In This Moment

“In This Moment”: it could be mean anything and nothing. It could be one of those things people say without much thought, making you cringe on the inside as you think, yeah, yeah, words to say. That was part of my fear when I first began blogging several months ago, not to mention the knowledge that the title was neither catchy nor especially witty. But I felt adamant that whatever title I chose, it needed to hold truth and it needed to fit me.

It felt like I was trying on a new dress. The title “Finding Words” felt like it tugged too much at the “I’m a writer! Look at me!!” neckline, making it showy. That certainly didn’t fit. The titles “In a Foreign Land” or “Across the Ocean” felt confining: a dress that is a bit snug at the beginning of the evening, turning me into a stuffed sausage by the end. At home I race upstairs and tear off the defending dress, where it hangs shunned in the closet for an interminable amount of time. This I did not want to happen with my blog. It should not lie around anywhere being shunned.

Having decided on a title I felt fit, but couldn’t have explained why, it was time to get to work. I knew I needed regularity to posting on my blog. For me it meant having a goal to work towards and I felt for my possible readers it might be something to look forward to each week. Friday became my posting day. And it worked. I soon found a rhythm where I carried a topic with me over the weekend and into Monday, Tuesday I began writing, Wednesday I got serious with it and hopefully by Thursday the new post would be written so that I could post Friday morning. It was exciting to watch an idea develop inside my head and eventually take shape in written form. In that moment it was exactly what I needed.

In November I began to feel frustrated – I’m sure those nasty November blues didn’t help – but I also knew it was more than that. I couldn’t help comparing myself to those “big bloggers” who have thousands of readers and followers; to bloggers who are constantly posting something new; to bloggers who seemed to have something to say that people wanted to hear. My initial enthusiasm waned and instead doubt crept in. I knew some were reading, but were my writing topics and how I was writing it even interesting? Should I be focusing more on what my possible readers want to read? I was plagued with questions and misgivings. Maybe I should just stop – no one would notice anyway.

During those weeks I was forced to visit my chiropractor more often than usual because of the severe headaches I suffered and a particularly disagreeable kink in my neck. I asked almost pleadingly why I was such a mess. What could possibly be making all these adjustments necessary?

“What’s changed? It’s probably stress.”

I shrugged my shoulders unable to identify anything in particular that had changed in my day-to-day routine, oblivious to what the stressor could be. Only weeks later in a moment of clarity did it come to me: the rigor of my self-imposed blogging structure had become a corset pulled too tight. Being “forced” every week to come up with something new and exciting all the while questioning the purpose in it all revealed itself. In that moment of realization I felt release and sadness. I let go of my rigidity and hoped to quiet my guilt. Had I already failed?

When the death of a loved community member rocked our peaceful time of Advent, it was my blog that I returned to. It was there that I attempted to put into words the depth of my mourning and admiration of that family’s journey with death. And it was there and in that moment that healing in many different aspects could begin.

And it is again in this moment and in this New Year that I return, learning as I continue this path that each moment is indeed so different. It is only the tap of a child’s footsteps or a final hug from an elderly mentor and then life changes. It is the moment of my ever-changing reality that I hope to even inadequately catch. And I’m glad you are along for the journey. As I questioned and wrestled (and certainly will continue doing), I was so often surprised and encouraged when someone commented on a post out of the blue or just nonchalantly mentioned how much he or she enjoys reading my blog. My husband was even stopped at a store to ask why I hadn’t posted on a certain Friday. Thank you. I am grasping that my writing serves as my processor of the world around and yet, it is so much fun to know others are processing with me.

As it turns out the title of my blog “In This Moment” has turned out to be a pretty good one. And I can’t help but wonder: where are you in your life in this moment?

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Breaking Hearts

Tuesday I sat at the computer, all geared up to let loose on my newest blog post. I sat staring at the blank page, considering. Usually some conversation or event is my Bunsen burner. It gives heat to a topic already simmering. Eventually the intensity is turned up and the words follow, as steam rises up because of the burner. But on Tuesday all I see is blankness: the cursor is blinking on my blank screen; my mind seems blank of any possible topics.

