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This Phoenix Speaks

Seven years in the making, my first published book, This Phoenix Speaks , is now a reality. The tireless and tiring work invested to ma...

Word of the Year 2015: Joyful

Word of the Year 2015

As I began deciding what word I would give focus to this new year, the only word that kept coming to mind was joyful

I consider myself a happy sort, but I do get down on myself more often than I should, and I can get caught up in all that is wrong with things when I ought to be looking for the good. This past year of learning to embrace my loved ones, spirituality, and all the love around me ties in with going a step further to allow my heart to rejoice more, too. Embracing the moments in time felt so wonderful, I must say. And consciously stopping to hold my children more, to ask for a hug more often than I think is welcome, and reaching out to others in love and service have been healing and helpful in my journey. So, I came to the conclusion that if I focus on the joy that is before me better as I am continuing to embrace my life, I will see more fully the joy that is in store for me. I will have room to receive it because I will have cleared out the negativity that pushes joy away. 

Then, I sat down to write this Word of the Year reflection and projection, and I have to say that I now know for a fact that joyful must be what I focus on this year. Having a few years'  worth of words to reflect on has revealed that I never accomplished my goal for 2013. 

That year was supposed to be joyful, but it was not. Two-thousand thirteen was a pivotal year in my progression; I learned much about who I am and what I can accomplish; I was introduced to one of my dearest friends in 2013; and I did not give up (That last one is a miracle in itself.). All are things to rejoice in. Nevertheless, it was a year seared with pain and hardship, tears and yet still more tears, and I hardly know how I made it through. So, no, I did not have a joyful year in 2013 even though I had hoped it would be, which means that I must strive to accomplish the goal this year. 

With a happier and hopeful heart, I am better prepared to reach into the days, weeks, and months ahead to embrace the joy that lays before me. I feel joyful just thinking about it. 

Highlights of embracing life this past year:

Past Words of the Year: 


With quiet words and a tender hand
You have cleared away layers of fear
Exposing what lay hidden inside
Carefully creating a sanctuary
Within your eyes, voice, and smile
I find refuge beneath the branches of your laugh
Relief enfolds me in the shade of your loving way

And so it goes that I must try
With softer patience and a listening heart
To meet you along the shoreline
Of where our hearts reach into the future
Hoping you know with each passing day
How well you deserve to be loved
My beloved and precious friend

para ti, mi amor

Pensé que se le olvidó
mi corazón y todo
pero tú no lo hizo
tú eres mi amigo
un parte de mi vida que no cambi
siempre y siempre si te quiero

crying adventure

I don't really know what to say today . . .

I've cried a river and then some. I taught some amazing things with a simple list of commonly confused words as a vehicle for discussion and learning, while I choked back internal tears. I drove home talking to myself, but actually crying to my trusty listener, the car. The Beast holds some major secrets from all the crying jags I've been on since getting it last April. Such a good car. And then crying more at home while wrapped up in blankets on my lovely purple sofa. 

The day was stuffed full with learning, feeling, listening, teaching, understanding, and coming back to myself to see that I still want what I want. Life is funny that way. We get taken on side adventures just to teach us what we already know, but the awesome part is that we have all that experience to fuel the journey further. 

Another thing I learned today is that I can teach while I am having personal issues. I was even funny during the last class of the day. Like so funny that the students said they like me in that state of mind. Little do they know what it takes to get me stupid funny—numb and broken down from crying half the day. 

Lastly, I'm all done crying, and I guess I figured out what to say. So that's more good news. 

Seeking to Become - January 2015

I became overwhelmed with all that life was throwing at me there for awhile and lost track of time. I haven't found a focus for a couple months, so in an effort to find it, I am getting back to what I know works. And this works.

There was a conversation on truth that I was dragged into earlier today, and it really got me thinking. We like to know the truth. We all would like to know what we should do with ourselves and where we are headed. There are so many philosophies out there in the world that conflict with each other that unless you're really listening closely for spiritual discernment, it can be confusing at every turn. And I don't care what they say, even the science people don't have it down to a science. Science changes with discovery. One day with one batch of scientific truth, you know one thing. Give it ten years, and then all of a sudden, you've been eating food that will give you cancer. Some things are constant, like gravity, and those are trustworthy, but not all science is like that. Some of it doesn't ring true no matter what the experts might say.

