Just outside the window…

 

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In the early morning hours, when the only sound is the quiet hum of the house, I open the window over my desk and wrap myself a little more tightly into my robe. The soft, cool breeze carries in a swirl of noise.

What’s left of the morning rain drips off the roof, tap, tap, tapping on the wooden porch beneath my window. Morning tunes, sung in all octaves, fill the air with layers of asymmetric artistry. Busy chickadees flutter and flap as they dart back and forth with bits of stuff for their nests. One brave, little fellow lands on the sill right in from of me- curiously seeking fuzzy treasure.

The grass is soggy and bright green. Robins land and bounce, cocking their heads as if to listen for the worms they spot and wriggle out of the soft ground.

Spring has finally swept over the land.

There are many days when the sky seems to boil and dark clouds roll; days when torrential rain forces the creeks to overflow, and large pools of water flood the low places in the terrain. Under the mud and muck, new life pulsates with wild energy.

A careful eye will see plants beginning to make their rhythmic rise from the soil. Finally, after a long, frozen winter in the midwest, gardens are being cleared and planted, and farmers are waiting for the perfect day to till and seed.

With the faithful entrance of Spring comes the annual invitation to join in the rhythm. A new day to dig, a new day to seed, a new day to water. A new day to release that which has passed, so that it can fortify that which is to come. A new day to work for the promise of a reaping.

Just outside the winter-stained window, there’s a noise that’s louder that the drone of this world; a ringing more urgent than the constant ping of the cell phone.

There is an offer to take part in a story so much more exciting than the one portrayed on screen.
It’s organic, it’s ancient, and it calls to our souls.
Arise and awaken, open a window and listen for the sound… new life is at hand.

 

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Success…

I was told that I must work myself out of the job somewhere along the line- I just never fully understood the ramifications of such a success.
I’m somewhat familiar with the phenomenon;
I have watched my friends feel their way through the murky waters,
laughing while in tears;
resigned, yet determined.
Another life revolution.
Another season that comes without beckoning.
A successful release.

A silent game change for one of the most underrated, yet essential workers on the planet- the successful repositioning of mother.

Mother: the assigned life-giver, the assigned tender of tender shoots, the assigned protector of fragile bodies, the assigned cultivator of hearts and nurturer of souls.

 

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Photo credit: Jessica Garcia©2008

It doesn’t matter how many women I have seen walk this path and it doesn’t matter that they have lived to tell the tale- the experience still comes fresh and unfamiliar.

My life has been intricately and intimately woven into the lives of my children.
The inevitable unraveling comes with a tug and a pull, which results in a dull pain and an occasional sting. I find I’m not quite ready, no matter how many warnings I have been given.

It feels like being tied to a post- I vaguely know what’s coming and I watch it roll in, like tendrils of acrid smoke, and I brace myself.
I am to breathe deeply before being released.
Released into a new reality.
My position is suddenly redefined.

Now, quite shockingly, I feel like an old type-setting machine which has been relegated to the corner.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I served faithfully and quietly as: Executive-in-Chief, Staff Administrator, Assistant to the President, Facilities Manager, Human Resources Manager, Event Planner, and Queen?

And, wasn’t it just yesterday that I served- maybe not so quietly- as: janitor, chef, counselor, medic, seamstress, decorator, chauffeur, and friend?

Yet, somewhere along the line, I managed to go from knowing everything- to knowing nothing; from being better than anyone at everything- to being rather less than satisfactory in my employment of skills.

Culturally, ‘mother’ is a job title assigned very little merit.  The serious pursuit of excellence in the execution of a mother’s duties is not considered worthy of accolades;
so it falls relatively low on the list of important achievements.
But God does trust women with a great and magnificent responsibility.
He trusts her to conceive and carry life,
to grow and nurture life,
to train and model life,
and finally, to let go of and release life.
The choice to fully embrace the role of motherhood with passion and intentionality is the highest achievement.

Ironically, in the end, mother isn’t given a letter of termination- or a severance- or even a security walk to the exit.
She is ultimately beyond and above that, trusted to be wise,
to laugh and weep,
and to keep walking with a more mature poise than when she first began.

Decades have passed,
my hands are worn and wrinkled,
and my eyes have grown wise…
I have worked long, grueling hours for the high payment of joy and tears.
I have given it all, mind, body and soul…
But now, it seems it’s time.
Like something out of an epic movie, I’m to be locked outside the gates of the city I helped to build.
I’m to follow the well-worn path that leads to the sun, which is setting on the horizon. Time to close this chapter of the book and begin scrawling in another.

