Sticky Notes from the Universe You May Have Missed

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By Amanda Cleary Eastep

There were sticky notes everywhere.

Just to make absolutely sure that the high school and college graduation party for my kids went off without a hitch, my mother had strategically placed important messages throughout the house.

“pans for grilled food only” (read: don’t use these pans for E-coli-ridden raw meat holders or musical instruments)

“hot” salsa and “mild” salsa

and our favorite note, placed on the pitcher beside the coffee pot, “water for coffee,” which, hours later, mysteriously ended up on the toilet lid.

Although certain messages may seem obvious and their transference to a small piece of hot pink paper superfluous, often in life we still don’t get the message.

Take last Sunday. I was being a poop.

At some point in the day, I thought or said the following…

I hate Sundays.

I’m not sure I want to write anymore.

What does God want me to do with my life?

Why is it raining?

(Followed by) It’s too cold to walk in the rain.

(Followed by) Why are you making me walk in the rain?

I was walking (in the rain) with my daughter, who loves to dance (in the rain) and tried to spin me around joyfully. I grudgingly acquiesced, like the dead guy with rigor mortis in the 80s movie Weekend at Bernie’s.

She said, You’re being a poop.

She prayed I would get punched in the face with joy.

The next day, Monday, February 1, the Universe (better known in my circles as God) answered with a barrage of fluorescent sticky notes smacked to my forehead.

Messages from the Universe that May Seem Obvious But that You May Have Missed

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How you begin the day matters

Before I got out of bed Monday morning, I read the first day of a new devotional in which Oswald Chambers talks about the Apostle Paul’s determination to do his utmost for his highest.

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“That’s it. I’m writing for God ONLY,” I announced to my daughter at breakfast.

I know about working for God’s glory, but I have a lot of personal reasons for why I blog, like the ever-elusive fame and fortune. Like building email list subscribers (for when I have an email list). And for growing a “tribe” who will snatch up my e-book (when I finally write one).

But I’ve kind of skipped over the “absolute and irrevocable surrender of the will” part Chambers mentions. At this very moment, at least, I’m writing because God wants me to, and he reads every word and takes joy in them (except for my occasional use of “shit”). True surrender means that even if no one ever reads another thing I write, my satisfaction will be complete and my success will be achieved with an audience of One.

Be open to insight from unlikely sources

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I recently bought a Groupon for Dahn yoga classes. My elder daughter and I attended our second class yesterday and had a brief orientation, during which we learned some cool Korean words. Then out of the blue (although the transitional phrasing may have been lost in translation), Master Chung looks me in the eye and says in Kor-english:

“We ask ‘What am I supposed to do?’”

[knock me off my warrior stance with a rice noodle]

“We don’t achieve goals because we stop then start then stop,” she said, extending her hand, palm down, and imitating the movement of waves. “But you must keep going until you reach the goal.”

Honor the work of those you admire by carrying out your own work

Yesterday, Tammy Perlmutter, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about her journey to becoming a writer and how she started The Mudroom Blog, which celebrated its first anniversary–also yesterday. Obviously, these words resonated:

“God merged the two and gave me a new commission: Write for me.”

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I know this post spoke to many readers for many reasons. Not only was it an encouragement for me to continue writing/blogging, but I realized that by carrying out the work we are called to do, we honor the fellow writers, artists, musicians, mothers and fathers, pastors and masters whose work we admire (and also sometimes dementedly covet).

How you end the day matters (…OR share your sticky notes)

The final message of the day came in a shared Disney photo album from my son who is vacationing with his new wife. Most of the pictures are of fancy tropical drinks and dumb Keenan faces, but this was among them.

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That’s why I’m sharing my February 1 sticky notes with you.

All those messages from God and the universe and your mom that offer enlightenment and comfort and a good laugh are meant to be passed along, stuck on other people’s refrigerators and foreheads. And even if Monday didn’t “punch me in the face with joy,” at least it sent me the clear message to do my “utmost.”

Watching the sun set, because it’s ok to know how it ends

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

About 50 of us spread out along the shoreline. Silhouettes, and strangers joined only in our intention to witness the big event.

The sun is about to set on the Gulf.

