When I was an adolescent, I obsessively read and reread Color Me Beautiful. It's a book about fashion that groups people into four color palettes for clothing and make-up based on skin tones. I was attracted to the creative categorization and the way it helped me enhance my appearance (especially as a young, self conscious teen).
In college, when I learned about the Myers-Briggs system of personality typing, it was like Color Me Beautiful, but on the inside rather than the outside, and so much the better!
I still have an affinity for the imagery of the seasons, as well as patterns of time, like the liturgical calendar. The repetitive cycles are paradoxically stabilizing and a catalyst for new growth. I like their interconnectedness and interdependency, as well as their unique characteristics.
The same is true of personality types - while there are sixteen, all of them have the same eight functions. The order that we prefer to use our functions is what creates our unique type. Our personalities and our earth were designed by the same Creator - the artist who paints the seasons is the author who writes our DNA, including our temperaments.
So to take a page out of Color Me Beautiful and another out of Please Understand Me (David Keirsey's four temperament analysis based on the MBTI), here is my light hearted riff on the four seasons...
Summer - SP (sensing perceiving types - ESFP, ESTP, ISFP, ISTP)
Outdoorsy, free spirited, and easygoing , SPs are either actively interacting with nature or relaxing in God's creation. Their generally sunny dispositions and warm hearts beckon all the other types to come play, to experience, to engage all their senses, to be in the moment, savoring the present.
When they aren't dancing through meadows, they are crafting with their hands - building, sculpting, manipulating raw materials, creating canvases, arranging details. They are either moving or moving something. Unless they are resting. They are so flexible, they seem to effortlessly glide between work and play and rest that it's sometimes hard to tell which is which.
Long summer days suit SPs as it gives them more daylight to pursue their outdoor interests like camping and backpacking. The simplicity and freedom of the being out of doors is a balm to their souls, and they often proclaim that this where they worship best. Surrounded by God's beauty and released from the constraints of routine, rules and abstractions.
Autumn - SJ (sensing judging types - ESFJ, ESTJ, ISFJ, ISTJ)
The seemingly endless SP summer and its carefree, fun loving ways are jarred into reality by a firm voice over a megaphone: "Back to school!" declares the SJs, the autumn winds blowing through them and out their whistles, as they hand out schedules, announce the rules, and implement structure.
It's true, the party atmosphere is gone, but there is a welcome sense of calm and order as routine sets in, along with mild, steady temperatures. Even with the more serious mood, there is still an air of festivity, but at the proper time and place. SJs are fabulous planners and lovers of tradition, so we can count of lots of organized entertaining. With their eye for detail and beauty, the decor, food, and music will be just right. They will pour us hot cider, carve pumpkins, knit sweaters, and keep everyone fashionably (and practically) dressed. They are the masters of both form and function.
When the storms hit, SJs are the first in the line of duty - dependable, steadfast, and always there, ready to do what's needed and to mobilize others to. They enforce stability and harmony, insisting on loyalty and responsibility.
Winter - NT (ENTP, INTP, ENTJ, INTJ)
That crisp SJ autumn seems infinitely stable and unshakeable...but its conventional rule is overthrown by Jack Frost, who is, of course the NT. While the other types go into hibernation with the icy blast, the masterminds come alive - creating, strategizing, inventing, analyzing, coding, decoding, and whatever else their tireless minds set themselves to do.
The rain reflects the NT's serious, and at times brooding/moody temperament, while thunderstorms convey intensity with lightning flashes of brilliance. This type is a powerful force to be reckoned with. An enigma, NTs can take charge of a crowd or retreat in seclusion - quietly holed up in the library or curled up with a cat on the couch watching a sci-fi flick.
Seemingly cold and aloof at times (or often), once you get to know NTs, they can warm up a room with quirky humor and dramatic flair. Yes, the NTs shine in winter, blazing like a crackling fire with their wit, imagination, and aptitude.
Spring - NF (ENFP, ENFJ, INFJ, INFP)
When the snow melts and buds appear on the trees, hints of new life emerging, you will find the NFs, with their dreams of a bright future. These idealists are visionaries whose minds are fertile gardens of ideas. They plant seeds wherever they go and uproot weeds, always imagination the fruitful harvest to come.
