Dowsing

I read this today from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and it really hit home:

“Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. As it turns out, it’s not merely benign or ‘too bad’ if we don’t use the gifts we’ve been given; we pay for it with our emotional and physical well-being. When we don’t use our talents to cultivate meaningful work, we struggle. We feel disconnected and weighed down by feelings of emptiness, frustration, resentment, shame, disappointment, fear, and even grief…Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God.”

Lately I have been struggling with how God is calling me to use my gifts. In the past few months I feel like I have been inundated with good, thought-provoking messages—from friends, books, conferences, and the Bible—that are all conspiring to stir things up within me and put me on a new path with my writing. But my worry is that maybe this new path is really just a mirage and a distraction, a shiny object that is ultimately keeping me from getting my real work done. I need to get over myself, stop thinking so much, grit my teeth and complete the novel I’m in the middle of writing is what I tell myself when my mind wanders to something new.

I sat down to write my novel today, and I felt no joy in it. I could not connect with the characters or care about the stupid decisions they are making so that the plot can move forward. It felt meaningless. And I’m all about doing meaningful work these days. I have no patience for spending time on creative work that does not feel authentic or feed my soul and spirit.

Writing is difficult. If you’re not feeling self-doubt, you’re probably not doing it right. But then sometimes self-doubt can be a tool and not just something to push past. Sometimes it’s right to question what you are doing as you are doing it and ask yourself: Is this the work I’m supposed to be doing? Does this project align with what’s important to me? Is it worthy of my time and energy? Or to quote Mary Oliver, is it the best way to spend my “one wild and precious life?”

There’s no guarantee that the work a writer does will ever make much money, if any at all. So that can’t be the reason for doing it. Ultimately the work has to be its own reward. And my novel is not feeling very rewarding. It feels shallow and meaning-less, rather than meaning-full.

Maybe the reason I’ve been struggling so much with this novel is because it is not what I am supposed to be writing right now?

What if I didn’t write it? I am able to make these choices after all. No one is holding a gun to my head and telling me I have to write this story. That’s the beauty of not having an agent or a contract with a publisher—lucky me!

Here’s what I think would happen if I decided to quit writing my novel:

  • Nothing – which is fine, but could also be sad. If I kept writing it, and the novel were published then that would be fulfilling (I think), but it could also be a disappointment if I didn’t feel like it was that great of a novel. My mediocre work would be out there representing me, and I would have to spend a lot of my time promoting it and hustling to sell something that I may not feel that great about.
  • I would feel shame and regret. I would always wonder what would have happened if I could have just finished the stupid thing and gotten on with my life. This is my main motivation for writing it right now, this feeling of I “should” do it because I want to avoid the feeling of failure that comes with quitting.
  • I would have time to write the thing that I feel more passionate about, that I feel is a better fit for my gifts.
  • I would feel free of the burden of doing something simply because I feel I “should.”

As I was writing this post the image of a divining rod kept popping into my head. I couldn’t remember exactly how these things work, so I looked it up. A divining rod is a forked branch that is used to find a water source. “Dowsing,” as this practice is called, dates back to medieval times. Scientist don’t put much stock in it, nevertheless, modern day companies still do it. According to a 2017 NPR article, most of the major water companies in the UK use a divining or “dowsing” rod to locate underground pipes. No one can prove whether dowsing rods lead folks to water, but no one can prove they don’t either.

I wish I had a writing divining rod, that I could hold over both projects to find out where the water is. I have a guess, but I don’t want to believe that giving up on a project is the right thing to do. And my guess might be wrong.

So I don’t know exactly what I should work on, but here’s what I do know:

  • I want to write.
  • I want to write work that is meaningful.
  • I want to feel connected to God when I write.

Actually I think I do have a divining rod. I think writing is my divining rod…and God and prayer and reading and paying attention. I think this post is a form of dowsing, which is why that image kept coming up as I wrote.

I don’t have my answer yet, but here’s what I think is the next right thing: I will keep holding out my branch and seeing where it twitches and vibrates and go towards that. I’m not sure where that will lead, but I don’t think I need to know that yet.

