rituals: saying no (suzanne burden).

Well friends, welcome back! I do hope you enjoyed last week’s #rituals FLASHMOB, and if you haven’t already checked it out, head back to read the words of Addie, Aleah, Kari and Jen. For now, we’re back as regularly scheduled, and this week I’ve got the lovely Suzanne Burden here with us. Suzanne is another friend of mine from the Redbud Writers Guild, and her words ring so, so true for me. Even if it’s hard, there is so much power in saying “no.” Enjoy her ritual.

Flickr Creative Commons: Walt Stoneburner
Flickr Creative Commons: Walt Stoneburner

“Moving on from ___________” read the subject line in my email.

You can do this, I assure myself.

Historically, I don’t like to quit things.

I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs personality scale—and let me tell you, we can get things done. Consider it a function of our sheer stick-to-itiveness when we feel passionate about something.

(Read: we can’t always let opportunities, things, jobs, or people go when the timing is right.)

(And also: it could be that rituals just might help us say no more effectively.)

So I sent the email. After several years, a recent statement on the organization’s values and beliefs helped me to realize our philosophies were no longer the same. I had become “not the best fit,” and I needed to move on. I mentioned how thankful I was for the opportunity.

Coincidentally, this morning a coauthor and I dropped—as in, ceased—a publishing project I’ve been working on for a year and a half. We ourselves received a lot of “nos” and then a “we’d like to change it to this” that just didn’t work. I cannot even count the hours and emotion that went into what appears to be a failure, but at the moment, is a clear redirection. It may resurrect itself in a different season, but for now, I am being called to put the lid on all that effort. I do so with a mixture of relief, sadness and anticipation.

Dr. Henry Cloud calls them “necessary endings” in his book of the same title:

“Although we need [necessary endings] for good results to happen in life and for bad situations to be resolved, the reality is that most of us humans often avoid them or botch them.” (p. 9)

I am tired of being afraid of confrontation, of fearing that a new opportunity will not come along, of dreading saying something wrong so that I never say anything at all.

Without “nos” I cannot truly say “yes” to this one wild and precious life of which the poet Mary Oliver writes.

And so I am saying “no” a lot these days. I am praying, not lengthy prayers, but Lord, help me do the next right thing. To say yes to the good, and a firm, even glad “no” to the not-best.

In the process, I am learning that healthy people in our lives are often so grateful when we say no with intention and grace. They are often relieved. You see, our nos redirect them, too, and hopefully into a better scenario, a better relationship, a better fit.

I have realized that my ritual involves prayer, discussion with a close friend or mentor and checking myself physically for whether a situation inspires passion, anxiety or passivity in me. I am listening to my body’s response. I invite God to speak to me and I listen to the emotions called forth through my unique personality, gifts and experiences.

Why do I feel anxiety in the pit of my stomach or tension in my shoulders? Will this contribute to my wholeness and flourishing and that of others? Does it align with who I am, not what will please someone else?

When the no feels right, sometimes the words are simple and don’t require too much thought, and I try to offer them in the moment without regret: no, but thank you for asking. Other times, an explanation is needed, and then the next phase of the ritual kicks in.

Check in with the other party. Confirm my thought and prayer process in this decision. Kindly and firmly offer my no. Wish the person the very best in their endeavor and their mission and wellbeing in life.

If it is a significant “no,” like the one I experienced today, I will soothe myself with a bit of chocolate or a walk. I will journal. I will pray a prayer of release, my hands turned upward. I let the “no” flutter past without fanfare, catching the breeze and blowing away, that I might be fully present for the next “yes.”

Saying no is one of the most important rituals I can practice if I am to start again with joy: a moving on, an open door, a new chapter. My mind clears, empty of the weight of less-than-best commitments, and I wonder, like a small child peeking around the corner, “What’s next?”

