Snowed In

I think the universe gives us little gifts all the time to help us be where we are.

They look like a lack of progress, a slowing of pace, a void of punctuality.

I think the universe knows that if we were never given these gifts, we would just keep running and running, unconscious to the little things happening around us. And it has to interfere to keep us sane, keep us present.

The other day I went to my car dealer for its regular oil change. That meant sitting in the waiting room for around an hour, but I was prepared. I had a book, a journal, and my phone, of course. But when I sat down, I realized I had left my phone at home. Dreams of browsing Pinterest and Instagram flew out the window. And so I sat, watching the early morning traffic pass by on Broadway through the dealership window.

But then it began to snow! Tiny flakes, swirling around in the February wind. I watched how the wind blew them this way and that, sometimes sparsely, other times like large schools of fish swimming in the sea. And then I took out my journal to write about the things I was seeing. I took out my latest read, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, and read about the wonderful things you notice when you don’t observe the world from cars and planes, when you’re actually a part of it all.

And I realized I never would have seen and felt these beautiful, magical things that morning if I would have remembered my phone. Yes, I was holding all the same cards. But I would have still reached for my phone, distracted myself with it, just because it was there and for no other reason, really. What first appeared to be an inconvenience was the gift of added beauty and opportune mindfulness to begin my day and finish my week. And then I get the pleasure of being filled with gratitude for these hidden blessings.

Today, all of Nashville is snowed and iced in. People who normally work 9-5 jobs are at home with their kids. And we all get to surrender to the weather and just slow down for a day. There’s no use resisting what’s already happened. We might as well surrender to these moments and be thankful for the chance to just sit and breathe and watch the snowflakes fall.

The Silent Seasons

I haven’t been here in awhile. Life has just been moving along, like it always does. Work, friends, family, travels – always learning how to be human. We’re back in the rhythms now, settling into the routines we often find ourselves in. And it’s in these moments, the ones where there’s nothing life changing happening, that I find myself thinking, “I’m not sure I have anything to say.”

Because there already seems to be enough yelling in the world, enough things clamoring for your attention, enough things wanting to be heard. I’ve never been the kind to join in with all the shouting. And when I have been, I often find that I say the things I regret most; trying to be cool, trying to be smart, trying to be lovable. Why did I feel such a need to be heard?

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in college did not come from a class or professor or book. It was the importance and place for silence, that sometimes there were stories you could keep to yourself as a gift and it would be okay. I learned I didn’t need to be heard in order to know my thoughts had value. I could sit on the sidelines and be just fine. There seem to be seasons of absorption and silence, of sharing and community. So in the silent seasons, I am okay now. I’ve learned how to thrive, how to grow in the quiet.

Yet even when there seems to be nothing to say, there is still work to be done. I must write, not because I have gained new enlightenment I feel led to share with the world, but because I know it keeps my soul healthy and happy. Chances are, it’ll live on in the pages of my journal, the notes section of my phone, an unnamed and unsaved document open on my desktop. But it will be writing all the same.

And these silent seasons always look so terribly normal and beautiful all at once. I’ll still be sipping my green tea and watching the cars pass by and working with kids and coming home to people I love. I’ll still be singing, stretching out, finding a coffee shop corner table and hiding myself there. I’ll be trying to find all the tiny beautiful things and gather them up, totally mundane and extravagant all the same. And I’ll still be writing, though it may not be any good, though I may be silent.

Not Everyone Celebrates Christmas: The Holidays from a New Perspective

This time of year has been different for me this year compared to the past. There are still wreaths and twinkling lights and evergreen trees for sale in high school lawns. I’m still flying to South Dakota to celebrate Christmas with my family. But when I walk into work this year, there is beautiful, glittery banner hanging on the front desk, reading “Happy Hanukkah!” There are menorahs everywhere, and I’m learning new words, like “latke”, and how to play dreidel games (Gimel!) All this being said, I love being invited to this new world of sights and smells and holiday things. But I have to catch myself a lot. 

“Are you going home for Christmas?…I mean, Hanukkah?” It’s a little embarrassing, honestly. Because my mind has it so deeply engrained that my way I do this time of year is the way everyone does this time of year.

I’m very lucky to be working at a Jewish Community Center with children of all races and backgrounds and to also be employed at a place where religion is never hushed; the kids are free to discuss it as they please, and I’m free to answer. “Miss Rochelle, are you Jewish?” “No, I am not.” “Well, I am!” “That’s awesome!” I say, and we go back to coloring. Another chimes in, “I’m a Christian! I’m not sure what that is, but I am one!” (<< an actual quote from a child) “Cool!” I respond. And we all go about our afternoons.