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I had run ahead of my husband as soon as we parked along Gulf Blvd., because I was sure the sun would simply drop like a New Year’s Eve ball into the water without so much as a splash. My feet went from concrete to white sand, and I staked out our spot in line, amid decimated mollusk shells and abandoned sandcastles.

“I’ve seen hundreds of sunsets, honey,” my mother-in-law had answered when I asked her if she wanted to go with us.

“But every one is different,” was my uninspiring reply.

We’ve all seen at least one sunset in our lives. I suppose that’s why the beach isn’t packed with throngs of tourists and locals, screaming, The sun is setting! The sun is setting!

Yet here, everyone is quiet, watching, like we aren’t really sure of the ending.

There are the obvious resident Floridians, wrapped head to toe in blankets, because it is 62 degrees;

families with small children whose little feet curve over the thick ropes strung around the rocky, “danger” areas;

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people with serious cameras and people with phone cameras, trying to capture what you never really can in that waning brilliance—an arm around a lover or the last bit of escape from the office world or the I-made-it-through peace that comes when the day is over.

I know the pictures will turn out more like screensavers instead of capturing the sacredness of the  waves rolling in and bringing you a child’s crushed dandelion offering in the form of strange, gooshy sea things, kissing your toes, and sweeping your cares out into the deep.

After the sun dips below the horizon, there is a moment of fire, a glare of orange and blue smoke clouds.

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But most of the onlookers  have wandered off in different directions. Some back into the frames of brightly lit condo living rooms hung on the skyline behind us; some to the Friendly Tavern across the street, where bikers hunch over Budweisers and gay men laugh over multi-colored margaritas in cheap plastic cups; some to tuck in their children, not caring about sandy feet because they are glad for the limp bodies exhausted by smelling sea air and chasing seagulls.

We stay until I ask my husband if there are beach police who chase people away after dark. There is a couple with a stroller, and I am glad that they have started building an appreciation of quiet, regular beauty in their children. Another couple is still tossing a Frisbee that lights up as it flies low like the pelicans do.

They’re still here, too, because they don’t have to leave. They are just beyond the roped off danger area, floating, piercing the surface, gulping fish, and soaring back and forth, their wing tips a whisper away from the deep sighing of the water.

They’ve seen hundreds of sunsets.

They already know what we forget and have to remind ourselves of. That some things are certain, that the sun will rise and set, but that the predictability of it shouldn’t be taken for granted. It should be witnessed and celebrated.

 

Liked These Best in 2015 You Did

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

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“Impossible to see the future is.” – Yoda

We don’t know what 2016 will bring, but my year-end blog analytics gave me a chance to see what resonated with you in 2015 here at Living Between the Lines.

THANK YOU for reading, liking, sharing, and commenting! If any of the Top 5 posts encouraged you, please share them!

Happy New Year count down

5. Because Your Good Friends will Follow You Out the Window… 

Window_AtticOne after the other, the six of us crawl out my friend’s apartment bedroom window and onto the flat, tar paper roof of Wilma’s Cafe where the farmers gather on Saturday mornings to drink coffee and eat Western omelets after milking or plowing or planting, depending on the season. To me that roof is a wonderland. Forbidden territory. …

4. Why Life Between the Lines Matters More than You Think…

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My son once had a dream that he found me dead beneath a pile of dirty clothes. Today, only a few weeks away from being a licensed counselor, he could probably provide me with an irritatingly accurate analysis of that dream. …

3. Quiet Riot…

footprints-sandIn the bed that my father built and painted bright yellow, I wake in the middle of the night. There is a presence that fills the room. Good as Santa but even scarier, so I lie there crying until my grandmother hears me. …

 

2. When Your Power Ain’t So Super, Woman…

super-kidSometimes your kids think you are invincible. Sometimes we think our children are geniuses. But the truth is that we are all humans. We sin and bleed. We are Clark Kents and only pretend at flying.  We break. We heal slowly beneath our Spiderman bandages. …

 

1. The Year of Living Courageously…

clouds-gazeCourage calls you to act. If you can do the thing without trembling or throwing up in your mouth or going to God, tugging on his sleeve, and saying, “Can I skip this part?” it probably isn’t courageous. …So what does being courageous look like? …

Thanks, also, to my most frequent commenters! Cheryl, Gayl, Rose, and Cindy (and mom and dad, of course).

Happy New Year everyone!

