Category Archives: writing

Changing the Narrative

Julie, Hi!

Her smiling face sits down across from me in the coffee shop. She wears a colorful print top in shades of blue tied with a loose bow at the scooped neckline. A dragonfly pendant accents the look. With all of this loveliness, it is her smile that draws me in, open and kind.

You’re hard at work!

Actually I am attempting to work, but I am not succeeding. Not yet, anyway. I am using a window of time in between band camp drop off at 7:45 and a 9:00 snack help shift to collect my thoughts. I say as much as I close notebook and planner, creating more room on the surface of the small table for two.

I’m trying to atone for all the years I couldn’t help when my older kids were in band and I was home with the littles.

I think you need to change that narrative.

Her smile remains open and kind, but her eyes pierce through to my soul. I steadily continue engagement, feeling the pain of that truth landing somewhere deep. Laughingly I agree, trying to explain how I am somewhat kidding.

No, I’ve heard you speak that way before. I think it really needs to be kinder. We do what we can. The guilt is thick there.

In two minutes she has heard my sound bite and nailed it to the point that tears come to my eyes as the conversation comes to mind. I am reminded of why I love this woman and am grateful for her presence in my life whenever our paths intersect.

She is on her way to work, waiting for coffee to brew, a treat to herself on this first day back. We have precious few minutes to connect, but they go deep and real. Quick summer updates from each of us follow until I see her tall to-go cup placed on the counter by the barista and know our time is up.

She rises to collect her order and continue moving through her day. Pushing open the coffee shop door, she turns and says, Give the band kids love from this mama.

We do what we can when we can. Today that is what I will do.

Answering Questions

How are you doing with your word? It’s imagine, right? How are you imagining?

What are you doing just for you this summer?

Just wanted to pop in and say I’ve missed your words . . . I imagine it’s reflective of the way your summer is going.

These questions and comments were posed to me this month at separate times by separate friends. I am usually the one asking questions and noticing things, so they caught me off guard. My answers were honestly vague, as I have not felt imaginative, nor do I have a clear image of what I am doing just for me.

Reading.

I have been reading more books, gathering up the words.

Yoga.

I have been practicing yoga most days, connecting body with breath.

Household arranging.

I have been moving things around, decluttering, sorting, ordering the externals.

These were my answers.

This summer finds me caring for those in my home and adjusting to my husband’s new work schedule and routine. When he shared his one month evaluation, I joked that I should have a one month evaluation, as well, to see how I am handling the change.

Summer naturally brings a different rhythm and routine to our home. This summer was no exception. There was much coming and going of children throughout June and July, with all of us finally together again on July 19.

Today I engaged my youngest daughters in painting. We sat at the dining table choosing colors for our palettes and brushing paint on paper. We found pictures to add. I tried to spark imagination, theirs and mine.

Afterwards, I gathered our palettes for a picture to capture the moment. Our colors tell a story of their own. Our works in progress are uniquely us.

To answer the questions, both spoken and not, I am caring intently for those in my home. I am having talks at bedtime and during breakfasts at favorite haunts. I am walking with and hearing hearts. I am meeting my own for coffee.

I sit in a new physical space while writing this. It is one I created this summer. It is a place I have imagined for years that has finally become a reality. Of course there are the unimagined parts, as well, such as the warbling of birds and the jumping of a dog. It reminds me that imagination comes to fruition with its own dose of reality.

I am living in reality, embracing the daily, walking by faith. Living in the shadow of the question. Always.

Thank’s for asking!

Bird Nest

Sitting on the floor of my daughter’s vacation room, I look through the glass door up at the nest. It is tucked into the balcony rafters. Mama bird has just returned to her babies.

I feel a kinship with mama bird, seeing as I am here this week with my three youngest chickadees. It’s a different vacation dynamic than years gone by.

The last time we were in this space, our unit was divided into a boys’ side and a girls’ side. There were eight of us. Someone got sick.

This year we are four females until Papa bird joins us. Each has her own space. Mine is on a pull-out sofa. Some years that is how it goes. I wanted my older girls to have their own rooms.

It’s kind to have a getaway gifted by the in-laws in the midst of this transitional summer. The change of scenery is doing us good, even if it’s only a different space to eat and sleep and watch Cartoon Network.

For me it’s also doing yoga on my travel mat, reading books, and journaling. It’s laughing with the girls at episodes of Teen Titans and Gumball and crying alone during Inside Out and A Wrinkle in Time.

