an open letter to my white hair

Dear White Hair,

Yes, I'm talking to all six of you.  The three musketeers lining my part, Suzie Stick-Out at my left temple, and Misters Long-and-Slow-and-Steady-Wins-the-Race there in the back.

I'm not sure how I feel about you.  I mean, I'm pretty excited about hitting my forties and my friend told me the fifties are even better. My body is loosening up a bit (Today's Special is: "Euphemism") but still fairly in check, I guess. But then there's these - yous - that are testing my aversion to prints. I'm all about solids. The contrast against my black hair is a bit concerning. In my mid-thirties I dreamed about you guys emerging in a cool Bonnie Raitt, Rogue conversation-piece kind of way.  It's not likely.  And that's okay.  I've even embraced your rebel friend that plays whack-a-mole on my cheek. A quick tweeze takes care of that.  But I know you guys aren't going anywhere, so it's time for me to decide how I'm going to handle you.

I feel like a hypocrite if I don't at least try to embrace you for a bit, feel out the idea of the salt and pepper I love so much on handsome actors. (As if.) You've seen my house. You know I won't be able to nurse my roots if I start dyeing. So I'll give you some time. Maybe a year. And then we can revisit.

But in that year, let's make a deal. I will leave you alone, but I need you to grow in quietly and gently. So as to not draw me to vanity and away from more important concerns. Be a collective nudge towards progress and away from complacency. A whisper of urgency to listen, to strive, to obey, to comfort, to relax, to obey, to forgive. I'm a visual learner, so I'm thinking if I see some of you everyday, lovingly aligning yourselves with your dark brown counterparts (I'm talking to you, short, stiff crimpies in the front), I'll get the daily reminder I need to face and walk in the direction our Lord has intended for me, in a less Chicken-Little-The-Sky-Is-Falling kind of way.

 

Deal?

 

I look forward to receiving your response.

Many thanks,

Leah

another look at the deep end

It took me three weeks to publish yesterday's post.

The lesson I thought I had learned on that last day of class evolved into something so different in the days and weeks that followed.

The idea of turning 40 this year has got me on this mission not unlike many of my friends to define and deepen the meaning of my choices, career, etc.  Taking that big plunge into the deep end of the pool that night seemed like a super-awesome metaphor for just doing it, trying new things, chasing crazy dreams, run fearlessly.  And maybe it still is and will be soon.  But I realize that, for me, for this slice of my life, the jump is about something less fantastic and less postable and has much less fanfare tied to it.

It's about admitting that I have been running on fumes for months.
It's about letting go of and delaying some commitments.
It's about nurturing a beautiful marriage that boasts a long tenure but is still so much a delicate, work-in-progress.
It's about pausing during sporadic, desperate prayers for my children and listening for how God wants me to be His answer.

And all this because it was time to get still, bringing leaning on God back to the top of my priority list instead of assigning the concept a hashtag, time for entering into hard, necessary conversations, making difficult decisions and understanding the truth of my past and current choices.

I stopped my Lenten fast two weeks ago.  What worked beautifully in the last two years was not this time.  With the season starting much earlier that usual, in the middle of a challenging job transition, my expectations were unrealistic and my motives were facing the wrong direction. (Since when do I post recipes?!)  It was doomed from the start.  And even the plan to stop had poor motives...I'll break it with a home-baked loaf of bread that I saw on Pinterest.

Come on.  Seriously.  I've never even baked bread before.  What was I thinking?

Sure enough, God called me on it.  I walked into church that Sunday, discovered it was Communion week, and was quickly corrected.  This was the bread He wanted me to have, and This - He - was enough.

 I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I eventually did bake a few loaves of bread, by the way.