Being Bob Cratchit: What Should You Carry into the New Year?

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

Bob Cratchit got fired from his low-paying job on Christmas Eve. Sure, it was a miserable job–the office was freezing in the winter, the hours were long, and he had only one day off each year. Christmas Day.

And then there was his boss, Ebenezer Scrooge.

As I watched A Christmas Carol this year for what must be the 30th time and subjected my children to 1938 overacting in super low-def black and white, one scene struck me that never had before.

After hearing the devastating news of his loss of employment, Cratchit takes his last meager earnings and splurges them on his family’s holiday dinner. Rather than pinching the few pennies left, cursing Scrooge, and coming home a broken and dejected man, Cratchit decides to make this Christmas Eve one of abundance and joy for his wife and children.

He buys the biggest goose with all the trimmings, then joyously bursts into his simple home with his arms full of treasures wrapped in brown paper.

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You can make out the shapes of the fresh bird and other shopping list items. But like the ghosts of blessings past, their plain wrappings seem to turn them into symbols of loss and the sorrow this man silently carries in his heart.

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The day before Christmas Eve, I received a call from a bill collector. I’m a stickler for timely payments, but with all the medical bills that have accrued over the past year, I had apparently missed one. I sat on the edge of my bed, paperwork spread out in front of me, and cried.

OK, so it’s not like I would be carted off to the workhouse and my kids would be praying for lumps of coal in their stockings to keep them warm on Christmas morning. Just sometimes, one of those things we carry adds too much weight to the pile already in our arms. See there? You can make out the shape of the wayward child, the yet-to-be-diagnosed symptoms, and constant car repairs.

But that’s not all we carry.

Those things Cratchit holds in his tired arms are also symbols of something else. What he brings into his home that Christmas Eve night, into the new year, and into the unknown is hopeand an attitude of thankfulness for that moment of plenty, despite what appears to be the promise of scarcity.

Hope came to us in similar wrappings on the first Christmas–a baby in swaddling clothes laid in a feeding trough, yet a symbol of our greatest hope and one we can carry into the new year. Into the job loss/gain, into the broken/healed family.

As I sat on my comfy bed in my safe warm house, I temporarily focused on the burden rather than the abundance. I focused on the swaddling instead of the star shine, on the lowly manger instead of the angel song.

Why do we let go of hope so easily? How many times do we have to come out of suffering to realize Scrooge is not the one in control, that pain and loss and trial are not our masters?

Apparently, again and again. But that’s what’s lovely about this time of year. We might not be able to decide what we carry, but we can decide how we carry it and who we turn to with both our needs and our thanks.

We can choose to go into the new year being Bob Cratchit.

On a side note: This same scene is repeated near the end of the movie, but this time, it is Scrooge who enters the house with his arms full of plainly wrapped packages and a radically changed heart.

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“Do you know what I know?” The truth about the Three Wise Men

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

For me, it was more shocking than discovering Santa wasn’t real.

Despite all the Christmas pageant memorization I endured growing up Lutheran, it wasn’t until high school when I realized that the Three Wise Men WERE NEVER AT THE MANGER.

The whole nativity scenario my classmates and I had played out each Christmas Eve for proud parents and grandparents was historically inaccurate.

I never looked at the crèche beneath our tree the same again.

I believed the Magi should be placed at least two to three feet away from the scene, every 12 inches representing a year of never asking for directions, camel breakdowns and accidental detours during meteor showers.

How had tradition taken the place of truth?

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

But no matter how long it took the wise men (or how many there actually were for that matter), they showed up. And they are part of the reason we give gifts today.

No matter what these wise men actually were–astrologers, scholars or kings–the truth is that they risked their lives and left behind their homeland to honor a child they knew little, if anything, about…except that he was worthy of their greatest gifts.

Not frankincense, myrrh or even gold, but their presence.

When I think of the traditions my family has kept over the years, especially at Christmas, they focus on showing up–being together and still loving each other when all the personalities are crammed around the same table.

Should we really be surprised the Magi at the manger version stuck with us for hundreds of years? Tradition is important, especially during holidays or times in our lives when we are feeling alone or uprooted.

When my daughters and I moved into our own place nine years ago, I bought a $3 Christmas tree at a resale shop. The branch on the bottom is still held together with a pipe cleaner. Even though we have enjoyed a “real” tree the past two years, the girls won’t let me get rid of that raggedy tree.