It’s going for walks in the heat and playing miniature golf on a course where the young man behind the counter taking our money recognizes us from years ago when he was younger and his family came to our house for dinner that time.

We are not far.

Just like that mama bird who swoops down and away whenever I try to sneak out onto the balcony for a closer look, I swoop out and away to my own balcony to read or write. I swoop out for walks.

I always return, just like her.

Unlike her, my babies are old enough to swoop out on their own, as well. Little Mae took her own walk last evening. My teenage daughter steps out regularly for moments of self-care.

Teen sons are each off on their own adventure this month, instead of on vacation with the family. That is how seasons shift and change.

Maybe that is what continues to draw me to the floor of this room looking out of the window and up at a bird nest. Grounding. Remembering all of my birds when they were contained.

I always ask first.

May I go look at the bird?

Usually the answer is affirmative, unless I have been particularly annoying or grievous. Then I just wait a bit and ask again.

Mama has hopped out of the nest and is perched on the ledge. Her eyes peer around, scoping out the territory. I refrain from opening the door or making a sudden movement.

Instead I sit and bless her. I listen to her song through the window and marvel at her role in the world. She is enough just being a bird.

She does not have to compete with or compare herself to other birds. She is enough moving back and forth from her own nest minding her own business.

Enough. Just like these words.

Just like me.

Get Up, Brush Off, Keep Going

This month’s writing and blogging began in a hopeful space. The most-read posts were written the first week, goodbye and hello, respectively. All of the changes triggered curiosity in readers, and I had a good writing flow.

My birthday found a Red Tent Living post running, definitely a confidence booster. There was growing momentum. That was the first full week of June.

Things came to a grinding halt the second week when school was out, kids were home full-time, and Steve entered week two of his new job. Any hopeful writing momentum grew precarious, like the wobbling handlebars of a bike before a fall.

Instead of confidently correcting and keeping a steady flow, I crashed. Words splattered everywhere but on the blog, and I landed in stunned silence, too tired to pick myself up and brush off for another run.

It is easy for me to grow discouraged in those moments that feel familiar. The silent crashes, sporadic tries, lost confidences are not new. What I would like to be new is the desire to get up, brush off, and keep going.

That is what this is. It’s practice.

It is also the reminder that any change in terrain is difficult to navigate, and this month has brought significant life changes. For someone who struggles with change, it is no surprise that I have been once again caught off guard.

To those reading and curious, thank you. Thank you for bearing witness to my words and world and growth. May July bring goodness and growth and opportunities for you to keep going, as well, in whatever you are called to pursue.

May it also bring rest and slowing down and enjoyment, things I am pondering and hope to explore more in the days to come.

 

You are Invited

Saturday, May 19, is the Hats and Horses Fundraiser out at Cross Keys Equine TherapyThere is still space for you and a friend or several to attend this Preakness-themed event. If you are a last-minute person who waits to see what’s available, wait no longer and hop over here to order your tickets.

Come to think of it, I had better ask Steve if we have ordered ours!

We have attended this event for several years. Once I won the 50/50 raffle which paid for the babysitter hired to tend our houseful of children. Another time, I won a silent auction painting donated by my favorite local artist. Rumor has it she is offering something again this year!

It is always fun to see who attends and to mingle with friends, old and new. There are hats to decorate and silent auction items to browse. There is live music and a cash bar. The bar tender is always handsome and funny. The BBQ is delicious and desserts tempting.

Most important is the money raised to sustain the work of Cross Keys Equine Therapy. Attending this event is a fun way to offer the financial support that is so needed.

You may wonder what happens out at the farm. How do horses help with therapy?

I am glad you asked, because I had an experience at the farm back in January that I would love to share with you.

When engaging with the horse, first get permission. Wait for the horse to come to you and reach out to touch you before touching it. Just like you wouldn’t walk up to a person and begin rubbing their arm, don’t walk up and start petting the horse.

Alicia addresses board members sitting around a table preparing to exit to the fields for an experience with the horses. We are to take some time visioning the work of Cross Keys and think about how we fit into that vision. I take up my spiral-bound journal and walk outside. Our first assignment is to sit and be still.

Walking towards the field with no horses in it, I am redirected kindly to another. I nervously laugh and try not to ascribe deep significance to my faux-pas. It is difficult for me to make a decision and stick with it; to not have someone assign me a place. I carry my pop-up chair to a field with three horses in the distance and sit. 

