Saturday, October 24, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect (Or, Gratitude Breeds Contentment)

This past week was a long one! Change is nearly always accompanied by some degree of stress, and in addition to taking on a new job back at the beginning of this month, and launching the website for Red Dirt Girl Photography, I've spent the past 2 weeks in my new position preparing for a big and important event that finally took place on Saturday. AND I've been planning our move, slated for exactly one month from today! To say I've felt stressed would be a bit of an understatement ;)

And yet, although stressed, I am grateful. Grateful for this job that allows me to work half the amount of time that I was working previously, but for the same pay. Grateful that my pay enables us to afford (even if just barely!) Ella's tuition. Grateful for the school community we've joined that we feel is worth every penny of said tuition. Grateful that my job is on the campus of Ella's school, and allows me to fuse my passion for Waldorf education with my natural proclivity for meeting new people and planting seeds of excitement inside of them for novel ideas and worthwhile endeavors. Grateful for the ways in which we already see Ella flourishing in her new environment, exhibiting more creativity, asking more thoughtful questions, and growing in her wonder at the world.

So, with all of this gratitude floating about, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share a daily touchstone that I find invaluable- my gratitude practice.

Did you know that people who describe themselves as being grateful tend to have more vitality and optimism, suffer less stress, and experience fewer episodes of clinical depression than the population as a whole? Not to mention, you just end up being a whole lot nicer to be around when you're dwelling on what's good, rather than harping on all that is not. So, in my own attempts to both be a more pleasant person and stave off depression and illness ;) I started a gratitude journal. This was no more complicated than picking up a 3-pack of Moleskine Kraft Brown Notebooks at Barnes & Noble and inking the front with a rubber stamp featuring an inspirational quote about gratitude. No, the starting was not difficult at's the persisting that proves a challenge. But persist I do.

Up until now my gratitude practice has consisted of logging 3 "thanks-givings" in my notebook throughout each day. It really is surprising how such a small act can change the entire trajectory of my day. So, I thought I would expand that practice a bit, by sharing some of my thankfulness via the blog. My hope is that in doing so, perhaps I can help to improve the trajectory of someone else's day.

So, please- post a comment. Tell me about your own gratitude practice- one you've undertaken recently, one that's been part of your daily life for as long as you can remember, or perhaps one that grows out of the seeds planted by reading this blog post. Share a story of how gratitude has changed your day, or how you've observed it changing someone else's life. And come back often, as I hope to make my gratitude practice a permanent feature on the blog...

Gratitude of the day for Wednesday, October 28th:

I am grateful for the privilege of being part of a school community where a friendly home visit from the kindergarten teacher, who comes bearing fresh-picked flowers bound with a finger-knitted ribbon, is par for the course.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy, floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

~ by Mary Oliver~

C'mon over to the other blog, for a glimpse into our recent family vacation:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wait a second...

...aren't I, your mom supposed to be the child of the eighties, little Miss Side-Ponytailed-Shirt-Off-One-Shoulder-Sassmeister?!?

All you need now are some legwarmers, a t-shirt clip, anda plastic charm necklace , and your repertoire will be complete ;)

Hi there, blogging world! Just in case you missed me (and lets be honest, how can I really expect anyone to miss me, when I post here so sporadically), I've been very busy getting ready to launch the brand, spanking new website for my on-location portrait photography business, and in the meantime, blogging over at: I apologize for letting this site sit barren for so long. If you're interested in seeing what I've been up to, be sure to visit my business blog for Red Dirt Girl Photography, and let me give you a little glimpse of how I'm trying to use my work to "add to the beauty"...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Groans that words cannot express

In high school, as a "typical, non-denominational, evangelical" teenager, I really had no framework or sense of appreciation for liturgical prayer. At the time, it seemed unforgivably impersonal, in a Christian climate where "personal relationship" was the litmus test for faith, and "personal experience" was the barometer by which that faith was measured and legitimized. In my arrogance and naivete I assumed that people who prayed "that way" were just haphazardly and inattentively rattling off an obligatory script. That their empty faith forced them to borrow other's prayers, rather than converse with God themselves. Oh, the foibles of my youth.

Now, on the verge of thirty, I think that liturgy resonates with me more deeply than just about anything else in my Christian tradition. The more brokenness I encounter, both in this world and inside of myself, the more I find myself at a loss for words.

At a loss for words to communicate the pangs of longing I feel internally, living in this tension that we call the now-but-not-yet.

At a loss for words that can possibly reconcile the unspeakable beauty of creation with the unspeakable horrors that play out inside it's borders, both of which take my breath away.

At a loss for words that can paint a tidy picture of what it means to live inside these moments and hours and days that are bursting at the seams with equal parts deep-seated faith and unshakeable doubt.

In the book of Romans I'm told that the Spirit of God intercedes for me in groans that my own words cannot express. "Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans." (Romans 8:26, The Message)

And these days I find similar comfort in the notion that generations of saints and sinners who walked this road before me, can give words to the groaning of my heart, when I simply cannot muster up the strength or the faith or the language necessary to do so myself. (Which I freely admit, these days, is more often than not.)

Several days back, when my friend Nate posted this Lenten prayer on his blog, I latched right on, and haven't loosened my grip since. I guess my hope in posting it here, is that someone else might hear the cries of their own heart echoed back to them in its words. That someone else might find comfort in knowing that their own private pangs and longings, sins and struggles, are universal. And that maybe, this particular set of phrases, cobbled together by a fellow disciple, can help catapult them from the posture of painful groaning to one of meaningful praying.

Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me
attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and with my neighbors on this earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams,
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be.
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day,
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.

Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of street people, in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people.
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time,
and possessions,
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.

Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
Grant me peace enough to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you…
only you!
Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me a torment,
storm enough to make within myself
and from myself,

something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.

(excerpted from Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, by Ted Loder )

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Well, lookee there!

A few months ago I stumbled upon a new blog, and was hooked instantly. As someone who is easily overwhelmed by the animosity and me-first mentality that often seem to prevail in the world, I am always on the lookout for stories of kindness- both small and extraordinary. I drive around town with a 'Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty' bumper sticker plastered to the back of my car, and keep a 'Happy File' where I stick kind notes and encouraging emails from friends, to help lift my spirits when they start to sag.

So, when I found out about Melissa, and her project Operation Nice, I added her to my Bloglines feed reader, and started devouring the accounts of kindness that she chronicles for the masses, while simultaneously taking her challenge to complete 'Nice Assignments.' What a great way to remind us of how powerful our words and actions are in the world, and to inspire us to wield them carefully and lovingly. Did I mention that Melissa is also local, lovely, talented *and* married to a Robert, just like me??? It makes me just a little bit giddy knowing that there are other people in my little corner of the world endeavoring to add to the beauty in their everyday interactions.

And whaddya know? Today, I made it onto Melissa's site!!

So, wander on over to Operation Nice, and say hi to Melissa for me! Submit your own story of kindness, and yours may be the next smiling mug featured on her blog ;) Add her to your blogroll, subscribe to her RSS feed, and start planting the seeds of kindness in your community!

(Oh, and if you came to my blog today by way of Melissa, thanks for stopping in! I hope you'll comment so I know you were here, and stop by often to dialogue with me about life, art, parenthood, community, and of course, kindness!)

Monday, March 16, 2009

YOU are Beautiful!

We live in a time in which the proliferation of beauty products is at an all-time high. And yet, we also live in a time in which you'd be hard pressed to find a woman who feels beautiful, consistently and without qualification ("I love my eyes, but if only my [insert body part here] weren't so [big, small, flat, round, saggy, etc.]...). Instead of appreciating our unique attributes, we curse them as oddities. Instead of looking for what we love about ourselves (inside and out), we pick apart each minor blemish and imperfection, and end up hating our bodies and spending inordinate amounts of time trying to alter them to meet an invisible and ever-changing standard. Teenage girls who weigh 100 lbs. soaking wet call themselves fat, and truly believe their proclamations.

We long for the flawless skin of the model on the magazine, failing to recognize that her flawless skin belongs to Photoshop, and not to her at all. As I enter into the world of portrait photography, it is not lost on me that I will be bumping up against this ethical dilemma on a daily basis. Even as "natural light, lifestyle photographers" (a group I aspire to become part of) tout a style of photographic art that captures "real life in motion," "individual personality uncensored," and "candid moments captured," there is still a heavy reliance on editing photos to remove imperfections, while injecting smoother skin, brighter eyes and greater 'polish.'

Just the other day I watched a demo on a photography website in which a bride's skin was transformed, turning her normal and natural (if slightly blemished) rosy skin into plasticized peachy-cream perfection. The tone, the texture- all utterly transformed. And I couldn't help but think that if I were that bride, I don't imagine I would look at those photos and think, "Gosh, I looked gorgeous on my wedding day." Instead, I'd be thinking, "Gosh, my photographer must have thought I have awful skin, what with the way he/she 'fixed' it in every single photograph." Photoshopping my skin until it resembles a magazine model more than it does *me* would not increase my confidence. Instead, it would tend to make me even more hypercritical of my perceived flaws, and possibly reveal to me new 'imperfections' I had never before considered...

Anyway, I digress...

As a card-carrying member of the sisterhood of women worldwide, I have felt a compulsion in recent years to remind women of their beauty, even as popular media seems to do little other than undermine it. Not 'women' as some sort of generalized group, but real, individual women. (And more often than not, women I don't know from Eve.) It's a little embarrassing at times, I'll admit, and I don't always muster the courage to make it happen, but I do try.

It all started about 2 years ago, when I walked into a little cafe' here on the Main Line. I'd ordered a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and as I stood at the counter waiting for my bacon, egg and cheese goodness to come off the grill, one of the girls behind the counter turned to me and said, "You have such beautiful skin." Five simple words, and yet they amounted to a grand kindness. I think I blushed, and I probably stuttered a little in thanking her. But obviously, it made an impression. It made my day, and it has since come back into my mind from time-to-time, and helped to rescue me from bouts of self scrutiny and my relentless insecurities.

So it is, in light of that experience, that I try to make a habit of telling random women that they are beautiful. The cashier at Whole Foods with the genuine and unrestrained smile, and dimples that are to-die-for. The woman with the dark and mesmerizing eyes who gives me a pedicure. The girl at the drive-through with the stunning red hair. And of course, my dearest friends, who will probably never fully grasp their own beauty, inside or out. I like to hope that in some small way, my words to them make a difference, an impression. That they recall the sister-stranger who told them they were beautiful, and feel emboldened in this unforgiving "nip-and-tuck" nation of Photoshopped faces and narrow, singular standards of beauty that exclude so many.

Yesterday, I was walking the streets of my friend's urban, river-front neighborhood, in search of photo opportunities for a class project. As I entered the park, an SUV that was exiting slowed to a stop. The woman inside rolled down her window and yelled out to me, "You look so pretty today. Have a beautiful day!" Thank you, Sister-Stranger. I am certain that I will never forget you, or your bold kindness to me. The world and its women need more of us, and more of these reminders.