My eyes peeled, my heart opening, I am nearly ready for the “yes.”

suzanneburdenSuzanne Burden lives in the Indiana heartland, where she enjoys her husband’s mad cooking skills and the benefits of living in a city where she knows her neighbors and can always find a parking space. She agrees wholly with CS Lewis when he writes: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” Suzanne is the coauthor of Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God and can be found at her blog or on twitterIt’s Cara again – so, here’s a question for you: how today do you need to let your yes be yes and your no be no? Even more, how did Suzanne’s words inspire you to say no? Leave her some love!

rituals: when i am a regular (addie zierman).

Well, it’s the last day of the #rituals FLASHMOB (exclamation point), and I for one, have loved the time leaning into lives, hearing the stories, learning the hearts. And to finish up this week’s gift, we have writer, blogger and speaker Addie Zierman, or one I call a seamless weaver of poetry & prose. I’ve been a fan of Addie’s since her first book came out, and loved then getting to know the real deal when we roomed together at last year’s Festival of Faith & Writing. Enjoy her ritual!


On days when my kids are elsewhere, I drive 0.7 miles to The Bean Coffee & Wine Cafe, order a medium light roast in a mug while chatting with Jess or Emily or whoever’s barista-ing that morning, and settle in at the table by the window to write.

Mostly now, I don’t even have to order; they see me and grab the mug and begin to fill it up. “How’s the writing?” they ask, and I tell them about the new deadline or the new edits…or, if it’s a bad day, I quickly change the subject.

I am a Regular — a title that I covet more than almost any other that I’ve earned — and this is my ritual.

Of course, there are a million places in my own home that I could write if I wanted to.

I could close the door to my bedroom and sprawl on the bed with my laptop. I could sit on the red couch by the bookshelves or at the kitchen table. I could go way, way down stairs to the cave-like guest room and burrow under the covers of that guest bed like a gopher.

Recently, my youngest decided to move into his big brother’s room. They sleep together now on bunk beds, and I’ve commandeered the rejected bedroom for an office, complete with an inspiration board and a small desk facing the window, looking out over our pond. I can sit there and work, and I can look out at the ducks cutting across the water.

I could write in that office. I should write in that office…and sometimes I do.

But the house buzzes with all the things I really ought to be doing. From the kitchen table, I can hear the dishes taunting me from the sink — Wash us. Wash us. From my bed, I have a front-row seat to the overflowing hamper in the closet, and sitting on the couch, I keep glancing past my computer at the floor that needs to be vacuumed. Not only vacuumed but carpet-cleaned. I wonder if I should rent a carpet cleaner? From there, it’s a short jump to pricing them online and Pinterest-ing carpet cleaning solution.

Even in my office, I get distracted by the windows that need washing, the kids’ artwork that needs to be scanned and filed, the letters that need to be posted.

So I’ve made a habit of going to The Bean instead.

The Bean, where the two old farmers come in every morning to have a cup of coffee together. Where they nod at me and grunt hello, and then they sit across from one another with their mugs, talking in low voices.

The Bean, where the pastor from the charismatic church down the road comes to work on his sermon and where the quiet Asian kid with a long ponytail works on his Mac and where pods of women pull tables together for book clubs.

Every so often, I end up there on the morning that the Andover Cycling Club shows up, sweaty and Spandex-ed and raucous after a long ride.

I have logged hundreds of hours writing at The Bean. I know most of the staff by name; the other Regulars, I mostly know by face. None of it is particularly intimate, and it’s not what we traditionally think of when we talk about friendship. But just being there among them makes me feel braver, healthier, less alone.

After all, there is so much about writing that is lonely. It is the most solitary thing, to crawl up inside your own memory and imagination and try to commit it all to paper. At the Bean, my earbuds pump music into my brain as I work, and I am given wide berth and wide smiles and free refills and the most stunningly simple kind of support.

The night I received the first, daunting batch of edits for my most recent draft, I went to the Bean to drink wine and sob in the corner, and the server on duty refilled my glass inconspicuously and never said a word about it. When the next batch of edits came through, they brought a bottle of wine to my table in a bucket of ice — an overpayment for the copy of my first book that I’d given the owner.

These are precious moments to me — gems on a string.