I promise that I'm not sharing these thoughts to dredge up a big fight. There is truth in science and scientific discovery. Some of my favorite classes in college were science courses (actually, chemistry and geology to be precise). But there is more to this complex existence than stark, provable facts. For example, take chemistry (the relationship kind). No one can prove why certain people are drawn to each other, but it happens. There is nothing you can quantify that would make any sense logically speaking. There are many examples of things in this life that can't be proven with evidence, but they are real and make life wonderful. Like the love of a mother. There is no way to explain that scientifically. And then the big one that is at the heart of every truth debate is faith. Faith works on an entirely different plane than science. Faith is the hope of things that are true which are not seen. Once it is proven to you, faith becomes knowledge. And that knowledge is not required to be based on quantifiable facts; it is pretty much always based solely on others' or your own personal witness of spiritual things.

I would entreat anyone who is a seeker of truth to heed these simple words:

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  
James 1:5-6 

For this month, I will seek out answers that I lack by exercising my faith and praying more unwaveringly. I lack wisdom in many areas of my life, so the goal is a worthy one. The promise that wisdom "shall be given" if we ask in faith fuels the hope that I hold in my heart. We just need to ask and listen for the answer.

begging for encouragement

The first week down, anxiety, planning, and hopefully finding a groove to go.

Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying the time. How amazing it is to have accomplished my goal and have the opportunity to move forward with my plans! However, it's such a learning curve to begin being a teacher without having the support of a supervisor and mentor anymore. I have been prepared to do this thing, and yet I find myself wishing to be back where I know and feel connected.

I'm betting that most first-year teachers go through this impostor syndrome stuff. I'd like to hear it though, so if anyone reading this knows what I'm going through, I'd be more than grateful for any reassurances that I'm normal (at least in this regard!).

And for anyone who doesn't know what I'm going through, encouragement on this anxious morning/day/night/week would really hit the spot.

time beckons

photo: C.T. Duncan

Standing in a flurry of strangers
Oblivious to being watched
Admired for one hidden moment
When time seemed to beckon and stop
And all she could do was smile
With her heart so raw and wide
That it transformed her vision
Shimmering with anticipation
Of who stood before her for the very first time
And hands were stilled for those few breaths
Before the clock was forced to tick

The sun had never been so radiant
Until that day you walked into my life
Quite literally as you opened up the door
And climbed right in next to me, my heart
There was some sort of magic
A wisp of untold beauty
In the air that hung sweetly
I breathed it in so deeply
I never wanted to leave
But the insistent clock kept ticking past
Each minute, with the seconds pounding

Compelling us to part
In the interim between then and now
The sky's blue hue has never been the same
Neither rain-swelled clouds
Nor the sun's unmatched splendid rays
Since you've been taken so far away
I want and need to breathe
In more of our first-hand magic
Once again hoping that the clock will tick
With a quickness that brings you near to me
Embracing the time we make for each other

officially official

What makes something official and real does not boil down to money. Signing that teaching contract helped, and actually teaching the students felt pretty darn official as well. However, being handed a paycheck certainly sealed the deal.

When I first found out that direct deposit wouldn't start until next time, I was a little bit disappointed. I even felt a little less official. But then I was told I would just have to deposit an actual check and not have to wait like I thought. After school, I went to the bank with that little rectangular piece of paper with my name and happy numbers on it. I was not prepared for feeling so teacherly! It was so awesome that I can hardly contain my happiness. It's as if all the many years of being a student and sacrificing and begging for scholarship money all came into pure focus for a few minutes, and I rejoiced in the knowledge that I was able to receive that paycheck because of all the love and support I was given so I could be where I am now to earn it.

