Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 40: Finishing A Chapter

As any writer will tell you, reaching the end of a chapter is both totally exciting ("Yay! I finished something! Progress!") and daunting at the same time ("Oh crud...blank page...what next?") I feel a little bit of this each time we end one of our 40 Day seasons together, and never more so than this year. Perhaps this is when I'll finally get over the illusion that I know what's coming next, because really, I never have. In writing, and in life I guess, all we can do is turn the page...and wait. So that's what comes next.

Each year, my emotions are a little different at this point, which makes sense--we'd be robots if we could just soldier on at one level year after year. But it's a bummer when the feeling du jour isn't as filled with hip-hip hooray and jazz hands as one might hope. Because you can't fake jazz hands. (Or at least you shouldn't!)

One of the song lines we've visited in the past here in the 40 Days is from Nichole Nordeman's song, Someday, where she says: I believe in the rest of the story. I believe there's still ink in the pen.

I hear those lines differently now than I did when I first ripped the plastic off her CD a few years ago. Here's what's I realize now: there IS a rest of the story, and ink in the pen, whether we believe it or not. Sometimes its a big relief to not have everything depend on our faith, to trust that things just are. We're not the same people we were 40 Days ago, and if we get to gather here again next year, we'll be different still. We'll know the next chapter ("Yay! I finished something! Progress!") and we'll be wrestling with the "what comes next?" question anew. I don't think that ever changes.

Thank you for spending this time together with me. I was re-reading some of the posts and comments the other night and was so touched by this amazing chance we have to connect, to know each other in our deepest hopes and desires and cheer one another on, even though most of us have never met. It's an honor to be part of that, and to know you guys.

BLESS your next chapter.
Love, Trish

Day 39: How Far We've Come Without Going Anywhere!

Thirty-nine days...that's quite an accomplishment. They say it only takes thirty days for us to form a new habit (good or bad) so whatever it is you've been doing differently for these thirty-nine days, studies suggest that it matters, in terms of the person you're becoming...and that you've accumulated nine whole bonus days!

(Whenever I read these studies I'm struck with a mixture of delight and terror, as I mentally catalog the mixture of smart & dumb choices that comprised the past month of my life. Anyway...)

This time around, I'm happy to have given my little boat some time in dry dock, even if some days I couldn't even figure out what color paint to use to pretty-up the hull. It's nice here on the shoreline; I don't always have to be out in the depths over my head. A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about how cute it was to hear her young daughters wake up one morning expressing their excitement over the adventures for their summer day ahead. I'm trying to recapture some of that feeling myself, and a sense that the seasons of our lives are supposed to be different from one another, rather than just one long, all-out slog toward the finish line.

For example, I went out on an adventure with my friend Gwen last night (the same Gwen as Chapter 10 of MAZE), south of the city in some south shore neighborhoods I'd never been to before. We went to my friend Lynne's book reading, and then out to dinner (we tried to go to the restaurant run by the former New Kids On The Block--because honestly, what's more fun and twitter/blog-worthy than that? But the wait was 2.5 hours. So we dined at a little burger bistro by the water instead...not too shabby!) It was the kind of thing I wouldn't have had room in my brain for 39 days ago. It would have felt like too much, driving south of Boston from Cambridge during rush hour (because yes, everything you've heard about Boston traffic is true...) and then finding a bookstore way out on the south shore to buy a book I was planning to buy would have seemed like too much to handle, what with everything else banging around in my brain demanding attention. But yesterday? It was perfect. I'm excited to have made enough mental space to make my world a little bigger again. That feels good.

I'm curious: What have your 39 days looked like? What are you pleased with? What did you think would go differently?

And perhaps more importantly: What is your hope for the next 30 (or 39 days)?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 38: Happiness Meters

I just read a New York Magazine article entitled "All Joy and No Fun" about the ongoing question of whether parenting makes you happy. (Why I read these things, given that it doesn't appear I'll ever have the a horse in this particular race, is beyond me...perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment?) The general tenor of the article is that 98% of research shows that having kids lowers happiness in every way imaginable. But then at the end, the author makes an important distinction: Do we define happiness/satisfaction/fulfillment in terms of moment-to-moment assessments, or the big picture? That distinction, according to the author, can change the answer.