But just as important are all the average, regular days. The days I pull into the parking lot, order the coffee, settle into my table. The days when nothing particularly special happens except fingers on computer keys, words on a blank screen, good coffee sipped from a big, ceramic mug. Nods from the farmers. Hello’s from the baristas. The small rituals that are building me, day by day, into a writer.

Addie Zierman Official Author PhotoAddie Zierman is a writer, blogger and speaker. She has an MFA from Hamline University and is the author of When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons and blogs regularly at addiezierman.comIt’s Cara again: doesn’t this make you want to head to your local coffee shop and make that place (and those people) your ritual? Well, it does me. Encourage Addie by leaving a comment. (Contest is now closed).

rituals: training (kari wilhite).

Friends, like I’ve said, treat of treats this week in #rituals FLASHMOB week. Let me then introduce you to Kari Wilhite from Dreadlocks and Goldilocks. You may remember Kari’s words from the 2014 series, “The Little Things.” She joins us again today with another story, first told through prose and then through poetry. I’m so grateful for those dreamy, poetic types who teach me to pause and sit with rhythmic words. 


For years my husband and I have dreamt of hiking on the Wonderland Trail in Mount Rainier National Park.  It is a 95 mile round-trip trail with endless ups and downs resulting in a cumulative elevation gain of more than 20,000 feet.  There is actually a lottery system to get approved to get a back-country pass for this trail. Well, we didn’t get in! We plan on finding another trail to traverse, though not the one we were really hoping for. And we’re okay with that. Nonetheless, I continue to train.

And isn’t it really about the transformation in the training process anyway?

So, I train.  I put on my backpack after the kids leave for school.  I have filled it with bricks from a patio project gone-bad.  They aren’t the most comfortable, but this adventure isn’t meant to be.

In this piece I reflect on the ritual of going into the woods behind my house. I do this about 3-4 times a week.  I am gone for anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes.  It is a very therapeutic ritual in solitary training for my body and my spirit.

And the one thing I am learning: even in rituals there is something always new to see, if I’m just willing to look, listen and learn.

I strap them on
they feel real nice
in awkwardness
I fling the pack
heavy on my back
out the backdoor I go
this ritual: what will I learn today?

up the paved road
behind my house
and spy my trail-head
hushed, a tad eery
this ritual: what will I see today?

these back woods
aka dirt-bike paradise
perfect pot-smoking oasis
garbage dump for the careless
it becomes spiritual
more than physical
almost immediately
as I see signs of
messy humanity
in the middle of the forest
this ritual: what will I come across today?

I see debris
of broken-down motorcycles
relationships gone-bad
scattered papers of:
a pornographic magazine
junk-mail advertisements
a beautiful wedding invitation
a plastic children’s book
how did all this get way out here?
this ritual: what will I think of these things today?

my heart breaks
as I see these things
in this ritual
I whisper a prayer
I cry inside at the
madness of it all
as I’m out in these woods
this ritual: how will I respond to it today?

I get giddy with joy
for I see a baby owl!!
I get hesitant with wonder
for I see a snake up ahead!
I get apprehensive with fear
for someone told me
a bear, a cougar have been seen
I dare not telling many about this
this ritual: am I taking too many chances today?

in this ritual I not only
train my legs
my lungs
but my love
and I return home with
reminders of this ritual
and how each time
it speaks something new to me
a rock
a piece of garbage
a wedding invitation
a heavy stick
a photo of a snake
a child’s toy
a magazine page
even a muffler off an old car

SubstandardFullSizeRender-4Kari lives in Bonney Lake, WA with her husband (who happens to be a pastor) and four children (2 teen boys and 2 elementary school girls). She loves to write poetry, encourage women in their stories, dance with the disabled and high-five the vulnerable. And, oh man, Cara again: did you not find yourself enveloped within Kari’s words? I think poets must have a special place in heaven. Leave her some love below!

rituals: there is a dawn in me (aleah marsden).

