On Gentleness

Roughly five years ago, Chaz and I were sitting in a circle with several other couples and Dave, our Bible study leader. We'd just finished reading Philippians 4, and were spending a little extra time marinating in verses 4 through 7: 

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

It was a familiar passage, one that I'd had memorized for years, thanks to many drop off and pick up trips to and from school with my dad. We'd used those for Bible verse memorization on the regular.

Gentleness. A word that had been used to describe me since those earlier years of memorization drives. Like love, I often felt it covered a multitude of personality "sins." Too soft spoken to be heard in the classroom? I was just gentle. Too timid to participate in the getting-to-know-you activities in first grade? Gentleness strikes again. Won the "Quietest" superlative award as a graduating senior in high school? No need to feel bad that the Best Musician award went to a popular girl in chorus. "Quietest" is another way to describe my more gentle traits. 

For a long time I'd assumed that gentleness (and its cousin, meekness) was one of the lesser virtues. It went hand in hand with being shy and "a follower" rather than "a leader," and since it seemed as though the church admired, revered, and praised the extroverted side of evangelism, gentleness didn't seem like something that I should truly seek after by itself. 

I wised up a bit later down the road. "What does "gentleness" mean here? What does that look like in our daily lives?" prompted Dave in our Bible study circle that evening five years ago. We all sat in silence for a minute or two, like we often did after a question was asked. Who really wants to answer first, after all? I finally piped up. 

"It's a rather fierce thing, isn't it?" 

It turned out that gentleness didn't have to do with quietness or shyness after all. Gentleness stems from a deep assurance that the Lord is near. That we don't need to be anxious about anything. That we can rejoice in all circumstances, and that from that abundance of assurance, we can approach living with a fierceness and fearlessness that calms an unquiet heart. 

I've been thinking a lot about gentleness and motherhood lately, given that motherhood is my primary job these days. Blog post after blog post, article after article, book after book has been written focusing on "mom guilt" and the responsibility and anxiety that comes along with mothering children. So much so that I often feel more guilt admitting that I don't usually struggle with those things than I feel about motherhood itself. It somehow seems selfish, haughty, or negligent to feel capable and confident, so please don't assume this means I think I'm a perfect mother. Far from it. I have made and will make mistakes, and I'm as covered in baby body fluids and food scraps as the next parent who didn't make it through her to-do list for the day. And I have an active, strong-willed daughter who isn't above throwing a nice tantrum in Target if she doesn't get her way. But for the most part, these aren't things that I spend a lot of time being concerned about. Mistakes are followed by apologies and forgiveness. Food scraps can be cleaned up. My to do list can (most of the time) wait. Tantrums are managed, or at least survived. As long as gentleness, rejoicing, thanksgiving, peace, and love are my focus in mothering, my child is going to be alright. I am capable, and where I am not, God is. Gentleness, it seems to me, is knowing that His grace is sufficient for me. His grace is sufficient for my children. His grace is sufficient to allay any anxiety, and I can rest. Take that, mom guilt.

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 I don't know if Deborah - one of my favorite Old Testament characters - ever felt a guilty prickle in her conscience when she left her home (and presumably children) to accompany Barak and 10,000 Israelite men to fight the king of Canaan. But I do know that marching off to oversee a war while simultaneously judging Israel and prophesying isn't something that could be done while filled with doubt and insecurity. She, and later Jael as well, is a woman sure of herself and her actions because she is sure of God's faithfulness. If those aren't characteristics that should be emulated, I don't know what else there could be. That type of gentle self assurance is certainly something that I want my daughter to aspire to, and if I want that for her, I need to live that way myself. I think it's finally time for me to embrace it.

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The Gathering

They all start to arrive and with each person stepping through the door, I feel the house filling up with warmth and life. It's a beautiful thing, really. Hugs and laughter set the scene for an evening filled with beloved friends, good food, and discussions ranging from reminiscing over shared memories to hopes and dreams for the future. 

Our group - our tribe - started out much smaller, now over a decade ago. Brought together by nothing more average than college, we formed a small band and stuck by each other through the ups and downs of music theory homework, final exams, new relationships, breakups, and the day to day events of sharing an apartment.