When the spring showers fall, NFs see it as a means of growth. They hold up the umbrellas over other people, offering encouragement and support to those who are struggling. In strong winds, they fly kites, always finding beauty and opportunity. NFs are romantic intellectuals, frequently found picnicking beside a peaceful stream, feasting on savory delights and deep discussions rich in figurative language.
When the weather takes a turn, they are quick to save the world - through writing or art or counseling or teaching. They have the souls of butterflies, so sensitive - easily hurt and very aware of other people's pain. NFs feel intensely, giving both passionately and melancholically. Stargazers, they see patterns everywhere - inklings, epiphanies, symbolism. They love to play dot-to-dot with God.
After fifteen years of marriage, you become aware of your rhythms as a couple. For us, and I suspect this is true of most, our energy levels are pretty depleted by the time the sun goes down. Once the kids are tucked away, we are tuckered out, so we have couch time (chocolate and/or wine may be involved), working our way through some TV series on Netflix (right now it's Doctor Who). Then it's up to bed where we usually read (him for about ten minutes until he's nodded off, me for an hour or more).
In the morning, I slowly wake up, get ready (still waking up), duck into the prayer closet for a few minutes (aiming for thirty), and then it's time to start school as my husband heads out for work.
So we aren't together for most of the day, and by the time we can finally be alone, we're too exhausted to...wait, there's still the weekend. This is where things get interesting...
Say it's a Sunday and you've just come home from church. You could have family time, maybe play a board game or watch an old movie together...the kids perhaps balk and groan at those ideas, but once we're all settled in, we know we'll have fun...we hope. But there is another option.
Enter Afternoon Delight. A brilliant strategy that pleases everyone, especially your husband (well, at least in my case). Let the kids pick out a movie to stream, make a batch of popcorn for them, and then put together a picnic for you and your spouse, perhaps like the picture above (we ate pastries at church and a hearty breakfast before that, so I kept it light). Enjoy your conversation, delicacies, and the quality time with just the two of you.
By now you've probably figured out that Afternoon Delight is a double entendre. It's a twofer, the best of both worlds, and it lives up to its name. I don't think I even need to tell you what happens after the last of the cheese and crackers are gone. I'm pretty sure you've figured that part out. You head upstairs, lock your bedroom door, and engage in part two of Afternoon Delight. If you've only got time for one part, part two is the most crucial, since privacy for intimacy is the key advantage to this plan.
If your kids are old enough to not need you for the duration of the film, you could even add a few extra courses - spiritual (praying, reading Scripture or a book together) and/or sensual (massage, shower, etc.). Just be sure to keep the main dish, which is "knowing" each other (in the Biblical sense of the term).
I recommend Afternoon Delight once a week. Once you've sampled it, you'll probably want to keep it in your menu rotation. And unlike Turkish Delight (as Narnia fans may recall), you can't overindulge. In fact, the more the better...
For the past couple years, I have had a word to focus on pertaining to my spiritual life (which is really all of life). 2014 was "breathe." 2015 was "praise." 2016 is "pray."
I was kind of scared by that when I finally acknowledged (after hemming and hawing about) that was indeed my word for the new year. That might surprise you, because I often refer to the subject, and I even created a prayer closet.
The truth is that I love to read about prayer, to study it, to create spaces for it, but actually praying is another thing. In all of life, I tend to theorize, envision, research, analyze, much more than Do Actual Things (unless you count moving piles of books and papers around).
It's who I am (insert infomercial for The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - I'm a very part-time consultant). But it's not all that I am. It's like being right handed - I prefer to use that hand, but it's not like my left hand just hangs at my side. The Christian life - spiritual formation, as we reflective types are fond of calling it - is about becoming ambidextrous.
...So while I do pray daily and throughout the day (sometimes in just two word sentences), I spend much more time (even in my prayer closet) reading (the Bible as well as books on Christian living / spiritual formation) and thinking than I do in conversation with God.
There are many ways to pray, and I even believe that what I do (immersing myself in learning about it) is a form of prayer, but I want to mute the volume in my brain, so to speak, to listen for that still, small voice, which is another way God talks to those who call on Him, in addition to through his Word, the Bible. I also want to intercede more for others, as well as pray through more of my own stuff, and offer praise/thanksgiving.
There are lots of prayer "formulas" - I'm familiar with most of them - and I may start trying out some of them, because they can be useful tools for staying focused...but most of all, I want to make room for God to draw me closer to him through more dialogue. That's the goal of the Christian life (and life in general) - to be intimate with our Creator.
