"I do this (looking back) in the hope of encouraging others to do the same - at least to look back over their own lives, as I have looked back over mine, for certain themes and patterns and signals that are so easy to miss when you're caught up in the process of living them."
Pausing a moment at the end of each season to glance back over my shoulder at my life is my way of seeing more clearly where I might be headed in the next season. Does that seem counterintuitive? Why look backward if where you are headed is forward?
It is in the writing of these lessons and sharing them that good work happens inside me and because of that interior work, I hope for you. Plant those learnings (and unlearnings) in community and it only multiplies our wisdom and joy. This writing is part of a larger learning community called "What We Learned", or WWL for short, over at Emily P. Freeman's house on the interwebs.
This summer was full of moving, splashing, swinging, mountain biking, and preaching. There were plenty of lessons in it all. Here is what I learned.
- What to do when your big toe is a raisin.
Remember those childhood summer days at the pool when your fingers and toes wrinkled like prunes for being in the water all day? We had jumped, dived, and dropped like cannonballs into the water. We held our breath for lengths of the pool and performed stellar handstands on the bottom. We came out waterlogged, scrubbed clean, and with the hairdo of President George Washington himself.
Later when I became a mama, the pool held more caution than magic. I figured out how to finagle four kids at the pool by myself, slathering their tender skin with SPF 50, putting one in a back pack, one in my arms and two hanging onto the edge. I was on high alert, hoping no one (especially me) had to go to the bathroom for the next hour. Otherwise, the whole traveling caravan had to get out and pad sopping wet the the locker room.
When the day finally arrived that everyone could safely swim and I could sit in a chaise lounge by the pool and actually read the pages of a book, I welcomed it with open arms and a striped straw in my diet Dr. Pepper. That peace of mind was a long time coming.
Some dreams are like that, a long time coming.
And that's just fine. Like learning to swim, reaching for our dreams takes matering skills and building muscles. There is floating, breathing, and strokes to learn. There is fear to conquer. The timing of our strokes to our breathing might take a while becoming a ready rhythym. There is patience, perseverance and resilience to practice.
But one day recently I realized I had been sitting poolside on one of my dreams, one foot tucked underneath me and one foot dangling just above the water, for too long. I had done a lot of talking about it. I had asked a lot of questions. I had met with mentors. I had read, researched, and rested. It dawned on me that my one big toe was pruny, a raisin even, but the rest of me was smooth and dry. I was near the water. But I was still thirsty for the cool feel of water sliding off the top of my head, dripping off my eyelashes, and spouting from my mouth from the deep plunge.
I wanted the childhood awe of examining my fingertips after a day swimming in the pool and marveling at the wrinkled skin as if it were not really my own. Fascination. Wonderment. Surprise.
What do we do when we have been sitting poolside for too long and only our big toe is pruny?
- Find the seesaw on the playground.
Have you had one of those conversations that just doesn't work? There is something about the interaction that leaves you hanging in mid-air or walking away hurt and breathless. What is that?
Remember the seesaw on the schoolyard playground? If you and your friend each pushed off from the ground when your feet touched down, you took turns flying up in the air and gently gliding down. Done with joy and care, there was a beautiful motion of giving and receiving that high viewpoint over the playgound, the wind in your hair, as well as the lowly one own where the bees buzzed in the clover.
But there was always a kid who in their stubbornness left you dangling in the air with no way down. Or once you were up against the sky, let go of their end, letting you crash to the ground with a thud so jarring you felt it in your teeth and your tailbone.
I read recently in Humbly Inquiry by Edgar H. Schein that we live in "a culture of tell". We want to tell more than we want to listen. We tend to ask leading, cornering, or humiliating questions. If we are not careful we pepper people with our questions. And that just makes them sneeze.
We have forgotten how to ask good questions. And we have lost too much by doing so - kindness, respect, curiosity, and the tuning of our listening ears. Real down-to-earth learning. What happened to our genuine, respectful, give-and-take curiosity?
I am learning to ask more genuine questions, ones that I don't already know the answer to. The kind of questions that help me understand another point of view. I dont have to agree, but I can close the gap between us just by asking more open questions and then listening, really listening.
Asking humble questions builds bridges from our hearts to others. We were made for this kind of heart-to-heart connection. We were created for friendship by a loving, living God who is Himself in relationship and always has been - that is Trinity.
I heard recently that asking questions is charming. And I think that is true if we are asking genuinely humble questions and then listening to understand.
As always Fred Rogers said it best,
"The older I get, the more convinced I am that the space between people who are trying their best to understand each other is hallowed ground."
Can you find the seesaw on the playground?
- Un-learning is part of learning that brings back childhood wonder.
One quiet day this summer I was sitting outside in the Cascades air swaying in a wedding hammock, one of the best wedding gifts we ever received. My mind drifted to things I’m UN-LEARNING.
☀️ Chips and salsa everyday is not good for you (Oh, but the joy!)
☀️ I've gotta get my life right before I’m beloved
☀️ Making decisions by pros and cons (see #1 above)
☀️ Being in a hurry gets important stuff done
☀️ Telling my big kids what to do or how to do it
I am the first to admit how hard unlearning can be. Some of this stuff I have been acting on without realizing it until something shifts and I notice my old lessons aren't working any more either for me or someone I love. Then I want to go back to before I learned that crooked lesson. It may have worked once in a moment or for awhile, or maybe it just appeared to work in the moment, but not for life.
Unlearning is the first step to learning a new and better thing. Whole learning involves three parts:
- Realize what we learned that is untrue or not working
- Un-learn it (or part of it)
- Learn a new way
Yet when we unlearn, we clear out what clouds our thinking and stalls our feet. It’s like waking up from a deep sleep, plucking the sleep crystals from the corners of your eyes, and washing your face in sunshine.
You're ready for a brand new day. What are you unlearning?
- The Beatitudes are like walking around in the heart of a mountain.
Usually I am sitting in one of the pews on a Sunday morning, but every once-in-a-while I get to preach at my church. When that happens, I get excited, my senses go on high alert in my daily living, and I get a little bit scared wondering what I just said yes to.
In the end, what I have said yes to is a whole lot of learning for my own heart, a.k.a. preaching to myself. This time my learning was about a hike in a caldera, my favorite, toughest and most tender-hearted Spanish teacher, Mrs. Acardi, and a fresh look at one of the Beatitudes found in the book of Matthew, which it turns out, have a bit of the goodness of childhood baked right in. Listen in.
- No matter your age bicycles still make the best birthday gift.
The wheels were fat and the forest trails rugged and dusty. I had visions of hitting a rock or pinecone, sailing over the handle bars and landing hard in the brush. But the wind through my hair and the sight of a deer on the trail made my heart swell and took me back to white streamers flying from handle bars in the hot summer air. It was a taste of childhood.
This whole look back on my summer made me want to visit a playground. September is still ahead full of sunshiny days before fall completely settles in in all of her golden glory, so find some time to ride your bike, swing in a swing, spin in a merry-go-round, glide down a slide, or pump up and down in seesaw if you can find one. That's where you can find me.
What did you learn or unlearn this summer?