a story, the beach & some family pictures.

Shelley and I met back in the days when she was a morning news anchor and I spent my days entertaining high school students with the likes of Steinbeck and Shakespeare. We spent nearly every Tuesday night together, gathering with an eclectic group of Santa Cruz twenty-somethings all trying to pinpoint and nail down our identities, our spouses, our callings.

By the time 2005 rolled around, Tuesday nights had fizzled, but Shelley had taken a group of women under her wing. We’d meet at her all-white apartment, and we’d try our hardest to be our most authentic selves – asking questions and giving real answers and seeking Truth in return. While I don’t remember much else about our gatherings, I do remember that at the end of our time together, every single one of us made major life-changing decisions: we left jobs and we moved across the continent. We pursued dreams and we said yes to decisions that seemed terribly impractical to anyone who believed in making more than $26,000 a year.

With each other’s support, we took leaps of faith.

Seeking the holy, we became our Most Brave Selves. 

In that way, what a delight to have Shelley – who’s known such an intimate part of my life and story – offer to take our pictures a couple weeks ago. And they’re every good as she is, every good as her part in my story is, too.

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Cancan was delighted to realize family pictures were at the beach – Frodo, though, remained a wee bit skeptical:

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I’d also like to point out that I had the Cutest Outfit Ever picked out for Cancan, which, with epic tantrum, he promptly refused and instead insisted on sporting dirty swim trunks he’d worn the previous two days:

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While I chased our almost three-year-old in the waves, the HBH (Hot Black Husband) got quality bonding time with Frodo:

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And we did get the gift of this perfect-in-the-moment shot:

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And these epic shots of and with the boys:

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I’m grateful for friendships and I’m grateful for stories. I’m grateful for Saturday morning photo shoots and I’m grateful for talented photographers who have a knack for capturing the moment just as it is.

So, if you’re in the greater Santa Cruz or Monterey areas, do consider hiring Shelley to take your family’s pictures in a natural setting or environment such as the beach or woods. You won’t be sorry!

xo, c.

So, what story comes to mind when you read about my friendship with Shelley? Do tell! Otherwise, which of the pictures above MUST we get blown up to show case at our home? 

rituals: of devotion (heather caliri).

Well, if you haven’t realized it yet this year, those not-so-boring rituals DO make the story deeper. And this is so very true for today’s writer, my friend Heather. Enter in to her nightly ritual of pen and paper, holy book and holy time. And further check out her writing, because she’s one talented woman! 

Flickr Creative Commons: Joel Montes de Oca.
Flickr Creative Commons: Joel Montes de Oca.

Every night, after my kids are tucked in bed, I begin.

The two books are stacked on my dresser, one on top of the other. The fatter book has a gold cross emblazoned on its black cover. The taller book is a Moleskine notebook.

Next to the stack is a black felt-tipped pen.

I sit on my side of the bed and pull everything into my lap. Then, I open up the notebook and start.

I fill one side of a page: what I’m fretting about, enjoying, pondering. Sometimes I write that I don’t know what to write; occasionally I give in to the opportunity to vent and fill three pages with indignation.

My day recorded, I pick up the other book—The Book of Common Prayer. I flip it to the most-worn page, and read the daily devotions for nighttime:

Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD; The LORD who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion.

It’s a page long, just like my journal entry. It takes all of a minute to say aloud. Generally, before I begin Our Father, I mentally think through my prayer partner’s requests, saying a list names: her children, her husband, a friend in need.

I have found this is truly the least I can do to connect to God.

Honestly, most days I sit down and spend time with God, I notice, aching, how little time I devote. I notice how slim my effort is. I wish I could do more, even as I know that for me, doing just a little more is a terrible idea.

Honestly, I might not strike you as a perfectionist. An acquaintance of mine told me I seem very relaxed, which made me laugh like a hyena.

Underneath my calm exterior is someone very, very tightly wound.

For a long time, I knew I struggled with perfectionism, except I didn’t quite know how. I was never uptight about grades or looks, I let go of legalism about drinking or judging others, and if my house it’s clean, it’s because it helps me think, not because I’m worried about seeming untidy.

But a book I read recently talked about a kind of perfectionism that hit my heart with a bulls-eye.

It’s called scrupulosity.