It’s Guest Post Flashmobs-Tuesday Week …are you excited or WHAT?! I am delighted to have Aleah here with us today, who is just as authentic in-person as you’ll read in her post today. She’s a writer and a friend, a mama and a cheerleader to others, and a cohort of mine through the Redbud Writers Guild. I have a feeling you’ll more-than-enjoy her words today. Savor them, indeed!


4:10 am: My alarm pings on my phone and a sleepy smile spreads across my face. Technically, it’s Saturday morning, though the sun won’t rise for another hour or so. I dress quickly and quietly, careful not to wake the other still sleepers; husband in a twirl of sheets taking up three quarters of our bed, nor the four passed-out littles across the hall.

I grab my bag, intentionally packed the evening prior, with my laptop, charging cords, blue ballpoint pen, journal, Bible, sticky notes, books, highlighter, wallet, and indispensible ear-buds.

I step out into the star-smattered dark filled with awe as I breathe deeply, a small thrill of aloneness. I sing along to whatever song woke up with me in my heart.

In the winter the heater in our nineties, manual Honda Civic kicks in when I get to the first stoplight. I’ve trained myself to always pull into the first left turn lane; the second lane’s sensor is broken and I have wasted too many precious minutes waiting at a deserted intersection for the lights to cycle to left arrow green.

Starbucks never looks prettier than 4:30am; empty and alluring, a shiny newness aglow with hope, alight with possibility. A yawn escapes as I grab the bundle of newspapers off the curb and my eyes adjust to the warm light within. I set the papers on the end of the counter where a barista is pulling pastries from boxes to fill the refrigerated case.

“Spinach feta wrap?”

“Yes, please. And a tall Pike.”


For all my hopes, dreams, and longings to fulfill in the next five hours?

“A little, thanks.”

My table is in the back corner with an unobstructed view of the coffee shop, next to a coveted power outlet on the wall. Once, a new barista was sitting there when I came in. She thought she was opening, only to arrive and find out her shift didn’t start until 5am.

I sat a table away from her and anxiously sipped my coffee for half an hour until she moved.

I’m not sure which variable of my Saturday morning “office hours” is the most important part of the equation. Is it the alarm? The way I leave my clothes folded on the corner of the dresser? The first left turn lane? Two Splendas and splash of half and half? The savory first bite of feta and egg white? Opening my soft leather Bible and pulling out the brown satin ribbon marking my place?

In the words of Michael Scott, “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little ‘stitious.” I have experienced the magic of flow—that near-mythical experience of being in-synch with your work—too often in just this space, in just this way, to risk messing with the details.

Whether or not my writing is any good that morning has become secondary. The value is found in showing up. In all the rest of my life spent wrestling words and wrangling four kids, rarely do two days look alike. I am undisciplined and frazzled and taking it a day at a time all the time, but every week Saturday morning comes for me with open arms and a hot paper cup of freshly brewed house roast.

This has become my one almost defiant act of consistency. I smile as I sip and ponder Thoreau’s perfect words in Walden: “Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.”

new profile picAleah Marsden is a writer, editor, and Social Media and Communications Manager for Redbud Writers Guild. She blogs at DepthoftheRiches.com about life, faith, and Bible study. Her work has been featured in Books & Culture and The Banner. Connect with her on Twitter: @aleahmarsden. It’s Cara again: and did you not just LOVE Aleah’s words, the picture she painted, the view into her Saturday morning ritual? Thank you for sharing, friend. Show her some love!

rituals: muchaka, muchaka (jen baumgarten).

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you are in for a treat. Not only is this week #rituals FLASHMOB (exclamation point!) week, but today you get to hear from one of my dearest college buddies, Jen. And as she tells her story, she takes us to another land, to Africa, where she’s spending her summer. Be transported. Be transformed. And experience your own “Muchaka Muchaka” this week.

We all have rituals. I get that. But today, I can’t think of any of mine. Maybe because I am so incredibly far from home – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – as I spend the summer in Africa, living, learning, and growing alongside fellow teachers and many, many new friends.

Or, maybe because I can’t take my mind off the ritual that has been swirling in my head for nearly two weeks. While it is not my own ritual, I was invited in to the essence of “Muchaka Muchaka” – the Saturday morning ritual of the students at Agohozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), in Rwanda, where I spent my first few days and nights on this journey through East Africa.

A picture of Rwanda from Jen: follow her on Instagram at @jenbaum78.
A picture of Rwanda from Jen: follow her on Instagram at @jenbaum78.

Muchaka Muchaka has deepened my desire to return to life as a jogger. At 5:45 AM, each grade from the youth village met at their designated post to begin their weekly ritual of chanting and jogging alongside one another, supporting one another to clear their minds, let go of the week behind them and prepare for the week ahead.

Because I am not, currently, a jogger, I was hesitant to join. My fears of being too slow, too fat, too out of shape were working hard to reassure me that giving up would be my best option. Alas, I was more motivated by the curiosity of this cherished morning event, than my own insecurities. As I began with the group that was standing at the gate nearest my guest house, I was instantly uplifted by the level of communal support and effort that seemed to carry the group along the dusty road to the main gate of the village.

This is the only opportunity most students get to leave the village each week. As they chant down the rural roads toward the small village that lies a few kilometers away, people come out of their houses to watch, listen, and receive some of the energy the students are spreading beyond the walls of ASYV. Wrapping my head around this way of life seems impossible, so in the spirit of Muchaka Muchaka, I let it go.

I take in all of the sounds, the smells, the air, the laughter and smiles around me, and embrace this beautiful way to start a day.

During my inaugural Muchaka Muchaka experience, I was joined by a sweet 16-year-old called Agnes. In the spirit of the ritual, she honored the fact that no one should be alone on this journey; even clearing the mind can be done with someone by your side. She explained that at the end of the week, as their minds are so full from their academics, from missing families, even the ones that don’t exist, it is so important to let go of all worries and regain strength and clarity for the week ahead.

One week at a time.

Work hard.

Clear the mind.

Muchaka, Muchaka.

Prepare to work hard again.

Muchaka, Muchaka.

All within the context of community.

Muchaka Muchaka allowed me to step back and ask, what is it that helps me clear my mind and regain my focus each week? Do I have something that I cannot fathom missing? A ritual that allows me to let go of one week and prepare for the next? A ritual that alters my existence for the better; one that I can count on repeatedly? How about one that I can do while surrounded by others, sharing energy and love and joy??

For me, personally, attending church on Sunday mornings is my Muchaka Muchaka, but in Rwanda, the act of moving alongside others outside was too beautiful not to share.

So, what is your Muchaka Muchaka?

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 3.48.53 PMOriginally from North Dakota, Jen also spent a good chunk of her life in the Northwest, although she now hails from Minneapolis.  A teacher by day, she’s also a proud new homeowner, loves her family dearly, and is a friend to all. You can get to know Jen’s heart even more by clicking here to follow her blog. You can also become Her Biggest Fan by following her on Twitter or on Instagram. It’s Cara again: so, let’s answer Jen’s question. What is your Muchaka Muchaka?

the gift of space (#wholemama).

Last weekend I was given a gift – the gift of gifts, in my opinion – to get away for the weekend and simply hole up with my words.

It came after a whirlwind of spring activities, when the HBH (Hot Black Husband) had been traveling for work and I’d traveled out of state with our two boys by myself. I’d realized, even though I really, really love my sons, ages three and ten months, and even though I really, really love my husband, a grudge had birthed within me.

I looked at his boarding pass and said something like, “Honey, you are so lucky you’ll be able to fly by yourself to Dallas and back, without small children crawling over you, all by your lonesome. You’ll be able to get at least two books read, just on flights alone – I mean, are you excited for time away or what?!”

He looked at me perplexingly, not understanding how “work trip” could equal quality time by himself, and that’s when I realized: I’m envious of him. I am jealous of the time he’ll spend away from his family, because even though traveling is hard, he’ll be able to refuel and reload. Forty-eight hours away – sleeping in his own bed, eating what he wants to eat, and being valued in his work – will help him rediscover who he is as a human apart from his role as father.