And then I remember the Friday evening news – a picture of a burnt child writhing in his pain and reaching out. “Oh honey,” I cried out and began to sob, the pounding emotion hammering my already hurting head, but really, what is that to the agony of that child? Was he reaching out, hoping to find the comfort of his mother’s hand? I pray she is near, but what if she too has been burned or poisoned or shot?

This is not what I want to write about.

Hoping to find inspiration in some of my other writings, I search through my “Writings” folder on my hard-drive. Eventually I give up unwilling to waste even more time. A round of yoga and a return to our daily schedule serve up no new ideas. Only that afternoon while enjoying the gorgeous late-summer weather do I begin to gain clarity. I journal about a petty problem and my lack of a blog post topic. I write about the burned child. Although I am not quite ready to turn up the heat, I begin to realize that picture in my head is my Bunsen burner. It won’t and can’t be ignored and all other possible ideas – the golden September or my daughter’s amount of homework – seem trivial, too light.

So I allow the intensity to increase. I go to bed with a topic simmering, hoping tomorrow the words can be the rising steam.

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Courtesy of J-Me Photography
http://www.etsy.com/shop/PhotographyByJme

Months ago we welcomed Bishop Jean and his traveling companions to a Sunday morning church service. His stature was small, but the robe and bishop’s miter demanded a quiet respect. His face was warm and friendly, but darkened when he talked about the suffering in his country he loves so much. He took an extra moment with the children, making a point of getting down to their level as he asked about their names and ages. Being such a sweet man and dressed in such a fancy robe, my then three-year-old became convinced that this must be the bishop that brings candy to the children in Germany on December 6th. At the end of the church service he sang the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have spoken. I was fascinated, even if at first it felt strange and foreign. I closed my eyes and soon felt the truth in his haunting, beautiful voice. It moved me to tears.

It is this man that I cry with and for when I hear the devastation reports. I remember his sweet face, and I wonder: how is he holding up? How many of his church family has he had to bury and mourn? Are the kidnappings still going on? How can he possibly keep the faith? But how can he possibly not? When he left us that Sunday morning, he looked at me pleadingly and said, “Please continue to pray for my country.”

These days everyone wants to know who really used the gift gas. Was it this side or the other; was it used improperly with horrible unwanted consequences. It seems so much is hanging on that one answer, but in the end, does it matter? I cannot believe that discovering the true perpetrator would lend any more legitimacy to more violence, to dropping bombs. The suffering is the same.

As we hear more news stories about the conflict and see more gut-wrenching pictures of what humans can do to each other, instead of becoming more engaged, we become hardened. Within the quantity we forget the individual. Maybe we turn the channel as soon as we see the headline thinking not that again. When we hear another number – 2 million refugees living in tent cities in neighboring countries – we might briefly shake our heads, think poor people and move on with our day. The numbers are too high and the tragedy is too far away.

But the heart of that little burned boy’s mama breaks just as yours or mine would. She asks herself how she will get through this next day as she watches her child suffer. Other mothers have had to bury their babies, say good-bye to those precious beings, probably asking why, oh why. Each and every death, each and every injury means tragedy in a family.

And this should be breaking our hearts. We should allow ourselves to be disturbed in our peaceful places, in our sunny afternoons with smiling, laughing children. Not because I think we should always walk around with sad faces and mourning clothes, although there is certainly enough suffering in the world to justify it. But when we open ourselves to the horrible pictures, to the tragedies of families, we make ourselves vulnerable to the humanness of the people around us. Instead of being wrapped up in our own dilemmas, we find a new perspective and are capable of reaching out beyond us. Suddenly the loneliness of the foreign woman speaks to us without words; the extra effort needed to visit our elderly neighbor doesn’t seem so big. And maybe this new perspective can help give us new eyes to see all that is good in our own lives.

