Rearrange


Recently, I had a slight rearrangement on my calendar. I had planned to take a weekend trip to southern New Mexico for hiking, soaking in hot springs, sightseeing, and taking pictures. Due to a schedule change and needing to save some money, I decided to stay home for the weekend. I was a little disappointed for postponing the trip, but a couple of extra days at home turned into a lovely adventure and renewal. I took advantage of my time, my spring fever, and my wanderlust to rearrange my apartment.

I should preface this by saying that my current apartment is my favorite place that I have ever lived. It also happens to be the smallest, even more miniature than a studio apartment I dwelled in for a year in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. For one, I love, love, love Albuquerque and New Mexico. Secondly, I am grateful for the tree view, a second floor patio, almost-cathedral ceilings in the living room and kitchen, two cool neighbors downstairs, and getting to live alone. It is home.

Home is where the heart is. Sometimes, home is a loved one. Sometimes, home is an abstract place on the map, because you don’t know where your sense of place is. Home can be where you came of age. Home can be where your family lives. Home can be portable, wherever you pull up stakes on your tent. Home can be an abstract concept while you concentrate on other things.

I have always concentrated on home, in both the abstract and the concrete. I have possessed homes in my heart, in people, and even in my avocation. This little four-room rented home is all I need right now for dwelling.

The rearrangement was a welcome opportunity to look at my place in a new way. Often, the unpacking process is rapid and perfunctory. When I moved in, a year and a half ago, I was juggling full-time work, four nights of school, and staying temporarily at a friend’s house. I did not have a ton of time and I was worried about wearing out my welcome at the pal’s place. Plus, as soon as I unpacked one or two boxes, the apartment was overwhelmed in a flood of newspaper packing paper and the belongings that had just emerged from the containers. I quickly stowed my bookshelves in the corners of the living room and bedroom and filled them with my treasured reading materials. I pushed the edge of the couch against one wall and stashed a splindly floor lamp under the couch’s edge. I assembled my long, modern shelf to hold wine glasses, bowls and plates, mason jars, and collections of sugar skulls, Buddhas, and tea pots. I used my entry wall to hang small crosses and the metal frog hook given to me by good friends to help me find my keys. In the kitchen I turned the blank wall near the fridge into a small gallery of framed family photos. After a month in my apartment, I was finally unpacked. Later in the winter, a dear friend helped me assemble my bed frame and place my beloved collection of art on the walls at strategic vantage points, blessed with his good taste and designer eye. One huge advantage of a small space is being able to see most of my treasured belongings from any point in this lovely little apartment. It also takes very little time to clean it and put things into order.

After more than a year in this place, I loved the space, but felt a faint dissatisfaction with the flow. I have a lot of stuff in a small area and some spots felt crowded and disjointed. When I decorated during Christmas, I was tempted to rearrange, but was a little overwhelmed and just wanted to enjoy holiday ornaments. In late winter, after a couple of sick days on the couch, I had an idea of what I wanted to do to move things around, but didn’t have the energy to begin the effort. My mother visited at the beginning of spring and I told her of my ideas to refresh the space. She nodded her head enthusiastically, but I think my mom would support me in most efforts, even if she didn’t really like my decorating vision.

Sunday, I woke with the sun and decided it was the day to rearrange and reinvigorate the space. I stuck to the bedroom, and made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t go to bed until I had put everything in its new place. In some ways, the rearrangement of the bedroom had already begun when my landlord removed an old heater and installed a new one on a different wall, forcing me to change the spots of my antique flea-market dresser and a vintage footlocker trunk. I moved the bed and desk to different walls and switched out the two bookshelves. It was small and stilting and steady effort, shuffling enough books out of the shelves to render them moveable. I dragged the printer from an awkward spot on my cedar chest to the wire bookshelf, along with my other office supplies and files. I created a little writer nook under the window with my desk arrangement. I felt like a squirrel, slowly arranging my cache until satisfied. All of a sudden, after heaving and sweating and contemplating, my bedroom was a new space with more light and room and much better flow. It was a refresh. That night, my sleep was hard and sound and peaceful.

