Sunday, April 15, 2012

Deep Breath

As a little girl, our family lived in a yellow house with a white picket fence, and a long, steep driveway leading to a big backyard. The dirt under the apricot tree was dark and cool, and the swing set sat next to it in the sun, squeaky and made of metal.

My dad built towers out of the wooden blocks, and I would get a running head start to knock them down. There was gravel on a slope leading down to the horse I named Blackie, on the path where I walked with my mom, and I was always a little afraid to slide down that slope. And down the street was a boy named Billy, who had big Great Danes, and a straight, grassy yard.

I know not everyone had a perfect, sunny childhood... but most people can at least remember back to moments of rest, peace, and long summer days with nothing to do. It's part of the innocence of being a kid that allows us to play, explore, and just be without planning, scheduling or scheming.

It's sad that we so easily find importance in having a packed schedule. Having one of those nebulous jobs that depend on the donations of others, I often feel the need to prove myself as a worthy investment by always appearing busy. It's almost seen as a sign of failure to stay home on a Saturday night and simply do nothing, when there's so much out there to see & do & eat (especially eat).

I mentioned before that we are trying to establish a rhythm with our family & in our home. To be honest, we haven't quite made the progress I had hoped for at this point, but one thing we are intentionally building into our weekly rhythm is a Sabbath. I've been reading this book about the importance of rest, of breathing, of carving out a sacred time to be restored, to reflect. It's not just a time to be lazy or do nothing, but a sort of deep breath that prepares us to act & move, and go about our weeks & our lives with a little more purpose, clarity & centered-ness.

The plan, for now, is to have a restful Sunday morning, pack a picnic, and ride our bikes to church. From there, we can go outdoors somewhere (weather permitting), have lunch, play, run, explore, and simply touch dirt & grass instead of concrete. After lunch is Nolan's nap time, and it's a pretty luxurious thing to have a quiet afternoon where we can sleep, read, tinker with bikes, or just connect with each other. Our hope is that Sunday evenings can include a big pot of simple soup, and an open door to anyone who wants to join our family for a meal.

Today, after church, some good friends that we have been wanting to spend time with for ages invited us out to lunch, and I sadly declined, wanting to stick to our plan for rest & family time. We went to the beach, ran in the sand, threw rocks, and walked along the Great Highway, watching the families ride their bikes. Then we drove up to a little coffee shop offering free pastries (thank you, Scoutmob!), came home & took a nap. Soup simmered on the stove inside while we all (Nolan included) went outside and did some gardening (well, more like gardening prep work) in the yard, and we ate dinner with a short reading from the book of Common Prayer.

It was kind of fabulous. No, not glamorous or exciting, but quite wonderful. It was interesting to see how much intentionality it took to unplug, to rest, to choose activities that were restorative rather than entertaining, and to just be present with one another.

This next week is going to be intense, and as I look ahead at my calendar, I can see a lot of business, travel, long days (and nights), and some potential stress. I am interested to see the ways that a day of rest, built into my weekly activity & work, will effect my heart & mind & countenance.

There is often a tiny sense of loss on a Sunday night, knowing that the weekend is slipping by, and that tomorrow will be Monday. Usually I stay up too late, indulging in Pinterest, Facebook, blogs & other distractions to try to procrastinate from the responsibilities of the week. But tonight I feel centered, peaceful, even ready.

There is something about slowing down that allows you to notice the details, and to live in a moment, rather than in a plan for the next activity. Maybe that's why I can remember the feel of the dirt along the path we walked from our yellow house, or the squeak of the blue, metal swing set. There's nothing particularly important about that path, or that swing, except that I was allowed to just be-- to be present in my own skin, to be unconcerned about my responsibilities, to live. We don't do that often enough anymore-- but I guess the point is that we can.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Risking Happiness

Is it just me, or is happiness is a bit out of style? Images of clean, well-groomed, khaki-clad families running down the beach are enough to make most people gag-- or at least smirk. I don't know about you, but I prefer irony, satire, and grit-- and sometimes happy endings in movies leave me a little disappointed.

I'm not sure how this mentality has come about, but I confess that I am almost apologetic when things are going well. We live in a culture, and especially a city, that loves to critique, analyze, & compare-- and somehow being joyful, content, or just plain happy comes across as shallow, naive, or artificial.

Or maybe I'm just imagining it? I know I have a fear of seeming spoiled, and I suppose if I am
too happy, others might think I've got it easy & resent me. Or perhaps my happiness will some how rub against or call out the unhappiness of others-- like love birds on Valentine's Day making single people feel lonely & bitter. I also have a strange resistance to seeming like the bubbly, put-together Christian mom, and maybe there is a belief buried in there that if I am not just a little snarky or sarcastic or I will be stereotyped into a ditsy Stepford Wife.

And so, it is with great risk & hesitation, that I would like to say: I am happy right now.

My knee-jerk reaction is to qualify that statement with: There are still areas of my life that are lonely, incomplete, broken sad, etc, etc... and it's hard to just allow that statement to lie there, naked and innocent. But I am: I'm happy.

A few weeks ago, Chris & I loaded up the kiddo & spent the afternoon in a quaint little town up in wine country. It was this funny, golden, perfect little day: Nolan didn't throw a single temper tantrum, we sat on this lovely restaurant patio for hours, completely alone and soaked in the sun, just talking & being. We ate, drank, laughed, played, walked, and did nothing. On the drive home, we began reminiscing about the last time we made it up to that quaint little town: I had a week-long migraine, we were up to our noses in home-buying stress, we never spent time alone together, lived in a tiny, cramped apartment, and were basically worn out & empty.

And now, somehow, we found ourselves on the other side of home-buying, a Master's degree (well, almost!), sleepless nights & all the pain of life with an infant. We are settled in a home that we love, spending time together, deeply enjoying our son, doing work that we are passionate about, and our schedules have become more balanced & manageable.

It was like a light bulb went on. It's a funny thing to realize that you're happy. Usually you just feel happy. But it seems that, in so many ways, happiness is a choice, a perspective.

Even as I write this, I am qualifying my happiness-- balancing it & evaluating it-- by thinking of the fact that we have no money, that I am lonely more often than I would like, that we still have a long way to go in our marriage, and that fund raising is not going well. But the more I analyze and qualify, the more that sense of happiness, contentment & gratitude deflates & diminishes.

So, I will make a conscious choice to set aside my fear of being shallow & spoiled, my desire to seem deep, seasoned or savvy, and my compulsion to remember what I still lack... and choose the simple act of happiness. It's harder than I would like to admit, but in the end, I know it's worth it.