#writingishard

Writing has been hard. I don’t know why that still surprises me, why I still cling to my teenage vision of gloriously joyful writing that happens whenever I sit down to a computer or piece of paper. It still knocks the wind from my sails, every time I struggle to find motivation but especially when it happens over and over and over.

Chatty every day life posts are my favorite. I love hearing what people have been doing; I adored all of the #onedayhh feeds and blog posts. Done well, they remind me that I am not alone in trying to live well in the midst of working and cleaning and everything else, that we are all trying our best to make meaning out of chores and commutes.

That’s where I’ve been: trying to make the rhythms and habits of daily life into something good and beautiful.

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Writing Update

Publishing Just before the Pittsburgh shooting, an article I wrote about being in the process of looking for a church was published on The Presbyterian Outlook website. I never wrote a blog post about it because the shooting happened the next day, and it was so devastating. I used to go to church a few blocks away; I knew someone who was shot (he is recovering nicely). It was a hard few weeks after that–lots of sitting with myself and crying and lighting candles–and then, finally, I was able to write about itThe Outlook was kind enough to publish more of my thoughts about the shooting.

I also had devotionals published in The Secret Place, in both the fall and winter magazines.

Writing I’ve been working on what feels like ten projects at the same time: a few short articles; a short story that I’m completely in love with, but feels too new still to share anything about; and I’ve been dabbling in one of my books again, one that I’ve been playing with since I was thirteen or so.

The habit of writing is finally starting to feel like a given in my day. Every morning I write for at least a few minutes; almost every evening I write, too, and then close the day by journaling. It’s nice. I still seem to be on the internet more than writing, but I am writing every day. It’s progress.

Preaching I’m still preaching. Check out my most recent sermons here.

Reading I finally listened to everyone who told me this series was wonderful and checked out The Fifth Season, the first novel in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Series. It was fantastic–gritty and heart-breaking and painful, but fantastic. The absorption in the story, the emotional roller-coaster of reading it, reminded me of the power of well-told stories.

Listening Speaking of reminders and inspiration, Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk was on my feed a few weeks ago. She makes writing well seem so possible. And I’ve been loving The Courage Maker’s Podcast, which features interviews with creative women and honest talk about how hard it can be to be creative. It reminds me to keep going.

 

Putting up the Christmas Tree

Advent is an especially crazy time of year for pastors. I’ve been busy with sermons and Christmas Eve planning and Christmas potlucks, with visits and phone calls and Christmas cards. Yesterday I left at 9 am and didn’t get home until just after 9 pm. And I’ve been stressed–between keeping up with housework, planning gifts, day-long meetings, visits, sermon-writing, errands, and everything else that pops up in ministry and life, I’ve been so stressed that every time I sat down to work on something, I would get distracted by something equally as pressing within ten minutes. It left me frazzled, irritable, and unproductive.

Needless to say, my Christmas tree was not up by December 1. It wasn’t even up by the second Sunday of Advent. “It’s Advent, not Christmas,” I comforted myself with–and wondered if I had the time to put my tree up at all this year, or if it was even worth the stress and effort.

I did put it up. I put the tree up. I put the lights on it, because the light of the Christmas tree is my favorite part. I put two boxes of ornaments on it.

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And it was totally worth it.

Now I have a Christmas tree. I have Christmas lights. I get to hang up more ornaments every day, and see some of my favorite decorations.

It’s so easy, when we’re stressed, to forget that good and de-stressing things take work and time and energy. It’s even easier to forget that that work and time and energy is worth it. But it is. It completely is.

Sometimes beauty is an act of grace, but sometimes we have to pause and make room for it.

Christmas Songs

“My favorite radio station has started playing Christmas music. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”

~a tweet I never got around to actually writing, because this happened on a Sunday morning and Sunday mornings are crazy for me

But seriously. The Sunday before Thanksgiving (it may even have been the Sunday before that?) is way too early to play Christmas music. 

I boycotted the station out of pure irritation. Don’t get me wrong–I love Christmas music. I scoured thrift stores for years for my favorite Christmas CD that we used to play when I was growing up. I love decorating the tree or baking cookies to Christmas music. But in the weeks before Christmas I feel so battered with it that I hate it all. Yes, hate is too strong of a word, but hearing yet more Christmas music walk into a store makes me want to walk right back out again. I want to have about a week of Christmas music right before Christmas, when I’m getting really excited. Otherwise: no, thank you. 

