great expectations

Today is the last day of summer break for me.  I can remember as a kid the last day of summer break meant chores and a reinstated early bedtime.  The clothes we had purchased weeks before from JC  Penney had been sequestered into a separate location in the closet preparing for their debut would finally make their way into my dresser.  Sorting through the bags, carefully choosing a first day outfit and laying it out before bed was a ritual of sorts that just increased my excitement for the impending school year.  In the late summer heat, I can remember not sleeping with anticipation of all that would come in the next nine months. I had a longing for the return to routine while equally lamenting the loss of lazy summer days and being outside.  Not much has changed.  I sit this morning on my porch sipping coffee and thinking about all the things I still wanted to accomplish this summer and distracted by the long list of tasks I need to complete before the cherubs return to the halls of our fine school.

A new school year provides a new beginning, a fresh start.  New school clothes, shiny shoes, and fresh lunchboxes usher in a hopefulness that this year can be the best yet. It is a time to set the stage for reaching new goals and measuring growth.  It feels as though anything is possible.  Hope is abundant at times like these and we all need more hope.  It seems that hope is a commodity of great value that gets swallowed up by the pace of our lives.  The overwhelming stream of information that surrounds us is like drinking from a firehose. This leaves us with no mental space to process it all, let alone to pause and take notice of transitions. The endings and beginnings seems to blend together, if we do not take a moment to block out the noise of the continuous flow of communications.

Rituals can help us to push pause on the noise.  Most people have rituals around holidays, birthdays or even sports event. Rituals can enrich our time spent with friends and family.  Creating rituals or traditions creates margin for connection with each other if done properly.  Rituals can get out of hand or become empty and obligatory.  That is not what I am advocating.  The first day of school ritual of a pancake breakfast or a pizza dinner with the family can be a rich time to connect and mark time.  It is the way we can block out the noise of our culture and love one another intentionally.  We can reminisce and dream together. I had these kinds of rituals with my son as he grew up and now as I forge an encore life with Mr. Wonderful and Mr Wonderful Jr. I am searching to create a new blend of rituals.

So today, I search for a new outfit for the first day, set my alarm and pack my lunch for tomorrow. Happy school year everyone!

When are the natural pauses or transitions in your calendar?  What rituals keep you connected in your family? 

*I am still collecting your ideas to live beautifully exhausted for an upcoming post.  Email them to me at beautifulexhaustionblog@gmail.com

 

margin- get some!

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Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

Sitting in the school auditorium on a Sunday morning, coffee in hand, I was exhausted.  Not beautifully exhausted.  The kind of exhaustion that comes from accepting busyness as a kind of badge of honor in our culture.  I worked full time in the non-profit sector, taught as an adjunct professor at a small college, a mom of a preteen, wife, friend, sister, daughter, and active community member.  I was committed to being all things to all people and to physical fitness.  I was married to a man with a less than strong work ethic, that had big dreams and no drive. I did the lion’s share of the household management, yardwork and daily chores.  I was a hands on mom, involved in music boosters and any other activity my kiddo found fanciful that week. I worked 60-80 hours a week and was desperately trying to hold on to any relationships with my girlfriends to keep what little sanity I had left.  As a good Christian woman, I even quoted scripture trying to make it all ok. (“I have come that you may have abundant life” John 10:10) This was my life, sound familiar?

It was that morning that I began to question whether all of the activity was really worth it. As my pastor got up to share his weekly message, my brain was already moving to the list in my purse containing the all the tasks necessary in the next 24 hours to just make it through to tomorrow.  He began as usual, but quickly I realized this message was

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different. As he shared about his life, the busyness our culture values and the toll it took on his life, marriage and even health, my heart sank.  I was achieving all the culture valued, and was killing myself in the process. He spoke of the need for margin.  We tend to live our lives right up to the boundaries with no space left. Many books are written on how to do this well, the be “more effective” with our time, how to fit more into your day, to focus for more success. I had read them all, practiced them and what I came up with was a life with no margin.