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Slowly, as the years went by, the group started expanding. First with boyfriends that were more permanent than the college flings, then fianc├ęs, then husbands. In more recent years, we've added babies to the mix, and at this point we've run out of chairs around the dinner table and have started supplementing with folding chairs, high chairs, and Bumbo seats. And while we fill up the seats, we continue to fill up our memory tanks, drop by drop.

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And tonight, we're celebrating. I sit at the overfilled table and am filled with both gratitude and nostalgia. I have dear memories from my own childhood of our living room filled with a host of our parents, the rest of the house spilling over with children playing house, or post office, or my personal favorite - moving truck. I'm not sure our parents appreciated that one as much as we did, since it involved wrapping almost every toy in the house in packing paper, but our imaginations ran wild, set to a musical backdrop of folk tunes.

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I remember feeling a sense of fullness as a child. We knew these were friends, of course, but they felt more like family, and we experienced the deep richness of being surrounded by so many of those who loved and cared for us.

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We're on the flip side now. We are the adults/parents, sitting and delighting in sharing life together through the more significant ups and downs that naturally occur as we mature, and we're watching our children create their own memories as a group. While the background music might be different - our musical skills lie more along the classical lines than folk - these beloved children now have their own cloud of witnesses celebrating their existence, rejoicing in their accomplishments, and tending to their growth.

The sense of fullness is still there for me, but has a different flavor. Perhaps a richer one, now that we all have a different perspective. More responsibility, more joy. 

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Grand Plans

I had this idea recently that it would be very fun to take a group trip to London. Babies included, of course. It would be great to get a group of friends together, hop on a plane to a European location that is literally closer than the other side of the US, and gallivant around the city together, taking babies' schedules into account. This seems like a reasonable idea to me because several of my friends have babies around the same age, so it's the perfect opportunity. Most of them are still considered lap infants and would therefore be free on flights.

Behold...

This idea first came about due to a dream. I had a lovely morning dream between Elise's 5:00 nursing session and her 7:30 wake up that some friends and I (plus family) were hanging out in London. It was so lovely that I immediately texted my friend around 8:00 and told her we should do it. I laughed at myself until I forgot all about it later that afternoon.

However, later in the week the idea leapt back into my (let's be honest...probably delusional) brain over lunch, and I turned an unlikely scenario into searching for air fares. 

PEOPLE. YOU CAN GET FROM BOSTON TO LONDON FOR $99 (per direction).

Just consider it. YOU TOO could take a crooked selfie in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace.

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Suddenly, my idea no longer seemed impossible, and I am convinced that I need to do it. I'd be happy with a family trip, a girls' trip, an extended family trip, a solo trip, ANY KIND OF TRIP. But trust me when I say it'd be more fun to go as a group. I've done the solo London touring thing and while great, it's more exciting to share the experience. Plus I know Elise can conquer a 6-hour flight, so we've got that covered.

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So please, someone, sign up to come with me to England. It would be merry, I'm sure. Perhaps if we're feeling especially adventurous and the baby/babies is/are feeling particularly compliant, we could even take the train to Paris for a day. Let's hear it for the Eurostar. WHO'S IN? I've been bitten by the international travel bug and I will not be restrained. BYOB(aby).

And this time, I promise not to get stuck in traffic 45 minutes before the plane is supposed to leave. It wasn't my best moment.

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Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's church and the world...

I'm in Puerto Rico right now on...you guessed it...another business trip. I had been intending to write about that and regale you with yet another tale of traveling, but I think I'll have to save that for another time. Today, the state of the world is lying too heavily on my heart to write about anything else.

I didn't update my Facebook profile picture in the wake of the Paris attacks. For me personally, it just felt empty. Within a few hours, the politicized how to fix it arguments started rolling in with their uncomfortably predictable patterns: gun control is bad. Gun control is good. We need to talk about religion. We shouldn't even think about religion. We should stop refugee relocation efforts. We should increase refugee relocation efforts. Your argument is wrong. No, your argument is wrong. 

It's exhausting. 

Micah 6:8 keeps repeating itself in my head: "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Like so many others, I want to live that out in a global context. It's with aching hearts that we read one story after another of the poor, the widowed, the orphaned.