I will be called back an undetermined number of times, to serve in my newly structured position. My technical expertise will be required on an as needed basis.
I am now consultant, sub-contractor and outside-insider.
Come closer- stop.
Stop- come closer.
And if these gyrations aren’t enough,
I am to know precisely when to keep my mouth shut.
God, that’s very funny.
You really have trusted me with the big stuff.

I hear the screeching of the tires- it’s time to get out of the car. There is to be no outward display of emotion at this point. I am just supposed to get out, keep moving, and carry on.

Mind you, I have not been dismissed as beloved mother and friend, and I have not been sacked as trusted and wise counselor… but I have reached the place where I have successfully worked myself out of a job.

My jacket buttoning, and brussel sprout cajoling days are over.
My teenage counseling services are almost unnecessary and my constant stream of advice is no longer welcome.
It’s on to the next chapter.
So, like a modern-day Mary Poppins, with a heart stuffed full of treasured memories like an old carpetbag, I take my first barefoot steps down the path ahead,
both laughing and crying,
resigned, yet determined,
ready for the next adventure.

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Photo credit: Rel Luttrell©2014

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Turning the page…

|The celebration of a New Year.
The day we officially turn the worn page,
which is both woefully stained with mistakes…
and remarkably highlighted by small victories.

Today, we look forward with hope
to the markings in the next chapter…
We pray to be more careful in the forming of our words,
but less careful in the intimacies of our souls.
More careful of our sorrowful laziness
and less careful when pursuing our passion.
More sure of God’s melodic Word
and less sure of the lies carved in our skin.

Today, because of God’s grace and His unimaginable mercy
we turn the page.
With pen in hand, we begin to scrawl…
with all the force of what’s behind
and all the magnetism of what’s ahead.
Happy new page,
Happy new year.

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To Vote or Not to Vote.

This letter was published in the Daily Journal on October 29, 2012. 

Apparently, many registered voters plan to abstain in the upcoming presidential election because they object to both candidates.

Some refuse to vote for Mitt Romney, claiming that by doing so, they would be endorsing his religion. Others refuse to vote for Barack Obama, claiming they can’t trust his values or allegiances. These objections, while important, must not keep a good citizen home on voting day.

This is not the first time we have suffered from a lack of confidence in our candidates. We often go to the polls with some reluctance — forced to pull the lever in faith. This term is no different, but the stakes certainly do seem higher.

Many claim we are reaching the much feared point of no return. All of tradition and every kind of principle seems to have gone under the knife.

Our foreign alliances don’t seem to matter; our foreign policy protocol has been modernized, our religious roots denied; and traditional institutions redefined. The new “whatever” mentality has been officially inaugurated.

To make matters worse, we are all being pummeled by opinion from every direction. Our in-boxes contain one long stream of spinning propaganda. We are served heaping platters of information — but are never sure if we should swallow the next bite.

We grapple for reliable and unbiased sources of real data. It seems much easier to close our eyes and cover our ears until this is all over, but by doing so, we give up our right to have a voice — even a very small one.

During a recent homeowners association meeting, I couldn’t help but do a little imaginative comparing. As neighbors, we vote on issues such as water treatment, road maintenance and the use of common areas. Some choose to skip the meeting, leaving the power of their vote, or “proxy” with another. This makes the opinions of those present stronger, and in a sense, gives their votes more weight.

This scenario prompted me to think about those who don’t plan to show up at the polls this November. These passionate abstainers will not be leaving their “proxies” with trusted individuals who share their values and that can be counted on to vote with a balanced view of the issues; instead, they will simply abstain from using the power of their influence.

By refusing to vote, they are refusing to be counted, deciding instead to disengage. This decision doesn’t sound like civic responsibility— and it doesn’t sound like faith in action — it sounds like something to regret.

So, how does one vote when there doesn’t seem an acceptable choice? For me, it comes down to pressing in and believing that to vote is my civic duty. I must play my part, however small. I refuse to leave the power of my vote in a stranger’s hands.

I will choose the candidate that seems to most closely align with my conservative values and the issues that concern me most. I don’t need a pastor in the White House any more than I need a pastor to do my dental work. I want competent leadership that will tackle the many critical issues that matter to me, both locally and globally.

I will not make the perfect choice in this presidential election, but by faith, I will do my part by engaging and voting, with the belief that many collective voices can call us back from the dreaded point of no return, so that we can continue to walk the fine line of tension we so enjoy in this great country we call home.

Catherine Whittier 2012

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Passing the half-life…

Turning 50…

If the story of my life happens to be 80 pages long- then I’m 10 years past my half-life today.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum © 2012.

