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Archive for stories

sketch journal 062717 . Strength of the Ox

It’s a strange day in the Pond when I’m writing about oxen. I’ll start with that. I feel cluttered this week – distracted by so many thoughts, and juggling a growing list of projects and things I want to do with the kids. So, I guess oxen seem to fit right in. When I find myself surrounded by some combination of cluttered activities, cluttered goals, or cluttered thinking, this proverb often floats to the surface. Just a couple of lines from a rich book that stuck some time ago during a meditation. It’s a gentle reminder that brings much needed clarity…

For me, that growing sense of being overtaken by a cluttered spirit starts with the physical environment. I look around and find various buildings sets and racing tracks scattered around the living room. Cups in the sink. Blankets and shoes tossed aside on the floor. The remnant of one of Baby Girl’s craft projects on the table where an Independence Day centerpiece should be. Magazines and books piled up on my desk waiting to inspire me. Cards and prints that need packaging in the studio. Surfaces and spaces. All filled with things out of place. Or things reminding me of something that needs to be done.

Then, it moves to logistics – the thousand responsibilities to juggle in just keeping up. Waiting for Roto-rooter. Waiting for the cable guys. Shuffling to accommodate their maintenance. Juggling meetings. Getting meals together. New client projects. Each sweet little spirit wanting some attention and affirmation – one wanting help with hot glue, one with a tummy ache, one eager to start a new video project. When I look around, I see clothes and toys and mail that need weeding. Not to mention flower beds. Sally needs to go to the vet. My project schedule and supply closet need organizing. We should pull something out of our summer jar today. Someone wants to go swimming. And I might cry because the summer days are halfway gone, now.

And, then the clutter settles into heart matters. It’s a jumble of questions. What are the most important things? Am I spending time on them? How DO I want to spend my days? How am I doing? How are WE doing? A jumble of concerns and hopes and needs. Channeling this heart, who has a perpetual stream of big ideas and a hankering to accomplish them all. Comforting and giving confidence to this heart, who seems to struggle with a nagging fear that won’t let go. Nurturing and capturing the imagination of this heart, who won’t stop growing up, though he’d really like to. How do I manage all the decisions and expectations? How do I filter the influences on them, while preserving the precious spirits inside? How do I juggle the pull between home keeping and growing freelance projects? How do I prioritize my own list of creative pursuits? How do I NOT miss out on this time? Question after question, fueled by a clutter of thoughts and feelings and responsibilities.

That’s when an unlikely proverb about oxen rises to the surface. A gentle reminder of one truth… Life is messy. It just is. All the jobs and responsibilities, the space we create, the things we own, the precious people we love and the dreams we want to chase. They’re messy. The only way to avoid the mess is to avoid the life.

“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean.” Clean, pristine, free of debris and out-of-place fragments. A clean and uncluttered, empty place.

“Much increase comes from the strength of the ox.” It’s a shift in perspective. If the price of clean and neat constraint is emptiness, I don’t want it. I want full! That increase. That fullness. It can’t be achieved when tidiness is the ultimate benchmark. It can’t be experienced when everyone and everything stays in its place. Those narrow constraints of perfection and precision. To embrace the fullness is to embrace the messiness. The clutter. The complicated. The unclear and unkept.

Yes, I can insist on keeping all things tidy. I can reject the unexpected hope or worry or idea or plan in favor of some pristine routine and schedule and kitchen table. I can suck all the life out of our experiences and our time together, our hearts, our home, in service to neat plans, neat feelings and neat rooms. Or I can revel in the ripe energy of the life happening all around me. The friction of each little creative heart and creative pursuit rubbing against each other.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I value an ordered space. I need it. I thrive when I can prioritize what I see all around me with what is beautiful and full of memory and inspiration. So, I’m a big proponent of bringing the spaces we inhabit – where we nurture our family and hearts – to a comfortable place of order. But, I’m learning to balance that order with the freedom to breathe and do and enjoy without holding so tightly to where things ought to be. I hope I’m learning to extend that freedom to my children.

Those things out of place. They’re evidences of activities and games and projects experienced together. They’re the trappings of feeling like you’re at home, where anything goes and speaks and feels. Those logistics. They’re really the easy things. The things with clear expectations. The to-dos that make our home go and my business go. The products of having the freedom to clutch and shift when it’s needed. And, all those heart questions. The cacophony of my own wandering thoughts. They’re what come out when I take the time to stop and look and listen to the other souls around me. They’re the realization that knowing the question is often so much more powerful than knowing the answer.