This is worth thinking about, no matter where we are in life. My sense is that most of us define things both ways...and that either perspective carries with it the possibility to either buoy us up or sink us like a rock tied around our ankles.

My tendency is to live minute-to-minute, at least in terms of my happiness meter. Which helps me survive disappointment, but leaves me vulnerable to being overwhelmed when the big picture flashes across my screen. One of my best friends, in contrast, gets through the never-ending demands of her particular life by keeping the big picture right at the forefront, finding motivation to get through the endless little demands by having such a clear sense of where her efforts are taking her.

I'd guess that most of us drift back and forth between these two...and that often it feels like we're floating in a sea of question marks. And as I turn this dilemma toward God, I can't help but notice that the less tied in we are to specific relationships--spouses and children in particular--the tougher it can be to see where we're going. Those are some pretty big relational holes to fill, and they play a big part in defining who we become, how we spend our time, and what are goals are. So the question becomes, What do we do in the meantime? How do we stay on track for that sense of happiness/fulfillment/satisfaction that comes from living a meaningful, purposeful life?

There's no one answer to this...but there must be answers. Today, let's ask God for an individualized program for OUR happily ever after, both in the minute to minute and big picture sense.

If you hear something encouraging, share it below!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 37: Brave Irene

We might be onto something with this 3rd grade thing. On a whim, I Googled "3rd grade curriculum" to see if there might be insight into how to spend my summer, and there in the Reading/Creativity Module I found a bevy of recommendations that could come straight from any self help book. As it turns out, in the 3rd grad we learn to:
1. Identify a fantasy
2. Use context clues
3. Answer critical questions
4. Recognize and use strategies

Don't these things seem like areas most of us struggle with as adults? Discerning fantasy from reality, picking up on context that would tell us something if we'd pay attention, being willing to answer (and face the answers) of critical questions? And don't even get me started on the whole strategy the extent I've used strategy in the past, it's looked more like grim manipulation than thoughtful forward progress. Clearly, I've got some lessons to repeat.

Now, by way of full disclosure: I looked for a picture of a 3rd grade classroom to post here, and seeing that barrage of color and information plastered across every wall/desk/rug made my head spin. So I'm thinking of this as an outside-the-classroom adventure. You know, a field trip.

The good news is that the second module in our curriculum is called "Discovering Courage," which has full indoor/outdoor applicability. It says that we'll learn by reading about BRAVE IRENE, a dauntless girl who goes out in a raging storm to deliver a dress for her ailing mother.

I might be reaching a bit here, but maybe that's what courage--and life lessons--are about: The question of, "Do you have what it takes to do what needs to be done for the people you love.... Even (or maybe especially) when no one else thinks it matters?"

I may have shared this here before, but my BRAVE IRENE moment came one winter night when THAT DOG was a puppy. It was about 2am, and she needed to go out. I carried her down 8 flights of stairs (the elevator was broken) and out into the gusty, snowy wind. She did her thing, and as I bent to scoop it up into a bag, the wind blew the poop down the sidewalk. I had to CHASE it. That was the moment I realized that I have what it takes to put the needs of others ahead of my own desires if I have to. It was a good feeling, and it's stayed with me all these years.

Do you have a BRAVE IRENE moment? Or are you waiting for one? Who knows--it might be part of your summer curriculum :)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 36: Welcome to the 3rd Grade

It's the final week of our 40 Days of Faith, and I feel like I owe you guys an apology. Nothing dire. But if each of our annual June/July faith adventures is a snapshot of where each of us is (are?) in a particular summer season, this year's picture is a rather relaxed (read: uninspiring, sloth-like) one for me, your heretofore intrepid leader. Where in past years, I've found inspiration in music lyrics, book quotes, and going through whole chunks of the Bible together, wrestling with what God means by tough passages and finding comfort in the ones that seem to offer hope... this year has been different.