Conversations sprout up with my coworkers as well, Jewish and non. We talk about our family holiday traditions and what’s special to us. And as I learn more about a culture different than the one I grew up in, it makes me think of a concept brought up a lot around this time of year: The War on Christmas. And I am even more convinced it does not exist.

Those of you playing victim: Look around you this December. What do you see? Santa. “Christmas” lights. “Christmas” trees. Reindeer. Ads for “Christmas” shopping. “Christmas” music on every radio station. Thousands of possible Christmas Eve services to attend. No one is trying to take this away from you. By saying “Winter Break” or “Happy Holidays,” neither people nor the government are trying to take away your right to celebrate your own religious holidays. Rather, it is merely an acknowledgment that other traditions exist. It is asking that (gasp!) all December celebrations are put on an equal pedestal. 

Not everyone celebrates Christmas.

We are out here, some of us celebrating the triumph of our people through oppression. We are out here, some of us celebrating the birth of a man whom we consider our Savior. We are out here, some of us reclaiming our heritage from the continent which we were taken. We are out here, some of us celebrating the beginning of the return of longer days. We are out here, some of us celebrating (a) day(s) when our family is finally all together again.  We are out here, some of us living through December 25 like it is no special day. We are out here.

We are out here.

And though not all of us are celebrating, many of us are, and we can do it in solidarity with one another, even though we may do it differently. And through all traditions this time of year, there is light. There is hope for what is to come. And that, my friends, is something we can all get behind.

November

This is the season of “and before you know it, it’s here” and “before you know it, it’s gone.” 

It was 65 degrees out just three days ago, and it’s been a steady 30-40 now. I dug out my coat from storage, had my unwashable sweaters dry cleaned. I’ve noticed a slight nagging at the base of my throat. Breathing isn’t as easy as it was earlier this week. It’s that time of year. Christmas and Chanukah presents are being discussed. So are holiday plans and plane tickets home. Before we knew it, it was here.

This is the season where it seems to all be hanging over our heads, and all we can do is try and prepare. Everything is constantly reaching and competing for our attention. Pick me! Buy me! Watch me! You need me! Listen to me! All the stores are trying to shine brighter, be louder. It’s so easy to be distracted in November. It’s so easy to have your head in December. Don’t be afraid to tell December to wait, to take a drive through the mountains one last time before all those beautiful fall leaves aren’t there anymore. Before we know it, they’ll be gone.

November is all these feelings, all these anticipations, a settling down and then an all-at-once excitement. November makes me feel like I don’t have anything to say. It’s something in the air that I can’t tackle down to a page. It’s a cold, rushing wind that whips around my face and says, “Just be here right now, okay?” It makes me want to put my iPhone in the place farthest back in my closet, make some hot tea, and just be with people and learn them. Don’t let December pull you away from these precious moments. Before we know it, November will be gone.

So listen for the changes. They’ll happen in your sleep. They’ll happen while you’re distracted, while you’re dressing things up in red and green and silver and gold. They’ll happen in the holiday stress, when you’re setting the table or when your flight is delayed or you’re stuck in traffic. November is begging us to listen. Before you knew it, it was here. And before you know it, it’ll be gone.

crazy little thing called love

It was almost four years ago now – Valentines Day Weekend.

I was 18 years old. A freshman in college. I had just finished my Intro to Music History class, Tuesday/Thursday, 11 am-12:15 pm. I grabbed a to-go sandwich from Belmont’s cafeteria, probably PB&J. I grabbed a backpack full of clothes, hopped in my car, and drove, hardly telling a soul where I was going.

Out of Nashville. Out of the South. Through the entire state of Illinois. Once I got to Wisconsin, I had to start talking to myself and blaring Owl City to stay awake and keep me from going insane (or was I already?). I tried sleeping in an Amtrak parking lot somewhere in Wisconsin. I just couldn’t stop envisioning a crazed man breaking through the windshield of my car and kidnapping me. So I drove on. When I got to St. Paul, Minnesota, my destination, it was 4 am. No one was waiting up for me. I tried sleeping in a church parking lot – no one would kidnap me here, right? – but even though I was incredibly tired and drained, the sleep wouldn’t come. So I got breakfast at Perkins at 5 am, chatted with an old couple, who I’m sure was very curious about my presence there.

I finally found a Target parking lot to sleep in for a few hours, leaving my car running in the Minnesota winter cold. I woke up, drove to McDonalds, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the bathroom to ready myself for the day. After all, I was going to see him today. The one I hadn’t seen in months, the one I talked to every day, the one I loved for a year before he even noticed me, the one I called mine now.

