I could feel this coming.

As far as I know, the world is spinning at the same rate as it was only a week ago. A month ago. A year ago. But now, as of 5:42 AM on March 17, 2020, we’re living in a much different world. And it’s weird to think I could feel it coming.

For several months now there’s been an disquiet in my soul about how fast life is moving. About how much for granted we all take that fact that we’re alive and breathing in this world. It’s bubbled up here and there, encouraged me to write or think or have important conversations with people. It’s sometimes been flashing this word in my mind: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been decluttering rooms in my house but also my calendar. I’ve been saying no to things. I’ve been triaging my tasks at work to focus on the one most important task – educating and advocating for English learners and their families.

Now, being a teacher whose state of residence has shut down schools for at least two weeks, I have nothing but time to ponder these things. And in such times as these, I think it’s very important to chronicle my thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is not going away.

I will admit, upon hearing schools were closing I was a little excited. Finally, finally, we were all going to get the break we needed. The need was palpable every day at work, no matter the school. Teachers are tired. Students are tired. We’re all a little tired of each other, I think. What tasks could I accomplish during this time at home? Painting, rearranging, rehoming decluttered items, finishing a book series. Feeling a sense of karma coming back to me because after the grief of not having children, I have a quiet house for the foreseeable future.

Overall I’ve had a strange sense of calm. I’ve checked in with or family members have checked in on me as far away as Washington State, the American epicenter of this whole thing, and as close as North Carolina. I’ve been checking in on my students and making sure they know where they can get lunches this week and next. I’ve also been worrying about them – their home lives during this time. The lack of direct instruction, especially for the ones who are still in the beginning stages of learning English. I’m wondering what this will mean when we finally do come back to school, and how this will impact their lives going forward.

But yes, an overall sense of calm and okayness. I’m okay. Aaron’s okay. We’re both on the same side of the planet, in the same zip code, in the same house. We have jobs that will not lay us off. Bills are paid. I know what’s important right now and I can focus on that. I’m grateful for the time to slow down and take stock of life. It’s okay to be okay.

At some point Emily and I will start a podcast (maybe this is a great time for it?) but one of the things we were talking about a few days ago was that we feel so much more in tune with the earth and the divine and the ‘collective consciousness’ (or whatever other name there is for this) than we did years ago. I feel aware of the earth groaning and creaking and sometimes even screaming out. I feel aware and even sensitive to the vibes that people throw off when they’re tired, exhausted, running ragged, just need a break. I feel aware of my own heart expanding to take in not the feelings but the people, and especially children, who need this awareness.

As I lament to my therapist, “Being woke sucks sometimes” because you see how not woke the rest of the world can be. There’s so much more to life but busyness and the illusion of busyness. Of the self-inflicted pat on the back for a job well done. There’s more to life than getting the newest car or cutest shoes or having take-out every day for lunch.

There’s delicious homemade food, made with time that you carved out intentionally from a crazy schedule. There’s special phone conversations with loved ones that you can have because you’re not scheduled with activities from 6AM to 9PM seven days a week. There’s daily walks around the neighborhood, nodding to passersby and chatting with a neighbor. There’s early morning times of devotions or reading a much-loved book because you got a good night of sleep and could wake up early.

At times I feel my journey to a simpler and richer life echoes many people (mostly women) who have now written books about it.. and not just about simplicity in the concrete things, but some about their journey to a faith that makes sense to them. Books like Present Over Perfect, Out of Sorts, Faith Unraveled, Eat Pray Love, Wild, Searching for Sunday, The Year of No Nonsense, The Untethered Soul, The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen, Slow Church, Leaving Church, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. Some would say these books are a dime a dozen now, but I think it speaks to a societal shift that could be happening… where we again value presence with nature and people and not dependence on things or titles.

Writers and artists have often been the prophetic ones, sometimes the canaries in the coal mine. They have not only admonished us but given us a way out and action steps to take, and this momentous and pivotal time is no exception. I will leave you with this song.

When ‘no’ means ‘yes’

Busyness is a form of people pleasing, and people pleasing is a coping strategy. If I can’t feel good about myself from the inside, then I make sure to get as much external validation as possible. The more I say yes, the harder I work, the more validation I receive which, because of how I grew up and interacted with the world as a child/teenager, makes me feel good.