 

 

 


Letter to My Eighth Grade Self

I saw the movie Eighth Grade for the second time a few nights ago. The first time I saw it with a group of girlfriends at the the theater. The second time I watched it at home with my daughter who just started 9th grade. The movie is hard to watch, kind of like 8th grade itself. It is full of awkward, cringy moments that make you want to turn your head and say, “no, no, no.”

It was so helpful to see the movie with my daughter because it enabled me to empathize with where she is in life in a way that I honestly don’t do very well. I tend to look at my two teenagers (I also have a 7th grade son) and measure them against my adult expectations. I expect them to know what I know, to have figured out the complicated, complex structure of friendships, crushes, popularity, carving out your own identity that’s separate from your parents’, and surviving gym class. And kids today have to do this on the very public stage of the internet, which raises the stakes significantly and makes everything that much more fraught with risk and drama. It’s a lot.

Since re-watching Eighth Grade, I have been trying to remember back to how I felt at that time in my life, who I was in the eighth grade. Ugh, talk about cringy. Adult me would have a field day correcting, nagging, over-analyzing and fretting over 8th grade me. My kids are ten times more mature and together than 8th-grade me was. Sorry, mom!

So, here is my letter to my 8th grade self…. By the way, if you’ve never written a letter to your former self, I highly recommend it. People spend a lot of money for this kind of stuff in therapy! I know I have!

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fullsizeoutput_50c1Dear 8th-grade Elizabeth,

Here’s the hard truth. I’m 43 and I still don’t know everything. I still feel like I’m back in 8th grade a lot of the time. But I have gathered a few little nuggets of wisdom along the way. Not because I was necessarily searching for them, more like they hit me on the head like acorns when I was walking by.

Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew then:

  1. No one is thinking about you nearly as much as you are thinking about you. At first this sounds depressing because, really? They aren’t? But ultimately, it is incredibly freeing because you can stop worrying so much about pleasing everyone all the time.
  2. Typing class will be one of the most important classes you ever take. Seriously. You have no idea how much you will type later in life.
  3. Don’t worry about being popular, worry about what kind of friend you are to the people you care about most. Are you kind? Do you sit with friends when they are hurting? Do you celebrate their victories like they are your own? Do you tell them how much they mean to you? Sadly, adult you has screwed this up a bunch. But I have had some really great friends teach me how to do this better.
  4. It’s okay to be friends with all kinds of people. You don’t need to think so much about what group they are in and whether that group is one that you fit into. People are more complicated than you realize. Cheerleaders are funny. Theater people can be quiet. Orchestra kids like to get crazy sometimes. Even adults are guilty of dismissing entire groups of people. Adult you goes to church every Sunday, tends to vote democratic, secretly loves going to Hobby Lobby and has a mix of hardcore rap and worship songs on her running mix. People are not just one thing so don’t put them in a box.
  5. Don’t worry about whether you are good enough or smart enough or popular enough or pretty enough. You are enough. You don’t have to prove your worth.  But you do have to believe in it.
  6. I know sometimes you are nervous to look people in the eye and say hi first, but you should try it every now and then. People like getting a smile and a hello from you. And everyone’s a little nervous to say hi first. Not just you.
  7. Go outside and exercise a little bit everyday. Grown-up you figured this out way later in life. You tend to get sad and hopeless when you don’t move your body. It is amazing how much better a little fresh air and exercise make you feel. Even better than eating Oreos and watching Carol Burnett reruns after school. Well, a different kind of better.
  8. You have grown A LOT in the last few years. You went from wearing kids’ clothes to women’s clothes practically over night. That would make anyone feel awkward and like they barely recognize themselves. You will get used to this new body of yours. And then just when you are used to it, it will change again. And again. And then you will have children and it will really change. The only constant with bodies is that they are always changing. This is a good thing though. Our bodies are just an outer shell, like a little cocoon. We spend our whole lives inside of our body cocoons trying to become butterflies. When that happens, we won’t need them anymore.
  9. You will try to wear your hair in bangs at different times throughout your life. Here’s the thing. Feel free to try, but it never works out.
  10. As you get older you will try on different personas–pep squad captain, angsty teen, girlfriend, artsy young adult, over-protective new mom, working mom, PTA mom. These are just a few that spring to mind; there are many more identities you will try out. But remember this: no matter how you dress or what your life is currently focused on, always remember you are a child of God who is loved and valued for simply being you. You don’t have to try to BE something in particular. The goal is just to be who you are. That’s when your light can really shine.
  11. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. No matter what anyone tells you or YOU tell you, you are a writer. A real one. Words hover around you like little hummingbirds that flit here and there looking for nectar. You can’t see them, but they are there. Your job is to sit your butt down in a chair and be very still so that the words will come to you. You never know when they are going to come, so you have to be in the chair with your hands and heart open as much as you possibly can. Promise me you’ll do this? Pinky promise?