As I told some friends last night, I feel like I'm operating at about a third grade level of emotional/spiritual perspective: there's not much point in looking too far down the road, because I want summer and all the fun and relaxation that goes with it to last as long as possible. I've had enough of deep thinking/learning/striving for awhile, and I feel like if I spend one more second worrying about my report card, my head might explode. I need some time to chill out. The result of this is that you've gotten third grade blog posts. We've talked about taking our boats out of the water, and worked some imagery about floating vs. sinking. I've thrown up random videos by Simon & Garfunkel (well, actually I posted them. I did not throw them up...) All in all I've kept us floating in some pretty shallow water.

But even there, I've found gems along the way.

For example, we could work the Simon & Garfunkel a bit more if friend Dave once pointed out that part of why Paul Simon had a career on his own after S&G was that he didn't wander into his middle age playing nostalgia events, trading on who he used to be. Instead, he took some time and wandered off to Africa, experienced something entirely different, and allowed himself and his music to evolve. Intriguing, right?

In some clumsy way, I guess that's what I'm trying to do, too: experience my life in a different way, and look at my circumstances--both the limitations and the opportunities--through a new lens. I'm looking for a view that's less forced-optimism & relentless drive, more enjoy the small moments and see what it all adds up to.

And I flag this here because I want to say that if this isn't the season you're in...if you're gearing up to really GO AFTER big dreams, then that's awesome, too. Our lives can look different, and we can cheer each other on even as we veer in different directions. And if you're in a season of needing a little more "be" and a little less "do" too...let me know. I'll move over a bit and make room for you on the beach blanket. Grab a novel, put on some sunscreen, and let's see what little enjoyments today brings.

Thanks for reading :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 35: Little Reminders

What do you think about faith? Yours, others, what you see around you in terms of people trying to make the best of life?

Here in Cambridge, folks don't always like to talk about faith, but there's evidence of it everywhere. As I trek the two block walk between my apartment and the library, I see a smorgasbord of possibilities: my church, women and girls in all manner of Muslim head coverings, and several bumper stickers imploring us to COEXIST. There are rosaries hanging from rearview mirrors, necklaces with charms of crosses/Stars of David/astrological signs...the list goes on and on. I love living in a city like this, where people are so obviously looking for a way to connect with God. Again, we don't talk about it much, but it's revealed in our actions. That's interesting.

I was in Michael's Crafts the other day and bumped into a girl looking at charms along the bead wall. "What do you think of these?" she asked, showing me a set of three Hindu images. "I'm looking for something to put on a key chain," she explained, "something to help me be happy." I showed her my own key chain--a worn piece of canvas with "Maine" written out between two little embroidered moose--and said, "I know what you mean..." We talked about the risk of looking to trinkets to MAKE us happy, how that imbues them with an awful lot of unknown power. But how sometimes things remind us that we're capable of being happy (or focused, or accomplished). I don't know what she chose--I had to go--but it was fun to bump into a fellow searcher along the way, and to take a moment as I walked out to the parking lot to ask Jesus to take extra good care of her. She's on a faith journey. I think most of us are. In my experience, God is the best tour guide around.

How is faith going for you today? This weekend? What reminds you that you can be happy?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day 33/34: Declaring Independence

A few years back, when I was working for a bestselling author who traveled internationally giving lectures and workshops, I heard her make an interesting comment on the different temperaments she found visiting different countries. She wasn't valuing any one over the others, but rather expressing her surprise at how ready Americans are to jump ship and try something new, whereas European audiences seemed more likely to embrace some form of "bloom where you're planted." She acknowledged that these were huge generalizations. But it was interesting to be in conversation with her that night over wine and salad, thinking about how we're influenced by the choices of our ancestors. "If you're American," she said, "It means at some point, someone in your family risked everything to try and start over...or was forced against their will into a life they never wanted. It means that somewhere inside, you have a proven capacity to adapt."

I've thought of this at different times over the years. I don't know the full story of how my ancestors made it to New England from Ireland, England, and France. But some of their audacious hope flows through my veins, clearly, as I'm more willing than most to take a leap of faith. (Too willing, perhaps...who knows?) But I do know this: we have evidence all around us that walking/flying/boating/swimming/running away from something that isn't working can be a solid way to press "restart" on life.

Just to be clear: I'm not talking about abandoning a marriage because your husband doesn't read the books you think he should, or running out on a job you find a little dull. There are benefits to imperfect situations, too. What I'm talking about is when you've tried everything to make it work (my time as a lawyer comes to mind--wow, did I try hard to love that job) and it just doesn't. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, expecting the results to be different.

