me speaking at The Orchard last weekend– an opportunity I never would have had if I hadn’t started writing regularly

It seems like I’ve been talking to a lot of people who feel down lately.  Some of the down feelings are

circumstantial, but for most of the people, it’s more of a disillusionment with the way their everyday lives are going.

And because I’ve definitely been there, it is causing me to analyze some of my “joy” data– and I’m not talking about my name here….. what brings joy into my life on an everyday basis?  (and this is beyond all those easy answers like God and children….)

For me, it’s words.  I remember loving the feeling of stringing them together as a kid…. that pure delight even in kindergarten when I wrote, “The Rose Girl” and had some vague sense that I had created something.

And maybe my first love of words had something to do with the fact that pictures were sometimes hard to see, and how the words describing them made them visible to me.  My toddler has a lot of first words books where I point to the  picture and she tells me what it is, and honestly thank goodness for the large, bolded words below each picture because I have trouble deciphering what most of them are even though she recognizes most of them right away.

I think it’s human tendency to withdraw from some of the things we really enjoy doing in life when we’re down.  I know I withdraw from writing when I’m feeling depressed (hence the lack of entries over the winter!)

Yet as I write daily– whether I intend to ever share it with anyone or not– it makes me wish that I had forced myself to do it over the winter because I feel like the days build on each other and increases my daily joy exponentially.

it sometimes takes effort, contemplation and soul-searching to sit down and do the thing that feeds us– or even figure out what it is.  But when it is found– whether it be yoga, art, long walks– whatever– give it a prominent place in your life.  Challenge yourself in whatever it is, and ignore messages clouding your brain that tell you it’s a waste of time.

For years I didn’t really write much because I didn’t think it would ever lead to a “career” or financial gain.  And honestly it may never end up putting a dime in my pocket, but I’d pay a whole lot of money to feel as alive as I do when I create with words.  I am so grateful for my amazing twin sister who had the idea to start this blog.  It has been my free therapy, my place to be honest, my place to grow and the place where my soul figures out it is satisfied.

I know I’m hovering on the cheesy side again, but I’m writing this for the people in my life who are down right now.  Because they have soul food in their lives that they aren’t eating.

Usually these soul food type of activities don’t come skipping along at just the most opportune times.  They usually arrive in the middle of the inconvenient times.  Like right now when I’m supposed to be scoring essays, for example.  I score state tests for Pearson from home to help pay bills (and with how slow I am at scoring, I barely make minimum wage, but my philosophy is that something is better than nothing!)

Many of my writing ideas enter my mind while I am scoring exams, which is completely frustrating because I have a quota to meet, and when I stop to write, I really lose time and money.  But when I don’t grab those moments of inspiration, they tend to disappear.  So lately, when I feel the inspiration to write, I stop whatever I am doing and just roll with it because I know it’s something that will keep building….. the more I am in the habit of dropping everything to do it, the easier it will be and the more joy I’ll get out of it, and the fuller my soul will feel.

And anyone I know who actually continuously practices the things that feed their soul end up heading in a life direction that they feel alive in.

My husband, for example, is a singer/songwriter, and for years he struggled to find his “niche” of listeners.  I worked as his booking agent, we hired a publicist and were determined for him to someday make a living as a full-time singer/songwriter.  After several years of late-night shows that didn’t really pay, I got really frustrated.  Why wasn’t this career happening?  But my husband kept plugging away writing and  performing, and at times I couldn’t understand why.

Then in 2010 he was asked to do a Christmas show in Aurora, and we argued about whether he should do it because we would be sacrificing a lot of fun plans and even a weekend trip with family, for him to do this show that involved late-night rehearsals, performances spanning over two weekends and little pay.

At some point I remember my husband making the point that ended the argument: “Joy, with my busy job and our family commitments, this is my one opportunity each year to connect with other local musicians and to put music first”

And it was at that performance that he met his current boss, who hired him one month later to do his dream job.  He now writes and plays music full time, like we had always hoped he would be able to do, and simply from continuing to do the thing that makes him feel alive even when it wasn’t convenient and didn’t pay.

I’m not suggesting that we will all end up with careers doing these soul food activities, but if we open up spaces in our days to do them and place them above all those nagging things like money and organizing the closets, we just might start to breathe easy again.

For as lovely as words can look on a screen, life can really blur them all together when you’re trying to live them out.

I hosted a Mother’s Day brunch at my house today for some of my extended family, which was filled with sunshine, great food and beautiful people.  It was also filled with crap.  Literally.

I won’t get graphic or anything, but I do want to share a little piece of this scenario to give you an idea of how very challenging it can be to place relationships and people first.  I have a family member who is developmentally disabled and sometimes has bathroom issues.  Well, let’s just say that today he had major bathroom issues.  In both our bathrooms.  And on the new bathroom rug.  And even on the freshly-painted walls, discovered by my poor husband hours later.

When I first walked from the outside fresh air into our house and caught a whiff of this accident, my gag reflex went off, and I stepped right back out.  Another family member graciously helped him clean everything up, though further setbacks and clean-ups seemed to continue for quite awhile.  I found myself feeling disgusted and frustrated that this was all happening on Mother’s Day.  And I found that I acted less than gracious and spoke in irritated tones.

