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Consolation and New Year’s resolutions

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Over the past month or so, I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night with a sudden panic that I’ve left Foxy outside in the cold. I sit up straight and call her name, scared to death that she is [morbid alert] frozen to death out in the yard. And each time, I’m relieved to find that she’s right there by the bed. Of course she is.

My lifelong propensity towards anxiety paired with a winter that’s already more extreme than the entirety of the 2015-2016 season is doing dismal things to my brain. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the wind chill, and it isn’t so much the wind chill as it is the darkness.

Winter in Minnesota, man. Only the strong survive.

But regardless of how I feel about the weather, I find myself living in Minneapolis for my second January. Take four degrees and subtract them from zero, and that’s the temperature at this very minute – and it doesn’t even seem all that unreasonable, given the stiff and hypothermic potential. My survival strategy is to just keep living – and in January, I’ve decided that life will be made up of only two things: working, and running on the treadmill.

It happens to all of us at the start of every new year, doesn’t it? Making resolutions, resolving to re-solve what we’ve deemed wrong about our lives. As usual, I’ve decided that the root of all that’s wrong with my life is not, in fact, my fallen nature, but the circumference of my thighs. My re-solution? To run.

To run a freaking marathon.

Ha. That was actually my New Year’s resolution – to run 26.2 miles, twice as far as I’ve ever run, twice as far as I’ve ever wanted to run. Annieeeeeee. Why must your goals always be so extreme??

But since then, some thoughts.

First, last week I listened as a wonderful dinner companion shared about the Ignatian method of discernment called Examen, a prayer-fueled mindfulness that involves the idea of consolation and desolation. Each night, one is to review the events of the day and pinpoint the moments that were consoling (life-giving, inspiring, connecting) and the ones that were desolating (draining, despairing, isolating); in other words, consolation is movement toward God, and desolation is movement away.

As patterns begin to emerge, the idea is to orient one’s life toward consolation as a way forward. It’s not about making the “right” concrete decisions or checking items off a list, it’s about moving toward the things that stir us up and send us out, strong, tender, and present.

A few days later, I listened to an episode of Steve Wiens’s podcast in which he makes the case for “change that actually changes you.” So much of what he said parallels the idea of Examen. You should listen to the full episode, but for now, I’ll share the simple daily prayer offered by Steve at the end: “God, I want to experience life in all of its fullness today. Please lead me there.”

Do you feel how different this way of life is from our crazy New Year’s resolutions, those hard-hitting, full throttle plans that we think are going to turn our sorry ass luck around?

At the Christmas dinner table, I told my sister-in-law Ashley that I am thinking about training for a marathon, but that I’m nervous that if I commit to it and say it out loud that I won’t actually be able to do it and then I’ll be a total garbage person failure. She said, “I guess that you’d need to know that the process of reaching the goal would be just as worthwhile as achieving the goal itself.”

This morning at the gym, I ran for 45 minutes while staring at a poster in front of the treadmill that said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That’s a preposterous notion, really, since we can and do fail all the time. So I changed it in my mind to, “What would you do if you knew you might fail, but you’d kind of like to give it a shot anyway?”

Here’s the truth about today: I’m glad I ran for those 45 minutes. I feel awesome. That run felt like consolation. I want more of that feeling.

Here’s another thing that’s true: I was not well in 2016. The quiet stress I experienced during the first half of the year wreaked havoc on the second, health-wise. I had an eye infection that lasted for two months. I got shingles. My body harbored infection, I was sick over and over again, and I couldn’t sleep. But in November, when I started getting back into running after years of not running, I started to feel better. The beginning of 2017 finds me quite well, physically. I credit much of this to running, which is reason enough to keep doing it.

I don’t know if I’ll run a marathon this year. But at the risk of feeling stupid later, I’ll say it anyway: I’m going to try. I’m going to follow this training plan day by day, as far as I can take it, and give it everything I’ve got.

Maybe it will result in the torturous achievement of running 26.2 miles all at once, or maybe I’ll find that running 26.2 miles via multiple runs spread out over a week is a pretty cool accomplishment, too. Last week, my new friend Barnabas said something like, “What if running 15 miles 10 times is just as big an achievement as running 26.2 once?” I like that. When we drop our rigid expectations, the world opens up to us (the most Oprah thing I’ve ever said); success can take so many different forms.

(But I really am going to try for a marathon.)

I hope 2017 finds you experiencing life in all its fullness and moving toward consolation, New Year’s resolutions or none. And if you’re dying for a getaway, please come visit me in Minneapolis. I have a brand new furnace.

