“Did she forget who she had always wanted to be?” ~Jennifer
I’m no domestic goddess. I paid no attention to how my mom did the laundry. I had my head buried in a book while she was cooking. I didn’t want to be stuck behind the stove or in front of the washing machine. I wanted to travel, learn new languages, earn degrees, and write. I never thought about where and when a husband and children would fit into my plans, but I knew I definitely wanted them. As the years went by, I forgot just how much.
I’ve now traveled so much that I no longer have the wanderlust. I’ve satiated whatever strange need I had to possess knowledge. I’ve come to enjoy writing as an expression of my heart rather than proof of my brain. Marriage and motherhood have humbled me and shaped me. They are integral parts of who I am.
I had an awful case of the flu when it was time to take my February photo. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling, other than extremely nauseous. I attempted to shoot some self-portraits, hoping I wouldn’t look green. By the time I loaded the photos onto my computer and realized they were unusable, there was nothing I could do. My husband gathered us up for Sunday breakfast out, which it turns out was an early birthday surprise for me. My in-laws were there waiting with smiles and presents. The stack of blueberry pancakes I ate was the best ever, especially because it was the first solid food I had eaten in days. The gifts I received were heartfelt and thoughtful. One of them was a bracelet my mother-in-law had had engraved “Strong in the softest of ways,” (which is the title of an essay I had published in Bella Grace magazine this winter). I gasped when I saw the round charm, so overcome with surprise and so honored to receive it.
After returning home, I started to panic. What was I going to do about not having a photo for the She is Three monthly triptych? Then I looked down, where three items illuminated by the sun streaming in caught my eye. My wedding ring, my new charm bracelet, and the Mama bracelet my daughter had strung for me last year were right there, shining back at me. They are what I had forgotten in the midst of my worry.
I’m still not a domestic goddess, but I am a wife, a mother, and a woman who strives to be strong in the softest of ways. Those roles are far harder than any paying job I have ever held. They are also roles that no amount of studying could have prepared me for. And so I wear my wedding ring and my bracelets proudly. They are badges of honor that I have attained through my heart, not my head. They are reminders of who I always wanted to be.
“When she wakes up, she sets her intention for the day.” ~Jennifer
Most mornings are a blur.
I awaken to the sound of my son calling “Mama, Mama, Mama.”
Or I sense my daughter’s breath on me, her face just inches from mine.
Sometimes mischievous kittens pounce to rouse me.
All this is to say that I’m not focused when I wake up.
I don’t start my day with a beautiful meditation practice.
There are no candles or incense or soft music playing.
Instead, there are sippy cups to fill and diapers to change.
My mornings may not be calm and centered,
Yet amidst all the voices and meows and breakfast bowls,
I enter a moment of silence in my head (albeit brief).
I ask for clarity and compassion.
I pray for health and safety.
I give thanks for this life:
For the blessing of deepest love,
For the honor of motherhood,
For the beautiful land of which we are stewards,
For the sweet companionship of animals,
For the pure joy of flowers,
For the holiness of light,
For the angels in the outfield,
For the kind hearts of friends,
For hope and healing in the world,
For the opportunity to start fresh again,
For all the lessons I’ve learned (even the really hard ones),
For all the miracles yet to come (because I believe they will).
When I wake up in the morning, I set my intention for the day.
Whether it is sunny or cloudy, warm or cold, busy or not,
I always intend that the highest and the best transpire.
I wish the highest and the best for you, too.
“She claimed her power to find the light.” ~Jennifer
Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Many people dread this time, with its lack of daylight and the colder temperatures it brings. But for the past couple of years, I’ve actually enjoyed the shorter days of winter. It feels like Mother Nature is giving me permission to slow down and draw in. All the trees and animals have already taken her cue. They live by the seasons, respecting times of growth and times of rest.
Now it’s my turn. The winter weather inspires me to wear thick sweaters and find comfort by the fire. Somehow, knowing that there the world outside is at rest makes it easier for me to honor my own limits. I don’t have to finish everything right then and there. I curl up in my favorite winter spot: the right-hand corner of the hearth. I draw my knees up to my chest and lean my head back on the warm bricks, absorbing their heat. The house is still. I look out the windows before me and realize that there is more than just blackness outside. I see Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and Perseus winking at me. There are white fairy lights hanging on the house, twinkling in the night.
When overwhelm sucks me into internal darkness, slowing down and noticing the sources of light in my midst is my antidote. There is always light to be found in the darkness. Always. Each of us has the power to find it.
“She danced with the wind and shone with the sun.” ~Jennifer
I crave serenity. Simplicity. Attunement.