It’s so strange to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the young woman that used to look back at me. Lines have emerged- lines that tell the stories nobody knows. I would like it if all my lines to turned upwards- but they don’t.

Is this the same woman who, on a good day, men used to turn to admire? I recently retired a big pile of jeans that don’t fit in the same old way and I face myself with the question, “Am I willing to do what it takes to fight back against the slow atrophy of aging?” Truth is, I’ve never been a very good fighter.

I’m a true survivor, having escaped death and doom time and again… but the talk in my head usually says- “you lose.” It’s been a slow and difficult process to believe and embrace the truth that God created and values me.

Anyway, back to aging body parts. Will this be the battle of my decade- how to fight back against the hands of time? That certainly seems to be the cultural mandate. In fact, if I had a few more bucks… I could just pay to fluff my buns in order to make my old jeans fit. I could uncurl the lines around my mouth and poof my lips. Yuh know, a 50,000 mile service check. The only thing is, the manufacturer didn’t make these recommendations.

The other strange thing about turning 50, is that I realize that some of the dreams I dreamed haphazardly in my 20′s may not come to fruition. Now that I’m almost 50, married, with two, mostly-grown-up kids- I may not be able to live single, in a high-rise, in the inner city, whilst commanding a high salary. I may not ever again pack up and move to another State to take a menial job and live on macaroni. I might not ever become buff like the girl in “Flashdance,” (well, it’s been thirty years since I saw the movie, but that “Maniac” song is still stuck in my head). I might not ever travel as a bohemian journalist to do interviews all over the world. At this late stage, optimistic as I can get, I may never become fully functional when it comes to laundry. I may never have a clean purse for two weeks running. I may never become a coupon master. I may not ever do…. well… anything else really “big.” There’s a little change left in my purse and I better decide how I can make it go the furthest.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

As I look at the last quarter or so of my active life- some good questions once again emerge – like, what matters most? With all the competing draws for my attention- what is the highest and best use of this day? Which choices will be high impact in the next chapters of my story? I want to be intentional and wise.

I can hear answers coming from some- “Well, you’ll never stop being a wife and mother,”  and, “Soon, you’ll have grandchildren!” Others declare, “Now is the time to clean your purse!”  Well, maybe so. Maybe I should clean out my purse- so I don’t have to dig so long to find gum for my grandkids- but, I don’t want my goal to be a “finally” clean purse or a polished car.

It’s true, my family is my greatest joy and my level of commitment to them will be constant… but there will be lots of times when my presence will be unnecessary… and there’s more… more of me and more of the mission.

More of the mission that helps people where they get broken; that spot where something wicked came and some little treasure of a person believed a lie which set them on a path they weren’t intended to follow…

But, I digress… back to gray hair and body parts.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

I’ve been told time and again about how fast it goes. I was always grateful that I didn’t begin to have children until I was thirty and had seen a little of life and death. I felt I somehow understood a bit more about the precious and insignificant. Now, as I look back, I’m faced with knowing, once again, that we are never wise enough in this lifetime to see with perfect clarity.

I absorbed the verses that explain that we are but a vapor, or a fading flower. I have done my best to cherish moments and collect the important things of the heart and I’m thankful. I’m immensely grateful for the good and mostly at peace with the bad. I haven’t led a boring life- there’s adventure, intrigue, romance, violence, crushing sadness and utter joy…. but I look cautiously forward now- knowing more keenly than ever- that I don’t have forever.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

Interestingly, I’m not afraid of the same things that used to scare me. I’m no longer afraid of forceful women. I’m not afraid of being disliked. I’m not afraid to say no and almost not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid of teenagers who scowl and seem fiercely independent anymore. I’m so far past them now that I look back with a familiarity and move right in to their crabby space, loving them wholeheartedly.
Now, I have different fears. I fear bitterness. I fear that I will misunderstand truth. I fear self-loathing. I fear unbelief. I fear that through any and all of those things, I have the power to hurt others and experience living death. I fear I will not meet my potential by not finally getting- all the way down in my core- without wavering, that God really enjoys, likes, and trusts me; that He looks at me with adoration. If I can really get that relationship right- all the rest will follow. Because of that truth, I can breathe clean air and I can love my husband with a real and wild love.

Yes, well, back to stopping the hands of time.

