Hope Begins in the Dark

Joy Lovely Joy
I don’t know when it happens or how it happens or sometimes (like now) how to get out of it. And I suspect if you’re a writer — particularly a freelance writer working with set guidelines and a slew of editors — you’ve been here too. This is the place where you beat your head against the desk and you stare at a blank screen and you find any excuse to not work on the project at hand (or under contract) because you’re just not hitting the mark. This is the place of paralysis. I dread working on this project, and trust me, if I were to explain the project it would seem simple, fun even. Let me assure you – it is not fun.

I wrote the above words yesterday, hoping that by writing it out — as is often the case — I could purge myself of whatever was holding me back and pick myself up and move on. No such luck. In fact, the opposite happened and I found myself in a dark place by nightfall, both literally and figuratively.

I don’t often talk about my faith here because I fear alienating readers (maybe I should get over that), and my relationship with God is a deeply personal one. My running dialogue with God is a continuous thread woven throughout the fabric of my everyday routine. I pray constantly for  my children, my family, my friends (whether real or online) and neighbors. I’ll drop what I’m doing and pray for a child whose struggle/fight/disease/disappearance I learn through Instagram or Facebook or the news. If you’re a part of my life and you’re carrying darkness, or you’ve expressed something you’re struggling with, or you’re contemplating something huge, chances are high that I’ve sent up words to God on your behalf. Yet I struggle with praying for myself. I fear that I’m being selfish. I rationalize this by telling myself that no one knows me better than God, so I don’t need to tell Him my struggles and worries. He already knows.

Last night, when I found myself in the dark, it wasn’t just about this project. I can now see that this has been boiling for sometime — I’ve been simultaneously stretched thin and stuck, not knowing in which direction to turn, where to place my attention or priorities, and suddenly all my failures, all my shortcomings, all my second guesses, all my worries and fears and regrets spilled over into one sticky puddle at my feet. So I sank into it. I surrendered. I pushed my prayer-censoring self out of the way and finally brought some things before God. And then I watched that puddle slowly dissipate.

Hope begins in the dark.

-Anne Lamott

This morning, I awoke with a clearer focus, a more positive mindset, a mental list of actions I need to take to get this train back on track, and I’ve managed to accomplish more on this project in a few short hours than I have in two weeks. God answered my prayers with a vision of my life and priorities and goals as a neatly compartmentalized pie chart, and I now see the things that need my attention most, the areas where I need to kick it up a notch, and the places where I need to cool it for a bit.

I’m not saying my prayer session was miraculous — there are still things under the surface that could pull me under if I let them — but it did gift me direction and grant me peace for the time being. Is it a coincidence that the sun is splashing light across a blue canvas of sky today? I certainly don’t think so.

Confession: I feel a bit exposed writing this post, and publishing it will push me out of my comfort zone, but sometimes such vulnerability is essential for growth, so here goes…

Journal Day #1: Dear New York, I Miss You

“Crossroads…Sometimes you can see it as it’s happening, and you’re able to choose one way or another. Other times you may not realize you’re there until you look back, and see what a turning point it really was.”

Danielle at Sometimes Sweet is relaunching Journal Days and the excerpt above is from her first prompt. Below is my response. (If you’d like to join in, she posts prompts on her site every Sunday evening and responses, including hers, are posted on Thursdays.)

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Joy lovely joy

image via

I was sitting at my desk in my office of the literary agency where I worked in New York City when I got the call. I had been to the gynecologist the day before for my yearly exam. This doctor was also a fertility specialist and when he asked if we planned to have kids I said yes, that we weren’t trying at the moment but we weren’t not trying either. We were letting it happen when it would happen. He decided to take some blood because I had been off birth control for four months and he just wanted to “get the ball rolling”, whatever that meant. (I now know what that meant.) So there I was sitting at my desk, door wide open, about to cram some food in my mouth (I had been so hungry lately) when the receptionist transferred a call back to me. It was the nurse from my doctor’s office.

As I remember the conversation went something like this:

“Lara?”

“Yes?”

“This is so-and-so from Dr. Gyno’s office.”

“Oh, hi.” Something within me shifted and I pushed my food aside. It was entirely possible that she was calling to say that my blood work was fine and to make a follow-up appointment with the doctor should we have trouble once we started actually trying to get pregnant. But I knew this wasn’t the case.

“I have your blood work results,” she said. “Are you aware that you’re pregnant?”

chirp…chirp…chirp…

“Lara? Are you there?”

“Are you sure you have the right Lara?”

Heavy sigh. “Yep.”

“Are you sure you didn’t accidentally switch my files with someone else?”

Heavier sigh. “Yep.”

chirp…chirp…chirp…

“Lara?”

“How far along am I?”

“According to the blood work you’re about seven weeks along.”

More words were exchanged, a prenatal appointment was scheduled, and I hung up the phone. I was pregnant.

I made one decision quickly with no hesitation and no input from Zach. We were going back to Indiana. (Insert Jackson Five song here). I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but this decision became my crossroad, the crux of everything “before” and everything “after”.

My childless life was in New York. My mothering life is in Indiana.

My professional career was in New York. My work-from-home-part-time/mother-full-time life is in Indiana.

I was a newlywed, a mere child, in New York. I’m an adult living a responsible life in Indiana.

I was in my third trimester when we moved from New York. When I think of our last day in the city, a montage of images comes flooding to the surface like a silent film. This film is always underscored with the sadness and finality of saying goodbye, a low and slow song playing on the track. But when I think more, when I tap into what I was really feeling that day, joy seeps in. Excitement for the unknown.

I remember waking up on that cold December morning, walking the hallway from our bedroom to the kitchen, feeling the hardwood beneath my feet, catching a glimpse of the rising sun outside our wall of windows in our tiny living room. I made a cup of coffee and sat on the couch surrounded by moving boxes. I was happy there. We loved the city. I loved my job. But we both wanted to be near our parents as we welcomed this new addition into our lives. I watched the snow lightly falling outside and I was viscerally aware of the conclusion to this chapter in our lives. I had dreamed of a life here since I was a little girl, and now I was saying goodbye to my beloved city.

Later, as our life was getting packed into the U-Haul, I walked to the Starbucks down the street one last time. I went into our corner market and bought snacks for the road. I checked our mailbox and turned in our keys. As we drove away, I looked back only once.

Now, when I think back to our life in our little apartment on the Upper East Side and the day we drove away, I want to cry I miss it so. Now, I think I would have done it differently. I think I would have stayed.

Joy, Lovely Joy, Dear New York

The babe I carried in New York. She was 4 years old here.

The Sweet Spot

“It seems to me that since I’ve had children,

I’ve grown richer and deeper.

They may have slowed down my writing for a while, but when I did write,

I had more of a self to speak from.”

– Anne Tyler

I don’t know why I’m following that quote with this post, other than those words speak to me at this moment. Those words are me at this moment, a suspended moment stretched over nearly seven years now.

I went on a field trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with Mia’s class last Friday. She sat with me on the bus and rested her head on my shoulder. We giggled and took selfies and sat in that intimate space of propinquity where neither of us thought twice about tracing fingers along open palms (“Guess what I’m drawing, Mommy”) or erasing smudged cream cheese with a licked thumb. She wanted me there with her and I wanted to be there for her, but I would be lying if I didn’t look at the day’s map before me and not feel a slight twinge that the next time I sat down to write would probably be the following day.

I was right. But also, it didn’t matter in the end.

At one point close to the end of the day, my little group was in the construction zone. They had climbed to the top of a crane installation and from there Mia yelled down to me, “Hi, Mama!” She shouted it in front of her classmates and strangers. She didn’t care who heard as long as her voice reached me, and a thought struck me: We’re in the sweet spot.

Gone are the days when she needs me with her to make every move. I don’t need to watch everything that she does for fear of putting foreign objects in her mouth or climbing on something or falling down the stairs. She can disappear into her bedroom or playroom and I don’t need to check on her every five minutes. She has playdates and I don’t need to worry about orchestrating crafts and games to fill the time and keep little minds and hands entertained and occupied.

And yet we haven’t reached the age where I become an embarrassment. Where my presence is more burdensome than welcome, more shadow than light. I know my days are numbered in this place where I’m her first choice for companion. All too soon I won’t be a companion at all. I know that. I don’t know how I will deal with that once it comes, but I know it will it arrive one day. And one day I will have whole stretches of hours to devote to writing. For now, I’m reveling in the sweet spot, and I’ll remember her call from the top of that crane whenever I lose sight of it.

Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Mia is fascinated by mummies, something I find totally endearing about this otherwise girly-girl.

Children's Museum of IndianapolisChildren's Museum of IndianapolisFireworks of glass is the largest permanent glass sculpture by artist Dale Chihuly:

Chihuly at Children's Museum of IndianapolisHere’s a better picture (taken from the museum’s website):

a1_20110202_123618Looking up from underneath:

Chihuly at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

How Do You Spell Love?

221380137902535000_v5a3a4lD_cDespite a headache that won’t quit (going on 24 hours, hooray!) and a combined total of 8 hours of sleep over the last two nights, I’m excited to give this day to my girl as a chaperone on her field trip. It’s an all day affair capped off with a Valentine’s Day party back at school in the afternoon. She was so giddy last night she couldn’t sleep.

“I’m too excited to be with you ALL day tomorrow,” she said, cupping my face in her hands. And then I melted.

But before that, perhaps inspired by the 28 Days of Play blog series, we had a dance party. I abandoned the dirty dishes and ketchup smeared across the dinner table and crumbs piled on the floor, and danced with my kids. And played ring-around-the-rosie and taught the boys “I’m a Little Tea Pot”. And then we were animals in the jungle who happened to be plagued with narcolepsy and when we awoke via a mysterious spell we were magically transformed into a different animal. We went on this way until Zach got home, cleaned up the mess in the kitchen and propelled everyone upstairs for bed. Party pooper.

But we were still all giddy, see, because of the oxytocin – the feel good / love not hate / natural pain reliever / trust / bond / calming balm / immunity booster hormone that we have the power to release into our systems on a whim. You know the feeling you get after a good heart-to-heart conversation, or when you dance, or when you do something nice for someone, or when your babe drifts to sleep with his head in the crook of your neck and that sleepy-breath-sweaty-curls scent reduces you to a powerless nothing? That’s oxytocin. And the more we practice the easier and quicker we feel its effect and can reap the benefits of this wonder “drug”. It’s the same hormone that’s released during child birth and sex, so you know.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. It’s a good day to practice releasing some of that oxytocin.

(P.S. this time last year)

Watch, Now, How I Start the Day in Happiness

hello sun in my face

image via

“Hello, sun in my face.

Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…

Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”

-Mary Oliver

I think I was doing pretty well with my pledge to post every day and then Mia came down with some kind of bug, then that bug found me. It was a pretty mild bug but it lasted for what felt like forrr-evvv-errr.

That little bug also took with it my drive to wake up early and write and if I don’t do this I can pretty much count on not getting much writing done for the rest of the day. This is because it’s usually the largest chunk of the day I can devote to writing. It gets the train moving and sets the tone, writerly wise, for the remainder of the day. So just like that, I fell out of a habit I was only just beginning to form.

But all is not lost! Over the past few days I’ve been rediscovering this little blog I had when Mia was a baby. I hadn’t looked at this blog in years. I started that blog when I was in the thick of the infant days and wanted to feel less alone. I ended the blog after I wrote a post that was supposed to be celebratory, if a bit raw and vulnerable, but I discovered too late that it failed in execution, and the result was exposure at an uncomfortable level. So I stopped blogging and life went on.

When the boys came along a few years later, I was catapulted back to that lonely place. Times two. That exhausting up-all-night-every-night, spit-up-in-my-hair-don’t-care, just-shoot-the-coffee-into-my-veins, someone-needs-something-from-me-every-damn-minute-and-good-God-can-I-please-just-take-a-shower place.

You know the one?

And the whole time my creative itch needed scratching and my mind needed to work some things out the only way it can – with the written word. So around the boys’ first birthday, I finally felt like some fog was lifting and instead of waiting around for life to knock on my door, I decided to rejoin life (my life, anyway) and see just what kind of world I would open myself to if I started writing again.

First, I took a shower. Then, I started this blog.

It didn’t take long to realize that blogging, when you devote yourself to it and keep at it, can create this wonderful, rich, creative, connective world where all the little moments can be magnified and shared, then wrapped up in tissue and preserved until they’re taken down from the shelf, dusted off and revisited, experienced time and again. And the people you connect with become more than connections. They become this community where everyone inspires and encourages each other and you can’t help but marvel at all the ways God brings people into your life.

So after a bit of reminiscing on that old blog (it feels like a lifetime ago), I’m ready to get back to this one. We all need to find our way back to Memory Lane once in a while, and I might republish some of those old posts simply to indulge my nostalgic side, but not yet. Not today. I’ve only been away from this space for a week, but today sort of feels like that first day, that first post.

Today feels like a beginning.