The next morning, I woke up with energy and excitement at having another day to finish the rearrangement. I turned on the kettle to boil water for coffee and filled the sink in the kitchen to wash dishes. I put away a few mugs and bowls and began the contemplative process of mentally rearranging the living room while I looked on from the kitchen sink. I took out a couple of small bags for donation to my car and then ran back up the outside stairs to perch on the couch and drink the last from my mug. I used my arms to make measurements of furniture and fractions of walls, knowing points on my body and spots in the nubby paint to make more precise measurements than my hard-to-get-to-measuring-tape, which I conveniently discovered in the couch cushions after moving around the furniture. With my body a little sore from the previous day’s bedroom redesign, I thought about curling up with a good book and another cup of coffee, but I gave myself the metaphorical kick-in-the-butt that I needed. I wanted my whole place to match the magic of the bedroom.

I slowly took some stuff out to store temporarily on the patio and unloaded the contents of the tops of two bookcases onto my couch. I lifted the pictures off the walls and placed on the refuge of my freshly made bed. Then I braced myself for the dragging and lifting across thick apartment carpet. I pushed two bookshelves into a corner, and made a reading nook with a lamp and my fairly new turquoise upholstered chair. I tucked the small kitchen table, once awkwardly shoved in front of a bookshelf, into a newly vacant spot and dressed it up with my potted succulents and an old milk vase full of flowers. I dusted and vacuumed and then moved more stuff around to do more cleaning. Rearranging the tiny living room was like moving the components to a tightly-fitting puzzle, every slight adjustment affected another piece of furniture or wall hanging. Plus, the placement of electrical outlets and the heater smack dab in the middle of one wall made for a decor riddle. Finally, though, I solved the puzzle.

I rolled out the rug at an angle, hung a couple of pictures in new spots, and put everything away. The room didn’t get any bigger and I didn’t remove any furniture, but now there is a reading nook, a better place to eat, and more space on the floor to do yoga. The TV doesn’t distract from the conversational placement of furniture, and I can imagine more people coming over to visit. The room felt like the “after” picture in a design magazine, at least to me.

This rearrangement, coupled with a some recent epiphanies, makes me feel new and excited and reinvigorated. All week, coming home from work has been a beautiful welcome. Somehow, household chores feel like renewal, rather than drudgery. I am reveling in this new placement of my belongings, loving the books and seeing the art on the walls as if for the first time. Every place I sit feels cozy and warm and just-right. It feels like light and love are blooming in my home. Funnily enough, while I am enjoying my objects all the more, I feel blissfully okay if they disappeared. It is more about love and light and finding space and grace, both literally and figuratively.

I make plans with two co-workers to have them over for dinner next week. I invite a friend to come over for a cup of tea and a chat. I write this blog entry in my new writing niche. I curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee and a devotional to have a quiet morning wake up of prayer and contemplation. I stretch in a yoga pose in the middle of the living room. I wash dishes and put away the recycling bin. I drop compost in the worm bin and water the plants. I leave for work with my keys in hand and bag on my shoulder. I plop down on the patio to plant seeds and seedlings for a container garden. I reach for a book and cross my feet in the turquoise chair.

A rearrangement can bring refreshment and rejuvenation. Rearrangement doesn’t have to be about home decor. It can be about letting go of a rigid schedule for an hour. It can be about taking a walk on a different road or path. It can be about inviting someone you love to share a meal. It can be about making a new friend. It can be about not reacting and taking a pause. It can be about writing in your journal about the day instead of drowning in a glass of wine and complaining about co-workers. It is about being brave and taking another chance. It is about forgiveness and letting someone in. It is about finding love for self and others.

What does rearrangement mean for you?

Rebirth


 

 

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Photo by Kary Schumpert.
Spring is the obvious time to celebrate rebirth. After the “barren” winter, we take notice of the fecundity of spring. It’s feral and wild. Animals are mating. Flowers are blooming. Trees are budding. People have spring fever.

Spring is all about our deliverance to life, to a new start. The astronomical calendar begins with the start of spring. We plant seeds in our gardens. Our religious and spiritual holidays like Easter and Passover celebrate new beginnings.

