Thursday, February 5, 2009

10 Good Things for Daily Balance...

"Freshness trembles beneath the surface of every day, a joy perpetual to all who catch its opal lights beneath a dust of habit."

~Freya Stark

I wrote this awhile back, first just for me in my own notebooks, then I began to turn it into a blog post, then I changed my mind and left it sitting in my files. I think now that I'll pull it out, dust it off and update it a bit, and post it. I'll have to leave it a bit rough around the edges, though, because company is coming any minute (my sister and Melissa, and later on, two of my nieces), and I need to move along.

I don't know how long I'll be here at my mom's house and away from my own, but, for now, this is where I am. Since I temporarily have no home of my own to "make," I'm sort of out of my element, so I sat down one day to think about what things really help to have as part of my daily routine. What things will help to keep me focused on what matters and what will help me to keep a pleasant, orderly, meaningful routine?

Not all that surprisingly, I suppose, I realize that the things that keep me feeling grounded, steady, and cheerful in my high desert home are basically the same things that I need to be doing here on the coast. In addition to the things I'm posting here, I could list others, like cooking and healthy eating, but here are 10 basic things I aim to make a place for most every day:

1. Quiet time and morning coffee. As I said recently, both are pleasant, and both are needed. Bible reading, prayer, and coffee in the morning are essential. I could surely live without the coffee, but why should I?! It's a really nice part of the morning, and just smelling the stuff brewing perks me up a bit and gets me moving in a good mode.

2. Journaling. I've
written about this before, too. I've kept journals, written in notebooks, and scribbled notes on random scraps of paper for years and years. It's enjoyable, and it's also very therapeutic. Journaling through my muddled thoughts often helps me to get my mind clear. So, I sit with my journal each morning, along with my morning coffee. And I write in my notebooks each day, too, detailing my plans and making lists, both utilitarian and esoteric, both serious and fun. I keep little notebooks in my purse, and, wherever I am, I'll stop to jot down notes, comments, or phrases, if I think about something and want to remember it. I write this and that, here and there and everywhere, with no thought of anyone ever reading it. I just seem compelled to write things down!

3. Solitude. Which is not to be confused with quiet time. Some of us have a need for lots of space and elbow room amidst the busyness of our days. We have a need to draw away so that we can quiet our overstimulated minds and think coherent thoughts. We have a need to sit and be still, to pull away from it all for a time here and there in the day just to get our bearings so that we can walk with balance. The time doesn't necessarily need to be long, but if I don't do this, I start to feel edgy and a bit stumbly and bumbly.

Aimee (my daughter) and I were talking about the need both of us have for solitude. Everyone needs it of course, but some of us get out of kilter more quickly than others without it. Aimee was saying that solitude is essential for clearing our heads, for really dealing with life and situations and our inner selves well instead merely identifying what is going on and carrying on without letting our revelation or insight soak into us and begin to direct and change us.

When things are difficult, it is often in solitude that we can be strengthened and changed. It is also in solitude that we are made ready for people-- for community-- and one without the other (solitude or community) is unhealthy.

When things are good, it is in quiet solitude that we have the time and focus to fully acknowledge that God is the giver of all good gifts. We can more easily build a life that is based on gratitude when we take time to sit before Him to recognize and enumerate His blessings and all of the ways He cares for us.

Again, solitude does not have to be long, and if absolutely needed, we can do like Catherine of Siena and make a little chamber of solitude in our minds and hearts. That takes discipline and focus for sure, but it's better than no solitude at all.

4. Make a life of beauty and interest. I try to deeply appreciate and enjoy beauty wherever it is found, and I also aim to make beauty wherever I can. The beauty I make may not be at all impressive, but we are each created in the image of God, and we have the capacity to make things beautiful in some way, even if it's a small thing that only we will appreciate.