I don’t remember much about that Friday – just that I did something crazy because I loved somebody. I don’t remember if we gave each other anything for Valentines Day or where we went out to eat or what else we did besides sit in his tiny dorm room at that private baptist university after visitation hours had ended.

I do remember the stories that came after. I remember the shocked looks, the raised eyebrows, the dropped jaws. And most of all, I remember the true words that cut me deep: “He would never do that for you.” But I was so excited about loving that I did it so fiercely. I would spend my resources, my time, my energy – whatever it took – to make sure he knew I was there and was always gonna be.

That relationship ended a long time ago. It doesn’t matter how; it just wasn’t meant to be, our paths were supposed to go in completely opposite directions, etc. But boy, did I have love wrong back then.

I recently came across a reading about love, splitting it into two different types, passive and generative.

Passive Love: caring about another person’s well-being and acting in a way to please them, putting the needs of another before your own

This is the way I used to picture love. This kind of love has its place, certainly. But this kind of love has no regard for a definition of self, and it is often the way many people, especially women, are taught to be in relationships. We are often told that this kind of love should receive highest honor. But there is a balance; we do not have to abandon ourselves and our creativity to love.

Generative Love: discovering what it is to be human and alive through relationship with another

Love can be mutually beneficial. We can grow with another; we can maintain our sense of self. It can be a true partnership. Love does require sacrifices. But our entire life does not have to be a sacrifice. We can still think of ourselves as people who can stand alone, not as half of a whole.

I don’t claim to know everything about love, or even the majority of what I should. But I do know that I should be able to maintain some sort of self-identity, even if I am in love. I’m ready to be generative; I’m over being passive.

Maybe I will drive through the night like a crazy person to see someone I love again. But I’ll do it for someone who will at least give me a place to lay my head down.

cuz it feels right

I often imagine what my life would look like if I had made different choices. 

Not in a sense of regret – there are just seasons in your life when there are many doors you could open and all of them could lead to something good. I have most of my life ahead of me (I hope), but I have still made many life-impacting decisions for no other reason except it felt right.

During my first three high school years, I had every intention of making a career as a pediatrician. I like kids. I’m smart. Blood doesn’t gross me out. I like helping people. It’s a good, steady income. But then I kept singing. And people would tell me, “Hey, you’re pretty good at this.” I rethought the whole doctor thing. Maybe the right thing doesn’t always make sense. At that point, I realized that I had to pursue music; I wouldn’t be happy if I couldn’t.

Remember the days in high school when you would receive heaps of college mail, school after school beckoning you to check out their programs? I remember receiving a postcard in the mail from Vanderbilt University. “Seems cool, but why would I ever go to a school a thousand miles from home?” I attended Belmont, which is located several blocks from there, after seeing their Christmas concert on PBS my senior year of high school, and applied on Christmas, just because it felt right.

I almost left Belmont my freshman year. I knew getting my music education degree wasn’t the right thing. I drove through the night, sleeping in Target parking lots to audition for music therapy programs back in the Midwest. I filled out all the right paperwork to attend University of Iowa in the fall. And then I just couldn’t leave Nashville. Cuz it didn’t feel right.

And so here I am, working as an after school teacher, living in Nashville still. A lot of the people I love don’t live here anymore. Some of them do. People have passed in and out of my circle when it no longer makes sense for us to be so connected. I have loved, lost, been given wonderful opportunities and been denied many as well. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

I feel stagnant sometimes. But I’m learning to listen to my voice more, learning to take the steps I want to, not what someone else wants for me. And I’m willing to keep saying, don’t settle. There’s more than this. Because when I look back on even these last six years, I can honestly say to myself “Wow. What a ride.” It was all choices. It was all forks in the road. It was all well I didn’t expect this to happen but okay, let’s roll with it.

I’m still unsure of those big goals. I still feel a pressure to lasso all the goodness in the world and show people. I look back on the last six years, the last six months, even, and wonder what in the world could happen next. There’s so much uncertainty in these next seasons. But through all that, there’s still this little voice reminding me “honey, this is just the beginning. you’re not ripe yet.” 

My gut powers my feet. My intuition powers my decisions. I don’t know as much as I would like to yet. But for now, there will be many forks in the road. I’ll make a lot of choices. And I’ll keep on doing things cuz it feels right.

Permissionaries

Some people seem to be born with some sort of boldness to chase their dreams and be who they really are. Somehow, the Earth (or maybe just their parents) granted them with this wisdom that what they want is worth chasing and exactly who they are is worth being. It seems so easy for these people, whether it is or not.

