Category Archives: stories

Resisting Routine

I am pondering and exploring my struggle with routine, namely, my resistance to it. I know that if I were teaching right now I would be reading to my students as they ate a snack. We would then pack up and spend fifteen minutes preparing for the school day to officially begin. From there the day would roll on in blocks of time, each with a specified task, until the end.

I am good with an others-imposed work routine. I know the benefits of following a plan to accomplish the things. It allows you to focus on what is being done in the present with the assurance that the next things will get done in their time. This saves physical and mental energy.

The struggle is with self-structure. I am a finite person with limited resources and must choose the best way to use them when there are so many good ways. And there are teachers. I am abundantly familiar with online and print teachers and coaches who encourage the use of personal routines.

The challenge is in the doing and the practice.

As I type the above sentence, I am struck with what I lack, and that is practice. Much of my life has been spent in overdrive, rushing from thing to thing with little intentionality. When others-imposed requirements are in place, I can follow those. If they are required to collect a paycheck, all the better.

When it comes to ordering my personal time or working on things to benefit myself, plans become muddled. This keeps me frozen and stuck and often at the mercy of others and their routines.

Once upon a time I stood in the kitchen of a new friend with my seven children scattered around. I felt like the biggest poser as she asked me questions about homeschooling (I didn’t) and home management (What’s that?).

At the time I was in a stay at home season. I had discovered Flylady somewhere online, and she rang familiar from my childhood with a mom who was a self-proclaimed SHE. I mentioned Flylady to my friend, most likely to have some sort of answer for her. As much as I tried to keep my home, there were more pressing matters like lots of children to keep.

Years passed.

Last fall we sat together in my living room, reconnecting intentionally to catch up. She had big changes on the horizon. During the course of our conversation she mentioned Flylady in a laughing way, something or another about not keeping up.

She reminded me that I was the one who had told her about Flylady. This reminded me about the whole others bearing witness to our lives thing (just now I typed withness and find that slip interesting.) I felt a mixture of shame and embarrassment at the woman I was who felt a need to share a system with someone rather than be okay with not knowing what I was doing or how I was doing it.

Maybe that is at the root of my resistance. Systems. For years in the midst of my overwhelm and wandering, the answer was always to find a system. The right chore charts, vitamin regimen, exercise plan, date night, home organization system was the answer. These treated symptoms but not root causes.

Having spent years addressing root causes and sorting through the beautiful disruption, it is time to rebuild. I am facing honestly my need for some sort of a routine, no matter how I may resist. I have come to the place where I know it is not the answer but a tool I am ready to learn to use.

So this new year finds me trying to imagine what a consistent daily and weekly routine might look like, with the understanding that even the best laid plans need room for flexibility. What about you, Dear Reader? Do you follow a set routine or plan? What inspires you to stay focused? What gets you off track? I am pondering these thoughts more as I continue moving forward in this new season of life. I would love to hear what works for you! Or not!

Coffee Corner

Fresh Coffee

I hear the grinder in the kitchen whirling beans. Rattling, Clanking. Pouring. Fresh coffee is set up by the one who loves me so well. This Wednesday morning is Thanksgiving Eve, and instead of being dressed in the kitchen doing a final slapping of peanut butter on bread or filling a thermos with Spaghettios, I am sitting in bed, Bible and journals scattered.

Usually by this time the house is in full buzz with last-minute running around and waking of sleepers whose errant alarm clocks failed to alarm. Today my scholars are home beginning their holiday rest, so I rest a little longer, too, savoring the blue glow of the approaching sunrise outside my bedroom window. I write a bit more and try to silence a mind already racing ahead to the rest of the day.

Fresh coffee means love and kindness from the one who knew I would be sleeping in, and its meaning is not lost to me.

I remember drinking coffee in Florida, its taste a comfort as I got “toddies” with my sister from Barnies Coffee and Tea Company before walking around Coastland Center in Naples. It offered respite from the work week, transition to shopping for a new outfit or item.

Akin to Starbucks with a signature plaid green trademark, coffee at  Barnies symbolized rest and hope. I carried the ritual with me to Pensacola and the rare opportunities I had to get off campus with money. Both transportation and finances were in short supply back then.

I began drinking coffee in earnest when I lived in Golden Gate, Florida. It helped fuel my early morning work hours and kept me going into an evening full of classes. Warm comfort in a mug adorned my desk, carrying me away to a time when things would be different. I am in that time today ~ or am I? Are things different? I wonder.