We're all a little bit insane in this way, I suspect. This weekend, no matter where you live, let's adopt Independence Day as a chance to break out of those patterns. Whether it's a daily thing like eating food without enjoying it, making excuses and not doing the things you love (my recent trip to the beach where I battled back the "I'm too fat to swim" thoughts and dove in comes to mind), or clothes that are "appropriate" but don't express your style...or big things like a dead end relationship or job, let's take a leap/make a change/believe things will be better if we set out for some new territory in our lives. If you're not sure what, or how, ask God. I've found he has surprising things to say--suggestions and encouragements we wouldn't come up with on our own--when we invite him into the conversation.

It's worth a try! Happy Independence Weekend :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day 32: A Stand in for the Soul?

There's an article in this morning's New York Times about the upcoming sale of a hotel on the East End of Long Island. It caught my attention partly because I grew up in a coastal town that was (and is) transformed by tourists each summer, but also because of the article's tag line, which called the hotel, "a place that for many locals has become a stand-in for the soul of this rapidly gentrifying town."

The idea that something could be a stand in for the soul is poignant, and a little scary. I know what the journalist meant to convey--that this hotel represents a way of life that appears to be dying out. But maybe what gives me the shivers is the idea that if the old way dies, the town dies, too. Don't get me wrong: in an architectural sense, this can be true. Looking at my hometown, I doubt a couple like my parents could raise 4 kids on a teacher/lobsterman's salary today. And the giant hotel/restaurant that hosted my senior prom is now a single family home. Things change. But I wonder if maybe we all gravitate towards markers in our personal lives that become "a stand in for our souls," such that if they were lost, we'd feel lost, too?

THAT DOG and I have moved so many times (and had such wildly disparate lifestyles from place to place) that there's not much room for sentimental attachment. But there are other possibilities, things like identity or fashion choices or ways I define who I am. Defending them can feel like I'm fighting to save my soul (like the Jewel song). But maybe I'd do well to open up my imaginations to a broader sense of who I'm created to be?

One of the chapters that didn't survive the edits in my new book includes the story of my seeing a well-known pastor at a conference and thinking snarky thoughts about how he dressed--the Vans, the skinny jeans, the whole "I work at Google" look just seemed like a giant affectation. Then I sensed God saying to me, "Trish, your entire outfit is from Ann Taylor. How is that any different?" Busted. And I'll confess: Were Ann Taylor to disappear, I'd feel like I'd lost a piece of who I am. What's that about?

Are there things in your life that define you? In a good way? Or in a way that would leave you lost if they disappear? Today, let's ask God about them. Maybe there's a bigger version of each of us looking for room to emerge.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Day 31: Feelin' Groovy

I was surprised how much yesterday's Defiant Enjoyment Project worked! Were you? I had several moments yesterday where I beat back negative, discouraging thoughts by focusing on green trees and happy tunes on the radio...and somehow that gave me extra momentum to jump into a few fun things I'd normally pass by. As I was driving along at one point, I heard this song, which captured the spirit of the day's adventure:

How did it go for you? We haven't done much checking in here, so I thought today might be good day for that. And also for us to do a repeat of sorts. Here's why: I don't want to remember having had an exceptionally un-discouraging day on June 30th, as if it was this once-a-year miracle and I have to drag myself through 364 more days before I can try again. I'm curious to see if this defiant enjoyment thing has any staying power, and if we might string, say, TWO not discouraging days together??? (I know, I'm a big dreamer...)

I've talked to so many people over the past few months about waiting. We don't like to feel that we're in a holding pattern until things align for us to "land": in the right job, a great relationship, a community where we feel like we're part of a team. But sometimes we are, and no matter what books and magazines tell us, there's nothing we can do that will change that...but plenty we can force that will make us crash. We don't want to crash.

Now, to be clear: I'm not suggesting that this "mind over matter/choose to be chipper" attitude is a long term solution and all we need in life. Eventually, we need a place to land. But if we're in a holding pattern, and it's temporary, why not make the best of it?

How did defiant enjoyment go for you? Are you willing to give it another day?

Here's to feelin' groovy :)