But at the end of the day, crawling into bed, it just makes me tired.

Not only does being busy for me mean the relentless act of people pleasing, but it also means I get to escape from my reality. I don’t know much about the history of why humans are the way we are, but I get the idea that humans have needed some form of escapism as a means of survival.

Sometimes escapism is just me daydreaming about the clock saying it’s time to go home, and at other times, I’m so not at home in my own skin that I absolutely need a promise of something otherworldly to allow me to relax, even for a second.

Our forms of escapism are wide and varied. Mostly, I think about vacation and not having my cell phone (like, forever banishing it to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay), and walking the gangway onto a cruise ship bound for warmer waters. I think about early retirement or tending a large garden outside our homestead in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (we do not in fact own a homestead in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains). I think about camping among the huge evergreens of the Pacific Northwest, of the breeze on my face as I ride the ferry out to the San Juan Islands. I think about the freedom of a day with no worries, cares, checking the bank account, making grocery lists, doing laundry.

My preferred form of escapism is busyness. Always floating and moving from commitment to commitment, filling up my calendar to the brim and always being on the move. If I’m always moving, I never have to actually sit and be faced with the fact that I’m not in fact on vacation right now or sailing away from Baltimore or taking a hike up to a waterfall. I can just move from event to event, place to place, and maybe stop for a second to fill up the gas tank but just keep ignoring the fact that the car needs maintenance, that it’ll be just fine for a few more miles.

But at some point, the car will break down. I will have to take an entire Saturday to either sit at the repair shop waiting for it, or work out a way to get a ride to and from and anticipate that fated call that tells me I’m going to take a chunk of savings to fix the damn car (and a part of that savings was probably for real vacation). And the Saturday I was planning on using to relax and do some “self-care” will be shot.

For some reason, cultivating a life that’s a mix of work + play, consistently, seems not only outlandish but also irresponsible. To open my calendar during a regular workweek and not see anything scheduled outside of my working hours just seems unnatural.

It seems unnatural because it is. But my body and soul and spirit are reeling, they’re telling me,

Elizabeth. It’s been 30 years of this busyness & people-pleasing bullshit. We can’t take it anymore. Please stop.

I think the things I daydream about while entrenched in my reality are clues to things I could actually do now to live the life that makes sense to me. I could go for a hike after work, or on a Saturday morning. I could load up the kayak on a Friday afternoon. I could sit on my porch with coffee and a book in the morning before work. I could spend a weekend in the woods.

But if I say yes to all those things, then I’m saying no to other things, and *gasp* ‘no’ to people. The horror. It’s a skill I have not yet mastered, but I’m working on it. Practice with me. (Disclaimer: this might feel a little bit like a grammatical exercise. Bear with the linguist/teacher here.)

  • No, I can’t work a part-time job in addition to my full-time job.
  • No, I can’t take on a leadership role in this ministry.
  • No, I can’t volunteer for that event on that day.
  • No, I can’t donate money to that cause.
  • No, I can’t stay after school and plan unless I’m getting paid.
  • No I can’t stay after school, period.
  • No, I can’t chair that committee.
  • No, I can’t bring something for lunch day.
  • No, I don’t want to be out past 8 on a work night.
  • No, I need to stay home tonight to cook a healthy dinner.
  • No, I have a therapy appointment that I will not miss.
  • No, I am taking a break from drinking.
  • No, [what you can’t or won’t do].

Great job. You said your peace (piece? I think it can be both…). Now, let’s practice by adding ___ + so that ____.