The horses are black, brown, tan. They begin moving in my direction, then stop. Wind whips over me. I settle my heart, not wanting to be rushed in the space. I find it interesting that I am in a field with three horses. What is God doing? I am not a horse person.

My vision keeps tipping to trauma. That theme runs through my story and connects my people. In a month I will commence part 2 of a certificate in story-informed trauma work. I see Cross Keys as a place for healing and hope, recovery of self, a place to engage with what has brought trauma.

Where do I fit? What do I bring?

As I ponder these questions, two horses move closer. They come to me, first the brown then the black. The tan will meet up with me later. I do not yet know this. I feel tears as these powerful animals approach me and nudge me with their noses. In their presence I feel small as I am called to rejoin the others down in the arena.

We gather at the Hope Arena for instructions on part 2. This time some of us will volunteer to enter the ring with the honey-colored horse to experience what the work is like. A therapist and equine specialist facilitate this experience.

I watch the first volunteer engage the horse and do some work. The work is to make a connection with the horse, not to mount it or ride it or do something like that. Just connect. This volunteer courageously engages the experience, following the therapist’s and specialist’s lead. Upon exiting, another volunteer is invited to step in. There is a pregnant pause.

I feel the feeling. You know the one. It’s the standing on the edge of the high dive or the top of the boat house and wanting desperately to both step off and step back. I stepped up and into the ring, terrified. Ambivalence gripped me as I battled desire for more and fear of engagement.

Being so close to a large, powerful animal in the presence of my peers and a therapist and horse specialist was intense. My default is performance, and I wanted to do all of the things right. I wanted to make a connection with the horse which meant she had to move towards me. Because I didn’t check to see, but instinctively I felt her a she.

I began to name what I felt, which was fear. I felt afraid to step in and move closer, but this beautiful creature was inviting me in with her deep brown eyes and golden mane tossed to one side. I decided to trust and engage as myself which meant to walk alongside of her. She drew me in from the edge of the rail where I was lingering and walked with me further into the arena.

I talked with her in this process, naming that it was difficult for me to commit to moving deeper into a space, even here as I ponder where my fit is at the farm. She gently walked with me, leading me to a red pop-up chair further in the arena. Stopping in front of the chair, she tapped her nose down on its seat and stepped aside. 

I could have analyzed and excused and come up with all of the reasons why what I felt in my gut was impossible, but instead I chose to stay with the feeling of invitation to sit and be. I sat down. The horse stood beside me. All was still. A cat jumped into my lap.

The ridiculousness of that final touch broke the spell, and laughter ensued from both me and my husband before spreading to the others. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NOT the type of person who has cats randomly jump into their lap, nor do I invite that from cats. This was clearly a moment.

During the debrief with therapist and horse specialist, I named what was stirring inside. Issues of trust, fear, commitment, place, and rest all were current and all were showing up in the presence of the horse. Her engagement with me was completely different than with those who went before and after. It was unique to my need.

I experienced the beauty of equine-assisted therapy, if only briefly. It is the ability of the horse to sense and bring to the present space what is stirring in the client’s world. It is a therapist helping to name what is happening with the client and a horse specialist naming the horse’s role in the process. 

It is beautiful and healing. When I wonder how it would feel to move in from the edge of a space and take my place in the room, I remember walking alongside a horse as she moved me further in from the edge. I feel the invitation to sit and belong just as I am. And just in case I doubt, I feel that cat on my lap and the laughter in my heart and know that it is real.

Please consider joining me THIS Saturday out at the farm. I would love to catch up and dream and imagine more with you. Tickets are here.

Shortly after the experience, the girl who is not a horse girl found a picture of herself as a girl wearing her favorite shirt. She feels this when she looks at the picture. That was my favorite shirt! You can see joy in all of the eyes.

I am going to be curious about that girl. Maybe she is a horse girl, after all!

Tabletop Tableau

This was the view across the room from me this morning as I sat in an oversized chair in my Airbnb drinking coffee and reading. Today is the last day of Certificate 2 training. How do I hold that?

Monday evening a precious friend stopped by the house to affix an EzPass to my windshield and capture the tolls for my trip. She also gave me a gift bag care package. Peeking in I saw snacks and a stuffed owl.

I didn’t see the cards tucked in between everything, one for each day, with instructions about when to open them. Each unique card held words of blessing and encouragement specific to the day.

This is a part of her glory. She is a writer. I was the recipient of her lavish gift of words. I assembled the cards on the tabletop under the staircase to remind me of truth and give me courage to step into hard places.