When I finally realized my new word was "pray," it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. My previous words - breathe and praise - are both forms of prayer. Wait...you say...breathing is praying? Well, yes, in a couple ways.
First of all, if I stop and take a deep breath, or even just a normal one, I am waiting. I am quiet as I concentrate on breathing...not in a new age-y way, just in a this is how humans relax kind of way. Secondly, there are actually breath prayers, i.e. talking to God while you inhale and/or exhale. I haven't explored that too much (and yes, it can get all mystical, but it can also be more physiological), but, and this leads into my word for the past year, I love the worship song that says "breathing in your grace, breathing out your praise." Breathe in: Lord, I need your grace. Breathe out: Lord, praise you for being with me. And so on…
Another way it fit is that recently, I have had the recurring word, "path." It came up a lot in my reading of Psalms and Proverbs. I especially like "ponder the path of wisdom." The path is often referred to as leading a righteous life, following God's design for human flourishing. One of my favorite books is Pilgrim's Progress, which I am going to be rereading this year.
I'll come back to the word path, but the other word is another analogy, which is house. I have always been captivated by the little booklet My Heart Christ's Home, and I'm actually going to be using a study guide with that in our church's women's Sunday School starting up in a few weeks.
I had an epiphany when the word "pray" came to me, because I realized that it encompassed both metaphors - the path is practicing the presence of God (praying constantly as the Bible tells us to do, so being mindful of Jesus while we are doing life) and the house is quiet time, the portion of the day we set aside to be alone with the Lord - reading his Word, meditating on it, and praying. I think the path can tend to come a little more naturally to extraverts, whereas introverts attract to the house. But we both need both.
I agree with not comparing ourselves to other people's virtual facades, but really our online selves are just an extension of how we present ourselves in person, which is also not the whole picture of our lives. In fact, I know many people better through Facebook than in person, where all I can get out of them is small talk, if that - many times, we're like ships passing in the night.
And for introverts, this medium helps us to express the deeper thoughts that are harder to articulate on the spot with everyone looking at us and waiting for an immediate answer. But I am talking about writing, not about posting pictures and blurbs that really are akin to the same "in real life" interactions of fixing up our appearances and engaging in superficial conversations.
The best of both worlds is cultivating those deeper one-to-one friendships and small groups, and that same sort of authenticity (sorry for that word, but it fits) carrying over into our expressions online.
Granted, not everyone likes to write, so they cannot be blamed for only posting quips and pictures, nor should they be accused of only showing themselves in a good light. Not everyone wants to be vulnerable in this place, but that doesn't mean they are being fake or that that they don't reveal their struggles to those they trust.
So really, it's our problem if other people's posts make us feel envious, left out, etc. I have felt this way at times, but it's always because I haven't been spending time with that person, so I feel disconnected from them. That's when I reach out. If it's ignored, then I stop looking at their posts as often, so that I'm not reminded of the rejection. Eventually, if there is no mutuality, I may even unfriend them, because what's the point of only being connected to someone online if they are not interested in actual friendship with me?
Well, it's possible that they still read what I post sometimes and are encouraged, helped, or somehow touched...so then I have to put aside thoughts about myself and trust God that He wants me to keep that connection, even if it feels totally one-sided. That's also my calling as a writer - to minister to others without looking for my own gain. Someone may benefit from what I share without necessarily wanting anything else - I can either feel used, ignored, or not worry about it, and trust that God is working all things for good for those who love him.
It was our last morning and we had big plans for the day, so we checked out of our hotel, waved goodbye to Carmel (and the classic car concours that was just getting underway) and drove to Pavel's Bakerei in Pacific Grove to get their delicious cheese bread (sourdough loaf) and an assortment of donuts to bring home the kids, the grandparents, and us. While we were waiting for them to get our order all put together, we ended up talking to a woman (with three kids in tow) whose friend had just moved to Mill Valley. Toward the end of the conversation, I mentioned that we sometimes came to Monterey for their free homeschool days (just in case they might be homeschoolers, to), but that didn't evoke any response. They walked out and I overheard an older woman tell the younger woman with her, "She must be a homeschooling mom. She has that look." The younger woman replied, "What? Calm?" The older woman started to reply in what sounded like a less than flattering way, something about the appearance of having it all together, and I interjected smilingly, "Actually that woman isn't a homeschooling mom, but I am."