So, I’m sitting in my studio, typing away on the computer. The Magic School Bus is playing on my tiny television, and Mrs. Frizzle is on her latest field trip. All three children are piled in the room, and I’m struggling to concentrate. Baby Girl has her beanbag heaped in the bay window with pillows and popcorn. Elisha and Travis are sharing the couch with more pillows, kool-aid, and episode commentary. Each one content and insistent that I be involved in the conversation. The work I planned to do isn’t getting done as quickly. But, the work of drawing near. Drawing together. Sharing time and space and the beauty of a messy manger. In this moment, that work seems right on track.

letters to my daughter . 060817 Time

Today’s lettering practice is brought to you by two exciting pieces of information…

One, it’s summer. I know that’s old news, but THIS is the week I’m trying to help us settle into some kind of flexible routine with getting client work finished, moving forward with Pond project ideas, achieving a measure of the “lazy, hazy” summer element, AND taking advantage of the blessing of all my kids at home with me for this season. We’ve spent the last two weeks in celebration mode that school is out and spending down time at the farm, and now, we’re home where at least a little bit of routine and intention are needed to keep the balls rolling. This is the second year we’ve chosen not to participate in any kind of summer care-giver program for the kids, and the first year I decided not to fill their time up with various camps. I’ve been feeling through the last semester that they (and I as the mommy/schedule maker/logistics coordinator) needed a break from so  much scheduled and structured activities. I wanted us all to have free time – a concept that seems to be so undervalued in these days of rushing toward achievement after achievement.

So, the big question abounding is time! How do I manage it and capitalize on it all at the same time? Along with feeling like it’s ok to waste it every now and then? I’m still working through those decisions and balancing how and when I focus on work. And when I choose to set it aside. These days are precious. There are only a few years, really, when the concept of “summer vacation” is even possible for all of us in the same way, at the same time, in the same place. And, although I don’t like to think about it, there may be few years when all three of my little ones actually WANT to hang out with Mommy. So, today, I want to be able to say “Yes, I have time.” Even if I feel like I don’t. Even if it means I’m on Illustrator at the crack of dawn or rolling out block printing inks at midnight. When they have time. While we all have this rare and blessed time. I want to say “yes.”

The second bit of excitement sponsoring today’s practice is more of a programming note… my nifty Benks flexible arm iPhone holder arrived this week, and after a squeal of delight, I decided to try it out for overhead videos this morning! I have a small tripod that I sometimes use, but I was looking for something that could get more of a straight-on shot. It clips right onto the desk or table, and you can swivel or position the arm to capture your workspace. I’m still experimenting with making sure the shot is stabilized because I wiggle so much when I’m painting and my work table is showing its age. But, I love how it works, and I see tons of possibilities for this little tool. There it is in my set-up from this morning — cutting open the Amazon box to painting on camera in about 15 minutes (including time for choosing morning tunes!).

 

letters to my children . 050117

To my babies. To all our babies…

Today is hard. It may even be very hard. So hard you are tired of it. Very tired. You may be hurt. Or confused. Or afraid. You may not think there’s an end to what you face. But, there will be. You may not think you can make it. But, you can. You CAN. You may not believe you are strong enough. But, you are. You may not believe you’re worth it. But, you are.  You may not think there’s a shred of hope. But, there is. There IS. Today, you may not believe there’s a way through this struggle in front of you. But we can find one. Together. You may not feel brave. But, a day will come when you are. Another day will come. Give that day a chance. Just a small chance. Today is hard. Very hard. So hard you give up on it. Just, please. Please. Don’t give up on tomorrow.

reading log . Inspired by MLK

One of my goals for 2017 is to read at least 25 books. The goal fits into my thinking on three areas of growth I want for myself this year. I’ll share more on that later in the week, but in short, I see this goal of concentrated, intentional reading as a way to expand my thinking and creativity.

I tend to be a binge topic reader. So, while I often have what I deem a “doesn’t require much thought” book in the mix as a way to relax, I also usually have one or two more “serious” reads that fit into whatever binge topic of the moment. For the last two years, it’s been politics and political history — mainly covering a curiosity about the last fifty years. Given the craziness of the current political climate and the uncertainty of the presidency beginning later this week, some of those reads have left a knot in the pit of my stomach. So much about the last few years has seemed a discouraging redux of unrest and social stretching. This year, I wanted to take some of that immersion in history, and tweak it to stretch my own understanding of justice — and injustice. To open my eyes to more marginalized hearts.