Last Friday, I had a type of spiritual renewal. An epiphany. A discovery. It shook me to the core. I used to be very suspicious of people when they would talk about these moments, these discoveries. Then I realized that these moments are so much more than a moment. It’s a little bit like studying history. In elementary school, when we learned about historical events, we memorized important dates. Folks familiar with U.S. history might recognize the timeline points of 1492, 1776, 1865. However, if you look more closely, those discernible events and moments were buried in thousands of other moments and events that preceded them. Just like those history lessons, in a personal spiritual journey, an epiphany on one day is really a culmination of many other revelations.

It felt like all of a sudden my resistance, only recently identified, to everything just floated away. My epiphany felt a bit like a rebirth. All of a sudden, everything felt different, and yet everything felt the same. It was as if a 2,000-pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had a similar moment of epiphany last November, and then a smaller, but no less substantial epiphany a couple of days ago.

The celebration was in the discovery, but even more so in the awareness. I felt grateful to be aware of the awakening (using that word feels a little worrisome, but I cannot find another) and to embrace the little and tiny moments that resulted. Life feels easier in so many obvious and tangible ways, yet it’s all still mysterious. I don’t mean that all of a sudden I do not have problems. I’m still figuring out things financially. I’m still figuring out my relationship with myself. I’m still learning to love someone else. I’m still needing to find peace, moment to moment.

The moment of clarity is like cleaning a window. All of a sudden the light shines through so much brighter than before. I take a breath and a step. I’m grateful for the growth.

I love to compost and the parallels astound me. I throw old scraps into the bin. Something that was rotten becomes food and sustenance and then new growth can begin. The growth is small at the beginning, but miraculous. It feels new, but all of a sudden we can’t remember what it was like before that. It is a constant cycle and there is no ending.

Do you remember the first time you could read a sentence? Do you recall the moment you could ride a two-wheeled bicycle? Have you seen a baby’s delight in walking her first few steps? There is delight in the new and then it becomes routine, a foundation for the rest.

We learn, we stumble. We fall, we recover. We have moments of darkness, and then moments of epiphany. We share, we gather. We grow, we find new.

I pray for grace, for peace, for empathy, for honesty. I give thanks for spiritual growth and the path. I ask for friendship and help. I give friendship and help.

We find the seeds. We plant and honor. We nurture ourselves, our families, our friends, others. We hold hands and we find strength. We drop hands and find stability.

Spring is upon us. We begin again.

 

 

Take Care


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

It’s the casual salutation in an e-mail. It’s the lovely thought at the end of the phone conversation. It’s what we learn how to do as toddlers. But what does it really mean to take care?

I have been sick with a bad cold, home from work for a couple of days. I sent texts to my boss and the people I supervise, to let them know I wouldn’t be in and to keep track of general tasks for the day, before going back to the couch to watch comforting videos from my DVD collection and to try to get some sleep, which has been quite elusive in the last couple of weeks. That rare sleep probably has something to do with the worn down immune system that has made this cold feel like a permanent state of being, rather than just a brief interlude.

Isn’t it weird that we often don’t appreciate something so important as health? Why is it that we take it for granted, until a cold, or worse, a scary medical diagnosis snaps us into grateful awareness? I am still harboring a fever with loud coughing and noisy sneezing. All of a sudden, I am very aware that health is a beautiful gift and that taking care should be a shouted command, not a whispered afterthought.

Sure, I can talk about eating healthy: fresh fruits and vegetables, less sugar and fewer processed foods. But what about taking care of our whole selves? What do we need for our minds, for our spirits, not just for our bodies? I deeply believe that these are all very much connected. If we are taking care of our bodies, we should also be paying attention to what feeds our souls, our minds, our beings.

A few months ago, I was deep in the midst of loss:  the loss of a dear friendship and the loss of my dad after his death. I read some books on grief, wrote a lot in my journal, and slowly found the way to healing. Almost everywhere I looked, it was recommended that I take care of myself in the midst of the grief, despite the bad instinct to do otherwise.