Even though I am not presently keeping or making my own home, I am always making a life. And I do have a nice place to lay my head and space to keep my things and a lovely environment where I spend my days. I am blessed. I can aim to surround myself with what strikes me as beautiful or interesting. I can do all things well and make them as cheerful as possible-- even the most mundane, simple things, like the way I make my bed or place things on the little table beside it. Or in the way I set up at the kitchen table for my morning quiet routine. I can choose to do the most ordinary, routine things with great care and enjoyment.

There are endless ways to make a life of beauty and interest. One very simple thing I've been doing since I've been here is collecting treasures at the beach. Every time I walk down the beach, I collect at least one thing to bring home with me. Sometimes I bring several items. I have many of these things on the table by my bed-- some pretty, tiny shells; a small, interesting piece of driftwood; a variety of interesting stones that I found in the surf; and some other things. I'll see how many whole sand dollars I can find before I leave the coast. There are plans to go agate hunting soon at a particular beach with some friends (I'm signed on to take coffee and scones). And who knows what will wash up on the beach? It's fun to explore and gather pretty or interesting things.

And I try to keep learning and thinking. I want to stay curious. I want to retain forever a sense of wonder and delight in God's world. I try, every day to read something challenging, to think hard, to pay attention and stretch and grow. I try to be interested in whatever is around me, wherever I am. I try to listen to people and the stories of their work and lives. And I aim to pursue my own gifts and interests and abilities.

5. Meaningful work to do and routines to keep. Having a good, working rhythm to the day and work to do helps to keep acedia at bay. It's a good discipline. It honors God. It is healthy-- even essential-- to a person's well-being. I must admit that housekeeping in a home that is not really yours takes a bit more willful effort than cleaning your own house (but once you get in and do it, there's something really nice and satisfying about it). There's a certain joy I get in keeping my own home clean and cosy, in moving things around, in putting things out to celebrate various seasons and special days and events. It's my home, and I have my pleasant routines for keeping it. Here, my days are different. My routines are not the same. But rhythmic work is essential, so I'm gradually finding a good, but flexible, pattern for my mornings.

6. Nature. Both looking at it and moving in it. This is God's world, and being in it and watching it, makes me want to draw closer to Him. Here, I am blessed. I've loved the rain, and we get out in it even when it pours. We simply wear waterproof coats with hoods or carry umbrellas. We've gone to the beach in hard rainstorms. We've taken morning walks in the rain.

Lately, we've been blessed with a long stretch of very warm, sunny weather, during which we've been to the beach almost every day, and it has been incredibly beautiful there. There has been absolutely no wind, which, along with the sunny warmth, makes it more perfect than any summer day when the seaside wind often blows with a good amount of force, sometimes to the point of blasting so much sand into your face that you can do nothing but huddle near the jetty (and that is nice, too). The rains will come again soon, but this period of lovely beach weather has been glorious, and we've enjoyed it. Also outdoors, I've been kayaking with my friend, Laurie. I've hiked beautiful trails with family members. I've walked and explored and breathed the freshest air imaginable.

7. Relationships. Family, friends, church, neighbors. We weren't created to live in isolation. We were created for "community," for relationship, and our lives cannot be healthy and whole without it. It's been nice here to connect again with old friends. Here on the coast, I've been going to the church my family has attended for 50 years, and it's been wonderful to have a chance to visit with some of those souls from my past! So many of them have had an enormous influence on my life, both by their words and by their examples. Especially by their examples.

It's been lovely to be around my mom and some of my siblings again. And nieces and nephews. One of my nephews is the one who has gotten the recent family crab feeds and bonfires going . {Oh, and I should add that this same nephew recently ran a family football pool for the NFL playoffs and Superbowl, and while I was in the basement (tied for last place) at first (a "dud" is what he called me then-- ahem!), I made a great comeback and surged upward into a tie for second place. I am feeling victorious. Wahoo!} Anyway. While I absolutely miss seeing Michelle and Monty and my two grandsons almost every day, it's been very, very nice to be able to spend time with my family here on the coast.