I'm still walking through a valley and I don't really have anything poetic to round that off. The last two weeks have been more intentional and rich and rough and still a bit exhausting, all at the same time.  And maybe this is perfect timing. In absence of the unrealistic meal-planning, the five books I was reading at once (not kidding), unreasonable expectations of myself and the ones I love, and pursuit of my own glory over God's, I am assuming a more proper, humbler posture towards the amazingness that this coming week commemorates.

graduation day

I passed Adult 1 swim class recently.

I was exhausted and my muscles ached all over, but I can now do the back crawl for about 12m and the front crawl for 10m (with the world's worst form).  But all the bullets have check marks and I have the beginnings of a life skill I have pined over for almost thirty years.  Now I have to practice over the spring and summer, before I forget to point my toes, relax my knees, keep my hips close to the surface, fully extend my arms, keep my ear pinned to my shoulder when I turn to breathe, breathe and not drink, all at the same time.  It's so automatic and instinctual for all the young kids on the other (deep) end of the pool, but we adults have so much fear laced in this whole process that tying all that together is so difficult.

At one point while trying to perfect my back crawl, my rising right arm splashed water onto my face, breaking my momentum and opening the door to flailing panic.  Staring hard at the ceiling, my mind switched to the scene of Jesus asking Peter to step onto the water.  In the second half of that instant, I realized something. Get a grip Leah, you're learning to swim on your back in four and a half feet of water at a community pool in the 'burbs, with two qualified lifeguards nearby.  Save your nerves for the heavy stuff, for, well, Peter's sake.

So, when our instructor suggested we go into the deep end for the final five minutes, I yawped YES.  And then when he said the life jackets aren't out and do you want to try jumping in without them, I swooshed my foot down in the water and declared yes once again.

And in I went.

There's something about my time in the deep end that is making me want to go back.  A kind of freedom, albeit for only about five seconds at a time.  There's no floor immediately below andit feels mysterious-therefore-scary but exciting and warm and enveloping all at the same time.  Plus I had my two child leader-lifesavers standing by, telling me as I'm launching off the big foam island thing to go for it.  If young J and A had my trust for my survival at 7:58 on Sunday night, then surely I could try harder to place it in God's irrefutably more capable hands for the bigger and bolder. 

 “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”” ‭‭(Mark‬ ‭9:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬)

 

 My report card!

My report card!

dear world

Dear World,

This day is a big one for me. This was the day, eighteen years ago, that my big girl, my first born, was due to arrive. She was late by eight days and, in fact, if it had been a year like this one, she would be one of those funny leap babies with only a handful of birthdays under her belt.  She was late, and yet so, so early, I thought. Too early for a very unready me. For years I thought the timing was wrong, that everyone was looking at us thinking we were too early. But then she started teething at six months and took her first steps at eleven. She made us laugh so hard with her bounciness and funny words.  I learned, not early enough, that she, that we, happened right on time.

In the sleepless hours of those early months I'm sure I pleaded for her to grow out of this phase quickly, and maybe again when potty training was lagging.

Her prom dress has arrived and we took her to a college interview yesterday. Foolishly, may I wish to slow this phase down?

Next week you will tell me that she is no longer mine. She is an adult and by law there are certain freedoms she now has independently from me and her father. Fair enough. I have been trying very, very hard on that transition from manager to adviser in the last few years, not without a lot of hopeful, maybe desperate, subliminal life lessons (moms and dads: values first!). I am loosening my grip ever so slightly, as slowly as a sentimental mother who wants her child to grow strong and not screwed up can. But as I release her, let me make one thing clear.

I am not giving her to you.

You, who ties so many ifs to beauty and taunts with fake greener grasses.  You who glorifies comfort and instills fear of failure. You who favours instant and easy and loud and famous.  You who delights in revenge and finds such distaste in suffering and surrender.

No, you may not have her.

She isn't really mine to give anyway.