More often than not, I override those needs because I have tasks to accomplish and people to take care of.
In doing so, I risk living my days as lists to manage rather than sources of joy.
And so I remind myself, time and time again, that existence doesn’t have to be black and white.
It can be embellished with highlights of gold and hints of sparkle.
It isn’t a matter of having time for grace and glee.
It’s a matter of consecrating time to experience them.
Pausing just long enough to take it all in:
The magic of an autumn sunrise.
The bursting of milkweed pods, their white filaments waving about.
The scent of dew on fallen leaves.
The twirl of tulle in a sleeping meadow.
The giggles bubbling forth as I dance with the wind.
Just me and the Universe.
Just for a few moments.
Just long enough to remember that we are all filled with light.
“She made magic when she stopped trying to force it.” ~Jennifer
When my daughter was about a year old, my husband and I often found ourselves saying “Don’t force it.” If a puzzle piece didn’t fit, she’d try to smash it in anyway. If one of the drawers in which she had stuffed too many toys wouldn’t close, she’d still push with all of her might trying to shut it. While I admired her determination, forcing it almost always led to frustration, anger, and disappointment.
Sometimes I catch myself trying to force my own puzzle pieces to fit. As a mama, I aim to stay on top of everything, but who am I kidding?! By the time my two little ones are tucked in bed, I’m ready for sleep, too. As excited as I was about making magic here in October, I felt like I would need logistical superpowers to do so. While my husband and children were finishing breakfast one morning, I tried to squeeze in a quick photo. I closed myself in the master bedroom closet with a candle, a tripod, and a camera. I had about thirty minutes, but I couldn’t make the magic happen. My idea was a flop and my time was up. I had to move on.
While running errands with my son that day, I wondered what on Earth I was going to do. As I drove from one stop to the next (passing a steady stream of graham crackers to the chubby hands in the seat behind me, of course), I tried to think of a solution. Not even one came to mind. I finally let go. It wasn’t until late that night while my family was sleeping that the answer occurred to me. In that quiet space of stillness, I realized that I could make magic in unexpected and unplanned ways. I could allow it to happen rather than trying to force it. Then I looked down at the Halloween costume I had surprised my daughter with that afternoon and smiled. I put on the purple butterfly wings and let the fun unfold.
“She walked along the street seeking clarity.” ~Jennifer
My morning walk is the quietest part of my day. When I close the garage door behind me, I am off the clock, so to speak. For the forty-five minutes that follow, I have no one to take care of but myself. I can allow my gaze to move across the landscape without worry. I can move my legs as fast or as slow as I want, because there is no one to chase after. I can let my ears relax and tune in to the subtle sounds in my midst: crickets chirping in the tall grass, the occasional call of a robin or a cardinal, geese honking in the distance, leaves rustling, gravel crunching beneath my feet. With each stride, I am one step closer to burning off the fog in my head. As I make my way down the road, the atmosphere clears little by little, too. Before long, the sun peeks through and I see streaks of blue sky appearing. I give myself permission to stop and remember how it felt to watch the clouds go by as a child.
It isn’t just for physical exercise that I go walking. It’s for my spirit, too. Each time I come across a feather at my feet, the road becomes less obscure. Whether I have found the smallest and softest grey dove feather or a large and striking red-tailed hawk feather, I see them as signs. They remind me that I am not alone. Even if for just a moment or two, I let go of my doubts, fears, worries, and questions. Whether it is thanks to the fresh air, the feathers, the increased blood flow to my brain, or a combination thereof, I always return home with more clarity than I started with.
“She worshipped the sun with humble gratitude.” ~Jennifer
I’m not a sun worshipper. Not by any means. My skin has always been the fairest in my family, and I have to be very careful in the sun. As a child, I got far too many sunburns on my body and freckles on my face. My mom always told me my freckles were cute, referring to them as pixie dust or angel kisses, but I was not convinced. No matter how hard I wished, I never got golden skin (or the blonde hair and blue eyes I prayed for).
As an adult, I can see how silly that all was, wasting time wishing I had been born with different traits. We all come into this world as individuals with unique gifts to share and our own lessons to learn. No matter how dissimilar we look or how disparate our paths may be, we are united by the fact that the same sun shines on all of us. There is no shortage of its light. No one can hide it or steal it or hoard it all for themselves. The sun’s light is always there, even when it is obscured by clouds during the day or darkness at night. That same sun warms us, brightens our days, and provides renewable energy. It fosters growth and brings forth natural beauty in the world. While I may not be a sun worshipper per se, I have come to love that bright light in the sky. When I see how it illuminates the wings of a dragonfly, shimmers on the water, or highlights a flower’s petals, I see holiness. It brings me to my knees with humble gratitude.