Margin is the space on the edges. It is our room to breathe, a resting spot.  It is not the place to reorganize and launch back in, it is the space for nothing.  When we write in the margins, our life flows off the page. We need the space of nothing to be healthy.

img_20190816_195800_239A lot has happened since that day so many years ago and I still find myself learning how to practice margin.  My life is shrinking to a reasonable place with margin all around. With more margin, I have more opportunity to love deeply, to exhaustion;  to love with depth not more activity.  Beautiful exhaustion does not come from a life of increased activity, it may actually be quite the opposite.  It is a life with less in it, with deeper roots.  Physical and mental exhaustion are not the measures of a life well lived, it is in the beauty of exhausting ourselves in pouring into others, but not into everyone. With our world so vastly connected it seems counter-intuitive to intentionally shrink my life, but it is the only way to create more margin in our finite time and space. I have to say no often, to say yes when it matters.

How much margin have you created? How can you create more margin?  What do you need to shrink in your life to have more margin?

****In a future post I will be listing the top ten ways to live beautifully exhausted.  Do you have a great idea or example?  Email it to me at beautifulexhaustionblog@gmail.com it just might make the list!

Anniversary Day

fb_img_15342559843906284497445523147565.jpgToday marks the one year anniversary of my arrival home to Anacortes, WA  after pedaling across country. While epic and life changing, it was just the beginning. I have said to people that the journey on my bike was not to prove anything, but it really ended a book (not a chapter) for me.  Like most people I have had many chapters, but this was different.  My life has so dramatically changed in the last couple of years, that I have put that old book to rest and have begun an entirely new book.

As I rode across the Northern Tier,  I experienced amazing generosity and kindness.  People are genuinely thoughtful and kind, quite the opposite of what we are led to believe on social media and traditional media.  People love their communities!  I am no different.  As people poured out pride about their community, the little voices in my head were saying, “Well, you’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, it’s the best place to live!”.

At the finish line last year, I was given a very special honor of a day named after me in Anacortes, WA. As the mayor declared the day mine, I couldn’t help but think that I needed to really make it special.  So, I will!  This year, I am simply asking people to give to CHOW or your local food program for school children.  You can usually find one through your local United Way, a food bank or even a school.  Give so that children can be fed and ready to learn!  I have plans in the works to organize a short day ride in the coming years to benefit CHOW.  I encourage you to remember August 12 as the day to support feeding programs for kids in your community!  If you are in Skagit County please make a donation to Skagit United Way- CHOW today!  click here to give to CHOW

get out of my own way

He works nights, so most days this summer I get up and busily work on my to do list until he wakes in the mid afternoon. Teacher summers are great! Yesterday was no exception. I try to be focused on

dropping everything and sitting with him while he wakes up, eats and gets ready to head off for another 12 hour shift. I make him some breakfast and pack a lunch so he can ease into his long day. I happily send him out the door imploring him to be safe and keep the bad guys locked up.

Except yesterday I didn’t. I was working on an important email to my brother about some pressing family business. Then, I got side tracked searching for gear on the facebook marketplace for our upcoming backpacking trip and our every evolving garage gym. I shuffled through my to do list and set my plans in motion. All the while he was searching the cupboards groggily for some breakfast. A swarm of locust, I mean four preteen boys, had ravenously consumed all the food at a sleepover the previous couple of days and I had not yet finished compiling our click list for groceries (warning tangent… I hate the grocery store, so online groceries with curbside pick has changed my life. I have not been in side a grocery store to grocery shop in months…) So he was left in his sleepy state

to make breakfast and pack a lunch with little more than rice cakes, frozen brats and tortillas.And I didn’t move an inch off the couch. My focus was on myself, on my list. Those who know me well, know that I am a list maker. My friends and I joke that we make lists of the lists me need to make. I have been known to complete a task not on the list, just to write it on the list and immediately cross it off. It is so satisfying! Going to bed with a completed list is a little victory for me. Yet my focus is in the wrong place. Lists just for the satisfaction of completion is selfish and that is exactly what happened yesterday. I was so focused on my list, that I did not take one hour of my day to love Mr. Wonderful well. He deserves to be loved well. He loves me so well, I should at least make him a sandwich.

So, today I woke to a piece of paper ready for a list and refocus. My list still has tasks, but I am asking myself what needs to go on this list that leads me to love well, to love deeply; to pause from pragmatism and pour out generosity of spirit, love for another and gratitude for those in my life. I want to get out of my own way to embody love.The lists will be increasing as we renovate our home to prepare for sale and embark on building our own home as owner-builders. There are a million little details, but I want each day to be filled with intention to love well. So my lists will be a practice to love well. It is an opportunity to build a new home founded on intentional acts of love.