Some cards contained lunch money. Others a blessing. Each met me in exactly the right space for what the day held and what my heart needed.

I am preparing for the last session. Lunch is with myself today in solitude, pondering all that these days have held and preparing to end well. What do I hold? What do I toss?

It is my second attempt at writing this post. I wrote a first one while sitting at one of the wooden chairs that flank the table. I hit publish and rushed out the door. It vanished.

I sat all morning holding my disappointment while trying to release demand as to why my post vanished and where it went. I needed to remain present to all that was happening in morning session and group.

I will hit publish again for a second time on these new words for my morning thought. Then I will brave the rain and return to my table and receive what the afternoon holds.

M’aidez

May 1st. May Day. That very last thing I feel like doing is writing  a post which is the very reason I am writing. The sound of resignation was named in me today, and if for no other reason, I am proving to myself and to others that I have not resigned. Not yet. I will write.

Mayday! Mayday!

We all know that means Help me! Right? We know that? It’s the first thought that ran through my mind this morning when I woke and realized it was May first. Not, Look at the beautiful sunshine and a chance to live another day, but rather,

Help me!

Help came in a delicious breakfast prepared by my daughter, in a timely text from a friend, in a painfully honest conversation full of hard truth with another, in buckets and gallons of gut-wrenching, soul-wringing tears and heart-pounding sobs. It came in music from the neighbor’s house as I weeded the strawberry patch.

It is with me now as I write.

Mayday is from the French, M’aidez. (Help me) I did not know this until I looked up the history. It makes sense. I am glad for those years of French to help me understand. At least I was learning pronunciation when I was not being sent out of class for disruption.

Help me!

It is risky to ask for help. To receive help from others. To be reached out to and reach back. To feel safe in needing help. It is risky to need.

As I prepare for the final certificate 2 session next week and sit in my story, I am acutely aware of my need for, yet resistance to, help. I can see where resistance was formed and solidified. Where need was weakness and weakness was not tolerated.

I was needy.

Help waits for me at the end of the day in a living room with friends offering to engage hard struggles. I do not have to be alone in what feels too big and scary.

Because inside of me is a 19 year old who is trying to keep it together, and everything feels too big and scary.

M’aidez!

Insomnia

I don’t know if this is called insomnia or just waking up early. Whatever it is feels awful, and a cheerful bird in the tree outside is not helping matters. It has been merrily singing since 4:20 when I stirred with relief that it wasn’t 5:30 and jotted down the significant parts of a dream I was having.

winding dirty clock, trying to clean its face, tight springs, friend’s name, arrival at Air Bnb

I worked to keep my head in a fuzzy place of sleep while simultaneously staying conscious enough to type keywords into my phone’s notepad. Sometimes I actually succeed. The pounding in my skull warned that this was probably not one of those times and to be prepared.

The bird continued calling for attention as my stomach began chiding me for thinking that eating limited edition pumpkin pie ice cream from the grocery outlet was a good way to deal with yesterday’s difficult feelings.

Just one more spoon of the cinnamon-graham cracker swirl and maybe this will all feel manageable.

It does not work, by the way, and adding a grasshopper cupcake or vodka martini as a chaser is also counter-productive. Trying popcorn as a final late-night comfort measure, while warm and buttery going down just sits there on top of everything laughing. Then it all turns into a dirty clock the needs to be wound but is so tight that its springs are going to pop.

Dear Future Me. Like tomorrow’s me, or rather, today’s . . .

So here I sit in a space where if I were a real, intentional writer, I would be proud to awaken early in the quiet pre-dawn hours getting words out of my head and onto paper or into cyberspace. Instead, I anxiously glance at the bottom right corner of the screen watching the minutes tick away until I really have to wake up and face another day.

The alarm on my wrist buzzes the arrival of morning for real as the coffee pot lets out its final sigh and the smell of coffee fills the air.

Time is ticking. Counting down. Precarious.

So much change is on the horizon. So much is currently happening. So much swirls inside, and I run around chasing it with spoons of creamy, cold deliciousness, rather than making the hard, healthy choices.

I am tired of what feels so hard, which is everything at the moment.

Time has come.

Time to exit my quiet writing space and enter the kitchen where lunches wait to be prepared and coffee waits to be poured, and I wait to see what this day holds.

Good Morning, Friends. For real this time!

Idle Words

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
Matthew 12:36 (KJV)

As a child I grew up in a Baptist church where three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night I was in the pews. Dad was up front leading music. Mom was coordinating the nursery.  Sister was shining her Strawberry Shortcake mirror into the aged pastor’s eyes. Church was familiar, comfortable, unsettling, scary. All of the above.

