Taking the Best of One Year Into the Next {Plus an Announcement}

Winter SkyGravel crunched under the tires as I made my way through early morning’s darkness down the lane, away from my home in the country toward a hospital in the city. Des Moines has six general hospitals and I could picture and plot a route to every one of them. Every one except the one where my mom was having surgery that morning.

The road to Mercy was lost to me.

I checked Google Maps on our computer and while I still couldn’t envision where I was headed, I could see it on the map and pick between the three routes presented. I chose the fastest, one conveniently devoid of interstate. Years of small town streets and county highways have left me a little nervy in the face of freeway traffic.

Halfway between home and the hospital I realized my memory of the route was fuzzy so I opened the map app on my phone. It pulled up an unfamiliar way, one which put me right on the interstate. I reached into the glovebox and pulled out the Garmin, clicked the button for community resources, navigated to hospitals, and then pushed the button for Mercy.

It gave me a different route yet.

I followed the Garmin’s voice into the city, where she situated me in an empty parking lot on the back side of the state capitol building. I thought the Garmin needed to find herself, so I drove out of the parking lot so she could recompute and we could try again.

I ended up in the same place.

The Garmin was no longer in my circle of trust, but because I wasn’t sure what else to do, I decided to try one more time. I ended up in the same place.

Again.

City Sunrise

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.

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. But the 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.

City Sunrise

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

The Announcement

Because I would someday like to publish a book, I need to make a few changes to my website. If all goes well technologically, the next post (or maybe the one after that) you receive from me should come from a newly launched website. It will have a new name and a slightly different look, but it’s still me. Same content. Same focus. If all does not go well technologically, I’ll let you know.

Happy New Year to you.

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Too Many Minds

Have you heard of One Word 365? It’s an alternative to New Year’s resolutions, just one word to focus on for the year. I like the concept, but I’m more of a rearview mirror type of person. As I near the end of something I think, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.” My  word finds me when it’s all over.  The Nester, one of my favorite home and life bloggers, along with some of her blogging buddies suggest an alternative, an un-word, one that signifies something they want to leave behind. They’ve invited their readers to join them. An un-word is more my style, so here’s mine:

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From the first day my son loved school. He’s an oldest child who spent his time in the company of adults, mostly me.  When we walked into the school that first day of kindergarten, I expected hear the sound of ripping velcro as someone tore him off of my leg when it was time for me to go. He surprised me, though. He just waved and sent me on my way, longing for the sound of velcro.

It was the same every year. (Not the velcro, the loving school.) And then fourth grade hit. He seemed happy enough when he arrived home that first day, but as he walked past me to get ready for bed, he slumped and lamented, “I don’t really like school. It doesn’t leave any time to think.” Roll that one around in your mind for a while.

When I shared this with a friend while we pushed our little ones on swings at the park a few days later, she cocked her head to the side and said, “I think he’s a lot like his mama.” Apparently she knew me better than I knew myself because it was years before I understood what she meant. I never have enough time to think and I don’t even go to school.

My husband tells me that men compartmentalize life. They think about one thing at a time. Not me. I think about everything. All at once. It’s exhausting.

I have to stop, which leads me to my un-word for this year, which really is an un-phrase because, well, no one word captured it: too-many-minds. It’s from The Last Samurai, and it means thinking about too many things at once. I want to be focused, present in the moment, and available to the people I am with. That I do not do in the midst of too-many-minds, so that’s my un-word for 2014.

My kids are older. That boy who wanted more time to think is a junior in high school and the girl in the swing is ten. I have less time to think than I did two years ago. With an I’ll think about that later, I make a futile attempts to table all of those thoughts I want–or need–to think. The table sags and the thoughts fall into the whirling tilt-a-whirl that is my brain. It doesn’t work.

Tonight I have nothing more than the genesis of change. I have no plan, but my calendar tells me that I’ll be alone tomorrow night. I’ll have time to think. And that is what I’m going to do.

And you? If you were to choose an un-word, what would it be? I’d love to hear. Leave a comment and let me know.

Linking at The Nesting Place.

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 December: On Being Stretched

When my uncle and aunt left their Century Farm in Iowa to ranch in Oklahoma they offered me much of what had been sitting, unused for generations, in their attic. There were books. Heaps of them.  My favorites were the old ones with worn covers, among them a frayed copy of The Jungle Book with my sweet great aunt’s name written inside the front cover, old school books, and a book of my great-uncle Lester’s titled Darkest Africa.

Over the weekend I moved a stack of books from the bedroom to the dining room. The ones with red and green covers worked, but not the blue. I don’t decorate with blue. Those, I thought, would be perfect for that project I wanted to do that needed pages ripped from old books.

And then I opened one.

There, on the flyleaf of Outlines of American Literature with Readings, was my great-uncle Sidney’s name, along with a picture that he’d drawn, tiny and detailed, appropriate for a man who grew up to be a hobbyist in miniatures. It would be hard to tear that book apart, so I reached for the other, identical to the first. There, inscribed neatly under Lester’s name, were these words: “Literature is a permanent, written record of man’s best thoughts and feelings, and whose main purpose is to give pleasure.” Lester went to the mission field in Africa and died before I could know him, but that he bothered with that inscription makes me think I might have liked him.

Books, weighty records of man’s best, bring not just pleasure, not only companionship, but understanding.  According to CS Lewis, “In Reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…” Through the lives of others, my own comes into focus.  This doesn’t require a whole book. It can be the work of a single sentence.

JRR Tolkien wrote one such sentence for Bilbo Baggins, who said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I had been known to utter the word stretched to describe my own life, but Tolkien’s imagery clarified reality. The butter was finite and the bread, especially once I hit the mommy-ing years, was more than I could command.

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Bilbo was preparing to make his great escape when he uttered his lament. I don’t want to escape. My life, my people, my purpose, are here. With fixed stamina for the tasks of life and people to love, the days loom long. I never seem to have enough to go around. To live my life, love my people, and serve my purpose without running out or resorting to doling out margarine, butter’s unfortunate synthetic substitute, I have to look beyond myself to the God who always has enough, whose strength is made perfect in my weakness, and who will supply all I need. He’s aware of just how much bread is lined up on the counter and stands by with the butter.

Blue or not, the books are back on my shelf, reminders of great uncles adored and unmet, the power of literature, and that I was not made to do this on my own.

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.”

Indeed.

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.