So, for the next books on my night stand, I’ve turned to some of the lions in the fight for social justice… a list to prime the pump of my own willingness to speak out, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this day we celebrate his legacy. 

Strength to Love
by Martin Luther King Jr.

Published in 1963, this collection of sermon notes, bible studies, and convictions about faith and justice served to not only codify the ideals of a movement, but to inspire a new generation of nonviolent activism. Oddly, I’d never heard of it until we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago. The book was in Dr. King’s briefcase in the Lorraine Motel where he was shot in 1968. In her forward to the book, Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, wrote: “If there is one book Martin Luther King Jr. has written that people consistently tell me has changed their lives, it is Strength to Love.” She described it as the best explanation of “his belief in a divine, loving presence that binds all life.” 

Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation
by Clarence B. Jones and Stuart Connelly

Clarence Jones was a speech writer and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., and his book offers an account of the weeks leading up to the March on Washington and how the “I Have a Dream” speech came to be. I heard about this book during the coverage of the 6oth anniversary of the March a few years ago, in an interview with Mr. Jones. As a “storyteller” often tasked with framing client messages, I am excited to read this account of how that role is applied to social justice.

March Trilogy
by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

I’ve been holding off on reading this trilogy until the final book came out in 2016. The graphic novels tell the personal story of Congressman Lewis, and his iconic involvement in the civil rights movement. Book One offers an account of his growing up years, his meeting of Dr. King, and the beginnings of the Nashville lunch counter sit-in campaign. Book Two covers efforts during the bus boycott, Congressman Lewis’ rise as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, his speech at the March on Washington and the Birmingham church bombing. Book Three, which won a 2016 National Book Award, continues the story including accounts of Freedom Summer, the fight against voter suppression and the march to Selma. The format of the books was inspired by the 1958 comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. We have much to learn from this American hero who is still standing for freedom today. I’ve promised to pass these on to my son when I finish reading them.

Love is Love
Comic Anthology

Love is Love is an anthology of graphic impressions contributed by numerous writers and artists as a response to the Orlando Pulse shooting. The book, organized by Marc Andreyko, benefits the survivors of that terror attack, and shares many of the fears and reactions from the tragic event. Because I have dear friends in the LGBT community, I choose to look carefully at this uncomfortable and raw reaction to unspeakable violence.

So, my journey of seeing inspired by MLK begins. I hope to read with an open mind and an open heart. I hope to share some of my reactions as I make sense of them. And I’m excited to see how these new perspectives will color my own work and voice.

letters to my daughter . 110816

It’s not a perfect democracy. Not a perfect process. And they’re never perfect candidates. But this right — this privilege — is one of the reasons this whole experiment got started… “in order to form a more perfect union.” So, even when our citizenship stretched us. Even when it requires us to step outside what’s easy. Even when it requires us to make a hard choice, we VOTE. We speak our voice freely at the ballot box. Because many in our world don’t have that privilege. And many died to make sure we do.

letters to my daughter . 091916

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This is one of those hard weeks for me. It marks four years since my husband, Mike, died. I keep looking for the time when these types of anniversaries don’t require me to retreat or take time off or climb out of that deep reservoir of grief and memories I seem to slip into. Each year is a little different, and I think a little easier. This one is easier than last year, and I’m trusting next year will be easier still.

My little ones were so young when he died. I sometimes wonder exactly what they remember. Baby Girl was only four at the time. This year, she’s lived as long without her father as she lived with him. It will take longer for the boys to reach that milestone, but they’ll get there. When those memories they do have rise to the surface, I find myself trying to shore them up. They look to me for confirmation that they really do remember what they think they remember. That their dad really was like what they think they remember. That he really did the things they think they remember.

It breaks my heart. In the way the detailed level of my own memories sometimes does. But, I’ve realized that one of my greatest services to them as this loss — this absence — meets each new stage of their upbringing is to help them remember. When they can’t remember, I’ll help them to be as sure of their dad as they can be.

letters to my daughter . 091216

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It started out as a threat. I’m not ashamed to admit it. School mornings are tough at our house. School Monday mornings are tougher. Nobody wants to get up, including the Mommy in the room. I try my best to keep it positive, but sometimes that first hour of the day tries to do us in with cajoling, begging, groaning, and more often than not, a little raising of the voices as I try to pry my children from their beds to get started with the day.