When do you find that you are the biggest barrier to loving well? How do you overcome it? What practices do you use to be intentional about loving those around you?

What you focus on

I have not spent much time writing in the last few months. I found that my journal has been empty and my desire to record my thoughts, feelings and ideas has been absent. It has bothered me that my blog has sat idle, looming out in cyberspace. Yet, I have felt I have nothing to say. Perhaps I have used all my important words and exhausted all of my ideas last summer on my epic journey. The mundane life has been ambling along and I am focused on tasks and dreams that are seemingly far less important to the world at large, but are really meaningful to me.

I knew that the journey last summer was in so many ways a culmination of so may chapters in my life. So much has happened in the past five years, that it is as though I am not just writing a new chapter, but a whole new book. All that I have known and staked my life to has been shaken and shifted. It sounds ominous, but really it had been more of a rebirth. I have let go of so much. I am beginning to find the things that are anchoring my new life.

Living beautifully exhausted, looks very different these days. My world and influence seems to be shrinking. Not shriveling or dying, but far more focused. I have taken on new roles that are keeping my world small, and focused. I have become more intentional in many ways and I am learning daily what it means to live an abundant life free of mindless selfishness.

This year I have been listening to podcasts. This new world of information and inspiration is intriguing to me. My podcast subscriptions range from Dave Ramsey, Build Your Own House University, Spartan Up, the Liturgists, the Blue Wife Life, The Stepmom Club and the Cult of Pedagogy. Every part of my crazy life has a podcast. It keeps my long commutes from being mundane for sure. As I have listened to this vast menu of topics one theme continues to emerge in every context – Be intentional!

Intentionality requires focus. It seems everyone agrees that the things you give your time, money and thoughts to grow and flourish. If you want to make changes and improve your finances, create a budget focus every dollar that you have. If you want to be successful, persevere, get up early, decide to follow the plan that leads to the finish line. If you want to build a house, create a strong foundation, use the right tools, focus your time and energy on being an expert on your house designs. To be a supportive law enforcement spouse, understand the law enforcement community, be flexible and create community among other law enforcement families. To be a good stepmom, focus on being patient, learn when to stand in the gap and when to be in the background. For success in teaching, really understand students, culture, psychology and brain development. Every podcast when boiled down is screaming to me ; what you focus on is what will be true, successful and robust. How do I focus when all of the above is my life?

Think about your car. I drive a Nissan Versa Note. It is not a glamorous car by any stretch of the imagination. However, everyday I see a handful of these cars on my commute. I bet you see your make and model as you motor about too. I see Versa Notes, because it is the focus of my car life.

This year I have been focusing on not being able to write, having nothing to say and not having a strong purpose to convey to the world. It was the wrong focus. My real focus is what I started this blog all about. So you could say, I am refocusing. How can I live each day beautifully exhausted? What does that mean in my much smaller life these days? How do I love so deeply the people in my constricted circles that those relationships thrive and significantly deepen? What does it mean to love myself well? How will that spill over into a focus of living life with intention?

What do you need to focus on? Where do you need to renew your intentionality?

Sacred spaces

I entered the room with an anxious spirit. I haven’t played guitar in years. By play guitar, I don’t really mean creating beautiful music like my very talented friends Mark Clawson, Beth Bishop, or the members of Old Town Tonic. It is not meant that I can actually play music at all. I really just play enough chords to sing along and to lead children in simple tunes. While the mere presence of my guitar awes most every first grader, real musicians know that I am not one of them. My chord sheet downloaded from the internet, I enter the room hoping my hands are recovered enough to hold the neck of the guitar and pick, that my fingers have regain enough dexterity to press the strings to create sounds of the G, D and A chords.

Singing is foriegn to so many children at my school. They seem to have the idea that somehow singing skills are given to some people at birth while others are skipped over of this skill. It seems having red hair or being tall is just like singing to them. It seems they have not had a lullaby sung to them, sat at the dinner table to sing grace or celebrated life events with song. They have missed the sacred space that song creates. Yet, here I come inviting them in with a simple tune and gusto as I strum in mediocrity. I invite them to consider that singing can be learned and developed.

