Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mindfulness: Poem of Thanksgiving (Repost)

What is man, that thou are mindful of him? Psalm 8:4a

He sees you clearly in the bleary, in the crowd, under the one umbrella you've managed not to lose;
road raging in your car, whaling on the wheel, bellowing unheard insults at the driver just ahead;
lying on your hollow belly, crying for one whom you love but haven't yet been able to hold, or for
one whom you love whom you lost before you'd thought how you might, without, get up and go.

He sees you reaching deep, tapping into next-to-nothing, scraping at scraps just to comfort a friend;
dragging--another day another dollar--into a joyless jobplace because dear ones depend on you;
fighting to forgive (s)he who stole a piece of your soul and walked away, never once looking back;
cooking, cleaning, diapering and dreaming of the day when your art will wing its way out. And out.

He is mindful of you.

Thank Him.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fight or Flight

I liked our new marriage counselor immediately. She's deadpan, and I don't tend to run the roads with suchlike, but Lord help: when sparks are flying between him and me--or me and me, for that matter--the counselor's impassivity is such a gift. Also, she has the kindest eyes I've ever seen.

She's seeing us separately, for now. When she asked, last session, what I was learning or thinking, or how the Lord was leading, I told her a little about a class I'm taking through Canvas Network on behavior management. It emphasizes making small shifts in one's own behavior, as teacher, in order to impact the behavior of one's students. I signed up for the class because I'd never studied behavior management and had recognized a deficiency when teaching sixth-grade English, also because I find myself flailing in this area, even now, while home educating Jim's and my four- and five-year-old daughters.

Online instructor Paul Dix explains: humans have both an emotional mind (the limbic brain) and a rational mind (the prefrontal cortex). The emotional mind is dominant and has--smack-dab in the middle of it--a nut-shaped object called the Amygdala. The Amygdala's job is to respond to threat signals (Danger!) by releasing small bursts of hormones into the rational brain. Once the Amygdala has triggered, rational thinking stops, and a body prepares for fight or flight.

My emotional mind, I told the marriage counselor, controls me too often. I'm pretty much always ready for fight or flight, and while I'd thought I'd like to be a person who yells a little less, especially at the kids, I hadn't realized the serious ramifications of such behavior. If any of us is "on eggshells," so to speak, (s)he isn't learning the way she should...which may well provide the single best explanation for why I'm not a genius by now.

At this point, the counselor whipped out a couple of huge, matching volumes, and we took turns reading aloud through a section on being reactionary. "Well, what do you think?" she asked when we finished. "Can you relate to any of that?"

"I can relate to all of it," I said, then: "I had no idea I was so broken."

"We're all broken," she said, "and the point isn't to beat yourself up. This is learned behavior, and it's difficult to overcome. But you're worth it; do you hear me? You're worth it. And so are those you love."

I'd tell you I haven't written much, lately, because I've been busy, but truth is: I've been busy for far longer than the four years I've been blogging. It's closer to the truth to say I've been learning and processing so much that I haven't been able figure out how or where to start sharing.

Jim's and my marriage isn't any happier than any other romantic relationship I've ever had, which is to say: it isn't very happy at all. Jim's and my marriage is holy, however. The way we deal with one another isn't holy, always (or even most of the time), but if nothing else, our marriage has an "iron sharpening iron" quality to it.

This man will not leave me alone. He will not let me be who I am. It's exhausting. I feel picked at, nitpicked, roosterpecked.


I have to ask myself: have I become, over the course of this relationship, closer to who God would have me be? And yes. Unequivocally. God doesn't leave us alone, either; does He?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chip Turns Two

Dear Chip,

I scolded you, last night, for dumping a bottle of blue Powerade onto the rug. It's your horrible thing, the dumping, and my first experience with a child's taking it upon himself to free anything (liquid or solid) he can from a container.

Anyway, when I fussed and you looked up at me, it was with Grandma B.'s eyes. I'd never recognized them in you, before: not like that. It took my breath. I blinked back tears, stood up quickly and walked into the kitchen so as to distract myself and avoid an ugly cry for which I had no energy.

You're two years old, now: old enough that I can say with certainty that you're not the little boy I dreamed, the one for whom I thought I was trying all those years. I know you're not him because I can still see him so clearly; he looks exactly like your dad but with Cade's (Papaw's, my) nearly black hair. Maybe he's the baby I lost. I'm thankful for the vision of that little boy because it sparked my efforts to bring you here. I would not trade you for him. I would not trade you for anyone.

I realize--when I compare your first two years with the first two years of your siblings--I regret much less. I've learned the hard way: nothing's guaranteed. Just because a person wants a healthy baby doesn't mean she'll get (or keep) one. And I'm starting to figure out, I think, just how quickly it all goes. I've soaked up your life, and I'm almost proud of how spoiled (loved) you are. I haven't tried to wean or sleep-train you, yet. "Mama's baby," I've taught you to say, and yes.

You're not as verbal as your sisters were at your age, but you're learning new words all the time, and you know exactly what's going on. I love to watch you pray, how you pinch your eyes closed as hard as you can and spring them open just in time. "Amen!" you call out with a grin. You let us know when you're scared, when you want a gummy (fruit snack), when you don't think we're funny. Over and over, you look at me and say: "I love you."