Sometimes I resort to threats. The first (and least invasive, in my singular opinion) is this: “Do I need to start singing?” Yep. I threaten to sing if I don’t get a response to the admonitions to wake up and sit up. Now, I like to sing. And, my children are used to me adding my own brand of wackiness to situations by breaking out in show tunes, or 80’s tunes, or jazz tunes, or the occasional beat box. There was a period when they were younger (and the words were simpler) when I sang a song for every spelling word on their lists as we practiced for tests. But, that’s another story.

So, singing is not really all that unusual or earth-shattering around our house. In the mornings, however, it’s gotten pretty rare because of the groaning responses emanating from their beds. Enter the threat. Usually the morning singing threat is met with a chorus of “NO!”, followed by begrudging movement under the covers as they attempt to open their eyes to the light. This morning, however, something astonishing happened. When I asked the infamous question, “Do I need to start singing?”, Elisha Bug gave a small, half-sleepy grin and responded, “Maybe.”

Holy wow. Maybe. For a Monday morning, that’s pretty amazing. So, I brought out my usual morning song — the old Lake Forest Ranch camp favorite we sung at morning council to “wake up” the echo living on the other side of the lake.

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!
Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!
Rise! And shine! And give God! The glory, glory!
Children of the Lord!

I sang it. I got some giggles — so as to indicate an actual awakening of the 4th grader. And then, this from Bug: “We might need the kick.” (More giggles.)

Now, Bug was clearly toying with me. Another good sign that we were actually waking up. “The kick” refers to my history of inserting a cheerleader kick/clap under the leg after the third “Rise! And shine!”

I was all in now. So, round two of Rise and Shine came, including the requested kick, more giggles, and the morning routine begun.

Just a morning. Just a Monday. Just an ordinary moment. That I hope we’ll never forget.

letters to my daughter . 090916
Maggie and the Moon

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I’ve had this Jazz standard on my mind today, poking up into that playlist in my brain in between all the residue from a very busy two weeks of client design work. It’s on my mind because of a little activity Baby Girl planned for us last night. Her third grade class is doing a unit on space, and they’re learning about constellations and the phases of the moon. They’ve been documenting the look of the moon so they can understand how the phases work. Each group has certain nights to look at the moon, draw how it looks and write down any other observations. Maggie had already recorded the findings on her night, but decided before school yesterday that it would be fun to do it again that night — along with the whole family.

Now, Maggie has great ideas. She has lots of ideas. And, I’ll admit that sometimes my response to her ideas is to try to simplify, to put her off, to cajole her with practicality. How did I get to be that person? I’m given to getting lost in my own imagination. I’m not usually practical minded. Except when I’m at the end of a long and busy day, coming at the end of a long and busy week, when I tend to want as little fuss as possible.

Last night, I tried to talk Baby Girl out of fuss. It’s true; I tried to encourage her to alter her plans in favor of just walking out and looking up at the moon. But, I could see the disappointment in her eyes. So, I rounded up the boys, and we decided to go for it.

It’s an interesting thing when you take a small thing and make a real “thing” out of it. When you take a have-to and make a celebration out of it. Those transformations are part of what I want to be “normal” in our home. We put a lot of time (and decorations) into celebrating things — even little things. Maggie has learned well. How easy it is to let the little opportunities for celebration get crowded out by busy-ness.

So, at 8:00 last night, the Montgomerys spread a quilt on the front yard, spread out the lanterns Baby Girl brought,  and stretched out on pillows looking up. At first it was a have-to — one of those things big brothers have to do to please their little sisters. One of those things Mommies have to do to keep from disappointing daughters. But, before I knew it I was breathing deeply — the first time all day, I think. I stretched out my arms. Bug snuggled close to me on the pillow. Maggie showed everyone her moon journal. Travis discovered an airplane. Then another. Bug got his glasses to see the stars better. We turned off the lanterns. We counted stars as our eyes slowly adjusted. We watched the clouds move across the half moon.

Time that moments before had been spent with each person gazing into a screen of some kind turned into time spent talking to each other, noticing the world around us, and celebrating the night together. And yes, everyone was ready to go back in and enjoy their own things after a little while. But, for those short moments, we were amazed by the sky and the night. And, everyone decided we should lay out our quilt another night to look at the stars.

For me, it was a treasured moment. A moment when I realized, I’d never see the moon the same way again. Because when I look up tonight or the next, I’ll think about Maggie and her ideas. I’ll think about Elisha scooting closer to me on the pillow and counting stars. I’ll think about Travis wondering out loud if we were seeing light from 500 years ago. I’ll remember that we looked at that same moon together. On this one night. And it was a “thing.” A beautiful thing.