You can believe she changed her tone after that! Especially because the younger woman, who turned out to be her daughter (or daughter in-law), wanted to know all about homeschooling, so that got me started on what has become one of my favorite topics, and while my husband was pouring our coffee, I answered their questions. The young woman's father (or father in-law) was also there, and it turned out that they were from Georgia visiting, because the family had just relocated to the Monterey area since the husband is in the Marines, and they have very young children, so she is starting to look at the possibility of homeschooling.
We were on on a bit of time budget to get to a final, fun destination on the way home (Filoli Gardens), so we walked out and were going to go a thrift store down the street before taking off, but my husband remembered something for his coffee he needed, so he went back inside the bakery. He came out and told me that the young woman wanted my contact info, so I gave it to her and we chatted some more....well, long story short, they all turned to be Christians! Again, we related to each other and encouraged one another. What a sweet ending - in more ways that one - to our 48 hour 14th anniversary adventure!
We rolled out of bed and into the breakfast room (well, not really, but at the rate I'm telling this story, I figured I better speed things up) where we enjoyed two kinds of quiche - ham & cheese and vegetarian - also, fresh berries, which my husband had mixed with granola and yogurt. I normally don't eat until lunch, but I can't resist free food (well, included with our stay) and I needed to fuel up for our hike at Point Lobos, "the crown jewel" of the California State Parks, "the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world", just south of Carmel and north of Big Sur.
As we were driving along the coast, my husband (eagle eye), from behind the wheel, spotted a whale! He pulled over and we raced out on the rocks to see it. Sure enough, there was a sightseeing boat (definitely getting an eyeful) not far from where we could see the spouting blowhole and then a quick glimpse of it breaching. In all our years of coming to this area, we had never seen a whale, so this was quite a treat, even though (as usual) we had forgotten to bring binoculars.
A little farther on (keep in mind, the total distance from the hotel to our destination was only a few miles), he spotted the whale again! So once again, we pulled over, and ran to the beach (sandy this time, thankfully). It was Carmel River Beach and there were others there, but farther south, and none seemed to notice, despite us jumping up and down and pointing...so it felt like a special whale showing just for us. Thinking back on it, I am reminded of how it's like following Jesus. He shows up unexpectedly, but the more we seek him, the more He reveals himself to us. Meanwhile, we're beside ourselves trying to get others to discover and enjoy this wonderful treasure with us, but they are caught up in the cares of this world, and our enthusiasm comes across as lunacy to them.
A few minutes later, we entered Point Lobos (I almost said the wardrobe), parked at the farthest lot, and began our adventure on foot. As if the crystal blue water at China Cove wasn't enough beauty, we were treated the sight of harbor seals mothers and pups sunbathing and frolicking. We lingered there, gazing over the cliffs into the sheltered cove and out into the endless ocean. Continuing our hike, we found a set of stairs and climbed down to a gorgeous white beach, watching the waves and admiring the seascape.
Up at the top and out on the trail again, a man and his wife pointed out a sea otter to us and let us use their binoculars for a closer view. That brought back memories to an earlier anniversary, our first time at Point Lobos, when I had been pining to see a sea otter (my favorite ocean animal), and sure enough, God brought us several to enjoy (and again, my husband was the one to spot them first). As we walked on, we encountered a family from the Bay Area - it turned out that the man had just got a job in our county (in San Rafael, where I grew up, one town south of our town) and was about to start work. We encouraged them about the possibility of moving to Marin (from the east Bay) and all that it could offer their family.
We made our way back to the car (saying goodbye to the seals one last time) and tried to drive out to Cypress point, but there was no room in the lot, so we drove to Whaler's Cove (where we had seen the sea otters that other time), and hiked out there. We found seals again, but the dads this time - we could tell because each of the big lugs was on his own rock...except when one would go for a swim and another would steal his "recliner."
I had told my husband about reading 1 Peter, so we had decided to read it aloud to each other, which we did in a private little spot we found overlooking a secluded cove. We only got through the first chapter, but it was just right. Then my husband convinced me to steal away under the roped off area and climb down to look into the beautiful water in the cove, which we did for a few minutes, but I couldn't full enjoy it since I felt like an outlaw!