  • No, I can’t work a part-time job in addition to my full-time job so that I can pursue a passion project such as writing.
  • No, I can’t take on a leadership role in this ministry so that I can do a really good job leading the ministry I’m already leading.
  • No, I can’t volunteer for that event on that day so that I can have time for exercise.
  • No, I can’t donate money to that cause so that I can fully contribute to retirement.
  • No, I can’t stay after school and plan unless I’m getting paid so that I communicate to administration that I will not work for free.
  • No I can’t stay after school, period so that I can get home and make a healthy dinner.
  • No, I can’t chair that committee so that I can devote my undivided attention to planning engaging and high-quality lessons.
  • No, I can’t bring something for lunch day so that I can relax with my partner after making and cleaning up dinner.
  • No, I don’t want to be out past 8 on a work night so that I get enough sleep.
  • No, I need to stay home tonight to cook a healthy dinner so that I can take care of my body.
  • No, I have a therapy appointment that I will not miss so that I can continue to heal after saying goodbye to the dream of having my own children and losing loved ones.
  • No, I am taking a break from drinking so that I can have a clear mind and work on dealing with reality.
  • No, [what you can’t or won’t do] so that [insert positive alternative here].

Can you see that the statement that comes after so that is actually a value statement about your own life?

  • I can pursue a passion project such as writing.
  • I can do a really good job leading the ministry I’m already leading.
  • I can have time for exercise.
  • I can fully contribute to retirement.
  • I communicate to administration that I will not work for free.
  • I can get home and make a healthy dinner.
  • I can devote my undivided attention to planning engaging and high-quality lessons.
  • I can relax with my partner after making and cleaning up dinner.
  • I can get enough sleep.
  • I can take care of my body.
  • I can continue to heal after saying goodbye to the dream of having my own children and losing loved ones.
  • I can have a clear mind and work on dealing with reality as it comes my way.

Last step, my friends. Let’s add yes to those statements. And now you have guiding affirmations.

  • Yes, I can pursue a passion project such as writing.
  • Yes, I can do a really good job leading the ministry I’m already leading.
  • Yes, I can have time for exercise.
  • Yes, I can fully contribute to retirement.
  • Yes, I communicate to administration that I will not work for free.
  • Yes, I can get home and make a healthy dinner.
  • Yes, I can devote my undivided attention to planning engaging and high-quality lessons.
  • Yes, I can relax with my partner after making and cleaning up dinner.
  • Yes, I can get enough sleep.
  • Yes, I can take care of my body.
  • Yes, I can continue to heal after saying goodbye to the dream of having my own children and losing loved ones.
  • Yes, I can have a clear mind and work on dealing with reality as it comes my way.

FYI I did not copy-pasta ‘yes’; I typed every single one. It felt good.

I hope you can see that this form of self-care actually extends beyond self and into the world. If you believe that we are all in this together, we sentient, feeling, emoting human beings, then you probably agree that if we take care of ourselves, put on our own oxygen masks first, then we’re taking care of all of us. We provide a much-needed yet humble model for forging a new path in our burdened, overworked, stressed society. And we make it better.

Time and space

I’m beginning to think that sleeping in is overrated. Not only is there science to back this up (REM cycles and all that) but I feel so much more at ease in the mornings if I give myself more time to wake up, enjoy coffee, and read a bit. On days like today, I’m promised the possibility of a nap, so it makes waking up early that much easier.

There’s something incredibly serene about coming downstairs to the soft light of the end table lamp, making coffee, and getting some thoughts out either in silence or with the dryer tumbling in the background. Most mornings I’m working on my side hustle(s). I have some of my best ideas right when I wake up.

Growing up, I always thought it was crazy that my dad would be up so early, usually around 4. Actually, what do I know? I was sleeping when he got up so I have no idea when he usually wakes up. I have specific memories of waking up early and the coffee pot would already be on and full of heaven’s nectar. In the winter he’d sometimes be sitting on the register when the furnace came on. Now when I visit, I actually try to get up early so that I can join him on the porch for coffee, deer watching, and a chat.

In general I’ve been trying to give myself more time, provide some “spaciousness” as a yoga teacher might say. Along with therapy I’m trying to make allowances for anxiety that I experience. I almost said “deal with” or “combat”, but anxiety is dare I say a part of me that is trying to tell me something:

Slow down, Elizabeth. It’s all going to be okay. The world is not on fire. Take your time.

I tell my students these things in so many words on a daily basis. I teach English for Speakers of Other Languages and part of helping them acquire language is giving them ample “wait time”. That’s science, too. Increasing wait time shows them that it’s okay for them to take a little longer processing, that what they have to say or write is important even if we spend a little more time on that part of the lesson.

