Tuesday, September 30, 2014

31 days of cheerleading

My husband is a graphic designer who generally whips designs out of his head and produces them on screen in less than fifteen minutes. I proved to be a challenge for him, an exception, will you, but we finally did it together. We created a logo and business card for me as a writer that surpassed my expectations. 

And I love the finished product, more than I thought I would. And I feel humbled by it, too. I see the words, so stark and clear: 
Amber Cadenas

They're hovering above a beautiful feather, so delicate and astounding, and I wonder how that feather can hold up those words. Those words, so weighty and committed and unapologetic. What does it mean, really, this title of Writer? 

Many days, I find I need to go back and remember.

* * * * * 

The last time I practiced blogging every day was in 2011, when I started the year off with the goal of writing every day - for the entire year. Yeah, kind of crazy, I know. I made it through the end of March and for the rest of the year maintained at least five days a week. And this was back when pretty much no one read my blog and I did it for the sheer joy of writing, the necessary growing pains of becoming a writer in the verb tense, not only as a noun. 

I don't know how I did it, when the idea of anyone reading my words daily seemed too crazy to imagine.

And I think that's sitting in the back of my mind, as I've wavered back and forth, deciding whether to participate in the 31-day challenge. Who would even want to read my words for thirty-one days straight? I even tire of myself for that long. If some bloggers imagine they might gain more readers this way, I fear I would lose the few I have: TOO MUCH AMBER popping up in my inbox.

But the other side of this struggle, the honest to God truth, is that I hate the thought of being left out. Left behind. It's this image of a girl standing on the ground watching her friends grab onto huge bouquets of balloons and lifting off, soaring higher and higher, further and further away. Of no longer standing in the same place but in different worlds, different levels. And as she stands watching, those friends become smaller and smaller, swallowed up in sky, as they fly off to discover distant lands.

And she's happy, truly, for their soaring. But she feels smaller somehow, too. Less significant there on the ground.

* * * * * 

I miss the days when writing didn't feel like a competition, even as it also is, here, a beautiful diverse community. It still can feel, too often, like competing for a larger slice of the internet pie. A larger following.  A larger body of published work in a variety of reputable places. And maybe, also, this feeling is more the reflection of my own writing demons than the reality itself. It can be hard to distinguish between the two, to separate "I am a blogger" from "I must grow my blog."

To pull apart "I am a writer" from "Look at me" is, for me, one of the thorns in my side - an inner wrangling of the motivations of my heart each time I lay my words bare on the screen.

If I can lay it all out in a naked heap, this is why I finally landed on the side of No. No, I won't be joining in the 31 days as a writer. I will be reading, and I will be cheering writers on, but for me, I know too well my heart in this season. My intentions are at best murky and I wish this weren't so. I admire those pure of heart writers who can genuinely say, "I don't care" with regards to stats and comments and following and shout-outs. I can't say that yet. I care, and I don't. I cheer, and I feel insecure. But where I really want to land as a writer is the place where I can be standing there on the ground looking up, whispering or shouting or breathless on my knees, "Look at her! Look at you!" and feel no undue smallness from below. 

So those of you who are doing this, hear me: I applaud you. You soar, friends.  Because I know, for many of you writers, this is about those words, that thing, burning in the depths of you that simply must come out. About needing to know you can or feeling you must, and those are all good reasons to do this. I will learn to become a better cheerleader, hoping this is what penetrates my heart after these thirty-one days of October.  And maybe next year - maybe - I will join the masses.

Linking up with Unforced Rhythms

Friday, September 26, 2014

This eccentric old soul

All it takes, some days, is sitting with a group of women talking about their careers or their adventures in parenting, pregnancy or nursery decor themes, the ins and outs of real estate or where they shop for clothes, to realize I'm a bit of an oddball. An "old soul," I've been called.

Because I am. Just a bit.

Me, with my downward mobility 'career' in a coffee shop. With kids not in the plans or dreams for the future, at least not in this moment. While they're talking about baby clothes, I'm thinking about how we'll build a cool habitat for our tortoise and where I'll continue to find her steady supplies of dandelions through the colder months. Instead of dreaming of how we'll find a house in our price range in this neighborhood we currently rent in, I'm quietly longing to leave it all behind and move to Mexico. To live in a simple, brightly painted adobe house with a garden and goats up in the moody, mountainous city of Guanajuato, living close to my husband's family, closer to the earth, immersed in creating art through my words. 