Familiar and comfortable were the people and routines. The red of the sanctuary cushions and carpet, the curve of the armrest at the end of each row, the red Great Hymns of the Faith hymnbook to look through finding Fanny Crosby’s name (because Fanny), the tiny pencils and offering envelopes on the back of each pew, these all brought comfort and delight.

Unsettling was an open cross panel behind the pulpit, revealing the baptismal tank, or the atmosphere of the sanctuary was tinged with tension over a business meeting, or someone choose O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus for favorites night. These moments stirred anxiety.

Scary was the talk of judgment and hell and the end times. The rapture. The trumpet of the Lord. It seemed as if these days were imminently looming, and the only way out was 100% assurance by saying the Sinner’s Prayer, thus knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt with every head bowed and every eye closed, no one looking around.

Of course, I looked around, and if I was looking around how could I trust that no one else was?

I tried, but was never quite sure if I got it right. I never felt safe in God’s hands. I could never escape the shadow of a doubt. When that trumpet sounded and time was no more, I wasn’t certain that I would be there when the roll was called up yonder.

Those were terrifying thoughts for a child growing up outside of Washington, DC. Every midnight ambulance siren, train whistle, or police chase resulted in a frantic leap from bed to make sure my parents were sill in their room, and I had not been Left Behind.

How would I face the terror of the tribulation and the second chance that would only come if I did not receive the Mark of the Beast, enduring unspeakable torture inescapable even by death? The end of the world was always upon me, and I lived with a level of anxiety over my idle words to be given account of and shouted from the rooftops. I was a child full of words.

Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Luke 12:13 (KJV)

This was especially poignant, because the closet in my bedroom was the perfect hideout, clubhouse, safe place for secrets. It came complete with a sliding board (following the construction line above the stairs) and was where I told the most important things to my teddy bear or my sister.

I often pondered how all of those idle words were tracked. What would the judgement day be like, when I stood before God to give account? I pictured God turning to a card catalog, like the one at my local library only bigger, and pulling out a drawer with my name on it. There were all of my idle words, categorized.

How times change.

I never imagined the technology of today, where idle words abound and multiply. They are everywhere, our own and others. We share them in texts, comments, and emails. We carry them in our pockets on our phones. They can be retrieved with a click of a mouse or swipe of a screen or insert of a flash drive.

In having a motherly   my children recently, we discussed the importance of being thoughtful and careful with the words they use and send in cyberspace. Some are newly navigating those waters. I am well-aware I cannot monitor every word texted, sent, or spoken. I can remind them that once the words go out, they stay out there somewhere, even if we do not understand where or how.

I tried to explain my card catalog story, but I might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Times. They change. Words. They remain.

Choose wisely, choose well.

Spring’s Arrival

Spring arrived in a flurry of flakes and in ice crusted to the windshield when I went to pick up the girls from school.

It came to me in a broken off tree branch found and gathered while walking Dewey.

Unexpectedly, catching me off guard, the words Happy First Day of Spring! called to me from my child’s school communication notebook.

The words Due to bad weather schools will be closed tomorrow. flashed on the screen of my phone.

It’s Spring!

Spring finds me nostalgic and with more space for story. The broken tree branch with its tiny buds brought to mind a memory long forgotten, yet recently stirred. It prompted me to collect, bring home, and place into water not only that branch but two other similar small ones.

I set them in strategic locations around the house to the tune of “BaaaAab!” when Riley noticed.

On the kitchen counter

In my room

Long ago, a little girl received a letter in the mail from her grandpa M. In it she was reminded that spring was on the way, and that it was the perfect time to be watching the tree outside of the living room window for buds. She was encouraged to choose a branch to observe and sketch daily or every few days. This process would help her to slow down and notice Spring’s arrival. The little girl felt special and seen.

The memory remained tucked away in my mind until I was walking and noticed the broken-off  branch. I remained curious as to why I would be so interested in the buds opening and why I would want to bring it home to put into water and continue to watch when the memory came flooding back.

It helped me understand why I love the tree in my neighbor’s yard that can be seen from both my bedroom and TV room window where I often sit to think. Lately I have been focusing on the branches and sketching them as I ponder. I understand more why I love it in the fall. The changing branches remind me of the gift of seasons and the passing of time.

Thank you for the gift of a memory, Grandpa. Your words made a big impression on a little girl.