The trees towered over me. It was quiet, other than scattered bird songs and the occasional car, almost distant.
I was going for a hike.
The last time I went for a hike, I had a friend in town. That was almost a year ago. I was feeling–not frazzled so much as exhausted–emotionally more than physically, after Easter, after the Sri Lanka bombings and Rachel Held Evans’ death. I wanted to go do something refreshing, something that gives me joy.
This was a wildflower reserve, and I love flowers. Not planted-in-a-row flowers–they’re pretty, sure, but really I love wildflowers, scattered in the oddest of places when they’re not blanketing the ground. And I love bee watching, the unexpected beauty of bees and their dedication, their glinting or striped or fuzzy bodies.
So there I was. In the woods, searching for refreshment?, for peace. I brought a book; I had my phone camera. I walked along, and saw some beautiful flowers, some beautiful bees. I sat and read for a while. I watched a bumble bee queen search for a nest.
And it was fine. It wasn’t great; I wasn’t filled with immediate peace the second I stepped onto the path. It wasn’t terrible; it was fun to see the flowers and search for bees, guess at names and categories long after I’ve forgotten the technical terms. It was just… normal. There was nothing transcendent about it. (It was too humid for that.) It was good.
Spring is here. I woke up to bird song and a warm breeze and a desire for iced tea. Everything feels possible.
Winter was not my friend this year. I wanted to hole up, hibernate, eat a lot and do little. It was a struggle to wake up, go to bed, do housework, go for a walk. Do much of anything, it felt like, especially as it dragged on and on. The fear of having to drive in snow loomed over me. The windows stayed closed, the blankets on.
Thank God for winter sunsets. They’re such gentle, soft colors, and yet stark against the browns and greys of a winter landscape. They are a reminder that beauty still exists, that the world is gathering itself.
I wish I could remember the lesson of winter, that all things need time to rest and huddle down; it’s hard to live that rhythm in a modern world, where we always could be working. There’s always so much to do, so many ideas to play with.
It was a hard winter. I’m happy to see spring.
You may know that I am the pastor of two churches, in two different denominations. Sometimes it’s confusing, but mostly I love it. Curious? I wrote about it for the Presbyterian Outlook.
I wrote last week about how difficult writing has been lately. Still true! But I know that some of that difficulty is because I got out of the habit of making writing a habit. Here are some ways I’ve been working to make writing a habit again:
- Remember: writing is hard! It’s so helpful to remember that, yep, writing is hard. Even on good days, even when I have an idea I love, even when I’m overflowing with words: writing is hard. There’s nothing wrong with me for struggling.
- Journal regularly. Journalling helps me to keep the words flowing, to be honest with myself, and to stay in touch with God. It helps me release my emotions enough that I can write unselfconsciously, write by listening well–if I don’t journal, my head is way too noisy of a place for listening and writing to happen well.
- Set aside time for writing. I’ve built time into my schedule to write almost every morning. Having that time makes it easier for me to sit down and write.
- Remember: no time is perfect. I always want to wait to write until conditions and I both feel just right. Yeah, not gonna happen. I’m pastoring two churches, and have friends, family, an apartment, emotions, emergencies… Let go of the need for perfection and just write. Editing exists, which is glorious, but for now, just write.
- Set goals. I’ve been recording how much I write each day, which is super satisfying: I have actual proof that I’ve been writing! And it means I can set goals for how many words to write or how much I’d like to write per day.
- Read more. Reading sparks my creativity in ways that watching shows does not, so I’ve been consciously cutting out TV time and reading more instead. I’m currently working my way through some Virginia Woolf, but what really has sparked creativity lately was the Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. It was FANTASTIC: emotional and honest, with a fascinating society and magical system and brilliant writing.
- Give myself grace. I haven’t been perfect about any of these. But I’ve been working on it. I’ve been writing.
How do you work to create habits?
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.
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 it. The 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.
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.
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.