From our engagement photos - on a goat farm.
Me, who considers "wearing makeup" to mean the rare occasion I put on mascara and tinted lip gloss. Who shops at thrift stores and wears running shoes with skirts and loves hand-embroidered peasant blouses from Mexico. Who still believes I'm not too old for splashing in puddles with rain boots, playing in fountains, collecting children's books, believing in magical things.

I seem to forget, in my everyday face-to-face relationships, away from this place where writers find kindred spirits among quirky others, that most people don't talk to trees - or at least don't admit it. That they don't, every now and then, stop and place their hands on the rough trunk of a towering old tree and feel something deeper than words pass between them. Some unutterably holy spark of the eternal. 

When I'm talking with other people of faith and throw out words like "mystery" and "wonder" and "doubt" in the same sentence, of "reading the Word in the world," holding back those words describing moments when I experienced Jesus in a goose by the lake or a walk down a street, I feel it in their blank stares. 

And that's okay, because we're all a little odd and different in our own ways, right? Even as we are all a little like each other, maybe more than we care to admit.  These revelations of my particular oddities resound each time a little clearer tune.

Because I'm perfectly okay, at the age of thirty-three, being just a little bit eccentric.

* * * * * 

Linking with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Because."



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Where heads are tucked

photo credit
I step, this morning, through the crisp curtain between summer and autumn. I feel my senses reinvigorating, searching, down to my soul. On a favorite bench along a curve of lake, I sit and listen, finally, with no place to be but here.

I hear the morning breeze gently untangling leaves. The collective chanting of herds of bicyclists whirring past as one. The music of crow wings beating rhythmic flutter, their occasional "Caw!" from tree branches above where they congregate, but mostly, uncharacteristic quiet.

This space I inhabit is my decompression tank. The place where I need to return to stillness.

I ride my bicycle back along the lake to a spot I've so often caught sight of heron. My feet slide down a dusty path, between trodden walls of dry grass, and my sudden entrance sends slider turtles diving off a basking log into the lake.

The sight of a heron resting on the end of the log startles me. I freeze, reach for my binoculars, slowly inch forward on my haunches, jockeying for a clearer view.

If he notices me, and I'm certain he must with those all-seeing eyes, he doesn't stir. With my binoculars, I hone in on him from head to long-stemmed legs, inwardly praising him as I would a work of art. For that is what he is, no doubt.  Noting that white tuft atop his head that lifts in the wind, a feathered mohawk, his hunched shoulders the color of a storm-tossed sea. His corn yellow eye with its fixed black bullseye is open, unblinking. I watch as, over the course of minutes, it starts to close, the curtain of his eyelid drawing up from bottom to top. It pauses in the middle, continues its ascent. His head slowly droops, bobs, he fights, and the curtain falls back down. He continues this near motionless resistance until surrender. 

I leave him now, as silently as I can, with his head tucked at his side. Not fighting, fishing or flying, but resting.

This, too, is exactly where I long to be found in this season.

Linking up with Unforced Rhthyms

Friday, September 19, 2014

Walking home

Most days, what is really real eludes me. 

As the air does that surrounds me, it tucks all around and fills my lungs with breath, elusive always to these eyes that cannot see things invisible, though I've no doubt it's there.  I scarcely give it a thought, this air, these breaths, this sea of real that I swim through unaware, until there's something in the air that awakens my senses.

Smoke twirling its charcoal mustache from a chimney. The smell of salt and fish and sea hanging in the downtown city air. Tantalizing wafts of hamburger from a neighbor's backyard grill. Scents tapped into memories, the way I'm suddenly transported back to the world of Harry Potter when I board the light rail and inhale metallic and air conditioning, from all those trips to and from work last autumn utterly transfixed in stories. The brooding skies in the moments before they rip open, releasing rains that bounce off pavement. 

But most days, the air is just the air and my eyes not seeing anything but what is right in view.