Sometimes I wonder who you'll grow to be, and sometimes I think I know. I doubt you'll lose your love for music, balls, animals, or water. I wish Grandma would give me her opinion on this subject and so many others. I wish, on this autumn day, she were here. Then I catch your eye and remember she is: that she's well inside both you and me.

I love you so much.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Own It: Smart Cookies Fail Forward

This blog post fulfills the last requirement for my 5 Habits of Highly Creative Teachers class.

The final module revolves around the subjects of failing and thriving. My definition of failure is the irreversible ending of a project or relationship. I considered both project and relationship failures when completing the exercises and probably enjoyed writing about the project failure more, if only because it isn't a true failure, yet, and I'm able to view it with optimism.

The outcome to the exercise was expected, but it's good to see my words in black and white. I know what I need to do to improve the situation with the project, and all that's left is the doing it. Sitting on my hands isn't working out.

I've completed my personal journey map of the class in Google docs, and you can view it by clicking here.

Own It: Remix with Your Tribe!

This blog post fulfills a requirement for my 5 Habits of Highly Creative Teachers class.

My definition of "remix" is to create something new and reflective of oneself, having welcomed the inspiration of others. My favorite exercise in this module involved producing a collage of several ideas I'd curated. I broke lots of rules by curating mostly in my own head, transforming the content instead of juxtaposing it, and producing more of a composite than a collage; however, the finished product was prompted by the exercise, so I'll share my creative process.

I started with this photo from a recent session:

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As you can see, I had exposure issues, and at my distance from the happy, young man standing on a swing, it looked like I'd photographed a hanging. Still, I hesitated to discard the photo and tried to think of a way to "save" the image and use it in a way pleasing to my client.
I turned the tree into a silhouette of sorts and changed the black of the silhouette to blue. Next, I incorporated some texture: a relatively new area of exploration for me. At that point, I searched Pinterest for "tree quote." I found one that seemed fitting for the family, then modified and incorporated it. I played with various fonts for both the quote and the family name. I was really liking the image at that point but felt like something was missing: the "wings" of the quote, I realized, so I added the bird sticker that looked, to my eye, like a cardinal (our state bird). The outcome is original, I think.

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My tendency, as an artist, is to rely more heavily on photography than editing. Most of the edits I perform are simple: tweaks, really, and I'm glad to be able to do so much of the work with my camera as opposed to my computer. Frankly, though, there are times (as in this case) that I don't like an image straight out of my camera. In those instances, sometimes I discard, and sometimes I make time and space for a different kind of art: one that requires heavier editing. It can be thrilling to make something out of nothing or very save something I've considered throwing away.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Own It: Rock Your Tribe

This week's theme, in my Five Habits of Creative Teachers class, is "tribe." The word tribe connotes closeness and loyalty to me. My definition of tribe is a close-knit group of people who can count on one another through the ups and downs of life.

My favorite exercise in this module was the creation of a "Life Ring." Here are the instructions for the exercise, as provided:

Focus on roughly 5-9 major life arenas where you will invest your time, with self, family, work, and community (SFWC). Put your “master in the middle”; this is the primary driving force behind all your decisions – and in every life, there can only be one master. If you try to have more than one master, eventually your Life will intersect events so that you have an “identity quake”, and must choose your primary master. Under each arena bubble, list those most important habits that you will commit to each day or each week. This is not simply a “to do list”, but a list of habits. When the Life Ring has a clear “master in the middle”, 5-9 arenas, and a short list of habits under each arena, it is complete. (Credit for LIfe Ring Exercise to CIC course (Links to an external site.) from U of Pennsylvania)

And here is the Life Ring I created:

The reason I liked this exercise, to be honest, is that I've been feeling discouraged over a few of the major life arenas I've identified, above, and the exercise helped me remember that Jesus is, or should be, at the center of everything I do. I'm a visual learner (and person), and I really appreciate the opportunity to think about not only what's most important to me, but also how to tie everything back to Jesus.

The outcome of the exercise is neither surprising nor expected, but I will say it's clarifying. The biggest insight I got from doing this exercise is that--even though I feel overwhelmed, sometimes, by my life--I can easily make little changes to not only improve each life arena but also center myself more consistently in Jesus. I'm supposed to tell you something that didn't work out for me, and initially, that something was sharing on Google +. I got a notification that I needed to receive an invitation to join the class community. Somehow, though (I have no idea how!), I got in without an invitation, in the end.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Own It: Build Your Own Playground

For my Five Habits of Highly Creative Teachers class, I built my own playground. My instructors encouraged me consider Dr. Stuart Brown's principles for play: purposeless, voluntary, inherently attractive, allowing freedom from time, giving a diminished consciousness of self, having improvisational potential, and having a continuation desire.

My playground includes a lake because I'm a water bug from way back. I prefer fresh water over salt and love to swim and canoe. I also love the mystery and shade of the woods, especially on horseback, and I wanted to show that horses are available for riding just outside the frame. I included a library (front and center); a giant shoe in which to cook, bathe, and rest; and some swings, of course: my favorite ride.

My instructors asked how often I'll be visiting my playground (I'm thinking I'll just move there?) and whom I'll allow to join me. I'll have many visitors (living and dead), but not at the same time, and they'll visit by invitation only.