It’s perfectionism of the mind, about thoughts, intentions, and meanings. I might not worry about my clothing, but it’s because I’m careful about not caring.

I want to have right motives about everything—parenting, waste, writing, dishes, money, organization, faith. Even my calm and my relaxation are carefully, scrupulously managed.

For instance, when I buy something, I want to get a good deal, and buy something organic and ethically sourced, and cruelty free, and buy it without taking too much time to research its provenance and cost, and after it’s all said and done, do I really need that thing in the first place?

Scrupulosity is like a little box in my head that keeps shrinking. No matter how I cut myself to fit, the container gets smaller, and smaller, until I can’t breathe.

On a good day, the scruples have led to repentance and bravery. But on a bad day, they make me want to curl up in my bed and weep for release. Left unchecked, there’s no end to my scruples. No enough or who cares, really? No moment too mundane to double-check and feel guilty about.

And for the biggies, like faith, it has made even the simplest of spiritual disciplines a race of anxiety, in which I’m always, always less than devoted, always thoughtless, always falling short.

In the end, I’ve realized, my scruples are about trying to save myself. Of being my own personal Jesus. Of climbing up onto a cross of my own making, pushing the Lord out of the way in the process.

My nightly ritual, I do the opposite.

I devote myself to letting Him do the saving. It’s not that my daily ritual is free of scruples, but they are pinned down with limits.

One page, one two-minute prayer. Both together take at most ten minutes. It’s a well-worn habit, taking very little effort or thought. And yet God is faithful to meet me in that tiny, empty space.

Whenever I feel ashamed that my ritual is too miniscule and shabby for the Savior of All, whenever I feel apologetic about the paucity of my offering, I remember that Jesus is the one who saves, Jesus is the maker of heaven and earth, and that much as I want to bless the Lord, the only blessing available on this earth is the one that He, in His fullness, bestows.

Small bio picHeather Caliri empowers others to seek Jesus’ easy yoke. In the process, she’s finding an light burden, too. Get her free ebook, “Five Ways to Hack Your Bible Hangups” when you subscribeCara again: so, what do Heather’s words strike in you? How does her daily ritual of devotion reach your heart? Leave her a comment today!

searching for quiet (#wholemama).

I suppose I’m a product of my generation.

A child of the 80’s, and a teenager of the 90’s, technology grew in me as it grew in its presence to the world. Computers didn’t enter classrooms until late elementary school, when good and obedient children earned a round or two of The Oregon Trail (fitting, I’d say, for a girl raised in the Beaver State). I didn’t learn how to type properly until my sophomore year of high school, but was grateful my fingers quickly acquiesced to the repetition and rigidity of the keyboard after all those years of piano lessons.

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I got my first cell phone my senior year of college, an old Nokia I nicknamed Zach Morris. With sixty minutes a month on the plan, it was for emergencies and for looks more than anything else. Bordering on hubris, I found picking out – and giving out, let’s be honest – my own phone number simply hilarious: 253-272-CARA.

For a long time, e-mail was my only form of communication when it came to technology, because it was the only form of communication when it came to technology. Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Linked In – all forms of social media I regularly use now – were barely a twinkle in their creator’s eyes.

But then, social media came in like the tide, splashing over us, daring us to play Chicken with its waves.

Constantly connected, we’re never not available to our friends and acquaintances, past and current employers, strangers and followers. Information is available as long as I have a wi-fi connection, and guaranteed two-day delivery beckons me click “purchase” via the Amazon Prime app on my phone.

Technology is such a part of my life these days that I can’t remember a life without the comforts of All This Noise and All These Distractions.  

If I squint my eyes really, really hard I might recall checking the answering machine on the line I shared with four other members of my family – you know, the one we’d be away from all day long, wondering and waiting to see if anyone had called for us. Just like faint memories of classroom movies shown on the old film projector, I might remember a world in which we cracked open the Encyclopedia Brittanica, instead of opening a new browser screen.

And while I’m all for the advancement of technology, I’m against the fact that it tells me I can’t live in a world of quiet.

I’m against the fact that technology urges me into a life of more, of endless consumption and constant reels that tell me what I think I need, right here, right now.

I’m against the fact that it quickens my insides and makes me forget that breathing slowly and living slowly and entering into the moment slowly truly matters. 

So, today, tonight, this week – I want quiet back. I want to not fear quiet, but I want to embrace quiet.