 

 


Like a Mother

When I had my first child, I remember it hitting me for the first time that everyone had come into the world a helpless, adorable baby. And that everyone had a mama who went through nine months of body-morphing, magical weirdness and the pain of childbirth in order to bring that person into the world. I know it’s sad that it took having a baby of my own for this to dawn on me, but I can be slow and a little self-absorbed.

After my daughter was born, I couldn’t pass a homeless person without thinking about that person as a baby–a baby with a mama who had probably loved him or her dearly and fiercely at one point.

I couldn’t stand in line at Starbucks without seeing the baby-ness in everyone. Once you start seeing people this way, those crazy specific drink orders seem less annoying in their toddler-like pickiness, and become more endearing.

Everyone becomes more endearing if you search for their baby-ness—that fragile infant inside of them who is scared and needy and so hungry for food and love and acceptance…and could probably use a nap.

When I went back to work after nine years of being at home with my kids, my boss figured out what made me tick pretty quickly. I was overwhelmed by the job I had been tasked with, which required that I project manage the publishing of twenty-something online educational modules. Each module was in a different stage of development and there were a million details to remember. It felt like I was solely responsible for remembering each and every one. I must have looked at my boss with big eyes one day. Sensing my anxiety, she told me something that has always stayed with me. She said that I needed to think about those modules as my babies. Each one was on a different schedule and each one needed different things at different times, but she knew that I could handle it. She knew I would be okay because I knew how to be a mama. All I needed to do was be a mama to those modules.

I know that sounds weird, but for someone who felt insecure in the workplace, but totally confident in my ability to be a mom, that advice really resonated. I mommed those modules so hard. I got on top of that job and convinced our agency that we needed another person to help because the amount of work it took to be a good mama to those modules was not a part-time job by any stretch. Those modules needed two mamas. So we hired another person and together we took very good care of our module babies.

Mamas are heroic. Mamas get their hands dirty. They get up before everyone and are wiping down counters and prepping for tomorrow when everyone else is done for the day. They drive forgotten lunches to school. They know when someone hasn’t really washed their hands in the bathroom. They can sense when someone has had a bad day the minute they walk off the bus. Mamas can’t sleep if one of their babies is hurting or sick. They have a Spidey sense that jolts them awake the second a baby cries out in the night.

We are able to do all this stuff not because we are superhuman, but because we care so much. The heroic things we do to care for our families are just a by-product of the intense love we feel. We can’t help it.

My challenge for myself and anyone reading this (whether you are a mama or not) is to apply those mama superpowers to everything–everyone you encounter and the work you do in the world. Care so much that you can’t look the other way when someone is hurting. Care so much that you simply have to stop what you are doing and help someone in need. Care so much that you can’t not march at that rally, cheer at your friend’s race, volunteer to help kids learn to read, teach that Sunday School class, bring someone a meal. Do it because you love the world too much not to.

Be a mama to everything. Be a mama to yourself. Have you eaten any vegetables today? Do you need to get some rest? Are you hustling too much to please others and forgetting to fill your own cup? There is a baby inside of you too and that baby needs rest and food and a little tucking in. Caring for others when you are not caring for yourself is like taking a tired, hungry toddler to Target—you could do it, but it probably won’t go well.

Are you anxious? Stressed? Stretched too thin? Worried? Feeling shame about that thing you said or didn’t say, or that thing you ate or didn’t eat? Try to imagine what you would say to your own baby girl if she felt those things. You are okay. You are more than okay, you are amazing! Look at all the things you do so well. You are so much more than this thing you are focusing on. You are valuable and worthy of all the love and kindness in the world. Stop beating yourself up, baby girl. Now, say those things to yourself.