I was just a steward, shaping on behalf, under direction, of her Creator.  I wasn't perfect at it, but did my best.  She has her dad's eyes and dimples, her mom's lips and maybe her sass, but she is wonderfully made in her Creator's image.  Her lungs fill with His breath, her passion is fed by His spirit. Her heart is young and feisty but it beats for the good things that He has placed in her path.  She has a purpose, quite unknown to us all as yet, and you are a player in the plan, I am sure, but the purpose is His.  So if I have to let go of this baby-girl-turning-woman, it is to put her back in the hands of our God.

So no, you may not have her. Not on my watch.

january book eats

I read just over a dozen books last year, and hope to average sat least two per month in 2016.  I almost missed it, but yesterday, as #2 was on a date with Daddy, I brought my second book to the mall and sat in the food court beside the youngest, equipped him with a scoop of death by chocolate and Minecraft (okay not my brightest move as a mother) and flew through the final pages while the oldest danced around the clothing stores as teens are programmed to do.  With a new, shrunken commute, I hope I'll still be able to keep this up.

 

For The Love by Jen Hatmaker

For reasons I can't explain, after following her blog, pvr-ing her Today Show appearances, wishing I had the American HGTV, scouring the podcast world for her talks and interviews for several years (which explains why I say y'all now), this is the first book of hers I have read.  I am officially one of The 4500, the sea of people who applied to be part of her launch team to promote the book, but didn't score a spot.  In applying, though, I got a couple of free chapters to enjoy before it released.  I knew from then that I had to get my hands on this book.  She is a lover of Jesus, her family, cooking and community, is utterly honest and Hi. Lari. Ous.  This book was like a date with your best collection of girlfriends, with generous doses of zoomed in and panned out looks at ourselves, our people, the big-C Church, and the world, wrapped tightly in a blanket of out-loud laughter.

 

Stir by Jessica Fechtor

Once I return it to the library (after exhausting my renewal allowance), I will have to buy my own copy. I loved it so much.  Part memoir, part recipe book, Jessica Fechtor, author of the food blog Sweet Amandine, begins with the morning an aneurysm burst in her brain, and moves through the messy, scary long road that followed.  Multiple surgeries, loss of sight, loss of smell.  Sprinkled across the pages are glimpses into her youth, college years and life in young adulthood, where you meet and quickly grow to love her tribe of friends and family.  Then, as the best bonus ever, almost every one of the 33 chapters ends with the recipe mentioned in the narrative, giving the reader the exact gift they are hoping for by the time they catch on a few chapters in.  And save for the Five-Fold Challah, because I'm a bit lazy for a four-pager, I want to try each of the recipes.  Not in a Julie and Julia mission kind of way, but because they are all amazing and proven unforgettable, obviously.  A word about Jessica's writing, though.  It is beautiful and brilliant.  Okay, that was two words.  The way she paints the scene for her audience, so vividly you start feeling like you're reading fiction, ugh.  See?  I am reduced to grunting just thinking about it, I'm so speechless.

finishing well

I just finished my last day of work, after just over six years of service.  It is the longest tenure I have held in my choppy, colourful career.  

I start a new job today.  It is the first time I will be working at a job whose function and industry I was very intentional about pursuing.  Well hey now, there's my word for the year! Hurrah!  I am so excited.

But in these last two weeks, I did whatever I could to end this chapter well.

Transition to equip and empower - In the world of accruals, reconciliations, pivot tables and cross-continental Dropbox folders, everything can be learned from numerous resources. I decided to direct my training towards less tangible skills like how to manage the requests of fast-talking executives, the whys behind the how-tos, and the value of demanding excellence from yourself in every task. These were lessons taught to me by integrity-driven supervisors and peers over the years that needed to be paid forward.