            I know it is not enough. I do not understand the situation, as I suspect most people (even those who think otherwise) don’t. As outsiders looking in, I’m afraid we cannot solve the problem for them, certainly not with more bombs and more fear. And it is sometimes overwhelming to know of so much suffering, and yet be so helpless. But as Bishop Jean asked me, I will continue to pray. And I will continue to remember that burned little boy and his mama, hoping they too can one day know peace.

Hope

Giving the Words Space

Already it’s been four full weeks since I have sat down at the computer to write. We were so busy getting the house cleaned and rooms finished before the guests came; then they came and the time together was so sweet; now they have gone and we are settling into a summer vacation type of rhythm. During all these weeks, the words have wanted to come, helping me contemplate and digest all that was happening around me. Some have found space in my journal; most continue to roll around in my brain, attempting to merge in a way that makes sense. Really it’s the tap of the computer keys and the goal of a weekly blog post that seems the best platform for giving those words the space they need. My decision to blog feels appropriate and that is encouraging.

Now to hack my way through the jungle of thoughts, ideas and words to hopefully discover a good place to begin….

When I’m Well

girl with flowersLuckily I had been warned. I knew I wouldn’t meet the same man I had once known and this information gave me consolation. He wouldn’t be the energetic, opinionated, articulate man who had welcomed me, along with his wife, into their home so many years ago. He had been changed by the enemy cells that had taken over too quickly and by the resulting therapy to fight them. Our meeting after several years of this fighting would be different.

Pushed in a wheelchair because he can no longer walk on his own, he sits, cap on his head I assume to cover the scars, with a somewhat bewildered look on his face: bewildered at how it has come to this; bewildered at how people greet him with varying looks of sympathy, pity and alarm stemming from their own uncertainty.

I am genuinely so happy to see him, and although I too feel uncertain about how I should greet him, I do what comes naturally. For him unexpected I lean over and envelope him in a big, awkward wheelchair hug. Then comes the easy stuff: asking if he needs more coffee, introducing myself to his son whom I had yet to meet, asking about the family weekend. And then because I do want to know, but without thinking where it may lead, I ask,

“And how are you doing?”

“Na ja,” he replies. (In German class we learned to reply so la la, pronounced exactly the way it looks, when we were neither doing well nor badly. Of course in class this is how we always responded when asked, Wie geht es dir? because it’s just fun to say. Unfortunately Germans do not use it on a regular basis. Na ja, pronounced “nah yah”, is used more frequently and in various circumstances and means something like “okay” with resignation. Often and in this case with a sigh thrown in.)

It is a simple, yet completely appropriate response because really, what else should he say? He no longer has exciting vacation tales to tell and going into details about the latest therapy possibilities and struggles in his day-to-day over a quick cup of coffee and in the midst of a curious crowd is impossible. So we leave it at that.

I smile, wishing I could telepathically share all of my thoughts, feelings and wishes for him, but am at a loss as to what I should actually say.

“You look good,” he says.

“Thank you,” I grin. “I’m doing well too.”

With that our conversation comes abruptly to an end, as another old acquaintance greets him. Before he is swept away to lunch, I kiss him on the cheek and tell him again how good it is to see him.

Our encounter stays with me and forces me to repeatedly ask the same questions: was it appropriate for me to say I am doing well, even though I know he is not? Can I be sensitive to the situation of others, even while I am enjoying life and am thankful for where I am in my life right now?

In our little town and among church family, we hear predominantly bad news. Spouses of fellow choir members have been diagnosed with cancer and fight for their lives. A fifty-year-old man with school-aged children recently lost his battle to the tumors that consumed him. One older church member waits for a hip replacement while recovering from the last and is, in the meantime, lonely.

These are the individuals with whom I struggle along. I pray for them; I worry with them: nonetheless, I am happy. It feels good and freeing to be writing. My children are healthy and carefree. We have fun and exciting summer plans to look forward to. In this moment we are in a good place, and I am so thankful for that. But when I interact with these friends who are not well, is it fair to them to reveal the truth of my happiness? Will I not be a carnival-type mirror that only serves as a painful reminder of their reality?