Even if it’s scary.

Even if too much quiet feels deafening to me.

Even if I feel disconnected.

Even if it seems to go against the beaten path, straying away from social norms of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do as someone who calls herself Writer. 

Because I don’t know about you, but I want to hear Life. I want to hear and see and find Beauty in the most unlikely of places: when I’m sitting in the backyard with my babies, and when we’re walking down the hill to the park on the corner of Lakeshore and MacArthur. When it’s nap time and feeding time, when we’re running errands and when the witching hour hits.

Because when the screaming starts – which it will – and the tantrums commence – which they will – I want to breathe deeply, in and out, in and out, and let ancient words of truth still me:

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me… 

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on…

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy…

Over and over again I’ll say those words, with eyes wide open and ears fully attuned.  And maybe, just maybe, as I inhale and exhale a prayer of lung’s air, a New Peace will find me. 

Or so I hope.

So, what is QUIET to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts – and otherwise, I invite you to check out the #wholemama movement this summer, including this week’s theme of quiet. We’d love to have you join us! 

the day i allowed myself to cry.

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I called her for an appointment because I thought I needed help dealing with a bad ending to a job I’d just left.

After we lined up our schedules, I drove 45 minutes to meet her, confident that after she heard my story, she’d provide me with neat and tidy next steps and send me on my way. Given our mutual friends, I figured we’d eventually become comrades ourselves, following each other on Facebook and exchanging updates at an annual Memorial Day BBQ.

But she was neither my friend nor my confidant. She was my therapist. And the gift she gave me was permission to cry.

I’m not sure what went haywire in my insides, but for a period of seven years between high school and college, I didn’t cry. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the need to cry or that I wasn’t emotionally moved by various events in my life—it was that I didn’t let myself physically shed a tear.

I remember cozying together with a bunch of girlfriends to watch the epic love story of Jack and Rose in Titanic. I recall the sound of saddened sobs around me; the tears that burned my own eyes, and the catch, the gulp, the tightening in my throat that yearned for emotional release. But clenching crumpled tissue between my fists, I refused to let tears stream down my face.

Major events continued to happen around me, with my tears seemingly oblivious: I watched with devastation the horrid events of 9/11, shaking my head in disbelief.

I stared at the television screen, horrified at the number of school shootings, including one on my university’s campus mere days before my own college graduation.

I held the frail hands of my dying grandmother, humming sacred tunes to a barely-there skeleton.

I clung to dear, best friends after an intense summer of campy, kindred friendships—mascara running down their faces, while I prayed the dab of a tissue might do the trick, might make them think I too could gulp a tearful farewell.

I hung up the phone one last time with an ex, saying a final good-bye to a boy I’d thought was The One for a couple of months there.

But through all of these events I refused to shed a tear, because I had somehow come to believe my tears were a sign of weakness. I’d thought that being my strongest, most jubilant, most Christ-filled self meant not succumbing to emotional fragility.

You KNOW it’s not over yet – click here to read the rest of this post, which was featured yesterday at She Loves Magazine. This is one of the most vulnerable pieces I’ve ever written …so I do hope you enjoy it. Otherwise, what is crying to you? How have you been given permission?

rituals: the couch (kaitlin jenkins).

Okay, treat of treats on today’s Guest Post Tuesday, on today’s look at the not-so-boring rituals that make the story deeper …because today you get my COUSIN! She’s a high school English teacher and a bookworm and a snorter and a lover of the beer her brewmaster-husband brews at a local brewery. So, enter into Kaitlin’s words today as she treats us to her couch.

Penny Pic

When one walks into a home, they might see a piano, and think fondly of a family gathered around it singing holiday songs. Or perhaps they might see the television, that flat-screened 55-inch marvel that brings us the best of “How I Met your Mother,” and don’t-you-dare-judge-me, “The Bachelor.” And somewhere nearby, the couch patiently waits, ready to cushion, to comfort. Some homes boast sleek leather (it’s easy to clean), others, the jumbo L-shaped sectional (by far the best for fort-making). The home I share with my husband, our cat, and our puppy is no different. The piano plays songs of yuletide joy, the T.V. tells me who will get kicked off this week in a storm of tears and drama, and the couch- the couch brings us all together.

It is the space that hosts our nightly ritual.