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Here is what I’m learning

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Some uncomfortable situations are worth stretching and growing for; others might only make you unhappy. It’s important — and sometimes difficult — to know the difference.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you five minutes or five years: As soon as you know a romantic interest should no longer be a romantic interest, cross him off the list. With a Sharpie.

Time is the new money — that is, until a 50-foot tree limb snaps and almost crushes your car in the driveway. When you fork over $450 to have some guy saw it down and haul it away, you realize that in certain situations your time is kind of worthless and money is, in fact, worth a lot.

At the end of the day, dogs are just wild animals. So when yours hunts, chases, catches, kills, rips apart, and swallows a rabbit, come on, man, don’t be so surprised.

If the only food you stock in your house is eggs, apples, string cheese, and Wheat Thins and it makes you feel sad but you still don’t change your ways, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Wherever you go, there you are. The grass is never greener; it’s all just grass.

Brain crumbs

Monday, October 12th, 2015

I haven’t had it in me to write something meaty. So here are some scraps of stories and thoughts from the last few weeks.

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Just once, I would like to hear a country song in which the woman is driving and the man is riding shotgun. Come on.

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I know that I’ve recently changed my entire life, city, job, house, everything, and this change is mostly exciting and good — but no matter where I live or what I’m doing, I think I will always fantasize about scrapping everything, driving away, and living out of a Scamp.

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I hired a company to install a custom fence all the way around my house. I was VERY particular about the type of fence I wanted, and it turns out that while this style is found in abundance in Seattle, Portland, and Denver, apparently it doesn’t exist in Minneapolis; I contacted multiple companies to get quotes, and only found one who was open to even trying to build it. It feels good to be a local trailblazer, and based on the fabulous almost-end result (it should be finished by the end of day today, tomorrow at the latest), I have a feeling that Minneapolitans are about to be circling my block, inspired to copy this crazy-wonderful cattle panel (also known as hog wire) fence. I’ll be sure to share pictures when it’s finished.

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Latest letter from my Compassion International kid (7-years old):

Dear Miss Annie Parsons,
Hello, Miss Annie! I received your letter. I enjoyed reading your letter.
I don’t like music. I want to be a soldier. Please pray for me that my dream will come true. This is my letter for now.
From, Nathanael

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This weekend, I made a quick trip to Madison, Wisconsin. From my limited time there, I’ve decided that I love it and would definitely go back for further exploration (so much beautiful water!).

I kind of forgot to take pictures, although when I got home, I did find two back-to-back shots that made me shake my head.

Here’s the first:

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Never mind that I cut out the image of the UFO hovering over the words. As one for whom faith is hard-fought (“faith like a child” is not my strong suit), this felt like a heart-cry.

The very next picture was this:

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I FOUND THE STONE TABLE, cracked in half, with Aslan nowhere to be found. If that isn’t irony/happenstance/a gentle prodding, I don’t know what is.

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Sending hugs and brownies your way this Monday. You can do it!

The ramblings of an erratic woman

Monday, October 27th, 2014

I’m becoming exceedingly private these days – at least when it comes to the bare-my-soul stuff. Even in the face-to-face presence of the people I trust the most, I find myself holding back – because just because I think/feel/act a certain way today doesn’t mean I’m going to think/feel/act the same way tomorrow, and how would I explain that?

In short, my emotions are drunk. (I am not.)

I guess I just don’t trust myself these days. I am convinced – convinced – that something is true (like, I WANT TO MOVE FAR, FAR AWAY) (MY LIFE IS HORRIBLE) (I HATE EVERYTHING), and then one day, like today, things feel different. Better. Calm. Until maybe it will all change again – which, it totally will. I am a fickle, persnickety nutcase.

There are a lot of factors contributing to my erraticism – things outside of my control that are pressing in and weighing heavy and making me feel unsure about the way my future might unfold – so you can understand why I am craving certainty. I love certainty. I want to marry it and have its for sure, locked in, done deal of a baby. (That was weird. Forget I said it.)

But in the midst of the uncertainty, there are some things I know for sure.

Savory breakfasts will always be better than sweet, and breakfast at home will always be better than breakfast out. Laughter is jumper cables for the soul. Also, puppies. Lori McKenna’s “The Luxury of Knowing” is the best song in the world. No one – not a single one – can have a thick, glamorous side braid like Princess Elsa. Food looks most appetizing when on a white plate. One should never buy a car brand new. It’s better to have done things you might regret than to have always just played it safe. If tempted to buy something pricey, sleep on it. Being impressive will get you far, but being liked will get you further. The best things in life are not things – unless, again, those “things” are puppies.