Knowing full-well everything can change in an instant, I want to savor completely this moment of goodness we are experiencing. But my happiness silences me when face-to-face with a hurting person. Although running away would be easier, my faith and desire to care for others does not allow it, and so I awkwardly stand there, wondering what words, if any, are the right ones. It seems I have a knack for allowing the wrong ones to cross my tongue, so even with the best intentions, I offend. Caught in a vicious cycle, I wonder again if I should remain still, but what if, by Divine Intervention, I manage to find the right words? What if I can be a balsam to a soul? I then have no right to refrain.

It is a balancing act, but perhaps one I can only truly grasp when I have endured such difficulties. Questions still plague me, but for now I will continue to revel in the joy of our contentment. Even in my uncertainty and in each unique circumstance, I will search for the best way to communicate my care (and possibly work on my telepathy).

To Blog or Not to Blog

Finally, finally I was able to open up to my husband and share about my inner-writing conflicts. I’m not sure that he really understands me, although he is trying, but actually I’m not sure anyone understands me. But who really is truly understood in all his complexities? And how can I expect others to make sense of me, when I feel incapable of just that? But I digress. That is not the issue at hand.

As one suggested solution to my lack of seeing an immediate goal in my desired writing, Patrick spoke what I have considered and discarded and considered and discarded.

“What about a blog?” he said. “You could post every Friday (or whatever day in the week) and have something specific to be working on every week.”

Yes, what about a blog? When put so simply, it seems so appealing. What an easy way to give myself a goal, once a week. And I guess enough people really do read blogs, so that maybe, just maybe, some individuals could possibly even read what I have written. What a great way to “get myself out there”!

But, as my thought-process goes, everybody these days blogs! I can think of four friends from former lives who blog, but with worthy and interesting topics. It is important for me to keep up with those, which says a lot. By doing any internet search, tons of blogs come up, especially with topics having to do with books and writing. Any and everyone who loves books and or writing (and they often go together) has a blog.

I have never enjoyed doing anything that everybody is doing, either because everybody thinks it is the cool thing to be doing or it’s just something that you do. This sort of mass agreement really turns me off to anything, thus my obvious hesitation when considering blogging.

But, if I’m honest, there is more to it. I would be putting myself and my writing “out there”. To really fulfill its purpose (and mine) it would really only make sense if I go public. That means anyone can read what I have to say in a given week. Like I said that is the point, but it is scary isn’t? And not just in terms of the “oh, Big Brother is watching; I am giving up all privacy when I do anything on the internet” German definition. I would be making myself accountable, not only (and finally in a concrete way!) to my desire to write regularly, but to my actual writing. I would be opening myself up to failure. I would finally have to own up to my belief that I can write and move on to convincing others of the same.

The thought is terrifying and exhilarating, all at once. How often have I heard recently that in order to honestly open oneself up to what is possible, we have to be willing to fall flat on our noses. We have to be willing to fail, which is always scary and for me, always connected with shame and feelings of inadequacy. But that tiny “what if” at the back of my head, keeps making me smile at the thought of blogging. What if it’s fun? What if I’m actually good at it? What if people end up reading what I write? What if I am finally true to myself and my desire? Of course all the opposites of these questions call too, but for some reason it is a relief to know there have been others before me who have failed and surely, there will be others after.

I wrote my dear friend Elizabeth and asked her advice: to Blog or Not to Bog, this is what I need to hear from you. In a very brief, but enthusiastic response she wrote,

I just wanted to give you a resounding YES to blogging! The thing is, even if no one else actually reads your blog, the chance always exists that they could, and I think that the possibility of an audience always changes the writing process, makes us more accountable to something, even if it’s just a hypothetical. So yes, I say go for it!

I smiled at her enthusiasm; I smiled at her writing exactly what I needed to hear. Yes, it can and probably will change my writing process, and that is a good thing. So, with butterflies in my stomach, for better or even for worse, I will blog!