The other day I didn’t wear a watch to work. It felt rebellious and irresponsible. But I realized that there are clocks everywhere. On the wall, on screens, on my computer, on my phone, on SmartBoards, on bank signs as I drive by, literally everywhere. The world reminds us that we are owned by time. And here I am dictating it to myself as well throughout the day.

No wonder I’m stressed and anxious about getting everything done. But recently even with all the things I’ve committed myself to, I haven’t felt as stressed as usual. I’ve been honest about the things that actually take time that I’ve been forgetting, and I’ve been making allowances for that: putting dishes away, folding a load of towels, going grocery shopping, getting my work bag ready, turning down the bed, making the bed, even stopping for coffee (I’ve really become a Dunkin’ girl lately…)

My point is that everything takes time, but our little agendas and Google calendars can only fit in so much. I’m beginning to learn what is really a priority to me and what makes me feel at ease, and giving myself that time. Making space. Really though, I’m not making space – you can’t make time. So I’m reserving space. And I feel so much calmer.

It was evident to me yesterday, the beginning of November and it seems also the beginning of the holiday season, that people are stressed. People are pulled in all different directions. I refuse to let myself not bask in the joy of the fall season, and soon, Advent. This is my favorite time of year, and I’ll never be “too busy” for admiring the trees, the gray cloudy skies, trick-or-treaters, making my home a cozy sanctuary, or enjoying a conversation with someone I love.

When we all look back on life at the end, whether we know it’s the end or not, I believe these are the things that matter. The little moments. The moments that disappear as soon as you become unaware of them and rush on to the next thing.

Water

Today’s word is water. After living it the desert for almost 5 years, water has become a welcome sight. We can see the wide, slow moving Susquehanna from our house, and the Bay isn’t much farther. I’m always reminded of how much civilization has relied on water for survival.

In the desert, abundant water can quickly become dangerous. Many times after a heavy rainfall roads would be closed due to rock slides or flash flooding. The ground in its perpetual dry state just couldn’t absorb enough of the rain quickly enough.

I don’t want my heart to be like the ground in the desert, desperate for water but unable to soak it up. I would rather be like the foundation of our house, made of river stone that lets water through as necessary. When there’s too much, instead of flooding, the sump pump moves the water out of the crawl space where it’s accumulated.

This process was strange to me at first.. Who wants water under their house?.. But now I understand. Water flows freely in and out, without causing rock slides or flash floods. That’s how I want my heart to be.

My Grammie and me

On the plane I try not to cry so I clench my teeth

Seeing the flat land of my birth below fills me with grief

I know that this is real, this passing on

I know that her soul like a bird has flown

On this cusp of spring when the earth soon will bloom

For all of the stories of love and affection, I would never have room

With warm coffee in hand I watch her face so fair

As she tells me stories, and I’m content to sit with her there

And of my rich history, now of this I do know

Of the generations of people who came before me, long ago

Throughout my life I see the pain and loss she endures

But praise God, there comes a day when peace and rest are now hers

This day we celebrate a life fully lived

We take comfort in the fact that she gave all there was to give

With one last breath her soul gives a heart cry

Now under the wings of an eagle, with our Lord she now flies

–for Eleanor Jane Rhoades Little, 1928-2016–

grammie and grandpa 1966
Grandpa and Grammie, 1966

grammie and me 1988
Grammie and me, July 1988

grandpa8
Grandpa, me, Dad, Mom, Grammie, June 2008

Pacific Northwest Buzz

I’ve been in Portland for a little longer than 24 hours and I am in love. Is it really any surprise? I basically love any new city or place within minutes of being there, whether it’s El Paso, Texas or Madrid, España. I’m quite impulsive like that. 😉 I’d never been to the PNW before, and coming from the desert, the intermittent rain and high humidity were a welcome change, as well as the hilarious conversations with my sister Emily, who has wanted to move out here for years now.

