Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

The Bird Bowl

A bird bowl followed me back home from Cozumel.

It is perfect for me in every way. I love it. I play with it almost every day. It’s wide, shallow, gently curving — it cradles everything from salads to Slow Cooker Asian Short Ribs (fabulous recipe, highly recommended!) to Chicken Cutlets with Tomatoes Saute (quick and easy) to charred-to-death poblanos and overcooked steak. Who knew I’ve had a bird-bowl-sized hole in my kitchen equipment all this time?

The bowl came with a lesson too, as all the best bowls do.

I spotted it in a little shop off the main square and loved it right away, but then I started second-guessing myself. Another bowl, a more finely crafted, sophisticated bowl with delicate little brush strokes and no bird, rested on the next shelf down, and I began to think that I should buy the sophisticated bowl. The bird bowl was a little crude, a little silly. It did not say, “My owner is a connoisseur of fine earthenware, and it is an honor to be in her exquisitely curated collection.” I wavered, stalled, walked away.

But a special someone saw through my youthful idiocy, someone who appreciates about me what I often can’t appreciate about myself, and said in the sweetest voice, “But, Alison, the bird looks like you! The way he looks up out of the bowl, it’s like he’s saying, ‘Here I am! And what are you going to do about it?'”

So I bought it, and it became a little gift to myself. Not only is it perfect for looking at and perfect for using, that little bird peeks up at me at our dinner table to remind me that it’s okay to be a little playful at heart, and that I don’t need to cramp who I really am to be whoever it is I think I should be.


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He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:3

That line, “which yields its fruit in its season,” brings me such comfort today. That season is not yet, and I do not know what my fruit will look like, but I can rest in the knowledge that it will come when I am ready and the Creation is ready, and — look! — I have abundant provision today.

I’m acutely aware right now that my life is a construction zone, with demolition, cleanup, and building happening all at the same time. It’s chaotic and noisy and not a little bewildering. Meditation helps; indeed, pursuing silence and stillness daily makes an extraordinary difference. Prayer helps too, and so does Christian community and energy work and Karis Fellowships and all the other tools and resources I’ve discovered over the past few years.

But at the end of the day, it’s still a suffering. It’s still uncomfortable. And I am still called to endure and even to rejoice. I don’t yet understand what it means, really, to rejoice in the truth, but it is stirring in my heart, and I catch glimpses of it here and there.

One thing I can clearly see growing in my life, though, is joy. It has a way of sneaking up on me. I read Psalm 1:3, and it floods my being. My spirit quivers with the joy of the promise. It is something worth enduring for, something worth suffering for, to be that glorious tree, bearing its own unique fruit in its own kairos, its fullness of time. Growing is hard work, but I know I’m becoming.

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I Am a Secret Rock Star

It’s true. The problem is that I can’t keep said secret. I have an unfortunate habit of rocking out in my car. Without tinted windows. At stop lights.

And this particular secret should be kept because, let’s face it, I’m a secret rock star for a reason. Some things should never be inflicted on the general  public. I do have a conscience.

Yet there I sat today, singing my heart out with my chin thrown back and eyes closed and arms thrashing about at a stoplight on Westheimer. Guess how many people were sitting on a bench right next to my car? Four.

I am so, so cool.

The good news is that I’ve outgrown my mortification and instead jump straight into laughter in such instances. Light-hearted laughter surely does my body (and hurt pride) good. I wonder what else I can learn to laugh about? It’s ever so much nicer than beating myself to a pulp for not maintaining a “perfect” public image.

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J and I are having the BEST time cleaning the house together on Saturday mornings.

I know.

I approached him with this proposal a few weeks ago in desperation. Try as I might (and, oh, FlyLady, how I tried!), doing more than the barest maintenance on a daily basis wasn’t working. My problem is not time, but energy. I have to choose what I’ll do in a day, and when it comes down to it, it’s more important to both of us that I meditate, pray, exercise, journal, go to health appointments, and read (all of which consume massive amounts of energy) than it is for me to shoulder the full housekeeping load. Neither of us was willing to give up any of those deeply important activities for me, and J was getting worn out playing catch-up in the evenings, so we agreed to try doing all the housework in one fell swoop over the weekend.

It worked. The burden doesn’t feel only half as big now, it feels one-tenth as big. There’s just something about the energy of working together that makes the whole thing FUN. J blew me away when he turned to me this Saturday and said with feeling, “I really, really like this routine. I love doing this with you.” What?!

That just goes to show how wrong a girl can be. I felt like I was proposing some kind of drudgery, something he would resent.  (I’m always afraid of J resenting me; it’s just one of my things. I hate feeling like I’m not pulling my fair share of the load, whatever that is, and I think I must be externalizing that judgement of myself. It’s crazy.) But there we were, working together, putting our shoulders to the plow, and enjoying it.

So, on Saturday mornings these days, we sleep in, we cuddle, we saunter up the street to our favorite breakfast spot and enjoy an oh-so-leisurely meal with fabulous conversation, then we stroll back home, roll up our sleeves, and start scrubbing. One-and-a-half hours later, we’re done; the apartment is gorgeous. And somewhere in there, even the paperwork gets scanned, filed, mailed, or whatever else it needs! Now that is a miracle. I’ve been looking for ages for a way to make a paperwork routine for myself, and then — poof! — it just happened. It felt so natural to toss it in, and now that I’m doing it every week, it’s a piece of cake.

