2020 Resolutions: Lemon trees, the present moment, and change

By all accounts, the world kept turning for one more year.

The dark clouds at dawn grow slowly illuminated as the secondhand tick along our analog clock. The cars race down the road, the noise of their engines cut through by the sound of water as they pass through puddles on our soggy corner.

The world outside seems bleaker than it did a year ago.

In the slow movement and growth of my third trimester, I oscillate between reading the news daily, commenting in abundance on social media, and realizing how happier I am when I withdraw from both.

We send money and pray for victims of natural disasters, but our efficacy in the world of Washington, Ukraine, Hong Kong, Nigeria, seems small. What can I do as those around me continue to receive dismal diagnoses? Is any change possible as I observe the tents moving from place to place across the bigger cities that surround us?

My generation was raised to believe we could be anything, do anything, we could change the world.

In the dawn of new millennia, John Paul II preached from Denver, Paris, and Rome telling the youth of the world to put out into the deep and be not afraid.

Our sights turned across the world and  Mother Teresa said it starts at home, in our own living room, and to change the world drop by drop.

The goals still matter. Have in mind a vision of what you would like to achieve. Consider the short-term goals necessary to get there.

Allow these plans to hover over the thing that matters most now: the present moment.

Adjusting to, accepting, embracing and utilizing the present moment in its unpredictability, chaos and otherness take primacy over the other things. It is in the present moment that what we can do to make a change takes effect.

Virtue is the habit of practicing the good, the things that makes more human, less-animal like. It is the moment I choose not to snap at those around me when my work is interrupted.

The moments add up

but like the tasks of gardening, it takes a long time before we can see the fruit. Little shoots sprout up, but it is the photograph after multiple springs that show us how things have changed with all this practice.

At home, we hold a winter and spring recital. The children showcase their accomplishments for the year to the delight of family and friends.

In my heart, I consider what reflection to make this New Year.

Should I bother setting a resolution when the only thing I know for sure is that things will change? When so much uncertainly lies around the corner, the best resolution may be the smallest one. We shall plant a fruit tree, one that was gifted to me and grows surprisingly well in its little pot. We will transplant it to the garden bed outside my window. Perhaps in its next bloom, we will smell the delicate, sweet scent of lemon blossoms wafting through the window. Maybe we will add two more that could use a dose more TLC than they receive in their present location.

For my children, I resolve to seek more slow moments, moments of being, moments of conversation. Those conversations are rarely spontaneous. I must be engaged and willing to ask a question and listen for the answer.

My youngest reached our greatest goal and hope for the year, one we especially had no control over. All of 2019 passed without hospital admission. We once thought things would never change. Yet they do. They always change.

The sun is up but we cannot see it through these rainy days of winter.

It lingers there, quietly illuminating the world around us, faithful enough for those who choose to remember, offering from time to time a rainbow. The rainy season is a great time to pull weeds from the garden, my mother taught me. And when the days look bleak, we can still sew seeds of hope and change in the world around us bit by bit, moment by moment.

Photo of light coming thrugh clouds by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Don’t Add to Your List, Highlight It

We waited in line at a special holiday sale, the line longer than usual, the packages larger than usual, and a cheerful, seasoned employee called out “remember this is the joyful time of year!”

I wonder where the slow time has gone. Advent is meant to be a time of quiet, a time of reflection, but with activities galore, I find myself stretched too thin, lacking the “rest time” I used to require of my children in which I rejuvenated a bit myself, like putting a fresh flower in a fridge on a hot day.

When we add our goals, be it for a New Year’s Resolution, a moment of holiday reflection, a religious conviction, do we ever fail simply because we were adding one more thing?

How can I remember to implement this new task when I keep double-booking myself?

Then comes the guilt of failing at goals, “I should have done this…” “Why can’t I just…?”

We look at the long-term goal. Be a great mom! Make employee of the year! Add three clients! Buy a new house! Actually, take a vacation in which you don’t have to pack all your food with you!

Determine when we want to achieve it.

Break it down into small goals.

Set deadlines for the small goals.

Feel overwhelmed and scrap the whole thing…or…forget about it as soon as the conversation ended because your mind is at max capacity.

So much for SMART goals. This is the other side. The side that says, if I am not personally passionate about it enough to neglect everything else and move to high heaven to make it possible, it will not happen. This is the side I relish as I listen to The Lazy Genius podcast. This the side that says a quesadilla, cutie, and a carrot make a balanced meal.