What does taking care mean? What does it mean to you? What does it look like? What is self-care comprised of? What are the habits and rituals that help us to heal? What helps us to remember to take care of ourselves? Why is that we often lose ourselves in the care for others, when in reality, we aren’t much help to someone without taking care of ourselves?

I realized that while my bout with a cold might have been brought on by a co-worker who came to the office in a fit of sneezing and coughing, I realized that I had lapsed greatly in my own self-care. Regardless, both of these are probably contributing factors in my recent illness. Unlike those with serious health problems, I should be feeling better in a day or two. As I rest and dream of returning to a normal routine, I think about hitting the reset button and coming back to my routine of “taking care.” Some will be the same for all of us, but others will be specific to me. You will have your routines and practices that help you take care of yourself.

Here are some of the things that I need to do to take care of my mind, of my body, of my spirit, of my self, of my soul. Sleep. Eat three meals with lots of vegetables. Spend at least three minutes, no more than it takes time for the tea kettle to boil, in quiet meditation. Go for a run, no matter how slow and plodding, a few times a week. Limit my tv viewing time to a couple hours a week. Read good books for fun, for inspiration, for peace. Reach out to people I love in texts and phone calls. Take a few minutes to quickly clean up the messy routines of daily life: washing the dishes, putting away the clothes, dispersing with the recycling, clearing away the clutter on my work desk, watering the plants. Watch the sunrise and sunset. Keep track of the moon. Walk dogs. Donate a little time, donate a little money. Make good and sustaining meals. Find self-love, even when it feels difficult. Spend a little time in hobbies that I enjoy:  taking pictures, learning to quilt, going on road trips, hiking on local trails. Spend time with loved ones. Say thank you for the magnificent and the mundane. Write a little each day. Lose myself in the magic of teaching. Reach beyond my self. Remind myself of all that I take for granted: health, love, friendship, a beautiful and small and peaceful home, access to good food.

What do you need to take care?

The Many Forms, Shapes, and Types of Ordinary Love


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It’s February and the month of Valentine’s Day and a very commercial time to express one’s love. Oh, the cliches and the candy and the ache. However, it is also a beautiful time to contemplate love and its role in our lives. There is an oft-expressed opinion that we overuse the word love in trivial, everyday moments, and yet do not fully express it in the heavier, more poignant times in life. I am not sure where I fall on that spectrum. As someone who is trying to grow in her writing, I think part of the challenge is that there are not many synonyms for love. Yes, there is affection, like, passion, but the four letter word really does the trick. Instead of worrying about using the word too much, or not respecting its deeper meanings, why not just embrace love in all its forms, from the every day to eternal?

Here are a few ways that I have appreciated love recently, from the mundane to the magnificent.

I loved a hot shower. I appreciated the clean water, the ritual, the metaphor of rebirth, and the heat on a cold morning.

I loved a really good cafe au lait from my favorite coffee shop and a special treat on the way to a packed day at work.

I loved a morning hiking with third graders and getting to share my love for the Rio Grande with those students.

I loved a haircut session with my favorite cosmetology student who is about to graduate. We chatted and caught up and I realized we have become good friends in her year of school. I love that we will keep in touch, even if sporadically.

I loved that an article of mine was recently published. I loved seeing my byline and the experience of a dream coming true, with the help of persistence and follow-through and vision.

I loved a new vintage purse that I purchased through a cool online vintage shop on Instagram. I loved the beauty and functionality and connecting with a new person who also loves fashion and style.

I loved hearing a new pop song on the radio. I sang, even though I didn’t know the words, and released tension in the midst of a fun, catchy tune.

I loved a night looking at the moon and talking with a good friend. I loved the time to just be with someone who understands me well. I love this person deeply and I cherish this person’s love for me.

I loved a session getting some good advice. I realized that I was lucky to have this person to provide perspective, but also loved that I was open to the advice and ready to take steps on something that terrifies me.

I loved the full moon rising over the mountains. I don’t care how many times I see the moon, I love its beauty, its phases, its presence.

I loved a long and meandering conversation with my mother on the phone. We talked about everything and nothing, and I love her so.

I loved an hour on the floor with my two favorite dogs. They aren’t mine, but I know them well and love them so much. I loved the fur, the paws stepping on me, the heads resting on my lap, and time just being quiet.

