“So encourage each other and build up each other, just as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT
The verb encourage means to to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. It is to stimulate by assistance or approval.
I am fortunate to have friends to who show up and build me up. I hope to claim I do the same for the circles of women in my life. My niece, age twelve, introduced me to a saying: “You got this!” I overheard her say it to her younger sister who was trying to complete a craft and was getting frustrated. Those three simple words: You Got This! was all it took for the younger sister to believe in herself.
Encouragement is something we are already doing, as identified in the scripture at the lead of this post. Rooting for one another reinforces there is plenty of room in the winner’s circle for all of us.
If you are finding yourself in need of a little encouragement, try listening to the following friend-praising songs: “I Get by with a Little Help from my Friends” by The Beatles and “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.
We are given raw tools; I wonder how to use these most prudently. The word vocation comes to mind. Job, career, or occupation don’t seem to imply enough of a fulfillment factor.
When I speak of vocation, I consider a secular definition: a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
However, I cannot ignore the divine call to God’s service. Not literally, as in a clergy, theologian, or philosopher. Yet, I consider my time should be wisely spent in service of a way of life consistent with the teachings of a loving and just creator.
Vocation originates in 1400-50 late from the Latin for a call or summons (vocātiōn). For years, I felt my spiritual vocation was to be a writer, though I rarely write about my chosen faith of Christianity. For the past 25 years, I have been a writer both as an occupation and a hobby. Yet, the point of the written word has escaped me. I chased (and reached) audience, money, and accolades through writing. I achieve an inner piece when I sit in my space with paper and pen or tapping away at a keyboard. Regardless, of how many words pile up in notebooks and Dropbox folders, I most often keep my writing as a pastime, something nice. Writing is a talent I have developed. However, I do not find it tied to a clear vocation at this time in my life.
There is the matter of 9-5. The days, the every-other week paycheck, the value I bring to the community as an employee. I go to work, coincidentally for a Christian hospital, and I leave my pen behind. I do bring my faith, but rarely aloud.
Here I am, decades after declaring myself a writer, still seeking to find vocation. To have my time spent following a path of certain work.
Today is Ash Wednesday. We enter a time of waiting. A journey to deeper faith in our risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is an inward journey. A time to reflect on our barriers to living a fully Christian life. A time to anticipate that joyous news, while humbly remembering the sacrifice Jesus is about to make.
To wait is to be available or in readiness. Wait, as a verb, is ironically an inaction. To remain inactive or in a state of repose. In speech, we wait til or until something expected happens.
In living, there are endless times of waiting: for a plane, for an appointment, for the kid’s bedtime, for the waitress to come, for the school bell to ring. While we wait we can let time slip by slowly, impatiently, or time can pass quickly, preoccupied. How content are we really in waiting?
As a Catholic girl, waiting in lent was a time to spend weeks feeling less than. Less than Holy, less than worthy. I no longer follow this tradition. I do not give up my bad habits. I am instead taught to let go. To let be. To let God into my life.
I wait. I wait and wait. Am I waiting for God to show up, or recognizing that God is already there waiting for me to arrive?
Capacity is not be confused with ability, but rather considered potential.
It is easy for me to be contemplative, serious, and reflective. Being fun and carefree is a lot more intentional than natural for me.
It is my good fortune to have a dear friend who I associate with whimsy. Missy is the one with whom I can always laugh. She delights on the simple pleasure of living in the moment.
She always has been whimsical often wearing graphic T-shirts touting girl power, liberal slogans, or 80s bands. She encourages her teenage daughter to experiment with her hair and makeup making her look far younger than her clocked age. Missy also is the only person I know who has a chocolate tree growing in her back yard that blooms with actual candy every Easter morning.
The noun whimsy refers to capricious humor or disposition; extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression. It is a fanciful notion or any product of playful fancy. It was first recorded in 1595 from whim wham.
This is not to say Missy is in the least bit shallow. She is my most trusted analyst on all things political. She works as an RN and fiercely advocates for her home care patients ensuring they receive the very best care and most genuine compassion. She is a loyal wife and mother of three.
Missy just knows how to have fun. She smiles at novelties, she sings loudly (and always on key) to show tunes or contemporary hits (never county). She grumbles knowingly at a pun and rolls her eyes at off color jokes with just a tisk tisk at the ignorant teller.
We can pass time happily with a game of sheepshead surrounded by anyone who knows “jack-of-diamonds partner.” In the twenty-five years we have been friends, I know I can count on her to help me get out of my head. She gets me onto the dance floor or karaoke stage. She’s right there with a pen and dabber at the bingo table.
As a mostly introvert, having a friend who provides regular doses of whimsy in my life is a necessity. During the endless days of Wisconsin winter a little whim wham is the best therapy for enduring til spring.
Thank you for being a friend Missy.
Feeling is our translation of the touch sensation. We gather detail from our five senses; touch gives us feeling.
Feel, as a verb, and when used with an object, can mean the tangible described above to the abstract sensing that which cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. It is the word we use as short hand for intuition — something feels right, something feels wrong.
It is interesting that one can only detect four feelings from the sense of touch according to science. Skin only detects cold, heat, contact, and pain.
Pleasure, then, is an interpretation. It is not a necessary opposite of pain or the absence of such. It is rather a mental dexterity of what the skin detects. Does rain bring you pleasure? A soft warm rain on a June evening still light by extended day and cold sleeting November rain at a darkened 5 p.m. feel different. One can imagine that the June rain feels good or bad depending on perception; same goes for the November rain.
Another definition of feel is the become conscious of one’s way by touching. Often, though we use feel much less literally and use it to describe being emotionally affected by real or imagined stimuli — feeling happy or feeling blessed.
We often feel reflexively without intention. We feel slighted; we feel overwhelmed; we feel angry. We feel perceptively, a gut feeling.
When common words become so ambiguous, I find seeking out the origin to be helpful in getting to the source of the word. Feel is derived from Old English felan “to touch or have a sensory experience of; perceive, sense (something),” in late Old English “have a mental perception,” from Proto-Germanic *foljanan (source also of Old Saxon gifolian, Old Frisian fela, Dutch voelen, Old High German vuolen, German fühlen “to feel,” Old Norse falma “to grope”), which is of uncertain origin, possibly from a PIE *pal- “to touch, feel, shake, strike softly” (source also of Greek psallein “to pluck” the harp), or from PIE root *pel- (5) “to thrust, strike, drive.” source
In Germanic languages, the specific word for “perceive by sense of touch” has tended to evolve to apply to the emotions. The connecting notion might be “perceive through senses which are not referred to any special organ.” Sense of “be conscious of a tactile sensation, sense pain, pleasure, illness, etc.; have an emotional experience or reaction,” developed by c. 1200, also “have an opinion or conviction;” that of “to react with sympathy or compassion” is from mid-14c. Meaning “to try by touch” is from early 14c. From late 14c. as “know (something) beforehand, to have foreknowledge of.” To feel like “want to” attested from 1829. source
I like to think I can keep my feelings to the tangible, but as a writer, a dreamer, a creator of worlds, I feel that which does not exist. That is the scary part of make believe.
I think about my good fortune. That is redundant, good and fortune, together like that. But, I shall not digress. I think about my current abundance: family, security, necessities, love, and even luxury. I have to remember the context of my life and that this has not always been the case and will not always be the case.
It is temporary.
My body, on this earth only. My possessions, to be sifted and sorted and discarded. My state of mind, fragile at best.
In the past, I have experienced scarcity, insecurity, longing, loss, and general disorder. My health has been strong and weak, currently an acceptable average.
To accept today and it gifts as temporary is an exercise in staying humble.
There is an expression, “to have great privilege is to have great responsibility.” I’m not sure who I owe this paying forward to. My future self, my children, the community, mankind, God? And there is the question: How much time is there to fulfill the obligation of wise and prudent living?
Temporary is an adjective that confirms the idea that lasting, existing, serving or being effective for a time only; not permanent.
It’s origin from the pure Latin, temporarius, equivalent to tempor- (stem of tempus) time + -arius, -ary. (1540-50)
A synonym is passing. The comforting words, “this too shall pass” are great in a time of strife. But, the time of joy also passes. Moments are fleeting. Like the light of a firefly, on then off again and then inaccessible altogether during the day.
I am again left with wonder of how can I make today count, what can be built that is everlasting. Christ’s love? This remains intangible. Can it be personified in me? Can it be put into the collective good? Am I strong enough to contribute? Am I audacious enough to try?
When is enough, enough?
The word was a self-help buzz word of 2018, consoling women to be at peace with what she is. Period. As she is enough.
In this sense, enough is used as a pronoun: “an adequate quantity or number; sufficiency.” As a adjective, its most common usage in speech, enough means “adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire; enough water; enough noise to wake the dead.”
It originates before 900 in several languages: Middle English, Old English, German, Gothic, Old Norsenogr, and Sanskrit. So many cultures identifying a word to express suitable, ample, sufficient, full, adequate, abundant.
The synonym and defining word that reappears and remains today is adequate. And, in many areas of life I agree, adequate is enough.