As my family members were leaving, I told a couple of them about my blogpost on placing people first and how I couldn’t even post it because I felt like such a hypocrite acting like I care way more about people than my house but then feeling like I wanted everyone to just go away when it got messy.  They smiled with understanding and joked that they wouldn’t tell anyone.  I thanked my helpful uncle for all his clean-up work dealing with the other family member’s mess, to which he replied, “all small stuff”.  And really, in the grand scheme of things, it is, and I know that as a whole.

And I tried to remind myself of that as my husband and I continued to do some aftermath clean-up later.

But the house still smelled like you-know-what, and I just wanted the nice scent of my Mother’s Day bouquet to fill the house as it had before the brunch.

Since we had to be at another gathering, we decided to just open up all the windows, and even left our front doors leading to the screened-in porch open in hopes that it would air out while we were gone.

And it did.

When we walked through the door this evening, the faint smell of cleaning supplies drifted,but mostly just the aroma of evening spring air filled the house.  And it reminded me that sometimes all it takes is a few open windows.  And there are windows I forget to open all the time.  Not just in my house, but in my life.

I know I’m hovering on cheesy here, but it’s true.  I remember to open the windows of all my thoughts, ideals, and insights to the world as I write this blog, but sometimes I forget to open the windows of acceptance to my own family members.  Yes, I don’t have to love some of the things they do, and there are definitely boundaries I need to set with certain people who choose not to work on their issues, but there’s usually room for more kindness and acceptance even when setting boundaries.

For example, this particular family members was mentally capable of taking some medication that could have prevented these accidents today but chose not to, and he also chose to eat food that he knows upset his stomach, and because of that, he will not be asked to the next gathering at my house.  But at the same time, I didn’t even take the time to say goodbye to him today.  I could have still hugged him good-bye and shown love despite my frustration.

I think in order to place people first in our lives, we need to challenge ourselves in the ways that we think about others and act toward them, especially with the difficult people.

There are always more windows that can be opened.  And always more fresh air we can let in.

 

I want to freeze time.  To capture the light blonde and brown tendrils that fly all wispy as my daughters dance around the kitchen putting on “dinner entertainment” for daddy . He eats and laughs, more amused by these two under 4 ft. tall than he probably ever imagined he’d be.  I want to put their little sing-song voices in my leftover packing boxes with heavy packing tape so that they will never escape me.  I want these little years– the ones when they want to play all day – and beg me to stop doing laundry so they can just be with me for 5 minutes — to last.

As I was trudging up the stairs exhausted the other night, I tried to recap in my mind all the things I had accomplished during the day.  I became a little agitated because I couldn’t think of many things I had crossed off my growing to-do list.  But then I remembered the important 2 hours I’d spent crawling on colored carpet squares.

The girls and I had gone with Ben to the church where he works because I was meeting some friends there, and since we needed to wait for his meetings to end before leaving, we spent the whole day there.

We went into the K-5 room which has these fun, colorful carpet circles and began inventing all different kinds of games.  I was a chomping alligator in hot lava while they were toads hopping from circle to circle.  I was the leader of a secret “flower” club up on the little play balcony.  We were robots that could only jump to certain colored islands.

We ran and laughed and played till we were slap-happy with fatigue.  And while those 2 hours of fun were clearly not on my list of things that really needed to get done, I went to bed feeling satisfied that night.

I’ve noticed that since living in a walkable area and having the ability to run a lot more of the errands during the day, my days are sometimes packed.  I also took on a part-time job scoring essays from home this month, so the to-do lists seem to be multiplying.

I ended up needing to create a separate list of things entitled “important things”, and I try to make sure that even if some of the things on my regular to-do lists don’t get accomplished, I at least do the important things each week.

Most of the important things involve people, and one of those is my 82-year-old grandmother who lives  3 blocks away and recently was told to stop driving.  This a little more difficult for her because she doesn’t have the strength of a 33-year-old to walk all over town like I do.  So one of the new “important things” on my list each week is to take the girls to visit her– not out of obligation or anything, but because I value time with her and know it helps lighten her day at a difficult time in her life.

Sometimes this means grabbing a 45-minute window of time, leaving the kitchen a mess or a chore undone, to go spend time with her. And while I wasn’t raised to be okay leaving a mess, I think sometimes in order to put people first in our lives– not our houses or material things– it’s necessary.  Obviously, there comes a time when things really do need to get cleaned up, and I don’t want us living in a disgusting mess or anything, but loosening our reigns on how perfect the house should look at all times can open up space for our relationships to grow.

When I’m 82-years old like my grandma, I hope that my phrase of satisfaction reads something like this:  “My life is full because I put first things first in my life.  I put relationships and people in front of my stuff.” as opposed to, “Wow, I have had a perfectly clean house for the past 82 years– how full and satisfying life is.”

So this post used to end right here, and there was no “part 1” in the title.  That was a week ago when I thought that this was the easiest, simplest concept in the world…… when  sunny strolls to grandma’s house trumped dirty dishes in the sink (okay, they still totally do, only I’ve realized that sometimes extra complications arise that challenge our ideals…. and that’s why there’s a part 2, so stay tuned if you can relate!)