Growing

After my little hiatus, I’m returning to new and fresh ideas for this space. The winter offered me some time to hibernate, to grow, and to be diverted. I’ve been working on a new blog, The Winter Project, with my friend Jenny, and after that wraps up I’ll have the space and inspiration to pick up here again. Stay tuned for something a little new, and a little more fun.

See you in a few!

 

Rest in Solitude, Heal in Community

This summer has been a season of transition. Amidst moving, new living situations, new jobs, and new prospects for the future, I’ve found myself overwhelmed and suddenly unsure of everything. It’s interesting how when you’re in a life stage that has a deadline (i.e. school), you look forward to the time of endless possibilities, and then when the gate opens and you have the freedom to do anything, all those endless possibilities suddenly seem like too much.

I’ve noticed that I freeze up whenever I have too many choices. Just ask my husband how long it takes me to pick out cold medicine at Walmart. I’ll stand in the aisle, staring blankly at the shelves while my nose runs and my eyes water and I whine that my head and body and everything hurts. You know how they make fun of men for being bad at being sick? They never met me.

“Just get the DayQuil,” Alex says.

“But there might be another brand with more caplets in it for less money!” I cry. “I have to look at them all. Or I could get liquid medicine. But there are so many brands of that! Oh, I hate being sick! Oh, to be well again!” and I wring my hands.

Thirty minutes later, we walk out of there with a box of DayQuil.

(I’ve since learned that a store with less options, like Aldi, is a better bet for me.)

As with DayQuil, so with life. The choices and decisions pile up until I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what I want, and I don’t know what I even value.

My approach to overwhelmth is often to retreat, monklike, into my own space and where I feel comfortable and in control. Since I’ve started doing research on human behavior and psychology and have discovered the ins and outs of introversion, of which I am a subscriber, it’s become a little easier to excuse my monkish state and to be okay with excessive solitude. I’m recharging, I tell myself. I’m self-caring. I’m figuring things out in the quiet.

And many times, I am. I’m still a firm believer that we find rest in solitude. And that goes for all of us, not just those introvertedly-inclined. We all need a moment to be with ourselves, to tune into our inner minds and hearts. I discover a lot in prayer, in reading, in yoga, in writing. These are all things that pack the most punch when I do them alone.

But solitude is only one side of the equation. Self-care only goes so far, and self-care doesn’t always look like sitting alone on your bed with a candle (don’t do that; it’s a fire hazard). Human beings are made for community, too. We may find rest in solitude, but we find healing in community. It’s in community where I gain perspective, where I realize that the things which freak me out most in life are not things I carry alone.

In The Quotidian Mysteries, a collection of essays which is just an excellent book that everyone should read, writer and poet Kathleen Norris talks about how the everyday routines we take for granted serve to ground us in reality. And part of this is spending time with others:

[We] need the daily love of other people to reassure us that our lives have value.

In community I find solidarity, and I learn to pay attention to other people’s needs and fears too. In community I can be honest about my failings and find some catharsis. And often, community even connects me with people who have answers to the very questions that are overwhelming me, from the family friend who knows of a job I’d be good at, to the new friend who’s doing good things in my hometown, to the best friend who understands how I feel and prays for me.

Engaging with community can be as simple as putting aside my work to chat with my husband, taking a day trip with my family, or socializing after church. Or it can be as complicated and challenging as introducing myself to someone I haven’t met or going to an event I’m nervous about.

Solitude is only good when it doesn’t become loneliness. When I’m lonely, I forget who I truly am and I forget that my life has value. I need my friends, my family, my community, to connect me with the world again. And the beauty of it is that they need me too.

Giving love away doesn’t deplete or decrease; it only multiplies. And taking part in community only multiplies and strengthens the ties we have to each other and to our inner selves.

When I do that, the wall of overwhelming life doesn’t see so scary anymore.

Weekend Pith: Cleaning Slates

I always switch gears a little once September is about to come around. Obviously, that’s usually because school is starting, and even though my grad school is set up a little differently, there’s still a definite summer’s end and fall’s beginning. Should my plans for teacherhood pan out, my life will always be this way.

And I don’t really mind; Autumn is my favorite season, and I take joy in pausing and rerouting, in digging down and musing. Autumn always means a return to both physical coziness and heightened mental work. I love the interaction between the two.

This fall, I’m switching gears from my summer writing projects to my very different school-time one. Sometimes the transition can be jarring. I’m going from my work on a heady, multi-faceted mystery to continuing my draft of a more creative children’s novel. 