Christmas tree lights

Like the beautiful balsams severed from their place in the snowy woods that we decorate with lights and trinkets, we sometimes dress up in lovely sparkles to take our minds off of the loss of our legs.

That year, I also bought a crèche made out of twigs. In it, we place the figures we salvaged from our old house or have collected over time.

Like the three baby Jesuses (Jesi?), affectionately known as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Mary, Joseph, the resting cow and the one surviving lamb. A fuzzy llama and two raccoons from North Carolina.

Resting over the historically, ecologically, and dimensionally inaccurate scene is an origami “dove.”

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And the Three Wise Men? The Magi from the East? We have ever only had one, so we improvise. Joining old “Melchior” this year are Gandalf and Pez Santa.

We don’t mean any disrespect to Jesus. The scene is representative of our family’s weird sense of humor, of our past displacement and new foundation, and mostly, of our acceptance of the hard-to-believe-it’s-true gift that we can approach the King just as we are–wise man or lowly shepherd.

And besides, it’s tradition.

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Linking up this week with other #wholemama writers reflecting on tradition at Erika Shirk’s Overflow blog.

Taking a Red Crayon to a White Wall

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

I’m back to volunteering to teach writing workshops at The Bridge Teen Center. What happens around that table never changes, not really, just the faces and the words. The need of these young people to express themselves is always there, despite their education or neighborhood or personal challenges.

This is an updated post I wrote after one of the workshops, and I’m linking up with Ashley Hales’ Literacy Musing Monday. [Actually I missed the linkup, but check out the other great posts!]

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Several teenagers sit around the table, notebooks in front of them, looking to me to teach them how words work. How words flow out of the end of that purple gel pen or the borrowed pencil and somehow arrange themselves on lines and into stories.

I have barely finished a more-challenging-than-usual semester of teaching a media writing class to college students who are soon planning to graduate, get jobs, and be free from homework (which some of them attempted to do from the start of the academic year).

But this group of young teens around the table is different. They don’t have to be here at this writers’ workshop I volunteered to lead.

Unlike my college students, this  crowd isn’t falling asleep after a 5:55 p.m. Hot Pocket and the first 10 minutes of my lecture. These 13-18 year olds arrived at the center stretched as tight as a nylon book cover over an American literature text and nearly bursting with the words and ideas barely contained in their 1-subject notebooks.

…notebooks full of stories unhindered by the boundaries of the 3-paragraph essay assignment and its aversion to the topic of a zombie apocalypse…no, dude, a zombie alien apocalypse!

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These kids are Free Writers.

Free writing—A technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time
without regard to spelling or grammar. 

No regard for spelling or grammar. Whoa. That’s tough for me. I’m a marketing writer and former adjunct writing professor. We’ve all seen the tragic meme about leaving out commas.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

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Let’s eat Grandma.

But time to move on to breaking the rules.

I explain that the space around the table is a “free zone.” Not only free from criticism but from language arts rules. They can once again be the kids who write on white walls with red crayons.

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We start the workshop with a word game. Everyone takes a turn saying one word off the top of their heads.

Sprint. Pickle. Manikin.

Manikin. (I decide this word conjures an image). “Tell me what you see, Cody.”

“The manikin in the store window is wearing my underwear.”

Yep, there’s a story.

Laughter erupts around the table. Scenes form in their minds. I tell them to free write what they see.

Then they share. One manikin story includes a sloth…another a zombie attack, of course.

Ah, the work of young creators. Like God in his early 20s making up stuff like light and vampire squid and coffee beans.

By the third workshop, the stories are more complex, whether realistic or fantastical…from a young woman’s struggle with an eating disorder to a boy being attacked by a refrigerator that thinks he is a midnight snack.

They write without regard to spelling, grammar, punctuation, or even what others might think of what they’ve committed to paper. Sure, they still learn about description and character development, but they also learn that their ideas, their words are valuable. And, oh, do they seek validation as they so openly, so FREELY, spill themselves onto every page.

I write along with them.

Free writing pulls some unseen thread through me and out the end of my pen until I’m drawn into a tight bundle of Associated Press style guidelines and academic jargon and thesaurus lists. But I keep working through the discomfort of the exercise until that thread snaps and the real and raw stuff comes out.