Coffee.

It is a ritual that Steve and I have shared since our PCC “coffee station” days. He would walk from our breakfast table each morning to fill our mugs. Handcrafted coffee beverages were not as popular thirty years ago as they are today. There was not a campus coffee knockoff of Starbucks ~ or Barnies Coffee and Tea Company. There was morning coffee with Steve in the Varsity Commons out of beige melamine cafeteria mugs.

Family legend holds that I drank coffee at two years of age out of tiny creamer cups. My mom would fill them for me while we visited with her friend, Sarojeni, an Indian woman whose name I could pronounce perfectly, according to folklore.

So I have always been about coffee, which is why I can sit and sip and close my eyes and let all of the feelings flood me like the water that would flood the grounds in the single-serve red French Press that I got as a teen when trying to find who I was.

I was coffee. Fresh.

Just like this day.

Friendship Friday ~Jesus Showed Up

Jesus showed up at just the right time.

My Bible reading plan this year is chronological. That means intensive Old Testament time. Nine months to be exact. God’s word is always alive and powerful, speaking to wherever we are in the moment. The minor prophets were calling to me for months. As was the weeping one. There was lots of weeping.

Steve would tease me before bed, Time to be encouraged by a dose of Lamentations.

In a strange way, I am encouraged by the Old Testament. It is full of mess and grief and people who see God directly, hear from him specifically, and still do the opposite. It has people who follow the rules and are foiled and who break them and are blessed.

There are stories that occur over chapters and those in just a few verses, whose magnitude is more real to me the more I live and experience life. The Old Testament is a reminder that there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Nothing. New.

In the midst of poor choices, direct disobedience, chaos, and confusion, God is still glorified and working all things. I am neither a theologian nor a Bible scholar. That is not what this is about. I am not trying to prove points or make cases. I may be a kindred spirit with Jeremiah, but I digress.

This is about Jesus showing up this week, as I finally made it to the New Testament. How timely to read about his entrance into our world on a day when the horror was magnified. Even though he has been here all along and is well-acquainted with our sorrow and grief, it brought comfort to be reminded again.

He chose to come to us.

It reminds me of one of my children and the Baby Jesus story.

One year, a particular child was in kindergarten. His Sunday School teacher gave each child in the class a plastic nativity scene to assemble. She gave each parent a sealed envelope with a note and the Baby Jesus inside. The note contained instructions about helping the child assemble the nativity scene and how to respond when they noticed the baby was missing. We were to put it in the manger on Christmas Day.

This particular child tore into the box immediately in the van after church. Where is he? Where is the Baby Jesus? He demanded.

Determined to follow the plan, I mentioned that it was not Christmas yet. We would have to wait and see.

Come on, Mom. He already came! Now where is it?

Laughing, I had to admit that he had me, as I pulled it out of the envelope.

That is how it feels. Jesus already came. He has been in my Old Testament reading, and I know that. In the midst of all that is wrong, there is also right. I am not pretending to have the answers. I am just grateful to be resting in the comfort of the Gospels.

 

 

 

All the Dimes

With a week to go until trip number three, it’s time to write about the dimes. There are certainly other things in my heart and on my mind, but the dimes matter, too. They don’t feel as emotionally charged as so much else in my world does. They bring feelings of hope, and hope is always good. I could use a hefty dose right now.

The Dimes.

Last Christmas/ New Year’s season a simple money-saving challenge was floating around social media sites. A two-liter plastic bottle, filled with dimes, illustrated a simple way to save a few hundred dollars. With finances being one of the barriers to my pursuit of the LCC at the Seattle School, I thought this would be an easy, fun way to begin saving to fund my dream.

Procuring a two-liter plastic Coke bottle, I dug through my wallet and scoured my home. Those dimes alone filled the four little bumps at the bottom. I set an intention of dropping each dime I found into the bottle.

Playing fair, I made sure the dimes were not off of my kids’ dressers or out of my husband’s change jar. Only ones from my wallet or those found in stray places like the laundry room floor or the couch cushions were allowed. Dimes found on walks with the dog and in parking lots were definitely fair game.