If you’re anything like me, I’ve always felt like I needed permission.

Most times, it’s hard for me to be bold. I have a tendency to want to make peace instead of start fires. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or inconvenience anyone. I want everything to be beautiful and harmonious and full of rainbows and sunshine. But that’s not how growth happens. That’s not how change happens. It’s not even how we love best.

Sometimes loving and doing what you love takes courage. And often it takes a reminder from someone else that you’re worth it. I’ve had authors, friends, guest speakers, and acquaintances give me these life-altering reassurances.

“Who you are is enough.” “It’s time for you to be seen. It’s okay for you to be seen.” “It’s okay to question everything.” “It’s okay to love yourself.” “You have something the world needs to see.” “Find what you love, and do a lot of that.” “The only thing you have to be is yourself.” “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This summer I had the privilege of spending a weekend in the company of Laurence Cole as well as many other vibrant souls at a gathering called Village Fire. Laurence is a songwriter and elder, writing songs that can be spread through oral tradition that encourage everyone – singers or not – to lift their voices in song. Though he said many wise things, one that stuck out to me was a term I had not yet heard before.

Permissionary
Someone who spreads the good news that people are allowed to be their true selves and follow their passions. 

Having people like this around can be essential to our growth. Imagine what the world could be if we fully lived into our capabilities and loved with all we had. Till then, I’ll keep looking for the permissionaries and striving to be one myself.   

Parents Are People Too

I was the first little being my parents got to bring into the world – they were just three and a half years older than I am now.  I know I was so absolutely deeply and truly loved by them, but I’m sure my mom and dad used to say to themselves regularly, “What in the world do I do with this thing?” As a little girl, they were my ultimate authority in all things. They knew how to cook food and bathe and drive cars and read books and sing songs and play and work, and man, that was cool to me. Each word they said was law and truth and the right thing to do. 

But there comes a time in your life when your parent(s) will fall. They will break your heart, even if it is only for a short time. They will no longer meet our infantile expectations of complete perfection and knowledge. They may give you advice and you feel in your gut that you should do the opposite.  But here’s the thing: 

They’re only human. Parents are people too. And expecting a level of perfection from them will only hurt us. 

I recognize that there are too many children and adults whose parents did not give them adequate care and love. Many times that lack creates great obstacles for people. No one should have to endure that. This is something that breaks my heart daily. I have no authority or right to tell you to forgive and love your parents when horrible things have happened to you. But I will tell you and assure you time and time again that no parent has been or ever will be perfect. 

I used to be under this illusion that one day, maybe in my late 20s, I would have undergone enough hardship and learned enough about life that I would reach some higher state of consciousness. Once I reached this state, I would consider myself an actual adult and I would be able to deal with anything life threw at me in the best way possible. 

But there’s really something the matter with this and mostly I’m ridiculous for ever imagining that because 

Life doesn’t work this way. 

And if this was my view of adulthood for myself, was it my view for everyone else, too? How was I viewing the “adults” around me? And how was I viewing my parents? 

For some, life is marriage and children and stability. But our lives are always changing – even within the stability we are growing, shrinking, sprinting forward, rolling downhill, and climbing mountains till the day we die. Imperfectly. Human. Children, Teenagers, Adults, Parents, Elders.

When we are babies, we are only takers. Of course, we give our parents things like joy and smiles and satisfaction. But for the most part, we are totally and completely reliant on them. But as I grow, that relationship requires more and more give from my end to stay alive and healthy. I cannot sit there and wish it could be better – whether I like it or not, I carry just as much adult responsibility as they do now. 

There will probably come a time when your parents need you. They might ask for your advice. Maybe you’ll somehow find yourselves at similar life crossroads and you can genuinely share ideas with one another – as equals. Because they’re not infallible. Parents are people. And maybe, just maybe, they need you too. 

 

 

Confessions of a Chronic Apologizer

There are types of people that go through phases of their life always apologizing. They will do this until it becomes destructive and someone close to him or her holds a small intervention. Someone has to very sternly tell the chronic apologizer he or she is not allowed to say sorry for a very long time until it becomes a learned special phrase again. And the apologizer almost says, “Sorry for saying sorry all the time.” 

I am a chronic apologizer. I have had many of these interventions held for me. Old boyfriends, best friends, people I barely know. “Why did you just apologize for that?” I find myself stuttering and honestly responding, “I don’t know.” It’s an instinct that I’ve somehow developed. When I fall into these phases, people ask me, “What happened? Where’s your confidence? Where’s your enthusiasm?” When that happens, I wish I could say they’re on vacation, they’re expected back next Monday, they just needed a little R&R. But I don’t know when they’ll come back – probably through random bursts of energy, maybe after a conscious conditioning of not saying sorry. 