Years ago, when I started my first blog, I wrote a column called “Gift Tags…”

“the tiny messages God continues to include with our gifts — 2 little joys of boys and 1 little jewel of a girl, each with open eyes, open ears, open hearts, and much to teach. “Behold children are a gift of the Lord…” (psalm 127:1)”

The series was an exercise in paying attention to those little miraculous things I learn from my children. It was before I had this business. Before Mike died. Before I was tasked with being the sole provider for my family. Before these last few weeks and this season, when I feel like I’ve been so stretched emotionally and creatively to meet the challenges of work and art and parenting. But, the messages are just as poignant. Just as essential. Just as much balm to my soul.

I realized that again in a new way last night. I reminded myself what a treasure they each are. What a treasure time is. And how important it is to take advantage of every moment. Maggie is our living laboratory assignment for the pursuit of beautifully embraced moments. I’m so thankful that she stretches us toward experiencing them.

“I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing you.”

Programming note: Today is Number 55 in the Letters series, and I’m on a mission to get to 100 this fall. Stay with me!

letters to my children . 081116

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The funny thing about growing is that it’s really hard to see from the inside out. I guess we’re so used to our own skin and the sound of our own thoughts that sometimes we don’t notice when they shift a little.

This morning, my oldest and I were talking on the way to school about the schedules for the next few days, and I was trying to encourage him not to feel too stretched with some weekend activities coming up. His young heart puts on a brave face most of the time, but sometimes I see glimpses of the uncertainty coming out. “Mommy, every day I already feel stretched.” It was a small admission of his feelings about how he’s handling a new school year at a new school, being a 6th grader with seven classes instead of four, and several new weekly activities. There’s a lot of new there, and we all have uncertain feelings about change. The thing is, not three minutes before his comments, I was thinking how proud I was of how he was handling the newness and how well I thought he was doing with these changes. He just couldn’t see it for all the fear and concern in his own heart. I was able to remind him of what I see… that he’s growing. That he’s changing. That last year this time and for several more weeks, his struggles were showing a lot more. They were taking over. But this year, he’s learned to press forward and to take little steps to tackle the change. This year, I see more of his strength shining through. I see him growing.

Stronger, braver, taller, funnier, brighter, more curious and compassionate and confident, joyful, creative, and faithful. I see it so clearly every day. Every day I see him growing — and the other two as well. Sometimes we need that reminder of the growth that’s showing through on the outside.

It’s the same for me. It’s been almost four years since Mike died, and life has been moving. Sometimes I see myself as that same scared, newly single mom, overwhelmed by the responsibility and the emotion of all that’s happened. Sometimes I still am that woman. But, if I look carefully and I step outside my own head, sometimes I can also see glimpses of the woman who’s grown stronger and braver, more curious and compassionate. Joyful. I hope these three souls in my care can see me growing too.

letters to my daughter . 081016

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Yeah, carpool. It’s often unpredictable, especially at the beginning of the school year. Plus, it seems to bring out all kinds of stress, frustration and even unkindness in even the most mild-mannered of parents! Our first day of school last week had the typical carpool chaos at Baby Girl’s new school, and even though you know it’s going to be crazy, as a parent, I seem to always underestimate the time needed for those first few days. So, we were late. On the first day. And, Baby Girl got out of the car in tears, which made for a rough first day of school for me as well. Since that day, we’ve been leaving earlier and I’ve been trying my best to keep my attitude light as we navigate the crazy school traffic.

This morning, I couldn’t help but smile as we turned onto School Street for the last crucial lap of Wednesday morning carpool. Baby Girl was practically bouncing, and said, “I wish I was in there right now! I can’t wait to get in there and get started!” School, she meant! [Bravo, Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary staff!] I assured her that we were in “the loop” now and she would be inside in no time. Her response… “It’s really a Rainbow Loop!”

She proceeded to discuss the idiosyncrasies of various circular shapes that resembled the traffic flow on the HWS campus until we made it to her jumping out stop, and determined that “rainbow” was, indeed, the best description of the carpool line.

I love a girl who can see a rainbow in even the most harried of situations. It made me think that maybe seeing rainbows has less to do with light and water, and more to do with joyful hearts and happy attitudes. Thanks for the reminder, Baby Girl. I hope you always see rainbows!

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