It was the first big-kid piece of furniture we ever bought. I remember thinking, “How can things cost this much money?” I chuckle now, thinking about how we got it on sale at a consignment store. It is small, and lightly patterned. Thank god it has always been cream-colored, because the years and baby animals have taken away its…new charm. It sags in just the right places, so that the sitters unintentionally form a cuddle-puddle, whether they want to or not. And it is my favorite place in the whole world.

My husband and I are currently experiencing that honeymoon, lala-land, head-over-heels, eyes only for each other bubble that is the first year of marriage. We are in that beautiful moment of quiet before the storm.

We love our jobs, and pour ourselves wholeheartedly into them. We work crazy hours because we can. The only babies we have are furry, and require nothing more than some kibble and our absolute love.

This space, in our first year of marriage, is something we protect. We guard it; we cherish it, because we know that it is fragile, and that with the first cries of our first baby, things will be different.

Wonderful, but different.

And so, every night we meet on the couch. The hubs lights the lemongrass candle on the coffee table, I order the vegetarian pho. The fur babies get settled and we fall into each other’s presence.

Sometimes the ritual space is filled with confession: “You know Joey in my fourth period?” I’ll ask. Of course he does. This is where he hears about Joey all the time.

“Today he made me cry. He stood up for the autistic kid, and it was the bravest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

Sometimes the ritual space is filled with song, “So no one told you life was gonna be this waaaaaaay! (clap clap clap clap!)” And we sing along, excited to see what shenanigans the “Friends” gang will be up to this week.

Sometimes, the ritual space is filled with silence. The kind you soak in after a long day of people barking orders, and kids dropping f-bombs. Sometimes we need each other’s silent support. And on the ritual couch, the other gladly gives it.

In this space the puppy snores gently, the cat purrs, we slurp our vegetarian pho, and we grin over at each other like two fools in love.

Because this is our space.

This is our time.

I know so many people who are swept up in the day-to-day hustle and bustle, myself included. We spend so much of our time worrying about our to-do lists, and wondering if that e-mail was sent. We don’t allow ourselves the grace to stop and breathe in the moment. Life rolls, and we roll with it.

Can we learn to appreciate the roll and the respite at the same time?

In one week I will get on a plane to go see the world. It’s something I have to do. Adult life has done nothing to cure this girl’s wanderlust. I will be standing on a glacier in Iceland, and I’ll be marveling at the Great Synagogue in Budapest.

But it’s the couch I’ll miss the most. The couch and all the ritual it brings with it: the puppy snores, the Top Chef finale, the husband’s exasperated confessions about the missing valve on an important piece of equipment at work, and most of all, the man himself. In the meantime, I’ll breathe in the moment; I’ll drink in the ritual. I’ve got a lemongrass candle to light and a phone call to make:

“Hi. Two orders of vegetarian pho, and an order of spring rolls, please.”

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Kait and KenKaitlin lives in the bay area with her brewer husband Ken, their sweet pit-bull, Penny, and their malodorous cat, Roscoe. When she’s not grading 9th grade English papers, she loves hunting down good craft beer, singing Sunday hymns, and being a nerdy book-worm. Cara again: I know. Do you love her – and the couch and all her newlywed bliss – or WHAT? Leave Kaitlin some love today!

lessons from superman (#wholemama).

Superman has taken up residence in our house.

It starts the same nearly every morning: when it’s time for Cancan, our almost three-year-old to get dressed, he takes it upon himself to wear a) swim trunks and b) his “super cape.” Clark Kent becomes my boy’s alter ego, making his debut everywhere we go: at the playground and at church, at the farmer’s market and during family pictures at the beach in Santa Cruz. He shows up at our dinner table and at the zoo, in the grocery store and while we’re waiting for Mama’s Special Drink (otherwise known as a 12-ounce latte with a double shot and one sugar in the raw from the neighborhood coffee shop ).

At the zoo with Lois Lane. Photo cred: Steph.
At the zoo with Lois Lane. Photo cred: Stephanie Patterson.

He’s not soaring off anything higher than the front porch steps at this point, and snuggles from Mama still seem to be his Kryptonite. And here’s the deal: I’m totally fine with him being the superhero in our house. I’ve long since shed my own superhero cape, maybe because I’ve begun to realize that I can’t have it all and be it all and do it all and save it all. I no longer pretend invincibility and I’ve long shed my proclivity to drive myself into the ground, being the Best Mom and the Best Worker and the Best Friend and the Best Wife. Because at some point, I think we realize it’s not about being Best, it’s simply about being. 