And yet at least for me, my reach is too small. I can't drop everything and fly to Greece to help people find some semblance of normalcy after fleeing their homes. I can't travel to Paris or Beirut, turn back time, and stop the violence. And so like everyone else searching for the answer to the ever-present how question, I feel mostly helpless.

So I guess what I've been thinking most is that where I can help, by necessity, must be close to home. I can love my family better. I can give more. I can look for ways to help in my surrounding community. And I hope that in some small way, helping in little ways can help others - who might have access to a broader reach than mine - help those who are hurting most.

Lord, have mercy.

One Weekend in Maine

Deer Isle is a rather substantial island up in Maine. It's a beautiful island, not least because my friend Diana lives there and between that and the surrounding natural beauty, it's spectacular. 

I went to visit Diana this past weekend, and it happily coincided with her baby shower. 

It was the type of visit that just puts live back into perspective, because time passes slowly and the camaraderie fills up your soul to the brim. Well, time passed slowly until the shower, which involved a warm bustle of activity and was followed by homemade pizza, which may have been the best I've ever had. 

Lately (or always?) I've felt like I'm juggling a lot of things, and not quite keeping all of them in motion. I remember feeling like this in college - school work, practicing, friendship, faith - but it hasn't really been something I'd felt for awhile. The newer version of juggling is work, music, marriage, friendship, and faith, and lately it's the friendship ball that's been dropped. This weekend represented a much-needed reset. I haven't figured it all out yet, but I'm very grateful for Diana's wisdom on the matter. "I think of it as a new phase, really. Friendship looks different now that life has changed, but it's no less valuable." 

As usual, she's right. I just need to figure out how this new phase works before it changes again! 

Little Things

Another one of my favorite bloggers announced she was going to be shutting down her blog yesterday. In reality, she hadn't blogged in several months so stopping officially won't be that much of a change, but still...it made me sad that there's no hope of it returning anymore. Naturally, it made me wonder why I keep blogging, especially after such a long hiatus. I don't really have aspirations to be one of the bloggers with tens of thousands of followers - I don't think I want to be that much in the spotlight - but writing is always more fun if there is an audience, even if it's very small. 

But with or without an audience, that's not why I like blogging. I think the biggest reason is just that I like having a record of our daily life. Sometimes that includes big things like our wedding or medium things like traveling, but most of the time it's just the small things of our normal, everyday life. 

Yesterday, everyday life looked like arriving home from work and cooking breakfast for dinner, which we do almost once per week. Chaz makes the eggs, I make the bacon, and each time we do that we try to add one more side to the meal. This round, the side was hash browns, which turned out far more successfully than my first attempt, which burned despite following the directions. Nonstick pans DO make a difference, apparently. 

Breakfast was followed by some leftover Halloween candy, and eventually we went to bed. All in all, it was a quiet evening with nothing notable to speak of except that it was warm and cozy, and it just felt like home. And yet, I felt it was worth noting here, because it's the type of thing that I want to remember later on down the road. 

In other news, the light each morning during this time of year is beautiful in an ethereal, melancholy sort of way. I wake up each morning and open the shades in the bedroom to let it filter in, and I usually end up standing there for a few moments just to look at it. I think that's a lovely way to start any day, don't you?

What if...

Scattered throughout my 26 years are some things that I did because no one ever told me they were hard. Most of them involve food. For example, one night while I was in 9th grade, I decided that I needed to make a pie that very evening. I whipped out the Joy of Cooking, found a recipe for pie crust and then pie, and made both. Later my mom said, "Wow, you made the crust? Pie crust is hard!" I looked at my pie and shrugged. I didn't know it was supposed to be hard, and therefore it wasn't. Months later - the next time I decided to make a pie - my pie crust was a struggle because I knew it was "hard" and I didn't trust myself to be able to replicate what I'd done the fist time.

Angel food cake is the other one that comes to mind. Supposedly, it's one of the more difficult things to bake. Yes, it does require that I follow the instructions so that I can consistently get it to turn out the same way every time, but when I made it the first time, the "hard" label didn't pop up until after it had disappeared after a group dinner.

 Angel food cake: the only baked good that I can think of that takes a full dozen eggs.