And though I’m not fully there yet, and HARDLY an authority, here is what I suspect:

We should work for 8 hours, play for 8 hours, and sleep for 8 hours.
We are not defined by what we do, but by who we are.
It’s all going to be okay.

l

Labor Day

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I don’t feel much like getting up from this bed. My legs are stretched out in front of me and crossed at the ankles, left over right, giving me a good view of my newly pedicured toes. I broke one of them a few years ago – stubbed it on my couch, the one I bought brand new – and it still juts high above the other four, like an adobe hill out of the desert, the kind that gutsy kids use as a bike ramp.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a bike, even though the Trek I got for my 14th birthday is currently crammed into the mudroom of my house, the front wheel turned perpendicular to the rest of the frame, blocking the doorway. I step over it whenever I go into the backyard, which is infrequent now that Toad is gone. I keep thinking I should put air in these tires. I should ride to work. Or I could try to sell it. Homeowners can always use extra cash.

It stresses me out, money. It always has. When I was a kid, I would pull the dollar bills out of my piggy bank and count them, splaying them across my bedspread, the ones together, the fives. Then I would walk across the hallway to the laundry room, set up the ironing board, and turn the iron to low. The literal smoothening of my money somehow translated, and when the stack of bills was crisp and orderly, so was my spirit – at least, so I thought.

Last night in a church pew, I wrote my September budget on a Post-It note. I had not been to church in – months? It must be. And already, the rhythm of the service felt unfamiliar. Do we really stand for this long? Funny, I went to church nearly every Sunday for 30 years, but take me out for just a few months and all of a sudden attending feels new.

I like it when things feel new and fresh. I also like it when things feel familiar and routine. This desire for both roots and wings is a tug-of-war, and I’m right in the middle of it, and I don’t know if I’ll be pulled to one side or the other or just torn in half.

They – three different friends now – say that they think I’m “on the verge.” Of what, they don’t really know, and it would be silly to speculate. But I feel it, too – the sense that something is almost. I wonder if it will feel like roots or like wings.

So I pray. I think that prayer is important – not so much because I think God will do what I ask, but because it reminds me that I’m not him. Not so much because God is a shelter from the storm, but because I hope he’ll stand out in the rain with me. Not so much because it leads to the absence of pain, but to the presence of love.

Re-solutions

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Last Tuesday morning, I poured myself a cup of coffee and crawled back into bed. To be fair, this is what I do every single morning (don’t judge my self-indulgences, except when they include reality TV). But Tuesday was no ordinary day – Tuesday was New Year’s Day, which means I needed to make my New Year’s resolutions.

My resolutions. My re-solutions. My attempts to re-solve myself – because every single year, I think that I can. And every single year, I’m disappointed to figure out that I can’t: I cannot solve myself, no matter how many times I try. No amount of accomplishment, weight loss, or personal virtue can fix me, or any one of us.

Often, I wish that I could solve myself, because wouldn’t it be great to be in the driver’s seat of my own life. Wouldn’t it be great to call all the shots and know that if I tried hard enough, prayed hard enough, was good enough – poof – I’d be fixed. I’d be better. I’d be awesome. Best of all, I’d be in control.

I’m not big on poetry, but I remember William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” from AP College English during my senior year of high school. An ode to self-reliance and resilience, the last two lines go:

I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

I don’t know about you, but after all of my years of control-freaking, all of a sudden, that thought exhausts me. I do not want to be the master of my fate or the captain of my soul.

So this year, my “resolutions” are being reframed.

Don’t get me wrong – I have some hopes and plans for the year (climb 7 14ers, write 4 songs, run 1 half-marathon, have 0 nervous breakdowns). But if these goals come from a place of “because this will solve me,” then I’m going to wind up sorely disappointed – again.

So no more re-solutions. No more mastering my fate, or captaining my soul. Just some hopes, and daily little steps, and trusting that I’m exactly where I need to be in this moment, even if nothing is is “solved.”

The “right” person

Friday, September 14th, 2012

These days, when asked about my love life (thanks, everyone!), my response has been, “I’m not focusing on finding the right person – I’m just trying to be the right person.”

Good one, eh?

Here’s the only trouble with that statement, romantically focused or not: who gets to define what the “right” person looks like?  You?  My family?  My married friends?  My single friends?  My boss?  My books?  My church?  Or, scariest of all, me?