It's not even about the money. It's about the opportunity to do what I like—teaching, learning, helping, surviving, thriving, owning a home, driving a car, eating nice food, paying debts, having hobbies, giving, traveling, spending time with the people I care about, enjoying time doing something other than work. All of these things are afforded to me because I never gave up. I am still in awe. And I give thanks to everyone who helped me along the way. What a blessed life I live.

I hope I never forget how it felt when I finally accepted that I'm a professional teacher.

a lovely light

Please forgive the poor writing, if it is disjointed, or if it isn't making as much sense as it should, but I need to tell you something.

There's something to be said about having really good neighbors. I'm not saying I'm one (although I hope I am), but I'd like to say a few words about a particularly great neighbor that I've had for the past handful of years.

The first time we spoke in the front yard, I invited her to come over to burn stuff (food, marshmallows, etc.) in my fire pit while we get to know each other. She kindly declined because she had movie watching plans or something with her husband, but offered to get us some logs from her family's farm for sitting on around the fire the next time she had the chance. And next thing I knew, we had four or five new seats, which have been used time and again over the years. (We only have two of them left now, actually. I'm pretty sure the others met with destiny by the hand of a certain teenage boy and an axe, and flames.).

Then, we would see each other at church or out in our front yards, say hello or give a wave. Nothing big. Just being neighborly. She'd ask me how I'm doing, and I'd ask how she was faring with her little one, and then her other little one came along too. We walked to the park nearby a couple times to walk and talk. I will never forget the deeply loving conversation we had over at that park when her father died. I felt like I was able to be a true friend to her finally.

A few summers ago, one of my brothers came to visit for a week, and he would go out in the backyard to practice his tuba. Yes, he'd blast tuba music in my backyard. Awesome, right? The next time she saw me after that, she asked who was playing back there. That's what opened up our neighborly conversations about music and her bass playing, which, in a couple years after that, led to her playing in a string quartet last year accompanying the church choir that I directed. I told her (and the other musicians) repeatedly how thankful I was for their addition to our performance with such talent. And then—we performed. It was so beautiful.

Now at Christmas, when songs were being sung and talks were being given, I remembered the Christmas and Easter musical delights she participated in and felt deep gratitude that we had all taken the opportunity to get together to worship God through such beautiful music. The memory overwhelmed me, and I missed her so much so that I cried a little for wanting her there again in church with all of us.

My beautiful, talented, loving, straight-talking neighbor has been sick. She fell ill last year, and has been fighting for her life. We still had occasional chats in the front yard, but it was always on her front steps now. She'd listen to me go on and on, and she'd laugh. I don't know why I'd do it, but I would get to philosophizing on how jacked up life can get in such a funny way that we would both have a good laugh even when talking about messed up stuff like divorces and cancer. So ridiculous, but somehow it cut through the pain of it all for me on those days. I can only hope it did some of the same for her.

When trying to figure out what we could do to help her family, we were able to informally arrange for my son to mow their front lawn as a service this past summer. I only had to force him to do it the first time. After finishing up that day, he came into the house and told me that it felt nice to help our neighbors. She ended up paying him in baked goods for his birthday and on another occasion, but for the most part, he did that all summer because it made him happy to do it. I'm especially grateful now because I know my children saw that example from their brother of how to love people and just help when they need you.

And now she has left us. But she didn't leave us without giving a gift.

When facing the reality of leaving her sweet family behind while they finish out mortality, she clung even more fervently to hope and the light of Christ. I won't ever forget that. She has shown me what a true testimony of Christ looks like. She gave my children a lovely example of what a good neighbor looks like, and we all sure love her and her entire family. What a blessing it has been to have shared in the light she emitted—to offer her what little we could. Love is an action word, and my neighbor understood that fact. My love and prayers will always be with her dear husband and children and her extended family.

As I ponder it all, I am stung by the truthful reminder of how short our time is together with our loved ones. No matter how long or short the life, it never seems to be enough time. I am reminded that I need to express more love to those I hold dear, and I intend to do so as often as possible (without making a nuisance of myself, hopefully!) and not just through words.