Taking up space

“Where do you take space for writing?” begged the writing prompt. I had promised myself at the beginning of the month to journal more. I even paid for the advanced version of an online journal, thinking if I could type my journal entries, I might dedicate time to processing my thoughts. I really should know myself better by this point in my life; I do not always do what I know is important.

This morning, I actually opened the journal on my laptop, but then emails distracted me. Before I knew it, an hour had slipped by, and I had answered emails and moved onto reviewing teaching applicants in preparation for a meeting this morning. My journaling intentions had dissipated as quickly as my first cup of coffee.

When this week’s online writing community’s invitation popped up in my email, however, it gave me pause. Where do I take space for writing? Writing often occurs in my head, and the best pieces of my craft emerge when I am on my daily four-mile walk, listening to podcasts that affirm my untangling of myself, my journey of self-excavation. The passerby often glances at me nervously if they hear my verbalized comments to the podcast guest speaking in my ear.

Ideas swirl in my head, and often, they course through my veins, exciting me because words offered by someone else connect deeply with me or challenge me to think differently about myself – my experiences – my life passage. This unraveling of understanding takes space in my mind, and while many of these narratives never make it to the page, they occupy my thoughts, and ultimately, they nudge me closer to becoming a better version of myself.

I promise myself I’ll be better at journaling – at writing on my blog – at outlining and even writing a chapter of the book my mentees often encourage me to write, but the words I write in my mind’s eye are the words I need to digest. These are the words that take up the most space until they are absorbed by my heart – by my actions – by my reactions – by my vision for the future. #MakeRoomForJoy

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Cooking with Purpose

For most of my childhood and adolesence, I spent nearly every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. Besides traipsing around outdoors with Grandpa, hours were spent sitting at the kitchen table talking with my grandmother as she cooked. Often, I would join her in snapping green beans fresh or try my hand at frying hamburger to stir into her chili. On holidays, I would lie in the spare bedroom next to the kitchen and listen to Grandma hum as she stuffed the turkey in the early hours of the day, long before we would sit down as a family around the kitchen table.

I learned a lot from my grandmother, much more than how to cook for a large family on a blue collar budget. Perching on a chair pulled up to the counter was eventually replaced with standing next to her, chopping onions or assembling monkey bread, watching, listening, soaking in her kindness. Her lessons extended beyond knowing when the fried chicken was done. Much later, long after my weekends with her had morphed into raising my own family, I realized the moments in the kitchen were not intended to teach me about food.

As Grandma Mitchell patiently showed me how to cook, often without a recipe, I knew I had a frontrow seat with a master story teller. I held onto the stories that unfolded, stories of growing up in the Great Depression, of tire rations, of outhouses, of working a factory job, of selling crickets for the bait shop in my grandparents’, of my grandfather being stabbed, of burying her third child as a toddler. Through her stories, I learned the joy that accompanies a life well lived, regardless of the circumstance. Her cooking held great purpose.

My grandmother’s feet no longer kiss the earth, but she is always with me. For the last three decades, gatherings, especially around food, have served as a foundation for my home. My siblings and their families often gather around my table for holidays or celebrations, and when my children lived at home Friday nights found the basement filled with basketball or football players, always hungry. In these familiar moments, I draw deeply from Grandma’s genuine love for others.

As my two children have moved into their own adult lives, my house is still filled with young people: first year students, softball players, women’s basketball players, students needing a home for difficult discussions about race, or sometimes just two or three who need someone to listen. Just as it did in my own childhood, food brings people together, and amazing conversations happen long after the meal is removed and the dishes are piled in the sink.

Currently, cooking has a different purpose for me. The purpose has a more immediate need – higher stakes. As my daughter battles stage four brain cancer, part of her speech therapy includes following writen directions. Following recipes feels like a natural way to meet her therapist’s request. Each night this week, we have selected something for Elizabeth to make. I write out the items she needs as well as the steps she must take to assemble the dish. Because of the location of the cancer, language processing is hard, but like my grandmother, she is kind, gracious, and humble.

As the Gautama Buddha says, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” My grandmother filled me with a sense of purpose one dish, one story, one song at a time. Today, my love of cooking offers a physical way through which I can express my purpose: deeply loving others – those who are biologically mine and those who are not. Bellies are filled. Hearts are filled. In my book, that’s a win-win! #MakeRoomForJoy

My suprehero making roasted potatoes. Grandma Mitchell would be so proud.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Get Yourself a Square Squad

Throughout the journey of untangling myself – of making meaning of how the ebb and flow of my days impact my life – of understanding my purpose in this world, I have leaned into the uncomfortable act of learning to love myself. I have always had solid self-esteem, and I tend to quickly release negative thoughts. At times, I have observed that I don’t care what people think or their opinion doesn’t impact my decisions.  I have actually said out loud, “My Christmas card list is plenty long” or “love me or leave me.”  The obvious problem with those statements, however, is that I truly DO need people. I need people who allow me to be vulnerable and love me none-the-less. Like everyone else, I need community.

Brené Brown, a social scientist who has spent decades researching shame, vulnerability, and authentic living, believes we need people in our lives whose opinions do matter.  These aren’t the casual acquaintances who like a post on Facebook and with whom you share the occasional cup of coffee. Instead, these are people who truly understand who we are. These are the few people in our lives whose opinions matter in such a way we can be truly vulnerable.

Brown encourages us to identify a few key people we trust, we love, and who don’t need us to be anyone but our authentic selves.  Once we identify these people, we should write their names or initials on a 1” square piece of paper.  The people on this little piece of paper are the people in our Square Squad.  They are the ones who don’t run from our vulnerability, and they are the ones to whom we can turn when we need to process thoughts or ideas. They will offer opinions, but they will not randomly criticize. Instead, they allow us to be brave – to be courageous along this journey.

For me, the people on my square squad also hold me accountable.  They encourage me.  They make me want to be better today than I was yesterday.  They are the ones who show up – repeatedly – even when I don’t realize I need someone.  My square squad has carried me through some pretty dark times in my life including a tumultuous time at work, my daughter’s health battle, and the ending of a 30-year marriage.  Individually, they check in on me, but more importantly, their opinion matters, and when they share it – solicited or unsolicited – I take it seriously.  They offer their opinions, and I’m not offended. If their observation butts up against my own perception, I have to sit with it for a little bit, but the way I process their words is important.  I don’t take their advice as critical.  Because I value their opinion, I step even deeper into being my best self.

The idea of putting names on a 1″ square piece of paper we can tuck in a wallet or other safe place means we don’t need a lot of people in our inner space. We need just a few who love us unconditionally, and who are comfortable with our relationship that they know their opinion matters. Along this untangling, they impact the direction and depth of understanding of our journeys. Ultimately, the members of our square squads reflect the dearest elements of community, love and acceptance. They make all the difference in the world. #MakeRoomForJoy

If you are interested in learning more from Brené Brown, check out her new podcast at https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic