I sit at the kitchen table. Maki has already left for school and I’ve had one cup of coffee. I’ll get the little one up in a bit so she can get ready for her late-owl start time. After that, I’ll drive the 45 minutes north to Costa Mesa for another round of dialysis. I really hate going there, and I’m not even the one hooked up. On these days, I have to prepare my head and heart ahead of time. It’s endless…Vernon may be going to dialysis five days a week for the rest of his life. But that doesn’t mean I take each day gracefully. I do kick and scream some days, sometimes loudly the entire drive up. But I don’t think about it till the morning of. “What does my day look like? ….Oh yeah, that.”
It helps if I think of it as a job I have to go to. I don’t think of motherhood as a job, though I’ve heard people fondly call it one. I do think of taking care of Vernon as a job. It’s not the most fulfilling job, and certainly not one I would have applied for. I’m unqualified and I don’t get paid.
I stopped actively promoting my photography services when the accident happened. There just wasn’t time. Or maybe I chose to spend my computer time ‘working’ at the blog rather than building a business. I’ve come to consider this writing time part as much a part of my work as anything. It’s a job I’ve given myself. I still take photography sessions when people ask for them. I always say yes, if I can. In fact, I make it a personal rule to say yes to any creative opportunity that comes my way. I have had to turn down regular-hour work because of our inconsistent (and surprise!) scheduling, but I’ve been blessed with wonderful project gifts. I’ve been invited to speak a couple of times, I’ve taken on some painting commissions, I went to a writer’s workshop, we have an impending art/craft fair to make things for, and I was recently invited to teach a holiday workshop on simple printmaking.
Now THESE are the kinds of jobs I’d apply for anyway, given the chance. So I take them when they come, deciding that no matter how busy I am with taking care of my family or what new challenges may jump out of the blue, I can’t afford not to. They are good for my heart. And if me heart isn’t well, nothing else is either.
My dear friend Sandy called me just yesterday with this quote she wanted to share: “Heart (as we use it here) means far ore than emotions or feelings. James Houston says our heart is the ‘center of those qualities that make us human…the innermost part of the human personality.’ In fact, our emotions are merely the outward expression of a deeper reality. they are like the indicator lights on a car’s dashboard, letting you know what’s going on ‘under the hood.’ ” (John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance.)
I don’t specifically think about my heart when I reach for these projects that make me happy. that make me believe in some small way that I am putting something well-meaning BACK into the world after witnessing so much being taken OUT of it day after day. But Sandy told me when she sees me sitting in my kitchen, surrounded by half empty cups of cold coffee and snacks for the kids that haven’t put away, amidst pens and pencils, paints and play-doh, that THIS is what she sees happening. I’m taking care of my heart by trying to create some beauty and joy, something new in a life of responsibilities I didn’t choose. It’s a way of making sure the heart stays strong. Put like that, I’d say she’s right.
Each person has their thing. I believe creativity lies in all of us, some just use it more than others. But ultimately, we all have hardship in our lives. How we respond to it varies, of course, depending on who or where we are at that point. But to me, taking care of our heart, finding space to do the thing that you truly love, even if that feels like work sometimes too, is crucial to heart-health. It’s a discipline, its an exercise, its a mess. But a worthy mess.
Because tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. There are practical, small, active, loving ways to rise above it a few moments at a time. And ultimately, that will be the time your heart thanks you for. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I’m not alone in this.
“Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth…When we are writing, or painting, or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions, and are opened to a wider world, where colors are brighter, sounds clearer, and people more wondrously complex than we normally realize.” Madeline L’Engle
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23