I loved an hour cleaning and straightening my apartment. I love my home and its cozy feel, the plants, the art on the walls, my books, all of it.

I loved an evening making dinner for myself, the chopping, the cooking, the cleaning, and the beautiful sustenance of a good meal.

I loved a funny string of texts with my sisters. I love them and enjoy the giggles, even while we are a few hundred miles from each other.

I loved getting my act together and applying for a new opportunity. It felt good to be brave enough to try instead of procrastinating and making excuses.

I loved the resolution of a financial question. Even though it’s not quite what I hoped for, it feels good to take steps and keep going.

I loved a quiet morning and all that it included.

I loved finding love in all the ordinary moments and facing the extraordinary.

 

 

The Resolution of Gratitude and Thank You Notes


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”–Melody Beattie

When we were little, my mother always made sure we wrote thank you notes to friends and relatives for the gifts we received for birthdays and Christmases. In later years, my grandmother and great-aunt had saved some of those letters and shared them with us. We laughed together, remarking on the childhood cursive and funny phrasing, but I noticed that my grandmother put them away as if they were precious jewels.My great-aunt was a minimalist, before that word was commonly tossed around, and kept very little. When she died a couple of years ago, the things she had saved were albums full of family photographs and our childhood letters, especially those thank you notes.

The summer after high school graduation, I wrote mountains of notes for the gifts propelling me into adulthood. That seems to be the last time that I was consistent about writing thank you letters. I am ashamed to say that I did not keep up with the tradition of writing thank you notes, despite receiving wonderful and thoughtful gifts for many occasions over the years. In fact, I am just now writing thank you notes for the gifts I received at Christmas. It’s for the first time in a long time.

In mid-January, some people’s New Year’s Resolutions have already crashed and burned. I have always loved the tradition of coming up with resolutions and trying to find meaningful ones that will stick. In the last few years, I have tried a different tack, by getting very specific about one or two goals, or going with a larger theme that reflects all aspects of my life. This year, I have decided to focus on gratitude. I want gratitude to become my praxis, my practice. This is less about self-improvement and more about a spiritual shift after some hard-won lessons. This is something I want to become a lifelong practice, not just a quickly-expressed-but-easily-forgotten resolution.

I have read about people keeping gratitude journals, or making lists of things that they are grateful for. I love both of those ideas. So now I plan to jot down things I am grateful for in my all-purpose journal that also serves as a repository for writing ideas, dreams, goals, meditations, and all other things. I think it will be fun to find bits of gratitude sprinkled among the pages. When appropriate, I will also take pictures of things that spark my gratitude, like sunrises, a good meal, and glimpses of a full moon. Taking time to write down my gratitude and to take pictures of my gratitude, I hope, will help me to be more grateful, to more fully realize my gratitude.

I also want to examine gratitude, and not just be grateful for the good things and the beautiful things. I want to find gratitude in all. I want to find gratitude in the dark moments, in the sad times, in the things that might otherwise be difficult to find gratitude.

As well, I realize that these are all internal moments. I also want to share my gratitude for the people whom I love. I have decided to pick up that beautiful, and ancient, art of letter writing and go beyond the traditional thank you note. I plan to write thank you letters to the people I love and really say thank you and express what they mean to me. It might be on a birthday, or when I think of a friend, or when I know someone is having a hard time.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”–John F. Kennedy

The quote from Kennedy makes me realize that gratitude is so much more than saying thank you. It is taking the meaning deep into our hearts, and living it fully. It means saying thank you for the big and small, aloud and in the quiet ways we live. In reality, it means writing the thank you notes for gifts, but also sharing our gifts of talent and time with others. It means being present. It means being open. It means living fully.

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.”–Eckhart Tolle

Here’s to a new year and a new practice. Here’s to gratitude. What does gratitude mean to you? How do you express gratitude? What is the practice that you hope will bring more meaning and joy into your life?

 

A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Photo by Kary Schumpert.
Photo by Kary Schumpert.

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Drum Major Instinct,” Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, February 4, 1968

Unadorn


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The tree unadorned. Photo by Kary Schumpert.

