Watch With Me?

Afternoon Moon Paradise Valley, Montana

Afternoon Moon
Paradise Valley, Montana

During finals week of my sophomore year I noticed a two columned list, double-sided, on my college roommate’s desk. It was titled My Life From Now Until I Die. She had a lot to do. College is like that. So is life.

In my first post here at Along This Road, after I accused my to-do list of eating my goals and dreams and declared that in 2013, it was going on a  goal-free, dream-free diet. (If you missed it, you can read it here.) While the internet bulges with information on gluten-free living, I had to make up the goal-free, dream-free diet on my own.

I decided on three Rs: Retrain myself to look beyond the next step. Restore a mindset conducive to setting goals and dreaming dreams. Remember what – and who – defines my days – and me.

By the end of January, I found my dreams buried within my to-do list and the rhythms of my life. I’d read an article which suggested that grown-up dreams can often be glimpsed in the joys of childhood I looked back and there were my dreams. They’d been with me all along.

It was a good discovery.

A year later my list hasn’t changed much but my perspective has. It was a slow process, a reminder that I see best, notice best, think best, and remember best when I am not in a rush. I remembered the value of slowness.

yellowstone08 149 - Version 2Slowness allows to me see, not just scenery, but people. When I succumb to speed, I miss them both. Speed shouts that I am indispensable. Slowness whispers that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Its message is hard to hear, not just because it’s quiet, but because it wounds my pride.

While the quest to discover my goals and dreams is over, two actions from the goal-free, dream-free diet remain: Look beyond the next step and remember what and who defines my days and me.

It seems I need to pay attention. Submitting to slowness will help me do that. It will prompt me watch and see. It will help me join those noticers in my life who point to the sky and the surroundings, who beckon me to the door to look at a fleeting sunset or listen to the falling snow.

Would you like to watch with me? We’ll notice different things. Our roads are not the same and neither are we.  We come from the mountains and plains and the small town and the city. My noticing is often done in the woods or outside my rural front door, but soon I’ll share an observation from a Denver sidewalk. There are discoveries to be made everywhere.

I’d love to hear about the things you notice.

Linking this week with Lyli’s Thoughtful Thursday.

For This October: Too Fast of Speed

Calling my husband’s family a water-sport loving family is like calling the arctic North, chilly. They’re hard core. He grew up on skis. He also grew up clinging to his dad’s shoulders as his dad perched on a chair which was balanced precariously on a plywood disk (the “saucer”) as it skimmed across the water behind a boat. Skis? Normal. Saucer? Oh my.

My son, who has thus far been spared the ski-on-pop-on-a-chair-on-a-wooden-disk circus trick, did spend the young years watching every wakeboarding move made by his grandpa, his dad, and his uncle. They were – and are – pretty good.

Back when we were all younger, his uncle, who was serious enough about wake boarding to go to a wake boarding school in Texas, tried and succeeded at about everything I saw him try on a board. He could do flips and 180s and all kinds of amazing things. I was in awe of him. He worked hard and his effort bought him smoothness of execution, and a delightful combination of strength and grace. It also cost him some wipeouts.

One morning, when my son was about four, as the boat made yet another slow circle to deliver the rope to my brother-in-law, my son called out with the boldness that only a doted on nephew would possess, ” I know why you fall so much. You’re going too fast of speed.”


I heard him. I laughed along with everyone else at his sweetness and his logic. What I didn’t do was listen. I should have, immediately, because what he offered was true. When we go too fast, we fall down.

I have some of proficiency with putting a plan and a schedule together and I can, with varying degrees of smoothness, pull off its execution. Calendars and schedules are not as exciting or exquisite as my brother-in-law’s wake boarding, but the result of my effort is usually worthwhile. Except that sometimes I wipe out. Epically.

I forget that just because I can get it all to work on paper doesn’t mean that it will translate well to life. It all begins to crumble when I feel the need to hurry, hurry brought on by being overcommitted. My bulging to-do list overwhelms me and I wipe out because I try to go too fast of speed.

Speed is a brutal task master, standing between me and the sweet faces that I have failed to look at as they have shared their stories, the friends I have sped past on my way from a vital here to an urgent there, and the confused little people who don’t conform well to a life of hurry. There is a time for hurry, but it is no way to live.

Speed should receive my gratitude when it eventually causes me to take a spill, because just as a my brother-in-law grabbed the rope for another go behind the boat, when I get up I can start again. This time I can do it better. I can slow down.

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For This September: Sometimes We Get In Over Our Heads

My parents are not lake people. They aren’t river people. When my brother and I occasionally talked about swimming in a nearby lake, they talked about field runoff. So when my mom told me we would be wading a river as we–my parents, the five grandchildren, and I–made our way from Iowa to San Antonio, I suspected travel psychosis in one of its more optimistic forms.