Then we get to enjoy the fruits of our co-labor. We admire our apartment. Sometimes we improve it a little. This weekend we installed wall lamps (photo coming). Or we watch a movie. Or meditate together. Or have friends over.

It puts a big smile on my face. I’m so thankful for this simple gift. What is it about working with someone you love that’s so satisfying and rewarding? And it’s not just about physical labor either! When J and I work together on our relationship or communication or just areas of personal growth, there’s a similar spirit. What a great gift. What joy.

This routine may not last forever; perhaps this is just a season, but it’s a season I want to notice and appreciate as long as it’s here. I want to remember this feeling and use it for my encouragement. One obvious application is the prospect of parenthood, the Great Unknown that, when I listen to what most people want to tell me about it, scares the pookie out of me. Yet, what is good parenting but partnering with your Love to accomplish some of the greatest work of your lives? What could be a more rewarding and satisfying co-labor than to help these strange little beings, these fascinating people who are so not you, begin developing into the glorious people God created them to be, and at the same time, to plunge headlong into the fire yourselves on that very same Quest?

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A Happy Easter

Attending my church’s Good Friday service last night, my first one ever, challenged me. The leadership clearly expected us all to be mournful and somber; everything about the service encouraged it. Feeling very heathenish, indeed, I sat and stood and prayed and sang and was, of all things . . . happy. I feel this Easter intensely, but not from a place of sorrow.  I think that tomorrow morning I will sing from the earnest gladness of my heart because Jesus is risen, and so am I. As I wrote the other day, I live! I live in Christ, and this year I feel it intensely. How can I not be overjoyed by such a gift?

Like a good Christian, though, I tried to feel what I ought in that service. As I began to conjure up the desired emotions, as I’ve done so many times before in church (and, to be fair, in countless other situations), I suddenly stopped. I realized I was slipping away from what was real, my joy, and into what was idealized, pious grief. Forget the pastor and the people next to me, what does God desire? Surely not pretense! I recently read a selection from Watchman Nee and was struck by his emphasizing “honesty of heart toward God.” And David doesn’t write, “See how I demonstrate the right feelings toward You, O God?” Instead, he cries, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”

It’s not that I think sadness isn’t appropriate at Easter. I do. But is that the only emotion allowed? Must I feel sad on Good Friday — Good Friday — if I am a sincere believer?

Maybe next year I’ll be in a different place. Maybe I’ll mourn deeply and pray through waves of grief leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Perhaps that would be more mature. After all, it is because of my sin that Jesus had to suffer and die. But this year, I am where I am — a place where the hope and glory of Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for me eclipses all else — and I’d rather be honest about it. God does not despise me in my immaturity, not when I’m offering my heart to Him, as best I can. I am an infant, yes, and cannot yet walk, but God will hold my hand when it’s time. I need only to turn to Him and stretch out my little fingers. What else is an honest heart but such a gesture? It says, “Here I am Lord; here is what I know of myself and of You right now. What do You see? What do You want to show me? And where are we going next?”

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It’s Day 2 of J’s latest business trip, and I’m positively thriving.  This thrills me because I often crater when he’s gone: I collapse into bed at 3 or 4 a.m., eat nothing but gluten-free cereal and ice cream, linger in my pajamas until I absolutely must get dressed to leave (and then I’m usually late), and generally feel miserable and unproductive.  That’s where I started anyway.  Each trip over the last 3.5 years has been a little better, with particularly strong gains in the past year, but this trip — this one’s different.  And I know it’s me.  I have changed.  I have grown.

Sure, I’m more productive than ever before, I eat better, and I sleep more regular hours.  Those things matter.  The real breakthrough, though, is that I make time for my inner life.  To pray.  To breathe deeply.  To dream a little.  To write.  To read.  To draw — crudely, playfully, not studiously.  I trot over to a lovely park next to the Menil Collection to do this.  I’m not the only one there, but I still feel deliciously alone.  I flutter my blanket down underneath a perfect tree — perfect for its crackling, chocolate bark and glorious, dancing spring-green leaves.  I go at 6:00, so the sun is low, the light rich and warm; the leaves above me glow.  A single hour of this heaven refreshes me in a way I didn’t think possible.

Perhaps what’s so exciting about this bout of living solo is that it has become an opportunity for exploration.  While I usually do try new things when J is gone — maybe a new restaurant or a new route home — this is different.  This is real self-care, real self-nurture, real self-discovery.  I was not capable of this a year ago; I could not do it by myself, for myself.  What a delight to be in a new place!  What would my life be like if I used each of his trips this way?  It’s an exciting thought.

I may have lots of opportunities to practice, as J’s new position will require much more travel and longer hours.  Instead of feeling anxiety about that, I feel great peace.  And curiosity.  What will I discover next time?  And the time after that?  How will I change?  Who will my husband meet at the door when he returns?

We’ll find out together.

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