8. Reading. For me, it's important to continue to read, think, and learn. I can't be without reading material. I'm always reading something, even if it comes down to having to read the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathroom! For someone who loves books, there's something secure and stabilizing about having them around. Plus, reading is just a whole bunch of fun! I brought more books with me to the coast than anything else, and there are still so many of my favorite books that I miss. I wish I could have brought them all with me! :-)

My kids gave me books for Christmas (we all give each other books for Christmas-- our favorite gift to receive!). :-) And I've bought a new book or two since I've arrived here (notably Kathleen Norris's book dealing with acedia, which I'm finding very interesting). I reread A Gift From the Sea last week. I've been reading through some of Ruth Graham's books again. And contemplating my way, once again, through Amy Carmichael's If. I've enjoyed reading back and forth and all over in Elspeth Thompson's cosy book, The Wonderful Weekend Book, quite a lot. And, as I always have, I've been reading some of my cookbooks because a well-written, prosey cookbook is a reading treat for one who loves to cook.

I've reestablished myself at our favorite local library-- the same one the kids and I visited at least once a week when they were young. I went into that library to sign up for a new card, and, lo and behold, I was still in the system. My account from all of those years back was still valid. That was kinda cool. When we were the library, Aaron, Melissa, and I spent quite a while looking over the familiar shelves of the children's section. Aaron and Melissa reminisced as they picked up old copies of favorite books: "This is the very copy I first read of this book!" A children's librarian (who worked there there when the kids were young but didn't recognize them so many years later), watched them and smiled.

9. Involvement. Everywhere I've lived, I've been involved, in some way, with other people. Joining or starting Bible studies. Leading large, community homeschooling groups. Starting a homeschooling support group in my home. Starting meetings for the purpose of talking about living healthy, whole lives. Participating in a MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. Then speaking at MOPs groups or junior high girls camp, retreats or brunches. Then mentoring a MOPS group. Leading an Awana group. Serving soup and bread. Lots of things.

Mostly, in recent years, my involvement has been leading different kinds of groups and meetings in my own home or having people over for coffee, brunch, lunch, or dinner. When I am not involved with others in some way, either formally or informally, I begin to feel that my life is too centered on me. Too ingrown. So, I was wondering how I could plug in or connect in some way here on the coast. Then Mom asked if I wanted to join a church "mentoring" group (which is sort of a Bible/book study) with her. Sure! So, we're working through the study with several other ladies on Wednesday evenings. I enjoy it. Then Mom let one of the church kitchen ladies know that we'd love to sign on to help. They work so hard and do so much and have such fun doing it. Some of those same ladies were working in the kitchen when I was young, and they continue to do it so cheerfully. They inspire me.

10. Something creative (no matter how amateurish). I just need to be doing something that stretches my creative muscles. It's soothing, somehow, and satisfying, too. I don't pretend to be a writer or a photographer, but ever since I've been little I've been keeping diaries and writing things in notebooks and on scraps of paper everywhere. I just need to do this. And maybe that's why I continue to enjoy keeping a blog when it probably makes sense to take a break.

I also enjoy taking photos. And nowadays everyone is a photographer! (I think it's nice that so many people enjoy taking photos now that digital cameras make it so easy to play around with pictures.) I make no pretense at knowing what I'm doing. So far, I've shot every picture on "auto," but am starting to fiddle around and stretch and try new things. Mostly, I just point and shoot and play around, and, for some reason, I really like doing it. One of the things I'm doing while I'm here on the coast is taking photos everywhere we go. Hopefully, I'll end up with a photo album that will nicely represent the time I'm spending in this place-- the beaches, the geology, a bit of history, my family, my friends, my activities.

***

There's a bit of redundancy or overlap in those items, but there it is. If I do these things (and eat well), my days are nice and feel fairly in balance. And there's no reason that I can't do all of this no matter where I go. In that case I could say, I suppose, that I may wander but I'm not lost.
(Photo above was taken this morning, as Emma, my dad's cat, joined me for "Psalms and Morning Coffee.")