I get to enter sacred spaces with children everyday. I roll my cart of wonder into classrooms all over my school. I get to sit and watch as the lightbulbs go on, as kids explore the world for the first time in new ways considering all the wonder the world has for the first time. I get to carry simple instruments into spaces and march with children as they discover that making sound can be a glorious adventure as we create a marching band transforming a bland blacktop into a grand parade. I get to work in the classrooms of educators that do seemingly impossible things everyday, all in a day’s work. The sacred space of learning is a mystery and precious joy. My colleagues create this space each day!

My sunmer bicycle adventures were filled with a sacredness that I carry through my days. It has helped me view the seemingly mundane and routine with new light. I cherish in my heart the people I met along my way and the joy of having my world opened up in much the same way my colleagues and I open the world for our littlest students.

To be sacred, is to be set apart, but it does not have to be extraordinary. Sacred can be plain, but given the space and authority to be sacred. Can all of life be sacred? Can I live a sacred life that embraces gratitude, mercy, and grace?

My cousin Joseph gave me a great gift a few weeks ago. He sets his alarm for a certain time each evening. As the alarm sounds, he pauses and he invites whoever he is with to share three gratitudes. Dinner was over and my cousins, boyfriend and I were having dessert when the alarm sounded. Each in turn we entered the sacred space of sharing gratitude. This moment shifted each of us to refocus as we contemplated our gifts, shared our thankfulness and embraced gratitude.

Sacredness is not reserved for the religious. Sacredness is a pause to recognize the fragile nature of life and relationships, the wonder of innocence, the joy of intentional living and the embracing of suffering.

Do you have sacred spaces in your day? Where can you pause to create a sacred space? Who can you invite into sacred space with you?

Back to Ordinary Time

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Re-entering ordinary life is a curious business. I have not really had the words to describe it and still may not be able to fully communicate the experience fully. It has not been as I had expected or hoped. It has given me an opportunity to retool, and rethink, to reprioritize and to reevaluate my decisions.

The local media has been kind and lovely. Keeping up with my schedule in the days following my return was a bit of a blur for me. There were so many interviews (some links posted below). I was not ready to multitask and coordinate all the pieces of my life. I found myself longing for the simplicity of being on bike tour and yet so happy to be home. I found myself hungry to connect with all my people and searching for the solitude that I had grown accustom. I had found a rhythm on the road, and was eager to reestablish a rhythm at home, but still had a couple of weeks of the whimsy of summer. I was a bit lost, and yet settled as I reconnected in my community.

Eggs podcast with DJ Ontic

Skagit Valley Herald

Anacortes American

I have experienced some shifts in my relationships closest to me as a result and now have the opportunity to hone my skills as a listener, to re-examine my boundaries and to practice patience as healing continues and brings new life. My new job has started and I am feeling like I am right where I am supposed to be at work. It is stretching me professionally as I learn to teach tiny cherubs and how to collaborate with an excellent partner teacher. My life remains full, growing and full of hope.

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It is now close to month from my return home and I am beginning to take a deep breath and reflect on the beauty of the summer. So often I am asked, what was your favorite part? The beauty of my summer could be summed up in the places I visited, the Appalachian Mountains, the Adirondacks, Niagara Falls, the Badlands, Glacier, Sandpoint, and the North Cascades. However, this only tells a small part of the story and not the most important part. For me, the most beautiful part was the chance encounters with beautiful people along the way. It is the lovely faces that fill my brain as I reflect on this adventure that is shaping me even still. My favorite part was the conversations at picnic tables in a park or campground, at dinner tables in welcoming homes, or even outside gas stations along the highway.

The next question I get asked often is, what’s next? This question is even harder. This adventure was not merely a bucket list item, nor was it an adventure as a step to another adventure. It was a need deep in me to adventure out, to be transformed and to transform. Dreaming of this adventure was a distraction to me as I lived in the ordinary, engaging with the people in front of me. I needed to go, so I could return and love more deeply. I needed to gain more compassion and passion for the lonely. So now comes the hard work of taking an honest look at the ordinary time, allowing all that I learned and experienced to transform my thinking and reorder my priorities. It is time to set my boundaries in order to love those around me well. The time has come to dig deeply into my community and offer myself with love and gratitude. I need to reconnect to people I care about with fervor.

My next adventure is yet to be defined, come along with me as I explore where this transformational summer will lead me next!

What is transforming you? What values, boundaries, ideas, etc. do you need to revisit? What adventure is distracting you from ordinary life?