Obviously, this is a huge change, so every time I make the jump from adult lit to kid lit and back again, I let myself take a week off. I don’t work on any big writing projects. 

Of course, I periodically take unnofficial breaks in my writing, more than I’d like to admit. But this one is different. This is a break to make a break. This is a break to retool my mind, to pack up the old work and bring in the newer-old work. This break creates a separation and clean slate so I’m fresh and strong again.

Lots of things in life need little breaks, sometimes. I’ve taken breaks socially, spiritually, educationally, the list goes on. And I think it’s important to remember that sometimes the presence of a break does not mean the erasing of a certain part of your self, or a rejection of and falling away from what you are. Sometimes a break is just that, a separation and clean slate so you’re fresh and strong again.

Remember to take breaks. 

Weekly Reflection: Traditions

Hello friends,

Every Sunday I’d like to do a little “weekly reflection”, a sort of journal post. It’s nice to take a day before the next week’s craziness begins to reflect and give our minds a rest.

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The fourth commandment says to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Some people take that very seriously, and are quite strict with their Sabbath days. And that’s okay. But for my family growing up, Sunday was a day to recharge from the pell-mell activity of the week. We weren’t super strict, but we had our little Sunday traditions that made the day relaxing and special. And even though I’m an adult who doesn’t live at home right now, Sunday still means those little traditions.

Every Sunday morning we went to church, unless occasional illness or total exhaustion or travel kept us away. This gave us an opportunity to quiet our hearts and worship the Lord. This was a huge priority in our family’s life, and still is. This helped us to keep the day holy.

After church we usually had a big lunch, our main meal for the day. Mom would cook something special: sauerkraut and kielbasa, beef roast and potatoes, or her famous lasagna. After lunch we’d have a nap time and sleep for most of the afternoon. It was lovely :o) Then finally, we’d have “Family Night”, when Dad would make an enormous bowl of popcorn and we’d watch a movie.

Obviously, this routine changed from time to time, but overall that was our Sunday tradition. It’s funny how you grow up with a certain routine, and it never occurs to you that other people don’t do things the same way. I’d have friends over sometimes on Sundays, and as the evening wore on they’d ask, “When’s dinner, by the way?” and I’d think it was so weird that they actually ate dinner instead of just popcorn on Sunday nights. Seriously, who eats Sunday dinner at dinnertime? :o)

Long story short, my family’s traditions really instilled in me that Sunday isn’t like any other day of the week, or at least it shouldn’t be. We need to give ourselves just one day of not running around, working, or being busy. We need just one day of rest and reflection and devotion to the Lord.

However, we should not be a slave to the Sabbath either. Jesus Himself said that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). While we should be purposed to attending church weekly, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25), even good Christian church activities can become a ball and chain, a way to be even more busy on Sundays. I really respect how my parents achieved that balance when I was growing up. We were active in church, but there were times that Mom and Dad made the decision to not attend certain functions or activities so that we could keep our unity and integrity as a family secure, so that we could be together to rest on the Day of Rest. This is a mindset I have even now and it is a mindset I want to have with my own family.

This past week was nuts. I’ve realized that I need to work on being kind to myself about halfway through the week, because by then I am so burnt out. I get to bed so late and wake up exhausted. This past Tuesday night I had a little meltdown. Tuesdays are my busiest days, and my head is perpetually spinning as I try to keep the proverbial plates spinning. As an introvert my first reaction is to shut down and go off somewhere solitary. The only problem is that I live at a college, where there are people everywhere. And when you’re tired and burnt out, being around people is not the best idea. Whenever I find myself thinking “He’s stupid, she’s stupid, they’re stupid”, it’s a sure sign I need to go lock myself in a closet and not come out til I’ve had a good cup of tea and a nap.

Obviously that is not a correct reaction. It’s something I need to work on. With God’s grace I can live at peace with others, even when my head is spinning and I hate everyone. (Heck, with God’s grace I can avoid the head-spinning and people-hating altogether! :o) So I relish the Sabbath day, and weekends in general. It’s a time to take a step back and decompress. It makes it a whole lot easier to go into another busy week.

So in summary, have a great Sunday. Rest. Reflect. Worship. Don’t overextend yourself or let others dictate how you remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Meet with other believers, yes. Don’t forsake the assembly. Give yourself time to be with the Lord, because that is the most precious and lasting thing you take away from the Sabbath. Draw your loved ones close to you and have one heck of a peaceful day. And have a splendid week to come. :o)

Much love,

Hannah

(Photography by Hannah Allman. Bible references from the English Standard Version.)