Author Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life talks about Sh*##y First Drafts. I don’t directly connect this with the exquisitely honest writing of young people, but her point about allowing it to “all pour out” speaks to the necessity of becoming like a child during the process:

“The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place… You let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page… If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.”

When I read this, I can’t help but think of a Bible verse. “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven,” Jesus said in the Book of Matthew. It’s about letting go of our CONTROL OVER EVERYTHING, in writing and in life.

So while my students may learn from me, I have been reminded that to be a good writer, I have to also be a Free Writer.

Yep, I see the writing on the wall, and it’s all in red crayon.

Why Advent Hope Is Way Better than Junior Prom Hope

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

I REALLY wanted him to ask me to prom.

I waited. And waited. And. Waited.

Until one day, when it seemed all hope was lost, a nervous young man twitched his way over to my locker and sweated out an invitation to our junior prom.

Except it was the wrong young man. This wasn’t the guy I hoped would ask me, the one who flirted in study hall or called to talk about our shared love of cycling the country roads between our respective homes.

As we stood facing each other in the high school hallway, I’m pretty sure my wide eyes blinked N. O. in Morse Code. But the guy, actually a good friend of mine, just stood there twitchy smiling.

Then I got mad. How could you put me in a place of potentially hurting your feelings? I thought we were friends. Don’t you realize how much energy I have poured into agonizing over whether or not the Other Guy is going to ask me to prom? What kind of friend are you?

I had been counting down the days until junior prom. Since I was like 13. For years, I had been saving a gown my mom bought on clearance but never wore.

Prom was supposed to be AMAZING, especially since I had only been on two terrible blind dates thus far the past three years of high school. The Other Guy was supposed to ask me casually with a flip of his shaggy blonde hair. He was supposed to buy me a wrist corsage to match my magenta monstrosity of a  dress. We were supposed to go on a picnic the day after an evening of dry chicken kiev and slow dancing to Journey.

I blinked “no” one more time and said…

“Sure.”

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Ah, “hope is a thing with feathers” wrote Emily Dickinson. That ends up beak first in your car grille.

Hope is also what we contemplate this first week of Advent. I never paid much attention to Advent, except when I was a kid and opened a tiny door on the cardboard calendar each day as a countdown to Christmas.

While I am making light of the angst-y teenager kind of hope, junior prom is a lesson in how misplaced our hope, and even our waiting, can be.

Rather than placing our hope IN something, we hope FOR something, as if directing our wants and expectations at a target–a new car, a better job, a happy marriage–will result in our ultimate happiness. Even with more “noble” hopes–healing of a loved one, the safety of our children, peace in a troubled nation–we seem to passively await a supernatural favor from some apathetic deity.

Often, like a people who trust in idols they’ve carved with their own hands, we look to the false gods of possessions or passions or fellow fallible human beings.

But Romans 15:13 shows us a radically different kind of hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This isn’t Dickinson’s little–albeit lovely–bird singing in the gale, but a force of God’s nature…a literal flood of hope from an unending source.

Yet, we aren’t passive recipients standing under a waterfall of blessing. Hope fills us as we “trust in him” and overflows “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Hope is active, because it calls us to trust. Hope is unending, because God is eternal. And hope carries with it the things, that in the end, we ultimately all desire–joy and peace.

May this first week of Advent give you Someone to hope IN.

Junior Prom Epilogue… I ended up being a crappy junior prom date. My friend was kind and goofy and caring and probably just hoped for some good conversation and maybe a kiss on the cheek. But I spent most of the evening drowning my sorrows in about five liters of Coke at the “pop bar” and talking to the “bartender” who gave me his address at the boys’ home so I could write him a letter sometime.

On the drive home, I was sure my bladder was going to explode in my friend’s dad’s Oldsmobile. My hope of being asked to prom by the Other Guy was actually realized senior year. He spent the evening making out with another girl while I danced with his younger brother. Hope may be a thing with feathers, but karma’s got some big ass talons.

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Junior prom dress and (inset) Senior prom dress and a sideways look that says, That dress was SO 1983.

I’m LINKING UP with the #wholemama bloggers this week as we talk about “Waiting.” Read what these wonderful women have to say during this time of Advent waiting.