The holidays come careening like a noisy parade, despite their arrival in the midst of the quiet beginning of winter. For a bit, we forget about the silence, while decorating and baking and wrapping and celebrating. It is in the darkest time of the year, that we find the meaning of light and look forward to its arrival.

One of my favorite rituals is taking down the Christmas tree and all the decorations, at the end of the holiday season while the year is still young. Some people I know, as soon as the last present has been unwrapped, swiftly pack up all the ornaments and vacuum the last of the evergreen needles, fake or real, from the floor the day after Christmas. I like to wait until Epiphany or the 12th day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, Epiphany is the day that the wise men finally reached the birthplace of Jesus. This year, to celebrate Epiphany, I waited for a windy morning in the new year, but not the actual day, which is January 6.

The word epiphany also means “a sudden revelation or insight.” In this case, an epiphany is the proverbial “light bulb moment” when one has a great idea or something becomes clear. Two huge epiphanies occurred to me in November. It’s weird how a moment of clarity can be the point in which everything changes, even if quietly and internally.

I like that Epiphany, also celebrated by taking down the tree and other decorations, is both a celebration of the “light of the world” and a time of removing those lights. Metaphors abound.

A couple of mornings after the new year dawned, I brewed a cup of coffee and shivered into my favorite sweatshirt with the moon’s phases printed on the front. I pulled the two plastic boxes from the closet and then began the undressing, the unadornment, of my apartment.

I unplugged the lights and took down the wreath from the back of the door in the kitchen. I removed the electric chile ristra lights, given to me last year by a good friend, from the wall by the stove. I remembered to pick up the small holy family creche near the entry way. I took the punched tin angel down from the top of the tree and returned it to the shelf for its year-round spot in my living room.

Then I began the routine of plucking the ornaments one-by-one off of the tree. The ornaments are really like specimens in a time capsule of my life. I possess ornaments given to me when I was born, and a felt stocking decoration I made in pre-school. There are souvenir ornaments from travels, including a wooden ornament of Nebraska I bought on a spring road trip to see the sandhill cranes. Each year, my mom gives us an ornament for our trees as a Christmas present and a celebration of the twelve months that have just passed.

This year, I added a pressed tin star ornament, as a memento from a summer trip to a colonial Spanish “living museum” near Santa Fe. My stepmother sent me a small ornament she had made with a picture of my dad at its center. He passed away in March and I appreciate her sweet handiwork and his familiar half smile-half smirk in the photo.

I wrapped the breakable ornaments in much-wrinkled tissue paper and placed the softer ornaments in old holiday cookie tins. I thought about the memories of Christmases past, my sisters and I wearing matching nightgowns as we unwrapped presents. I remembered playing with my cousins on Christmas eve in the warmth of my grandmother’s kitchen while the adults sat and talked around the tree in the living room. I recalled the year in college, when I almost didn’t make it home, stuck in the Duluth and Chicago airports due to a heavy, heavy fog and then a holiday’s helping of snow just as the clouds began to clear.

I thought about making Christmas cookies with my younger sister in our years as roommates in Colorado. I remembered the many holidays hosted by my older sister, the yummy food with the cacophony of family political debates and marathon trivia games. This year and last, I stayed home in Albuquerque and had quiet holidays.

This year brought sadness, with the passing of my dad. There was also a bit of upheaval, that had more to do with growth and some confrontation both with myself and with others. There has been sadness, grief, mistakes, arguments, deep discussions, joyful reunions, silent partings, and wonder. There has been much clearing away of the old:  old stories, old baggage, old untruths. There has been a planting of new seeds:  new truths, new friends, new relationships, new beginnings, and new beginnings within old relationships. There has been forgiveness:  of self, of others. There have been epiphanies.

The new year begins. We pack away the old. We begin in the quiet, sparse winter. We try new. We touch the scars, and we feel the healing. We forge ahead. We find the epiphanies. We want change. We know, though, that change must begin by learning from the past and trying something different. We have to clear away the old growth to make way for new growth. We know that sometimes our noisy proclamations are not the real changes, but instead, the genuine transformation takes place in the quiet moments when we reach out anew.