My eyes became sharp. Each dime was a reminder to stay the course. I grew in confidence that God would provide for the work I was doing. Each shiny gleam brought encouragement. It became a game to see where the dimes would appear. I felt God’s smile on me through tiny bits of silver alloy found in random places.

All was well and good, but honestly, after the initial fill of the four little bumps at the bottom, the pace slowed. A lot. After a year of saving, maybe an eighth of the bottle is filled. I don’t think I will be making my final Seattle payment in dimes. I am grateful for the provision that has enabled me to do this work without depending on loose change.

Though the bottle is more empty than full right now, my heart is the opposite, illustrated by the overwhelming meltdown I experienced while attempting to clean the TV room. The space has never fully recovered from Christmas, and asking the child who plays there most to help with the cleanup was met with resistance. This tipped me into a state of upheaval while attempting to clean it myself.

Frozen, I sat on the floor, tears pouring from my eyes. It’s too hard. It’s too much.

And here I was expecting an eight-year-old to do it. It wasn’t really about the room, though.

Mustering strength and resolve, I broke down the job in my mind, grabbing a broom to sweep the perimeter of the wood floor surrounding the area rug. Almost immediately two dimes swept into the pile.

All will be well.

Comfy Cozy Quiet

Soft light tiptoes through the window, waking me gently. I pull back curtains to savor the view of morning mist rising over the lake.

Propping myself with pillows to watch the sunrise, I lean into the quiet stillness gifted to me by this weekend away. More than I could have asked or expected I have received in the kindness of Angela to invite me, once again, to a weekend of rest.

It has been awhile since I have experienced expansive quiet. Moments grabbed here and there between children coming and going at home are not the same as hours of quiet so thick I can feel the absence of noise.

This weekend spent at a cabin by the lake with my friend has offered that quiet.

Rapidly clicking computer keys, softly coloring pencils, slowly turning pages, spontaneously conversing voices, these are sounds that have soothed my soul and reset my spirit. Long walks, reading, writing, talking, thinking, processing, coloring, art journaling, writing some more, these are things that have occupied my unstructured time.

It has been a working weekend of sorts, as I wrap up preparation for Seattle, part 2. The difficult task of writing out and analyzing another story to share, along with finishing reading assignments, made me increasingly grateful for a cozy, quiet space to inhabit during the process.

My uniform of comfy lounge wear, slippers, and scarf was a reminder to relax. Being enveloped in soft comfort held space for me as I engaged difficult story scenes and disruptive feelings. The brilliant sunshine and sky outside grounded me when I was threatened by disconnect.

Sharing snippets of words or thoughts across the table with Angela, asking questions about work, taking breaks together, these things all helped to soften the intensity of feelings and encourage the process of finishing.

There are a few hours left to savor the stillness. The light grows brighter. Leaves blaze in golden glory. I hear stirring downstairs, inviting me to rise, as well. It is time to emerge and enjoy the final hours of comfy, cozy quiet.

blazing glory

Blessing the Teacher

Several months ago, I read words by Tracy Johnson on Red Tent Living. She wrote about blessing the manager in her, and I immediately thought of the teacher in me and how difficult it is to bless her.

As a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. One brother, eight years younger than me, called me teacher before he called me by my name. I vividly remember playing school using a chalkboard set up in the smallest room of our duplex, my classroom for a season. That chalkboard was the best toy, and I was always the teacher.

Having six younger siblings, five of whom were alive by the time I was ten, offered plenty of opportunities to hone my craft. Having a father who was a Christian school teacher, offered plenty of opportunities to troll around to various classrooms at the end of each school year hoarding papers and teaching supplies that were going to be thrown in the trash.

I assembled leftover classroom worksheets into booklets, stapling them together. These were used to teach and entertain siblings on long summer car rides to Michigan. Old lesson plan or grade books with used pages torn out were treasured finds. If there was still a seating chart template in the back, I would spend hours arranging and rearranging imaginary students into rows.

I drew pictures of classrooms. The items on the teacher’s desk, the assignments written on the chalkboard, the wall decorations, all were fastidiously detailed. Sometimes I wish I still had one or two of them. Then I wonder if it is better to have them in my memory. I am curious if that is why I am intent on saving samples of my children’s work.

The dream of growing up and becoming a teacher was rooted deep inside of me. There was a time when it felt hopeful and sweet. I taught a little girl to read when I was sixteen and loved planning enrichment activities for the small group of day camp students that I worked with that summer. Then something changed.