The past few years of my life have been nothing short of a war zone, and while the dust is finally starting to settle, my ears are still ringing.  I’m looking around at the landscape of a life that I did not plan, and my eyes are having trouble focusing.  I’m still walking a little wounded, trying like hell not to fidget with my bound-up broken bones, hoping to give them a chance to heal.

And all the while, I’m telling myself, “Be the right person.  Be the right person!”

Famously hard on myself, I have defined being the “right” person as achieving, succeeding, pushing myself, doing more, being better, and never, ever sitting still.  At some point, I decided that not reaching my goals makes me a Failure, that changing my course makes me a Quitter, and that not winning makes me a Loser.

So in the midst of the chaos and the noise and the still-settling dust, I spin my wheels, straining and striving and trying SO HARD to be the “right” person – based only on my own harsh definition.

But what if instead of trying to be the right person, the goal was just to be?  Period.  Just to be – with joy and gratitude and the will to breathe each and every day.  Regardless of whether I meet my arbitrary goals.  Despite my inevitable shortcomings.  Whether or not I “achieve” much of anything.

Because, as my mom reminded me, “there is grace to cover it all.”  (Sometimes, my mom sounds like Jesus.)

Maybe when we stop trying to be the “right” person, and allow ourselves to just be, we’re exactly who we are – which is who we should be, anyway.

One month from tomorrow

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I don’t know which is more exciting.

I have new songs.

And I’m going to Haiti.

Seriously: explosion of confetti and excitement and exclamation points right →here←.

Ever since my sister Sarah moved to Haiti last June, I have dreamed of an opportunity to see her life there.  One month from tomorrow, I’m getting my chance – seven days and seven nights at Mission of Hope.

What happens at Mission of Hope, you ask?

Well, they have a school, and a home for orphans, and a medical clinic, and a nutrition program.  They also have a new small business initiative called 3 Cords, which employs amputee women, empowering them to make hand-crafts, cards, and jewelry.  I’ll probably get to experience a little bit of each of these things.  I’ll also probably experience tarantulas and dirty feet and mangoes and a little boy named Tee Kervins.  I can’t wait to meet Tee Kervins, just so I can say his name.

Try it.  Tee Kervins.

See?

Of course, I’m a bit nervous about being taken out of my comfort zone, even for a short time.  I’m someone who likes control and safety and rat-free apartments.  And when I’m honest, sometimes it feels easier to just go about my daily business, blind to the pain and sadness and poverty that might be found elsewhere.

But I believe that it’s important – important, and even necessary – to be inconvenienced.

And I also believe that when I am in Haiti, I will find more joy than sadness, more strength than fear, and more hope than despair.  It just might change my life.

So, back to these new songs of mine.

I recorded three new demos with some co-workers when I was in Nashville in December, and even from just a little home studio, I’d say they turned out gems.  I would love for you to hear them – and if you feel so inclined, they’re available for a minimum $10 donation.  The money will help offset the cost of this trip to Haiti – because go figure, it costs a lot to get to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and listening, and following along with this little life of mine.  I can’t wait to tell you stories from my trip.

Clouds

Monday, October 25th, 2010

It’s Monday morning, and deliciously stormy outside.  I look out the office windows to the east, where the land stretches flat all the way to Kansas, and see clouds the color of polished steel.  I’m alone at work this week, sipping on hot tea to placate the angry porcupine that wants to nest on my throat.

Yesterday at church, I saw 6 people whose names I knew.  I got hugs from 4 of them.  It’s nice to have people who know your name.

Later on, as I drove up a windy road to Evergreen, what’s left of the leaves on the trees blustered and blew, twinkling in the wind, matching the shade of the double-yellow lines on the blacktop.  I found a network of trails and went on an easy hike, dreamed of having a dog, and watched the sky as it did things like this.

It’s easy to feel small and alone – but that doesn’t mean that we have to feel afraid.

Galloping ostrich brain

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I am alone in the office this week.  But don’t worry – being alone has never been reason for my brain to get bored.  Au contraire – being alone usually results in my brain galloping full-speed ahead, albeit awkwardly, kind of like that ostrich in “Swiss Family Robinson.”

So let me go ahead and tell you some of what has been on my mind today.

Mix up “congenial” and “jovial” and you get “convivial.”  Fantastic!

I may or may not (or may) have recently spent $800 on a variety of bridesmaid dresses from J.Crew.  Don’t worry – the losers will be returned post-haste – that is, unless I decide that I WANT a variety of taffeta gowns in Aluminum.

Waffles are just pancakes with topography.

There are few places on earth more soul-sucking than the Verizon Wireless store.

Please, Honda.  Please please please last forever.  I have no Plan B.