So I booked a weekend of my own, here:


Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. Ten, fifteen years ago, had you invited me to spend a weekend away by myself, without a friend in sight, I would have balked at the idea. Eat in a restaurant all by my lonesome? No way. Hole up with just my laptop and a stack of books to occupy my time? Uh-uh.

A Seven on the Enneagram and an extrovert at heart, I wondered how my insides would react to not being around people, to not having someone to converse with for all the big and little moments.

I wondered what it would be like to be all alone, to get to know myself all over again when no one else is there to provide affirmation of your being.

For me, I didn’t book it as a spa weekend, but I went into it with the purpose of sitting with my words. I needed time to let loose tangled phrases, to free and invite to paper paragraphs inside. I needed to give proper space to the process of being still and letting my fingers tell the story that’s already living within.

I also mused aloud whether I’d miss my boys too much – or really, whether they’d miss me too much. But even in thinking that, I realized by holding on too tight to the reigns of motherhood, I wasn’t giving my husband the opportunity to fully step into his role as their father.

At the heart of it, I realized I didn’t trust the man I love as one who is more-than-capable and more-than-able to be all they need for an entire weekend.

And friends, that’s when I’ll repeat to you the first thing I said in this post: the weekend away was the gift of gifts.

When we are given the time and space to breathe, we more fully discover who we are and who we were meant to be. We discover that we’re funny and we make ourselves laugh. We find that there’s still healing that needs to take place, but this time, we don’t shy away from it.

This time we dive right in, reacquainting ourselves with the Spirit and with ourselves, experiencing a new side to God and to ourselves as we lap up buckets of shalom.

So, what would it be for you? What could it be for you?

I realize that for you, it might be just a morning away or a full Saturday to let loose and roam. It might be creating a space within your house, a corner that’s all yours, or it might mean creating space within your every day.

And when you finally carve out that space, the beauty is that you’re free to enter into the space however you choose. Because wherever you go and whatever you do, know that you’re not actually alone – you’re merely inviting the Already-Present One to further make room in your life that day.

So, what’s stopping you?

Let’s push for space, for each other and for ourselves, for the ones we love and for those we fight for. And friends, let’s then receive the gift of space.

Don’t worry, there’s more! Mostly more ways for you to dive in and participate with the #wholemama movement. Head on over to Esther’s blog to read more and learn more and absorb more as well.  Otherwise, I’m curious: how do you create and celebrate SPACE in your life? Do tell!

Whole Mama

everything I ever needed to know in parenting…

This is how it happened: I’d been invited to lunch. And not only was it a lunch where Real Live Food was involved (which tends to be a draw for me), but it featured a tableful of female writers, of women seeking to find the balance between heart and passion, motherhood and creativity.

We sat at Bronwyn’s dining room table, homemade bread in the center and bubbly, steaming bowls of soup before us. Children screamed in the background and Lesley bounced her new baby boy on her lap, shushing and cooing and sprinkling him with love. One by one, updates were given and questions were asked; dreams were whispered and ideas were birthed.

I talked a bit here and there, but mostly, like water to sponge, I soaked up their camaraderie. I questioned whether I fit in then and would fit in in the future. And I listened, intently, closely, scrutinizing their interactions to see if I was one of them, to figure out if I could belong.

And that’s when it happened: as I sought validation, advice spewed forth.

“Cara, you should connect with Tim Fall. He loves women in ministry.”

The woman who spoke abruptly corrected herself, clarifying that Tim, a married, faithful Christian man, had a heart for promoting male and female writers alike.

“He’ll be your biggest fan,” one of them said. And that was all I needed to hear…

Friends, we haven’t even GOTTEN to the wisdom portion yet! There’s more, there’s more! Want to read about how the Barnabas of the Blogosphere became my biggest fan AND provided me with oodles and oodles of parenting wisdom? Click here to read the rest of my guest post for him. Otherwise, what’s some of the best parenting advice you’ve ever received?