The dream and desire became a demand. I remember when the joy of teaching was replaced by duty and the expectation to teach. I remember feeling choices slip away and panic set in. I remember trying my best to push the window of other opportunities open, only to have it slam shut and lock.

I remember feeling betrayed by the teacher in me. Why did she have to be so good at what she did? Why did she always say this is what she wanted to be? What if there were other things, too?

The teacher, ever efficient, stepped up and took over, pushing the other parts aside. She took care of business and rose to the occasion. She went to school, studied, and worked hard. She loved each student that came through her room and saw to it that she cared for them in the best possible way.

I appreciate her for that. I appreciate her ability to connect with students, to care for them, and to make learning fun. I appreciate her stepping up and doing what needed to be done. Most of all, I am grateful to have grown into a place where I can truly bless her and her gifts.

The teacher is a part of me, but she is not all of me. Still, she is pretty amazing, and I have grown to love and appreciate her. Her presence is a gift of grace in my life.

Shannon’s Mom

Would Shannon’s mom report to the mall office, please? Shannon’s mom to the mall office.

My heart is in my throat as I step from the carpeted floor of Centerpointe, the Christian bookstore in the mall next to JC Penney, to the sleek tiled floor of the mall’s common ground. Already, time has passed too slowly and too quickly in my search for a preschooler entrusted to my care, not for a few hours a day, but for LIFE.

I am failing at it. I can’t even keep track of ONE small child. How can parents continue to trust me to care for their children day after day? In that moment, all I feel in my brain is the relief that Shannon is found and only gave her first name. What if someone heard that Mrs. McClay had lost a child? I would never be trusted again.

How did this happen?

It was supposed to be a quick, after-work trip to the mall, bringing my youngest child along for some quality time together. We entered through the Walmart anchor end, making the long trek past all of the stores towards our destination at polar opposite.

She noticed the coin-operated merry-go-round and asked to ride it. Not now was my response, because I had no change, and we had places to go. Let’s be honest, my response was usually not now, because, well, just because.

Today we are pressed for time, because I have just gotten off of work, and there are things that I need to look for before heading home to fix supper and get on with the evening. There are always things to get to. Always that next thing.

We enter Centerpointe, precursor to Family Christian Store, and I begin to look in earnest for whatever it is that I need. I enjoy it here, because there is a play area for kids in the back where VeggieTales videos loop and books and toys are accessible, while moms like me peruse the latest CDs and Christian books and tchotchkes.

Shannon is into VeggieTales, these days, so much so that her birthday party was a VeggieTale theme, so I am more than happy to oblige when she asks if she can go to play with the toys.

I scan the CD display, searching for something new, that I know will lift my spirits, though I won’t be able to buy it. I remain lost in thought for a few minutes before returning to reality and heading to the back of the store for my girl.

I find emptiness.

The play area is empty.

Bob and Larry sing silly songs to an empty chair. There is no little girl in sight.

Panic rises in my chest as I run to the front of the store where a cheerful, curly-haired cashier is ringing up a purchase.

Did you see a little girl walk out of the store?

Looking at me with concerned eyes, she shakes her head. She has not seen a child, but she has been busy ringing up purchases. I feel her care and concern as shame washes over me. She is doing her job. I am clearly not doing mine.

It is at that moment, in the front of the store, that I hear the mall loudspeaker calling for me, and I rush out to the mall office.

Scooping Shannon into my arms, I have never been so happy to see a little face.

What happened?

Well, you SAID I could play with the toys, so I went out to try to find them, but I went the wrong way.

The toys. The TOYS. The merry-go-round. She was asking to go play on the merry-go-round.

We talk it over and realize where she made a wrong turn, and where I made a wrong assumption, and I tell her I am glad that she was able to say her name so that I could come and find her. We leave the mall together with a memory and the huge relief of being reunited.

I have been Shannon’s mom for 21 years, now. I love her and how she has helped me to grow and become a better mother and person. I am realizing that there will always be wrong turns and wrong assumptions, but if we remember our name and ask for help, the reuniting is sweet and the memories are rich.

Shani first birthday

This is from Shani’s first birthday. Her face captures her essence even at a year old. Those big eyes and that furrowed brow speak volumes. I just want to scoop her up and hold her close again. Love those babies, Mamas!!! Time really does fly. Happy 21st, Little Angel!