How does this happen to me? I’ve tried to predict the patterns – it seems to happen when I go through long periods where I feel like I am the lesser. I’ve tried to explain it – maybe it was my childhood of saying sorry for my sins every night before I went to sleep. I could go through self-analyzation after self-analyzation, but deep down, I don’t think that will get me anywhere.

Instead of merely silencing your apologies, maybe it’s knowing the things you really love and really loving them, no fear, unapologetically. 

I have a lot of loves. Good coffee. Dancing so the joy spills out of my body. Making up silly songs on the spot. Popcorn. And VEGETABLES. Vegetables grown in people’s backyards and fields that are hand-picked and then given to me to make into something incredibly delicious. 

I love going into places where I don’t know or look like a single soul and I can just watch the ways people move and talk to each other and encounter each other. The friends I have managed to make in my lifetime all have beautiful, fire-driven souls I am constantly trying to harness parts of – I love them like crazy. I love waking up slow. I write blocks of words that are on the fence between poetry and prose – I have journals and journals filled with these things. 

I could go on and on with this list. I’ve imagined several more paragraphs already. But do the people I love most know even know how I feel about these things? Maybe, but maybe not. I’ve been too busy apologizing, “Sorry for being so crazy. Sorry I’m hungry right now. Sorry for wanting to follow my dreams.” Basically, “Sorry for loving.”

When I look at the woman I aspire to be, she moves with a fire in her belly for all the things and people she loves. She passionately dances and sings through life. Unashamed. Unapologetic. I know that person is inside of me, and everyone else too.

The intervention has already taken place. “No more saying sorry!” I was told. So here’s to that – to the fire in our bellies and the spring in our steps and the unapologetic love in our hearts. 

The Watercolor Wound

When I was in elementary school, school came pretty easily to me.  My mind was quick; I usually understood the teacher the first time she told me something.  I memorized time tables and state capitols with ease.  And when I got to music class, boy, did I sing my little heart out each day.  I loved school, more than most kids, and went to such great lengths to learn that I would make up additional homework assignments for myself. 

The only time I dreaded school was on days when we would do art projects.  I have many vague memories of me tearing up at my little desk, frustrated at my lack of understanding.  I would fold something wrong, cut something wrong, glue something wrong.  When you don’t follow directions, the teacher yells at you for not listening.  I felt the other kids’ Halloween ghosts always looked better than mine.  They could draw better and paint better. I began to look at art class as if it was silly and pointless, but it was only because I “didn’t get it.” I just couldn’t make it perfect like I wanted to. 

Now, this may seem like a really silly, insignificant story to most of you.  You weren’t the best in art class. So what? But this kind of thing happens to people all the time. Somebody says You’re making my ears bleed! when you sing.  Somebody laughs at you when you dance. Somebody listens to a song you wrote and tells you it’s stupid and shallow.  And as unwelcome and one-sided as those comments may be, it stops us from expressing ourselves. It keeps us from creating. And in turn, the wound forms.

“No. I don’t dance.”

“I can barely draw stick people!” 

“I can’t carry a tune to save my life.” 

We leave creating up to the professionals, thinking if it’s not the best, we shouldn’t offer it at all. But when has the point of expressing ourselves ever been perfection? Not everyone can make one of the creative arts their vocation. But I believe it’s essential for the goodness of humanity that the everyman and everywoman create. 

My last semester of college, I felt rather daring and signed up for a beginner’s painting class. I bought all my supplies and eagerly went to the first day of class. But then I saw all the painting examples. The professor talked about all the beautiful things we would create. My stomach started doing flip flops. “I can never make anything even close to that standard,” I thought to myself. “My painting will be the worst one every time.”  I became so afraid of art again. And I dropped the class. “I would be so stressed out by this class. I would feel like I had to have everything perfect instead of just enjoying creating.” This was the reason I gave for quitting. It was true at that time. But instead of giving my wound a chance to heal, I turned away, afraid it would be cut even deeper. 

A couple weeks ago, I painted something that wasn’t a solid color for the first time since middle school.  (I wish I could show it to you all, but alas, it is currently in the possession of friends.) This painting is a water color of a willow tree woman – the trunk, her sloped body; the swaying branches, her hair. Her bark opens up to reveal a big, red, multi-layered heart. In a sense, she is a self-portrait; it was how I felt painting her. She is not perfection. No one will frame her. But I designed her with my own mind. And I think I may be on my way to healing that wound.