Angel food cake: the only baked good that I can think of that takes a full dozen eggs.

Last example - and no food involved! Oboe. I picked it up in 6th grade at my dad's suggestion. I wanted to play flute or clarinet, but my dad said, "What about oboe?" I didn't know what it was, but we loaded up the good ol' World Book Encyclopedia on our household computer and watched the little video demo that was on there, and I was sold. It was only years later that people started saying, "Oboe...that's, like, a really hard instrument, right?" 

I never knew how to respond, because I had no context in which it might be a hard thing. It was just the way it was, and I either rose to the occasion or didn't, and whether it was hard or not had nothing to do with it. 

I obviously don't want to go too far and put a blanket statement out there (i.e. always trust yourself, things are only hard if you make them hard, etc.) because there are things that really are hard in life. Like calculus, for example. That is one thing I will never be able to just do. But it does make me stop and think about how many things people stop themselves from doing because they assume they don't have the skills to do it or because they're afraid of failure. What if we could just somehow take that away? 

One thing that IS hard? Staying awake when you kept yourself up too late the night before. That is no good. Don't do it to yourself. Pick other hard things, ok?

Do Over

Yesterday turned out to be just one of those days. You know...the kind when you heave yourself into bed at the very end of the day, feeling like you accomplished very little, but you're as tired as if you had run a marathon. The worst part was that it was entirely self-inflicted. I spent far too long running frivolous errands that ended with me arriving at home after 8:00 with no more to show for my erranding efforts than cereal + milk, ground beef, and replenished facewash. 

We ended up doing independent dinner, since neither of us really wanted to sit down and have something more formal. Chaz was working on my car - the brake pads needed to be replaced - and he had already driven to Connecticut and back that day for a work trip. (I should point out here that not every husband would be on the road for work all day, come home, and immediately start working on his wife's car. I won the husband jackpot, I say!) So at some point in the evening, each one of us partook of the newly-acquired cereal + milk from the errands and that was dinner.

That's not to say that yesterday was all bad. It was a beautiful day: 80 degrees and sunny, and the most glorious golden hour happened while I was driving around like a madwoman. In addition, I got to catch up with a most dear friend who lives farther away than either of us would like. Nevertheless, I was glad to see the golden hour slowly melt into dusk, and crawling into bed, perhaps earlier than normal, was a relief. 

Today started out bright and sunny. Yesterday did too, but today especially felt like a fresh start. There's no need to run around after work; that was yesterday's business and since it's over, we can carry on. And for that I'm grateful. Happy Thursday.

Recent Thoughts: Part 3 (the last one)

I want to be a more gracious person. I think I'm going to make it my goal for the year to strive toward that. I've been shown so much grace myself...how could I not return it? 

I think of graciousness as a rolled-up combination of humility, joy, gratitude, empathy, and self-confidence. The self-confidence part isn't always easy for me. Occasionally, for example, someone will pay me a compliment. That type of thing is so very appreciated, but my automatic response is to say something along the lines of "Oh no, I don't deserve that for xxxx reason." Especially with music performances, that response is hard to avoid, because anything other than that feels like I'm saying, Yes, thank you, I am the greatest musician of all time. Thank you for recognizing my greatness. In reality though, there's a third option that normally escapes me in the moment. The most natural response would be to say thank you with warmth and affection, and then move on.

Self-deprecation is such an easy trap to fall into. The line between that and humility is a fine one, except that self-deprecation lies at the Selfish end of the spectrum and humility lies at the Selfless end. I'm a highly skilled self-deprecator. So my goal is to become a humble recipient and a fearless giver of grace. Nota bene: this is a long-term goal; no one can effect that type of change overnight change

I'm also fortunate, because my friend Steph is the most gracious person I know, so I have a good role model already built in. She makes every person she meets feel seen and valued, and that, I think, is the outward embodiment of graciousness. 

 Once we lucked out and got to go to a Smithsonian on a business trip. 

Once we lucked out and got to go to a Smithsonian on a business trip. 

So there you have it. All of my recent thoughts. You can decide if they're related or not! And I'll go back to regular programming (you know - stories of making homemade ice cream and things) on Monday. Or maybe tomorrow, because this blog appears to be officially back in business.