That’s what I’ve always thought. But man, the weeks before Christmas are crazy and exhausting as a pastor. Normally I listen to podcasts when I’m driving, but focusing on words is that last thing I’ve been wanting to do in the care lately. Radio it is. 

There are other stations, of course. But when it’s snowing out, when I’ve spent all day working on Christmas stuff at church, when we’ve just decorated the sanctuary, it feels like Christmas music weather. (Or, let’s be honest, when all the other stations have commercials.)

And then–sure, I groan at my least favorite Christmas songs, and grumble through them–but I enjoy the good ones. And sometimes–sometimes they’ll play a song that brings me to tears. They remind me of what we celebrate at Christmas, of what we’re preparing for this Advent. They remind me that the bulletins and decorating, the baking and cleaning, the stressing and planning, are not the most important part of this season where we’re preparing for Jesus’ birth, Jesus’ coming. 

This is a season of joy and wonder, mystery and holy darkness. And every once in a while, Christmas songs stop me in my tracks and remind me.

Superheroes

I was doing the dishes yesterday, washing a spoon. There was a pile still to be washed, stacked next to the sink. I had my favorite Pandora station playing.

I had so much else to do: bathroom to clean, the apartment to sweep, the table to clear off. I’m having people over for Thanksgiving. Two days left to get it all done!

And I was fiercely, deeply thankful for all of it: the dishes to be done, the work I wanted to get done, the housecleaning. The chance to listen to some music. The apartment, the job.

 

Sunday night I watched Black Panther for the first time since I saw it in theaters. I adored it–Shuri was a delight, the costumes and sets were just as beautiful as I remembered and the music just as wonderful, T’Challa was a good hero. Every single character inspired me with their dedication; Killmonger’s pain simply bled off the screen.

A few days before that, I finished watching season 3 of Supergirl. It’s a bit dumb and repetitive, but I love Kara. I love watching her struggle to do what’s right, love watching her be strong and learn how to be strong. She’s so much more human than Superman.

This is the most superhero media I’ve consumed in a long time. Man, I used to love that stuff: love the adventure of it, the drama, the high stakes and the battles. The fight of good against evil, played out on my television screen–it was cartoons, back then, but I could watch that forever.

I would imagine what it would be like, to fight–to never need to fear–to save the world.

But now–I am so thankful for my non-superhero life. I am perfectly content to not have the entire world depending on me. I love having an apartment, a pile of dishes that needs to be done and an even bigger pile of books I’d like to read, work to finish. I would take that life over that of a superhero any day.

Headlights and darkness

There is something special about finishing up a long drive at night, podcasts playing on the speakers and the road stretched out dark in front of you. It’s a heady mix of potential and tiredness, kept at bay with a soda and snacks.

The moon rose over the mountains. I could only see their shape by when the moon was visible and hidden. The moon was a vivid, orange creamsicle color–not that I want to eat the moon, but it’s the only orange I know that’s both light and bright, which is exactly what the moon looked like. It hovered impossibly large, almost in front of me but to the right. It was almost the same color as the sodium street lights around the construction.

I felt alone, even with the occasional car or string of trucks on the road. Not lonely; not dwarfed by the darkness, or by the mountains that I couldn’t see; not lost and tiny in the darkness. Just alone. What was in the dark didn’t matter; only driving mattered, and the podcast keeping me awake and engaged. Moving forward, watching the lane markers hum by, watching the road curve and knowing its path only from the headlights driving in the other direction.

Railroad flowers

I was on a mission. (Is that possible when you’re being spontaneous on vacation?) And so I found myself driving down a country road, where the grass leaned into the road that I wasn’t sure was wide enough for two cars. The grass was just trim on the corn fields, threaded through with the gold of tassels and drying leaves.

Lights flashed at the railroad crossing as the barriers came down. I drifted slowly to a stop before the train began passing, car after car of freight containers and three-bay hoppers. The tracks flashed in the sunlight: flash-shadow-flash-shadow-flash-shadow-flash. A car stopped behind me.

The railroad crossing was shaded, like the tracks were a river. A few other stands of trees dotted the fields, but it was mostly corn. That, and on my side of the road a flower garden, overflowing around someone’s driveway and mailbox: pink and orange, yellow and purple and bits of red, growth where people might have to stop for the railcars to pass by.

Were they for us? An outgrowth of the beauty of waiting, what can be seen when we stop and look around? Or only a flower garden, bursting for space until it crowds to the very edge of the road?

I was reminded to look for the beauty, anyway.