“She found freedom from the noise.” ~Jennifer
Life is noisy. The alarm clock buzzes. The security alarm beeps. Horns and sirens go off in the distance. Cell phones ring and vibrate constantly. The floor creaks. The water runs. Children whine and cry. Animals near and far bark, meow, huff, screech, and howl. Appliances hum. The radio blares. Adults raise their voices to communicate over the din.
On any given day, these are the sounds I hear. They can feel like blows, hitting me from all angles. Of course there are also lovely sounds to behold in my midst: the children giggling, the cats purring, the rain falling, the wind chimes singing, my husband whispering to me. Sometimes it’s hard to tune out all the background clatter in order to appreciate those soft, sweet sounds, though. I need a break to step outside and clear my head. I stand in the field, letting the summer breeze blow around me. My skirt flutters and my hair flies about. I hear the tall grasses rustling, the goldfinches warbling, the red-tailed hawk calling, the locusts chirping. As the calming sounds of nature wash over me, I find freedom from the noise of everyday life.
“She went to the water that called her home.” ~Jennifer
There was a time not all that long ago when going to the water meant walking a few blocks to the Aegean Sea. I could see it from the balcony of my apartment, that swath of deep blue to the east. It floated on the horizon beyond rooftops covered in solar panels and balconies shrouded in laundry hung out to dry. I never took the sea for granted, especially because I never knew just how long I would be living by it. Months turns into years. I had walked away from my career in the US and didn’t ever plan on returning, so I did my best to deal with the local problems. Being surrounded by corruption, crumbling buildings, jealousy, infidelity, fickleness, animal cruelty, and gossip were all part of the trade-off for living there, or so I thought.
I experienced some of my darkest moments in the blinding midday sun. I wore sunglasses constantly, but they couldn’t shield my eyes from the truth. It was art that saved me. My clearest, happiest moments on that island were spent behind a camera. Looking through the viewfinder enabled me to isolate bits of beauty on which to focus. I underwent my very own version of phototherapy. It wasn’t the exposure to sunlight or the vitamin D that made me feel better, it was the act of taking photographs. I began to develop a relationship with light. Part of that process was seeing the shadows in my midst. I finally chose to face them and move on rather than turn a blind eye any longer.
Photography brought me back to myself and back to the water I call home. It is neither turquoise nor cerulean nor cobalt. The water that called me home is the fresh water of ponds and lakes. As a child, I often rode my bike to a small pond down the street in search of ducks to feed and tadpoles to catch. Now things have come full circle. Surprising as it may be to some, I gave up the azure blue of faraway seas for the brown and green hues of domestic pond water. When I am feeling upset, confused, or disconnected, one of the places I go to is the dock. Sometimes I stare at the way the water sparkles in the sun. Sometimes I listen to the hum of dragonflies and the croaking of frogs. And then there are the occasions when I go to the water for a cathartic cry. I gladly trade the salty water of tears and seas and high tides for the sweet and soothing stillness of the pond.
“She regained her strength by listening.” ~Jennifer
Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. I want to live mine motivated by bliss rather than fear. I want to feel ease rather than pressure; flow rather than resistance. I want to be strong in the softest of ways.
I’ve come to realize that I need to listen in order to fulfill my purpose. I need to tune out all of the external noise and keep following my inner compass. I need to take note of the sights and sounds along my path, for that path is unique to me, just as yours is unique to you.
Sometimes I lapse into old beliefs about scarcity. I worry that I have to act fast and push forward no matter what or else I’ll miss out. I still have days when I doubt my own rhythm because the rest of the world appears to be moving at an impossibly fast pace.
At the beginning of this month, my family’s schedule was especially full. Each day there were either appointments, home repairs, classes, injuries, or mishaps that made accomplishing the household basics a challenge. I couldn’t keep up. I felt tired and uninspired. I withdrew from the online world and focused on my home life.
Just as I was wondering how on Earth to meet deadlines and squeeze in time for creative projects, I came upon the perfect message. We had just pulled into the driveway at my mother-in-law’s house. While unloading the car, wrangling little ones, and exchanging kisses in the front yard, I saw two small black and white feathers right there on the ground in front of me. Somehow, I was the only one to notice them. I carefully picked them up and took them home with me that night.
Although I’ve never seen woodpecker feathers before, that is what I believe them to be. How appropriate that I would find feathers from a bird that pecks so distinctively and so rhythmically. They reminded me to keep listening to my own rhythm and trusting what I hear. I feel strong again, and all I did was lift those two tiny feathers. It was no struggle at all.