Recent Thoughts: Part 2

I think it's partly built into our educational structure that school = learning and no school = no learning. Or maybe that's just me. But either way, I've sort of assumed that now that I'm done with school, I've made it to the end of the learning marathon, and now all the running is done. No more learning for me. 16 years of formal education is all I need for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, it's taken me approximately four years to dig myself out of that rather embarrassing hole of an assumption, with the added assistance of an article I read recently about a guy with no experience who decided to build a boat. It was a good article. He described how he got the idea to build a little boat while walking on the beach with his son, and after some thought, he decided to go for it. Over the five months it took him to build the boat, he started learning how to do woodworking and grew to love it. Because he loved it so much, he built many things in between working on the boat, and by the end, he had some reasonable skill and a new lifelong hobby. 

In a world that prizes excellence, I've found that it's difficult for me to start something new if I know my first attempt is not going to be stellar. I should know better, being a musician (albeit a musician on somewhat of a hiatus at the moment). I can't expect to pick up an instrument and be a prodigy, so this idea that I should be immediately successful at whatever else strikes my fancy is ludicrous. But between the idea of having laughable first attempts plus the assumption that learning is over forever was enough to keep me from trying new things. And that, I finally concluded, is no way to live life. 

So finally, following the banishment of those two ideas, I've started recovering, and it's been great fun to rediscover some long-dormant hobbies. I'm certainly not the best seamstress or photographer, and I may never be able to make a living off of either of those two things, but I may turn into a really fantastic novice. And for now, that's enough. 

 Dabbling in photography since at least 2011.

Dabbling in photography since at least 2011.

Recent Thoughts: Part 1

I've had three separate topics of thought bouncing around in my head lately. I can't decide if they're related or not, but I figured I'd put them all in one blog post to find out. Backwards? I'm sure if I asked an English teacher, he'd say that the purpose of writing a paper would be to denote pre-organized thoughts, and since I'm using a blog post to create order out of chaos...well, I'd flunk the English exam. Nevertheless, onward we go.

Number 1: screen time. For years, but especially lately, I've felt a somewhat constant dissatisfaction with how often I felt like I was tethered to my phone. I'd wake up in the morning and reach for it immediately, the brightness of the screen forcing me awake before my brain caught up. I'd use it while waiting for anything - Instagram, Facebook, Bloglovin', all while standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for Chaz to finish something at home. It would be the last thing I looked at before going to sleep, and again the brightness of the screen would keep me awake for longer than necessary. In other words, it was causing me to lose sleep and lose a connection with the world and I wasn't even recognizing it.

In addition, I felt like I had no opportunity for creative output anymore. Instead, I had exchanged that opportunity for the constant input of the thoughts and ideas of the rest of the world. And with no creativity left, it was easy to start believing that I had nothing worthwhile to offer. Everyone is more creative/thoughtful/exciting/fill-in-the-blank than I am, or so the thought process went, and shortly thereafter I'd be rolling in a deep mire of self-deprecation and pity like a pig in mud.

Over time I started to notice both my changed attitude about life and the disconnect with my surroundings. I didn't feel exactly whole anymore, and I think the constant input of noise from news articles, political blogs, Facebook status updates, and other things that I was using as an "escape" was actually causing me to forget how to look at the life right in front of me and engage myself in it. 

So I'm saying, "Enough." I established a 50-minute rule: no phone 50 minutes before going to bed and no phone within 50 minutes after getting up. Admittedly, that idea was stolen from an article I read (yes, on my phone shortly before going to bed), but it was a good idea and one worth implementing immediately. And within literally one day, I felt much more free. I guess phone addiction is real. Hi, my name is Jillian and I'm a phone addict. But at least I'm a recovering one.

 This picture has nothing to do with not having a phone, because I took it on my phone.

This picture has nothing to do with not having a phone, because I took it on my phone.

Since I just took up four full paragraphs with just item number 1, the whole topic is clearly going to need to be three separate posts. No one wants to read nine paragraphs of me rambling. But I AM curious...has anyone else felt the same way? Have you figured out the right balance of life and technology? Tell me your secrets, people!