Our world is a mess. It needs us to love on it and clean it up. Our world needs one of those crazy cleaning sessions you do when company is coming in an hour and you are suddenly a force of cleaning wizardry. It needs us to smile at strangers and look at them with light and joy in our eyes, to let that person with his blinker on merge. For the love of God, let the people merge! It needs us to pay for the coffee of the person in line behind us, to feed someone who is hungry, to walk with someone who is hurting, to listen to someone who needs to talk.

Be a mama to everything. And let others be a mama to you. See how it changes you and filters everything you see through a curtain of gauzy love that brings you to tears with how much goodness there is in the world, how much kindness and humor and joy.

In some ways the world is a place only a mother could love. So let’s go love it. Like a mother.


What are you going to create?

I was prepping for teaching Adam and Eve to 4th grade boys in Sunday School, and I came across this video by Rob Bell that totally shifted my perspective about this story.
I have always had a hard time with Adam and Eve. It’s not a fun story. God makes this beautiful, perfect thing in one chapter and in the next humans have completely ruined it forever. It is not how I like to see the world, or people, or God.
We are Adam and Eve. We have been given this beautiful, perfect life. What are we going to do with it? We have a choice. We can choose to create something good or something destructive. It’s a new day, a new week, a new month and you have a choice. What do you choose to create?

Wasting Time

I worry a lot about time. And whether I’m wasting it. Whether what I’m doing is productive, whether it “counts” towards one of my many to-dos.

Because if it doesn’t, then what’s the point? I will have squandered this precious commodity. There is only so much sand in the hourglass. That laundry isn’t going to do itself.

This is one of the main reasons I tend to avoid writing. It feels like wasted time. I won’t finish whatever it is I’m working on in the amount of time I have, so what’s the point? Better to clean the toilet instead. Then I can cross something off my list.

When I tell people I’m a writer, I want to cringe. A voice inside me says, “You liar. You would rather clean the toilet than write any day!”

Writing feels like deciding to wander around in a maze. I go into it knowing, I probably won’t get to my destination in my allotted time; in fact there is a good chance that I will probably just get more lost.

I read two pieces of advice today from two very different sources, but both of them seemed to be speaking directly to me about how I spend my time.

The first was from a devotional on my Jesus Calling app. In case you’ve never heard of Jesus Calling, it’s a daily devotional based on selected Bible verses and written as though Jesus is talking to you in the first person. Here’s what I read today:

“Talk with me about every aspect of your day, including your feelings. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with me. A successful day is one in which you have stayed in touch with me, even if many things remain undone at the end of the day. Do not let your to-do list (written or mental) become an idol directing your life. Instead, ask my spirit to guide you moment by moment. He will keep you close to me.”

Then I also read this piece of writing advice from Anne Lamott:

“The most important advice I would give my younger writer self is what I’d give my younger woman self: What other people think of you is none of your business. And I wish I had believed when I was a young writer that I had some time to find out who I was and that I was going to find a precious community of older colleagues who would help me. The American way is to do it yourself, figure it out yourself, stick to the decisions you make — and all of that was a lie. I was taught as a child ‘we don’t waste time; we don’t waste paper.’ If you stared off into space when I was eight, a grown-up said, ‘Don’t you have anything to do? Is your room clean?’ I’d teach my younger self to stare off into space more often. I would tell her to waste more paper. I would tell her she doesn’t need to stick to a decision; she can change her mind.”

Could it be that my to-do list is controlling me instead of me controlling it? I had never thought of it as an idol before. But maybe all this focus on executable tasks is keeping me from what is really important. Perhaps wandering around in the maze a little lost is a much better use of my time and not a waste at all. God is with me in that maze and will likely guide me exactly where I need to be if I am willing to hand over the reins to him. The more I enter the maze, the better I will be at letting God direct my steps.

When I’m not writing I don’t feel whole. When I’m not seeking God, I feel lost, rudderless. I can tackle all the to-dos in the world, but if I’m not “wasting time” writing and connecting with God, my life will still feel unfulfilled.

My prayer: God, I want to give up the need to control my life and my time. Please help me trust that you will be there with me when I sit down to write. Give me the courage to write even when it feels safer to clean the toilet. Give me the desire and the discipline to carve out time that has no defined purpose other than to connect with you. I will enter the maze. I trust that you will direct my steps. Amen.