It’s simply about embracing the mess and seeking wholeness at the same time.

It’s about entering into the chaos and laughing a hearty, holy throat-chortle in response.

It’s about finding little, perfect chunks of shalom hidden in pools of Cheerios on the hardwood floor and in the splatters of dried banana that adorn the dining room walls. 

And in that way, my kid seems to be the healthiest version of a superhero I’ve ever met …and one that I want to model and emulate.

As Superman was getting ready to go to bed tonight, he and the HBH (Hot Black Husband) migrated to the front room, where I sat writing this post. After dancing in his Batman underwear to the background music, he proceeded to start the elongated bedtime-clothes ritual.

Sitting down on the floor, he wiggled his feet into his footie pajamas. Determined and stubborn and most wholly alive, no sooner did a question follow his declaration:

I got this, I got this! …Can you help me, Dada?

Superman asked for help. 

Asking for help is not what superheroes are known for, because superheroes don’t have to ask for help. Superheroes are superheroes for a reason, because they have every Super Perfect Power within them, but you and I, my friend, we are far from superheroes. And isn’t that a relief?

It means we can ask for help.

It means we can lean into each other.

It means we can show compassion and kindness to one another, even when we feel like our well’s run dry.

It means we can seek to understand those whose stories are different from ours, those whose cultures and histories and lives seem so far from our own.

It means we can seek wholeness and find shalom, the essence of which I believe is already there for the waiting, there for the wanting, there for those who so desire it.

So, join me, will you?

Join me as we strip off the superhero capes we think we can and should wear, as we yearn to be our most real and compassionate and whole selves.

xo, c.

So, we’re talking about power and superpowers and superheroes this week at #wholemama. Join the movement, and link up over at Esther’s site as we talk about All Things Superpower.  Otherwise, what has Superhero Cancan taught you from this post? What are you feeling and thinking? Do share!

old friends are the best friends.

photo-courtesy-of-symphony-of-love-under-flickr-creative-commons

Old Friends are the Best Friends

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old Friends are the Best Friends.

Now I’m not knocking those who’ve only been in my life for a year or two, but to me, there’s something powerful about being around people who stake double-digit claim to how long they’ve known you. Suddenly, that which unites current, everyday friends – children who are similar in age or religious beliefs and practices or the city we dwell in – doesn’t seem to hold so much weight.

The irony is that when Old Friends step into the picture again, we can seem to hold little in common: staunch Republican, left-wing Democrat; traditional evangelical Christian, meditative Buddhist yogi; married with four children, single and still ready to mingle.  If you’d asked me ten years ago if I thought I could stay in relationship with those who hadn’t moved and grown along with me (and like me, I might add), I’d have likely mumbled a pithy reply.  I’d have shaken my head in solemn understanding of the sadness of my own plight.  I’d have said my good-byes, at least in my mind, no sooner than burning old letters and dreaming of Friendship’s Funeral.

We share great memories, I would have said to you, but memories can’t sustain a friendship in the present.  

Or can it?

I’m beginning to realize I was wrong.

Maybe wisdom is starting to grab hold of me.  Maybe I’m learning that life isn’t as narrow and compartmentalized as I make it out to be, at least when I’m hurting and sad and missing the people who make me whole.  And maybe I’m also realizing that life is merely and solely and wholly made up of relationships.  Life is made up of people, of lovely, messy humans who are mine – and who, the grand scheme of This One Beautiful and Precious Life matter to me.

To say that I’m thankful for Old Friends is an understatement. Because gratitude burgeons deep in my insides when their faces come to mind, while affection for the stories we share mercilessly stirs the waters of my soul.

Because the books I own, they don’t matter.  The writing I do, it too doesn’t matter.  The house we love, the television we watch, the baseball games we attend – don’t matter, don’t matter, don’t matter.

But the people – oh, the people, they do matter.

Don’t worry – there’s more. Click here to head over to Lily Ellyn’s website to read the rest of the story of thankfulness and reflection. Otherwise, what about you? Are Old Friends the best friends to you? Young, old, green, blue – does any of it matter to you when it comes to friendship?