And then, the unusual happens. The sacred breaks through the trance of routine, and for but a few breaths, the eighty beats per second of a hummingbird's wings, I see something else. 

* * * * * 
I was walking the back road home through the neighborhood the other night, headphones tucked in my ears, caught up in the kind of music that soothes and opens my soul. The kind that makes me want to weep in a crowd of strangers on the bus, seeing them for a moment in their fragile human skin, beautiful and vulnerable. The road looked the same as it always looks, and not the same at all. Trees just a month before in their glorious prime now showing signs of decay, hints of the glory of age glinting on the edges of their leaves. Blackberry bushes I stood on tiptoes to graze from not long ago now bearing their withered remains. Leaves crackling beneath my feet. Shadows lengthening across shortened daylight. Something, it's hard to put into words, but something else, too, hung there in the air as I walked and listened to the soundtrack of piano and slowed my steps. 

Something else caught my eye, but not really my eyes - the eyes that see real things. I was two blocks from home, the apartment building looming on the corner where I could see, when tears from nowhere, or perhaps from the fountain of the deep of me, caught in my throat. It sounds crazy, but I stopped and strained my eyes to that corner, half expecting to see him. To see Jesus. 

I don't know what he would have looked like, only that in that air, I felt something of his presence, of the spirit of his life, the whisper of homesickness carried on the evening breeze. There, at the end of the road, I imagined I saw him waiting for me, waiting to welcome me home.

Because isn't that the most real thing? This air, these roads, the realest real that we move in and through each day and every day until the end of our days, is our walk home. Our walk towards real life, towards a God that we've never seen and maybe never thought to try to see, whose name has been on our lips or never at all, and yet there he is. Waiting. 

And in these moments of seeing, some fierce and holy love that has long ago taken hold, seizes this heart. This doubting, conflicted, open, hungry heart. With one hand I hold the hand of doubt and the other faith, and we keep walking. Because after all these years, I know the three of us can walk together, as long as we are pointed toward home.

* * * * * 

Linking up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Hold." As per usual for me (rule breaker that I apparently am), this was not the product of five minutes, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The many forms of Ready

If Ready were a person, I've met her in a handful of disguises this week alone, in unglamorous human affairs and in moments thinly veiled, their sacred peeking out from beneath the cloth.


On the steps of a new church, where we gathered in the glare of sun to hear the word of God, an ancient story told by a pastor in a white robe with Birkenstocks and gray streaked through his sideburns, to an audience of adults and children and one old, white-faced dog. And I, with my heart yawning open, leaning into surprise and mystery and the simplicity of the old made new.  


On the bathroom floor, sick twice, and in the doctor's office trying again to come near to answers to four-year questions; willing, finally, to stop dismissing, no matter how small it may seem.


Outside a building, drawing in a deep quiet breath and prayer for courage - and inside, beginning to tell my story to a compassionate new stranger, someone to walk with me this journey of healing. 


Awakening to the rumbling of emptiness from eyes that have been too lost in life, in thought, in whatever else this summer, to see the Holy presence. The hunger of readiness to see, to slow, to feast. The homesickness of missing sight, missing Christ - in the knotted bark of a tree, the haunting call of a heron, the orchestra of wind and water, the company of wild things, the shadowed face of the moon, the distant stars, the Creator's canvas of sky at dusk. 


Come Sunday, my third triathlon ever raced and the weight of Not Ready. Of body not feeling ever ready, with its newer limitations. But more, of heart that seems to be moving on to other things - and has been for a while - while acceptance trails behind.

Ready, she coaxes and consoles, throws her arm around my shoulder and walks beside me in quiet. She is a whisper - "Yes, yes, you can. Yes, yes, it's time." She opens her arms as strangers in welcome, as ones who are never actually strangers in this family of flesh and blood, spirit and water. She is light filtering through shadows, eyes ever fluttering open, the breath of the Spirit falling on my ears through the words of a book and nudging me to deeper life.

Ready. Almost Ready. Not Ready. Ready or Not. All of these.

Originally posted as a link up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Ready."