Yet, the word is not defined as a noun: I am enough takes a liberty of the word, it extends its meaning. In this context, it seems too similar for settling for the status quo. I agree in the sentiment of esteem-building gurus, but I choose the word contentment. This word is, in fact, a noun and better captures the sentiment “I am enough,” which has been shorthand for take it easy on yourself, love yourself, be kind to yourself, accept yourself as being enough.
The problem with enough as a self help word is it doesn’t speak to improvement. It doesn’t speak to growth. Adequate is fine. Accepting adequate income, happiness, shelter and so on is healthy. I see seeking, striving, dreaming, trying as suitable pursuits. The attempt is enough. The whole is evolving.
My friend Carrie Sue Barnes has another take on enough, as a lie. She has a strategy to embrace this fact and accept help. You may read about her thoughts on Enough.
Purpose is word that gets thrown around a lot. Lately, I’ve been struggling with what is my purpose. In a Christian sense, my purpose is to love God and live out his will. I wonder, endlessly, how that translates to the secular world. And, for the purpose of this blog, what the word means and how can I get to the truth of it in word and deed.
I am not so cynical to let the New Year pass, without reflection on goals, resolutions. As I age, many goals have been met. I have made peace with my body; I have faith, health, family, career, and happiness. Yet, I pursue something more, purpose.
We have learned through Maslow’s hierarchy, we begin with physiological needs; we build to safety, love & belonging, and esteem. At the tippy top of the pyramid is self actualization or fulfillment. A triangle of exorbitance to consider.
This is where I turn to purpose.
Purpose, as a noun, is the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc; an intended or desired result, end, aim, goal. Something can be done with purpose, determination; resoluteness. Purpose is the subject at hand, the point of an issue. It is a practical result, effect, or advantage.
In objects, purpose is easy to see. A pizza cutter exists for a singular use, purpose. In people, it is far less straightforward.
An English idiom is “on purpose” translating to by design or intentionally.
The word purpose derives from Middle English purpos from Old French derivative of purposer and a varian of proposer to propose.
Presumable, prior to this time, people didn’t have the luxury to naval gaze about such lofty questions. Maybe it was a simpler time, maybe it was a harder time. Today, though, where I live, purpose is the main void, the thought with which I grapple, the intangible which I seek to define.
In short, purpose is the point. The overall reason for life, for activity, for something other busyness. This year, my goal, my resolution, is to explore purpose with purpose. My aim is to understand if my time spent is purposeful or just pastime.
I backslide to the esteem rung on Maslow’s ladder of needs. Am I doing enough? And what is enough? That word was a self-help buzzword of 2018. Next week, I’ll explore enough and what it means for me for 2019.
Among Sue Monk Kidd’s insights collected in her book, “When the Heart Waits,” is the advice to “court contentment.”
Contentment, a noun, is the state of being contented; satisfied. The thesaurus lists happiness as a synonym, but there is a distinction to be made. Contentment does not require all things be well and beautiful; it speaks of acceptance of what is.
When Sue Monk Kid suggests we court contentment, I picture quiet reflective time. For me, it is writing in my office painted a faint mauve. The artwork is sparse. An 8 X 11 frames a young girl looking at a full moon in a star-lit sky. A tin sign is plastered with a sassy woman puckered at camera smirking “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.” There is a sepia colored tree with a passage in a font I cannot read. There is a poster of diagrammed sentences from great lines of classic literature. There are maps of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. It houses a curated collection of books on writing, poetry, and philosophy. It holds the promise and scribble of my works in progress.
Above each of the two desks — one with the computer and the other with just writing tablets — is blank. I walk in the room and light the desk lamps and burn an incense stick, frankincense. I set music for the mood I wish to create. I bring coffee with me, lukewarm in any mug.
This is my favorite space. It contains pictures of my girlfriends, and pictures of my sons. There is a view of the sidewalk ally adjacent to my backyard, only visible when I choose to stand and look out it.
Here, I feel content. I make time each day to be in this space, to separate myself from the hustle of family life — laundry piles clean and dirty, backpacks with half-eaten lunches and missing assignments, the day job and all that goes with it, the plans, and chores, and busyness. Apart from all of it, here, I breathe.
I cannot spend all day here. I must choose to be content in all areas of my life. I must choose to “court contentment.” In this space, I log a gratitude journal. I keep my calendars. I dream. I create. I prepare.
Here contentment is easy. Taking it with me prompts me to be okay with all of it. My hair that doesn’t cooperate, my body that doesn’t fit into the latest fashions, my children who rely on me and fumble as much as I do, my disappointments, my fears, my ambitions, my failures. My tears.
Contentment is easier in happiness. To court contentment is to find peace, to practice grace. It requires acceptance, patience, and humor. I choose to believe it is in reach, ever fleeting, but accessible with dedicated practice.