Last Sunday, the lector read, “as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God and, as you are conducting yourselves you, do so even more.”

We generally know our values, we generally know the type of people we want to be. Yet, it is so much easier to think if I just have X in place (a gym membership) then I would be Y (regularly exercising and live forever). I could volunteer more in order to be the giving person I should.

It is a little more obvious when we think, if I only had another room, I could make our space work. It is a safer way to think than the more-finger-pointed approach, you have everything you already need to make life work. You have it in you.

Mother Teresa said, “if you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”

Another Theresa, French and from the turn of the century wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”

Not only do you have what it takes within you, you have the opportunities around you.

I can get off the couch or chair, away from the computer and do the task myself instead of bribing my 8-year-old. I can hold my tongue when it is feeling sharp. I could give my child a kiss or affectionate arm squeeze instead of just walking past. I could greet my husband when he comes home instead of just looking at him like the children have microwaved my brain. I can help my grandmother decorate for Christmas.

The list can go on.

During this season, those who enjoy it experience these bits of joy, nostalgia, so-called “holiday cheer” and it makes them smile more, think of others, volunteer. The little tangibles (Christmas lights, Christmas cookies, the color red) help remind us of what matters to us by sparking joy.

I am advocating for a few more tangibles in life to do that throughout the year. Whatever you are doing, see how you can do it just a little more, with a little more heart, a little more love. The opportunities are there. I think this might be the non-denominational blueprint of keeping the Christmas spirit all year long.

When I dared to hope…

 

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.

 

A year ago, I dared to hope.

I wrote in early January, “The thing I dare to hope for is to publish a book, or at least accepted by a publisher, not just any book but the book I have been living through and working on through our “hard year.” I share it now because I am daring to hope, and when I dare to hope with witnesses, it gives me strength.”

One year later, I find myself with a signed contract, in hand, for a devotional to support women who have received a prenatal diagnosis.

 

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We could chalk it up to a dream made real, a wish granted, but even when it is something you have dreamed about since you were a child, I think we shortchange the process by simplifying it so.

Let us see how this measures up with the advice I gave in the past to make your goals SMART.

Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific: book proposal accepted. I wrote, “not just any book.” I prematurely limited my options. If I were rigid here, the year would end in disappointment. That would be a mistake. Listening to other authors, many will say, you need to write the first book, the one that gets rejected, in order to write the book to be published.

Measurable: one book, that was all I asked. I did not say “write more” or “write a good book” or “talk to a publisher.” It was the acceptance.

Relevant: The goal should be part of the big picture plan, not a distraction. Interestingly enough, had I embarked on this journey in the fall, it would have seemed a distraction from the business at hand, raising and homeschooling four littles. In the spring, it was “income contribution” and quite relevant. Circumstances change. Even now, I sometimes ask, is this a distraction? Yet the joy I have in the task tells me it is not only a matter of craft but self-care. Some self-care requires sacrifices in other departments and support from those who inhabit our daily spaces.

Time-bound: set for the year. Since the acceptance was outside my control, I did not plan on berating myself it did not happen. What happens if you do not meet your goals because of outside circumstances?

Like the relevancy question, our goals must be flexible and ready to adapt.

Make long-term goals attainable by turning them into a series of short-term goals.

Ask an author, “how did you get a book published?” She answers, “well, my former classmate introduced me to her editor and bam!”

So simple? That sort of talk makes a goal seem unattainable for the 12-year-old who dreams the same dream the writer dreamt decades ago.

Set the goal.

Start the education. Our culture has tended towards limited the idea of education to the classroom, formalized program, and certificate of completion. With the internet, library system, and Link+, there are few limits to what we can get out hands on for education. Writers associations, Tuesday Teachings, Facebook groups, and books, stacks of books on writing, publishing, and good habits, plus studying one admired author in-depth.

Do the craft. Don’t practice, just do. Do it seriously. Do it professionally. For the writer, it means leave the journal prompts behind. I completed the memoir by rapid, obsessive work. This turned out to be an unforeseen necessity as our schedules filled up in the fall.

Leave the romance behind. The honeymoon period ends. It gets hard. You have to decide if the craft is worth slogging through. Every good piece of writing has hours of editing following after it, loving it to death. If you can stand the thing you wrote after all the editing, it is worth the pursuit of publishing.

That is it for me. For you, will you dare to dream, to hope, and then do? I hope you will. I hope you will take a moment to entertain the dream from when you were a kid, a teenager, an aspiring college student, and go for it, in the way that works for you, for your life, right now.