The starting point was the Pedernales campground, where we were taking a blessed break from the road for a couple of days. We wrapped the children in life jackets and our feet in water shoes, and cautiously began the Great Wade. The Pedernales’ chalky water swirled around our ankles.

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We hadn’t gone far when the water began to deepen. It crept above our calves and inched over our knees.  As it rose the smallest children began to float. The water reached our waists.  Nothing was posted about the river’s depth and we hadn’t seen this coming. We pressed on, delighted children bobbing at our sides. One step more and the riverbed was gone. There we were, five gleeful children and three adults unaccustomed to immersion in non-chlorinated water, unexpectedly floating along with the little ones, impatient for the riverbed’s return.

Return it did, in the same way it had gone; leaving us to walk, dripping wet, through the humid Texas heat toward our campsite, where we would exit and shower. Immediately.

Our walk through the Pedernales should not have come as a surprise. It’s the nature of the river. And life. We walk along, barely noticing the water deepen until it gets high enough to make each step an effort, perhaps wondering how far it will go on like this when on the next step, the riverbed disappears.

That the river will rise can’t be helped. New babies and new jobs, illnesses and unemployment, relocations and relational troubles of every kind narrow the banks and deepen the water.

We have to float our way through, knowing that eventually the terrain will change. The baby will grow and the job will–finally–be adjusted to. Illness and unemployment will run their course. Eventually, the water recedes and our feet, yours and mine, will find the bottom.

I don’t like getting in over my head, floating when I’d rather be wading, but the real trouble doesn’t come from getting in over my head, it comes from staying that way. I’ve been known to narrow my own banks, overfilling the days, the hours, and the minutes. I get myself in over my head and I take the whole household with me. Life jackets won’t help a family survive mom’s busy life. They’re along for the ride and they need me to pay attention to the water level.

This is where it gets difficult. The nature of this section of the river, its pace and its footing, are my own design, and it will flow on, fast and deep, until I take some pressure off the banks, until I make a change.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life, a haunting warning I recently ran across. I like to go. I like to do. I need stillness. Without that, the small voice is drown out.

Just as I followed my parents into the Pedernales, my children follow me. They watch to learn to live. One of my jobs as a mom is to help them with the hard work of learning, to guide them through shallow water swirling around their ankles and hold their hands when it rises. They’re watching me all the time, and they see how I navigate the natural rhythm of the river and what I do when my own choices threaten to send it over its banks. They need to learn how to float, how to take pressure off the banks, and how to be still. Soon they’ll be navigating rivers of their own.

For This Summer: Letting It Go

Each summer we gather with my husband’s family at his parents’ house. We converge on their home in vehicles stuffed with people and dogs, books and toys, luggage and anticipation. Mixed among all those are the lingering imprints of our lives.

I can pack. What I can’t do is to remember to bring what I’ve packed. I’ve left behind whole suitcases (twice), the bag with the suits and pool toys for a swimming trip, and Christmas gifts (all of them and, once again, twice). This year it was a just a visor. I brought a hat, but for reasons of pure vanity, I wanted a visor. Visors shade the face while exposing the hair, allowing the sun to do its bleaching work. Enough time outdoors and I will return home with hair lightened to something closer to the familiar blond of my youth.

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J’s mom had a spare, which came to me through the hands of my brother-in-law. He watched me attempt to cram it on my head in its tiny, straight-from-the-factory state and adopted a soothing voice as he began delivering instructions. “Release the tension. Pull the Velcro and release the tension.”

Release the tension. He made it sound easy.

Every year we arrive carrying varying levels of tension. We bring it from unending home maintenance projects, deadlines, calendars, family life, and work, the most consistent source of all. If it was easy to leave it behind, we would. Our week together is short.

Unlike our suitcases, tension doesn’t sit quietly in a corner waiting to be unpacked. Tension clings. Releasing it requires action. It is not something that happens to us; it’s something we do. Though the how differs from person to person, the possibility is there for us all.

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Earlier this summer I woke to a to-do app badge which read fifty-two. Fifty-two items on the list for that day. I knew the source of the bloat. Each time I ran into a project that I just could not get accomplished during the school year, I put it on the list for summer break. Clean out the freezer: May 27. Organize the study: May 27. Deal with the closet: May 27.

I knew that my mental plan was to spread those items out over the summer, but the foreboding number on the badge unleashed tension which gripped and twisted whatever part of me that experiences stress.

No books. No walks. No bike rides. I would be too busy.