However, it also seemed to fit well with the spirit of writing behind Unforced Rhythms, so, well, I suppose I'm double dipping this week :-)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five-minute Friday: Whisper

Faith falls upon my ears in a hush, in a whisper, in a rising intonation. It is not often shouted, preached or pitched, but more often the layer of quiet, rooted underground. It is a voice easily lost, yet often right at shoulder level, at the turn of the head, or at a child's level, stooped low.

In pain, perhaps, it whispers the loudest, the clearest. At least it has for me. That point just beyond the broken sobs, the deep raspy breaths, the doubled-over frame, when all is still, even for a moment - that is when I hear its melody breaking through. And maybe it was singing all along, but I could not hear it above the roar of pain, or maybe it was waiting for this moment in the eye of the storm of emotion.

Waiting in the pause, the downbeat, the inhale, the emptying, the surrender.

It is a voice, not seeking to resolve itself, absolve itself, of all question and doubt, but to carry on in the pitch blackest of nights, the same as it would in the showers of sun. The same in a lunar eclipse as in the harvest moon; the same in the winter freeze as in the noonday heat of mid July. It keeps whispering, keeps singing, and when there seems to be no voice at all, as often there is not even this quiet voice to be heard, it is in the absence of its whisper our ears may open to hear the sound of holy presence.

Holy, holy, holy. This earth, these bodies - mine and yours and theirs - these paper walls, these broken streets, these falling stars and clouded moons, are filled with glory, his glory.

A sound beyond reason, beyond belief, beyond sight, beyond the reach of theology and doctrine and all our man-made efforts of interpreting God, this is the presence, the place where faith whispers its endless invitation-question, Come closer?

* * * * * 

Linking up with Kate and the Five-minute Friday community, to the prompt of "Whisper."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The beauty of strange things

I'm a creature of habit, no different from the rest of us. And so when news of autumn's eminent arrival blow in on the gusts of wind, airborne messengers carrying the scent of some faraway land across a distant sea, something in me stirs in remembrance.

And I begin reading children's books with a hunger.

Oh, I love children's books all year long. If you could only see, an entire shelf and a half of my one, very pregnant bookcase is reserved solely for the likes of the Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books, Skippy John Jones, Spanish children's books, Winne the Pooh, and further down, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and Hank the Cowdog. 

And yet, autumn and children's books, for some reason, are a pair for me, like peanut butter and chocolate, and my internal calendar of seasons attests to this. They are as soothing as a cup of coffee and warm pumpkin bread on a rainy October afternoon; delectable as a thunderstorm with the windows open on a summer night; nostalgic as flipping through an album of family memories and smelling the stale pages as they turn.

I think I first felt the need to justify my hobby of collecting children's books as a prepping for kids of our own. "Oh, yeah, this one's for our kids - one day."And then over time, it morphed into, "If we ever have kids, they've got to have this book."

But now, I just call it what it is. These books are for my heart, because for whatever reasons carried in on the season's wind, they are medicine to me. Particularly in seasons of brokenness and healing. They are a reminder to me of days when life was still young enough to be full of promising blank pages and dreams consisted of living " in a big treehouse down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country."

Last night I came home and placed our little tortoise, Pepita, in her thrice weekly bath (a pink tub with warm water), got down on my elbows and watched her as she stuck her little scaly arms up on the sides and her legs spread out behind her, the sound of her nails scraping against the bottom. After a few minutes, I let her out to roam the apartment, like a curious toddler waddling and crawling into places she has no business going. And then, wrapping her in a big old towel, I sat with her on my lap and read to her from a collection of Winnie the Pooh tales. 

Well, read is perhaps a strong word. I corralled her on my lap and tried unsuccessfully to hold the large book open at the same time, reading a few sentences in between. I really can't say if she appreciated this tender moment or not, but I'll go with the latter. Ricardo walked in on us, shook his head and didn't even try to suppress a snicker, though he hardly seemed surprised by this spectacle. He's lived with me long enough to know that this is normal behavior.

And you know, the truth is I'm not practicing for motherhood. God only knows if I'll ever be one, and I'm ok with that. I simply love animals and children's tales, and wonder if even Pepita might benefit from the medicine of a good story read aloud at bedtime.

Stranger things have happened. 

* * * * * 

Linking up with Kelli and the Unforced Rhythms community.