Now I understand why “the bucket list” became a such a crazy-popular catch-phrase- because it’s not a bad idea to make one. I’m amazed to see young men and women jumping out of airplanes and traveling to Atlantic City because it was on their ‘bucket list.’ It blows me away to talk with those who are asking good, stark questions about the use of their time and the direction of their path at such early ages; but why do I know that somehow, even these brilliant, young folks are going to ask the same tough questions when they reach the half life? They will do similar evaluations, regardless of the check marks on their bucket-lists. They will once again begin to ask, “Have I fulfilled my purpose and have I done it well? What is good- what is beautiful, really- and what am I chasing after?”

Well, I’ve edited out about 10 pages here and I will leave my special birthday post with these final words. Gray hair happens, cellulite isn’t only for couch potatoes, and we don’t have forever, but in these days of evaluation- while I may not have the game plan down… I have had an amazing time thinking about the definitions of goodness, happiness, and legacy. I have enjoyed every living thing from a new perspective and I feel more alive than ever. My goal is to seek God first in all things and know that all the rest will follow, whatever that may look like.

A friend recently told me that since she crossed over the 50-yard line- she doesn’t hold back as much. She’s not afraid to tell it like it is and speak a little encouragement that she might have otherwise kept to herself. She’s not as worried or embarrassed about her imperfections. She also said I’m at the peak of my life in terms of wisdom and creativity.

Yeah, that’s a good word… I’m feeling a little more saucy myself.
Pretty, dang saucy.

I’ll tell you a little secret. My husband is a wild man and he’s been known to go outside in his boxers in the dead of winter to get wood for the woodstove. How would I know that? My neighbor mentioned she thought she saw him outside in his underwear at 4 am.
Ahem.
Now, I get it!
This behavior must be a result of being 51. He crossed over the line and into the second half.

Naa. I’m too young for delusions. He was born that way.

Scary to think he will get even saucier.  Now, that I’m a wise and wild 50 year old, I wonder if this means he’ll finally get me to skinny dip?
That would sure get the neighbors talking  :)

“Therefore we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

A special thank you to Angie Stevens for the use of her wonderful artwork. I subscribe to her blog at http://doodlemum.wordpress.com/ and very much enjoy receiving her sketches in my inbox.
Angie describes herself as “38, short, defensive, far too chatty for my own good, mother, artist, noisy, chocolate loving and permanently tired. (I know,  how many bloody adjectives do I need…).” I describe her as a kindred spirit. I love her impish little sketches. They are very transparent and remind me of myself as a young mother. Thank you, Doodlemum!

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The Seasons of Motherhood…

About the bittersweet journey of motherhood and the milestone of graduation…
Read more here:

A New Rhythm

Artwork by Susana Tavares


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Crawling out of bed tired

Lately, the little things don’t look like backyard adventures.
They look more like shopping for dress pants and cheap ties that might fit the boy for two weeks,
and practices and performances,
and algebra lessons,
and end of semester field trips,
and birthday celebrations,
and meetings,
and big decisions for next year.

The little things look like begging sorry to my honey for leaving bagel crumbs on the  kitchen counter as I go flying out the door.
Looks like forgetting what I came for
and coming back for what I forgot.

Looks like living in the country means we can’t run home and throw in a load.
Looks like we’re getting things halfway done and digging through piles for socks,
Looks like drinking lots of coffee and crawling out of bed tired.
Looks like not finishing anything.

Looks like wondering how other people get all this stuff right,
and then remembering that I’m almost 50 and
most certainly beyond such penchants to compare.
It also looks, conversely and hormonally,
like I’m old enough not to give a flip what anybody else is doing and how.
Looks like I’m glad for my girlfriends- doing whatever their doing,
smiling at me with that knowing smile,
it’s in the little things- even when they go very fast.

Looks like racing out early in the morning to check the baby bluebirds in my bath robe and staying up late listening to the non-stop, run-on sentence plans of two very active, young people. Trucks and cars and apartments and jobs and school and girls and guys and this one and that one and today and forever…
golden sound waves and bleary eyes.

Looks like my husband can’t find me,
but my toes can still find his toes under the covers.

Looks like my boy will drive.
Looks like I will soon be forced to wear shorts again.
Looks like I won’t be getting any younger.
Looks like I don’t know what’s coming next.

Looks like, when it comes to self improvement, my greatest opposition is
myself.

Looks like the little things are imperfect and profound and sweet and that even in the messed up mess of the day, I find myself stopping to say thank you.

Life in little things looks like embracing frustration and reaping joy,
It looks like running on empty and finding it full.
It looks like this life, this very minute.

Photo by Will Whittier@2012

Thank you God for little things,
Thank you for my little people, who aren’t so little anymore,
Thank you for the little moments that add up to big ones.
Thank you for my faulty processes and my little failures,
Thank you for stolen moments and infinite noise.
Thank you for the little things.

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