That doesn’t work out well in a family. Kids and husbands, mine anyway, thrive on books, walks, and bike rides. They thrive when I am relaxed enough to stop and smile and attend. They flourish when I manage to release the tension.

So I had to choose. Which was more important, the state of my people or the state of my closet? The simple answer was my people.

But the list circled like a vulture, hungry after all these months on a goal-free, dream free diet. Mental assent was not enough. I had to act. I had to take the list and sort it, separating the need-to-dos from the want-to-dos and the most important from the still important but less so and live with the results. If my people were to truly win, I had to let it go. Every day.

Some days have brought more success than others. But I’m trying to remember what I know and act on that knowledge. My list will always be with me. My people may not. Some things have to be done. Other things must wait. That weight of all those undone things? I have to let it go.

How do you let it go?

For This July: Lifelong Learning

A few months ago, Emily at Chatting at the Sky wrote a post about what she had learned during the previous month. Her list was filled with the serious and the lighthearted and it made me wonder what, if anything, I was learning. By the end of the day, I had my own list and have made one each month since. The learning continues. This month, Emily invited her readers to share their lists.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Here are 5 things I learned this June:

1. Five chords: E, E minor, G, D, C. I am learning to play the guitar. For much of my adult life I have wished that I knew how to play the guitar. It finally occurred to me that I could learn.

2. Harmony applies to more than music and getting along with people, as in living together in peace and harmony. It is the beauty that rises from the uniqueness of who we are as we experience life together. Sadly, at 44, this is something I still needed to learn.

3. My girls’ interest in sewing did not require immediate formal instruction, as I fretted that it would. A pile of sheets, access to the sewing machine, and a viewing of the A & E version of Pride and Prejudice was enough to prompt them to produce bonnets and several regency style dresses, complete with pleats and sashes. They must be adherents to my brother’s How hard can it be? philosophy and are willing to learn from their mistakes.

4. How to add text to a photo and upload it to my blog. I was not prepared for all I have had to learn just to manage a simple blog, one of the first being a little html. Who knew? I didn’t and I’m glad. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to embark on this journey if I had known html was hidden around a bend in the road.

5. Before heading out the door in that new casual skirt, always, always check it out in full sun. Probably that is all I need to say.

Learning has taken me to places I might not otherwise have gone. In 2012, the year designated Old Dog: New Tricks, I learned again, after a twenty year interlude, to be comfortable singing alone rather than in a group. And then I got to sing with a friend, so I needed to learn how to sing some harmony. As a life-long, melody-singing soprano, that did not come easily. It was hard but I adore it.

Natural Bridge, Yellowstone National Park

Natural Bridge, Yellowstone National Park

Learning that one new skill, harmonizing, reached beyond singing and into the rest of my life. If I had not learned to harmonize, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that I could move from wishing I played the guitar to learning how. Without my newfound ear for musical harmony, an understanding of how the uniqueness that we bring into the lives of those around us contributes to a beautiful whole would have continued to elude me.

What have you learned recently? Might it lead somewhere unexpected?

For This February: A Look Back

I made a discovery this morning, the kind of morning that takes place in the middle of the night. The wind from the snow storm woke me up and because it is pointless to live with snow if I am not going to enjoy it, I got up, happy just to be awake while the snow fell. Because it was the middle of the night, I had plenty of time to read and I stumbled onto these words written by an unnamed guest writer on Jon Acuff’s blog:

Dreams are almost always shaped over time – which is why, if you’re trying to figure out your dream, you should start by looking back at things you’ve loved doing in the past.

A quick look back revealed that I am already living my dreams. At least, I am living some of them. I loved dollies, barbies, and babies. I loved acting and singing. I loved reading and writing. I loved my room. My life today overflows with these past loves: three exuberant children, the opportunity to assist with the direction of a play, more singing than I ever did in high school, regular writing and reading, and a whole house filled with rooms.

How is it that I didn’t think of any of this when my husband and I were talking about dreams?

Perhaps because the living out of dreams is not the effortless endeavor that I imagine. Even dreams take time and make contributions to the to-do list. Families need food and clean clothes and transportation to dental appointments. Plays involve details and decisions. Worship teams need music and copyright reporting. Starting a blog has required me to learn something new nearly every day. Reading gets leftover time, time that I should be sleeping. Homes have room after room in need of dusting and vacuuming.

Maybe I need to let my to-do list off the hook. A little. It didn’t eat all of my dreams. It has just kept me busy enough that I haven’t paid close enough attention to my life, so the battle between me and it wages on.

Many of these past loves stretch me in some way nearly daily. The past year and a half I had dubbed the age of old dog, new tricks. I’m looking for a better name, one that reminds me that I’m already living the dream, because that’s what I saw when I looked back.

What do you see when you look back?

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