAKS}:
  1. Saying “yes” just because something needed to be done. It’s habit I slide into easily and it never ends well. The first people to suffer are the ones I have the most responsibility to.  Once the course is set it takes time and effort to find the way out the tangle and onto the right roads. {The tweaks: Admitting I’m in over my head. Asking for help. Deselecting.}
  2. Social Media. It’s a great way to keep in touch. And I like to keep in touch. But it slices off time, a limited commodity, in such tiny slivers I barely notice in the moment. Slivers add up. And there’s some research that indicates our brains filter out what comes in through the ears in favor of what it can get through the eyes. That means that my brain focuses the pretty images scrolling past on Instagram (my social media fix of choice) over the human beings standing in my presence. Again, the ones I have the most responsibility to suffer first. {The tweaks: Turning off notifications. Establishing times to check social media. Putting the phone down to look my people in the eye.}

Some of what works now won’t work forever and, with tweaks, some of what isn’t working may morph into something does. I’m thankful for these days that allow me to  pause, ponder the path, and press on.

What would you like to take into the next year? What would you like to tweak?

Because of New Normals

On the eve of our son’s return to college when the kids were snarly and I was weepy, my husband looked at us and said, “Transitions are always tough.”

They are. I know. But I forget.

With his words barely out into the air between us, I remembered Yellowstone’s roads and the rough transition from spring-summer-fall to winter and that it’s hard sometimes to get from where we are to where we need to be. Because I see the road as a metaphor for life, remembering Yellowstone’s roads smoothed my frayed nerves and gave me perspective. And because I know that transitions the road to new normals are not only tough, they’re inevitable, and that it’s human nature to forget what we know, here’s a repost from a couple of years back.


 

IMG_1511The sun dawned in the steely sky and peeked through trees veiled by the falling snow. It had begun the night before and lingered, fine and heavy, through the day. “It’s slick,” my son told me when he returned from his mid-day Calc class. I must have looked concerned, because he amended his statement. “The roads were fine. It’s the parking lot that was bad.”

Of course the roads were in better shape than the parking lot—the DOT turns the crews loose before the first flake hits the ground. They work to keep the roads neat and tidy, safe surfaces for us to navigate between where we are and where we need to be. Their trucks and plows spread through the area with sand, salt, and blades.

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone that same day, but there no one bothered much about the roads.

It wasn’t because of a strike. It wasn’t because of a government shutdown. It was because–with the exception of the fifty-two mile stretch of road between the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City–Yellowstone’s roads are accessible only by snow machine during the winter.

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In spring and summer and the early months of fall, Yellowstone’s roads are just roads. They have their seasonal dangers—potholes the size of small cars, thermal mist which ices the surface on cold nights, wildlife lallygagging just around the bend—but they are roads, meant for us to drive. We belong there.

During the winter they consist of snow, groomed smooth enough by the same machines that tend to downhill ski slopes, their edges marked by tall orange stakes rather than the familiar white line. We can belong there, too, on snowmobiles or in Suburbans retrofitted with treads.

But for a few weeks in between they are roads in transition.

They’re messy. They’re dangerous. And they’re fit for neither tires nor treads.

Some of the people who live and work in Yellowstone’s interior drive them anyway—to the grocery store, to visit a friend, to their winter’s work assignment. Park employees tell tales of white-knuckled travels over slippery, snowy roads. It’s what their life requires while they wait for the snow to build up so that groomers can carve out a smooth surface for them to get from where they are to where they need to be.

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Some of ours are roads in transition.

Stretches are messy. Sections are dangerous. And sometimes our vehicle feels like no match for the way ahead.

Our kids get older and what once worked suddenly is a cumbersome, clunky way that doesn’t get the job done. Our marriages reshape themselves just as we do, and so do our friendships. Our jobs change, and sometimes even the place where our key fits the lock.

In the midst of it all, we keep going. We make our way over roads that are messy and dangerous, in vehicles that feel like no match for the terrain. We wait for the day when it will smooth into a neat and tidy surface, one that feels safe to navigate–even if only for a little while. It’s the process life requires and the way it gives for us to get from where we are to where we need to be.

And while we wait, beautiful encouragement from a Psalm of David: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

No matter the condition of the road.

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And you? Are you on a road in transition today? What helps you navigate?