Clean up - Purge physical and soft files that only I understand and will just confuse everyone. There will always be scrambling after one leaves.  Less painful for all when you delete the first four iterations of Schedule A from 2011.  With all humility, too, I did not shred the unfinished past project that would clearly be misaligned with the reliability I wanted to be known for, because I'll be honest, I thought about it.  The file folder remains in my cabinet, and I shared it with my successor. Oh Brene, it was tough but I was brave and did it anyway! Hashtag vulnerabilityisagoodthing

Get personal - I wrote personal thank you cards to each fellow employee.  Our workforce has been reduced to skeletal numbers so the task wasn't monumental.  But, I couldn't afford to underestimate this opportunity to give love (because in the music industry so many haven't been afforded the chance to leave on their own terms) by waiting until the second-last day and resort to a standard template because things got too busy in the end.  I wrote them on the day after I handed in my notice.  I wrote my all-staff farewell email the following day, which included illustrated instructions on the Excel formula I most frequently get asked about, maybe more for my own amusement, actually.

Leave a legacy of excellence, service, and care - I didn't want anyone to feel abandoned in my departure. There was no allowance for I'm-already-gone ball-dropping.  I sped up processes so they could be tied up by my last day, and asked other departments about current needs and going-forward concerns.  This stretched me beyond my wits, I confess, especially when the conditions I assumed would be ideal were far from it. At least three people told me to loosen my grip on what needs to get done, one of whom was Ben, who, with the kids, got the nightly aftermath of this tiring endeavour.  It made me think about Tsh Oxenreider's confession of her time writing about her simple life actually being a slice of short-term chaos.  I am ripping a band-aid off, I think, with this purposeful and temporary pain.  In the end, I had to surrender some of my goals, but while I now feel that they won't melt away if they have to learn some things without me, it was a matter of putting my money where my mouth is when I say I want others to feel loved by tying whatever loose ends I can for/with them.

So here I am, wide-eyed well before my new morning alarm, with a blank 100-page coil notebook downstairs in the foyer, eagerly awaiting the writing of a new story.  And the peaceful readiness I feel right now is a happy byproduct of a crazy but thoughtful two weeks of intentional transition.

Let's do this.

 

scared skinnies 101

I started swimming lessons last week.

If you're thinking it's a because-I'm-turning-forty thing, you are absolutely right.  I want to acquire the skill and eventually use it for exercise.  Plus I'm hoping to teach the kids after, since our previous attempts at lessons didn't pan out.

 Forever and always...I'm always here.

Forever and always...I'm always here.

Lesson No. 1 - It's not easy to find the right bathing suit.  It's winter so you are confined to a single rack of mish-mashed variety in the sporting good stores.  Anywhere else is for beach-frolicking.  Uh, no thanks.  Finding a one-piece suit that doesn't hike up beyond my pelvis, provides adequate support for things that need support and doesn't cost a hundred bucks isn't easy.  I tried on over a dozen suits to no avail.  Then I finally found a Sears-branded (I'm too told to care about brands - just hold it all together, please) suit in candy apple red.  Basic, functional, cute.  And makes me look like I wish I was on Baywatch.  Oops.  Oh well.

Lesson No. 2 - The first class was great.  We started with blowing bubbles in the water.  I'm not kidding.  But hey, small victories create momentum, right?  We graduated to front and back starfishes and ended off the session with attempting to glide with kicking, which I guess is floating.  In true over-thinking form, I was convinced that I mastered the mechanics, yet when I opened my eyes under the water, I was barely moving forward.  I asked my "you could be my son" instructor to watch me try again and tell me what I was doing wrong.  In the kindest tone, he said it all.  Relax.  Story of my life, kid.  Wouldn't you know it, letting my knees bend got me moving.

Lesson No. 3 - Deciding to do new things requires you to...do new things.  We started learning the front crawl last night.  I came home exhausted.  The moving of the legs and the arms and the breathing was almost too much.  And I had a flutterboard.  But this is the necessary pain of starting something new, right?  It's unfamiliar and difficult, but just requires repetition - practice - and then your body stops working against you and goes with the flow.  Reminds me of when I was doing the write31days challenge (note to self: start writing again).

I suspect my next lesson will be about faith.  We are heading to the deep end next week.