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Chinese Garden

I arrived at PDX yesterday and then took the train to a stop just a block away from my hotel. I was exhausted; I’d only had about four hours of sleep the night before and I can never sleep on planes. Especially not when I feel motion sick. So I was tempted to crash in my room. However, knowing that I had less than 48 hours in this city, I decided to explore.

I was more than excited to explore this city on my own, and to get a break from normal, everyday husbandless life (Aaron spent a couple weeks with me in El Paso and then went to visit family for a couple weeks). I got settled in my room and then went out with Google Maps in hand.

After hitting up a coffee shop, Powell’s Books, and the most beautiful Target EVAR, I had the most perfect opportunity to go for a run along and over the Willamette River at sunset.

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters, only one of the places I had a “real coffee”

As seen on my run on the Willamette River
As seen on my run over the Steel Bridge, which spans the Willamette River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to present!
Ready to present!

 

 

This morning I presented my research at the TESOL Master Student Forum, the whole reason I came here. It went well, and I had a great time getting to know the other presenters in my room. It’s crazy to me that I was able to shrink my nearly year-long thesis project into fifteen minutes of PowerPoint.

 

 

 

 

Maybe it’s the real coffee (here, Starbucks is “not real coffee”), the fresh air, the rain, or all three, but I am on a high… manic even. I feel filled with confidence and direction in life, as this conference and environment have confirmed to me that my life’s work is in linguistics/ESL teaching and research, and that I am PhD material. I feel so blessed to have found this passion so young, and to have had so many wonderful opportunities to pursue it. Go get your dreams, guys, overcome the fear. The reward is sweet.

Now that this presentation is presented and my thesis draft is written, the rest of the semester is going to be all downhill. I defend my thesis in about a month, and graduation is in less than two months. What’s next? I honestly don’t know, but I’m ready for the next phase.

P.S. I’ve been bingeing on Portlandia and I know the show is legit because I heard the theme song IN PORTLAND. Whoa.

This place is the inspiration from the Women and Women First bookstore in the show.
This place is the inspiration from the Women and Women First bookstore in the show.

Conversation with my sister
Conversation with my sister

Thank you.

I wanted to post this on Facebook, but it got too long… so here it is. My emotions are running high this week (and today I’m hopped up on Sudafed, because of course I would get sick this week), but you can be assured that I mean every word.

As this deployment comes to a close, I want to thank everyone immensely for all your support and prayers throughout this time. While I’ve stayed busy and managed to hold down the fort (sometimes it felt like just barely), I could not have done it without your support.

A special thanks goes out to my adopted El Paso family who have taken me in as their own for holidays and just because, laughed with me, cried with me, run with me, served youth with me, enjoyed a coffee, lunch, or sushi date, prayed with me, gone camping in Ruidoso, taken me to or picked me up from the airport, come for me when I got lost in the New Mexican desert on a trail run, inculcated me into Mexican culture (always a dream for this former Spanish teacher), and taught this huera some border slang. 😉

When we moved here three years ago, it was the first time I’d moved more than 15 miles away from both our families. I knew that we’d find a church and make friends, but I never could have imagined the amazing relationships that would be grown as brothers and sisters in Christ. I would have gone (even more) crazy without my church family. And that’s why I encourage anyone who moves away to find a church right away. If anything, it’s just a great place to find great people who will surround you with optimism and encouragement.

Thank you also to my sister Leah (and nephew Benjamin!), my friend Jackie, my Aunt Brenda, and my cousin Anita who spent time and money to visit while Aaron was gone.. I enjoyed counting down to your arrival, and the airport became one of my favorite places in El Paso. Those times are unforgettable. The best part? I got each of you all to myself. 😉

This separation has been rough, but adversity can build character if you let it. From my perspective, it’s been the most difficult of all the separations, and I pray to God it’s the last, at least for awhile. I’ve learned to take things to Him in prayer right away. I’ve learned to dive into His Word and intercede for my friends and family. As amazing as friends are, no one can be everything to you all the time. I’ve learned to put my trust in God, the only one who can really comfort us.

I just could not imagine this journey without you all, especially those in El Paso, suffering together in the desert :p. No matter what the future holds, my life has been forever changed by your obedience to “love each other deeply” as the Lord commands.