As we hiked back, we saw a group of Japanese tourists pointing out to sea - a whale sighting! We kept vigil, me with my camera/phone ready, but of course it didn't resurface, so we walked on, and then there it was again, with no one else to see it but us. This was the clearest view yet and I even got some semi-decent pictures, albeit from a distance. My husband was convinced it was the same whale all three times. I wasn't so sure, but either way, it was an amazing blessing for the first full morning of our trip to be graced with glimpses of such a magnificent creature, and that just we two would be privy to that unique beauty of God's creation.
That was our second divine appointment and in less than 12 hours. There would be two more to come that afternoon and evening, and another the following morning, which I hope I can relate in the fifth and (Lord willing) final post...but it might take sixth or seventh installment...
Continuing on with our 48 hour 14th anniversary adventure...we left off in dreamland on Sunday night, but let me back up a little bit. I wanted to read God's Word before going to sleep, so because we were on vacation, it felt right to play "Bible Roulette," you know where you randomly open the good book and see what you find. That can be pretty hit or miss, but with the way things were going, I wasn't surprised when I hit the jackpot. I turned to 1 Peter and read the whole book, because it's short (a mere five chapters) and amazing and I had already underlined a bunch of stuff in my little travel Bible, such as:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense for anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it should be God's will, than for doing evil. ~1 Pe 3:13-17
That passage was especially reassuring because the week leading up to our trip, I had (and still have) a Christian hating atheist trolling my Facebook page. He hasn't liked my page or commented, and he uses his page rather than his profile, so banning him is not an option. What he does is to "like" all of my posts (many of which he disagrees with) using his vile, blasphemous profanity-laden Facebook page name. From his page, I know that he was part of the Mormon church and that his son is homosexual and just got "married." Reading those verses reminded me that instead of being angry with this man for bullying me, I need to pray for him (which, in fact, I had asked my readers to do) and receive his insults as confirmation that I am doing good, and so to continue to fight the good fight by speaking the truth in love.
The book of first Peter also says two times to be "sober minded." That seemed appropriate also, what with this being our first alcohol- free anniversary getaway.
That night I actually heard a verse in my dream and I woke up with it in my head (the only good thing about having to pee in the wee hours): "Be at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you." (Romans 12:18) That seemed to apply to all things - the troll, friends (and strangers) whose values are postmodern rather than Biblical, and more importantly, my family, especially my husband. After the dark night of the soul, I had researched marriage books (despite the fact that we have a whole shelf of them, mostly unread) and ordered one called The Couple's Survival Workbook. I chose it because it's not a book that you use with your spouse. It's something you do on your own to help bring change in your own character and communication, the theory being that if you approach your marriage differently, it will change, even if your spouse doesn't. I have been crawling through the book, but it's really good stuff, and if I had to encapsulate what I've been learning into one sentence, it would be that verse from my dream.
I was really hoping I'd get this story wrapped up in three parts, but as I write, more things are coming to me, so at this rate, it may be a five parter...or more (eek!)...but I'd prefer that God lead my pen (so to speak) in His good time than to tell it my way and miss something He wants me to say. Continue to part four...
Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 14 years of marriage. We actually started the party two days before that. Every year we get one or two nights away to be by ourselves, something very foreign to us, what with children ages 13, 10, and 8. Usually I start planning about four or five months before 8/11. This year, though, was different. We had come through the dark night of the soul, culminating in the worst Mother's Day on record (if I kept records, that is). We were bruised and battered, our marriage tattered, but not shattered. We were still totally capable of rhyming, though. That goes back to our first date, when he took me to the children's section of a bookstore and read me "Oh, the Places You'll Go." I really had no chance after that. A man who fed me Chinese food and serenaded me with Dr. Seuss was clearly a keeper.
There was another hitch with this romantic getaway I had to plan. No alcohol. We had not had a drop since that no good terrible very bad night, and the plan (at least in my mind) was to never have it again. Or at least not for years and years. It wasn't that either of us was an alcoholic - it was just that it had become a problem (his tendency to overindulge and my hypersensitivity toward that because of an alcoholic stepdad). It complicated and escalated arguments. It brought our marriage to a state of crisis. And it had become a crutch for our relaxing "couch dates," which meant both that we weren't fully relying on God and that it was masking trouble between us. In other words, alcohol had become a wedge and an idol. It was very subtle, and we had gone through periods of no drinking (sort of recalibration), but always with the intention to return to moderation (i.e. sticking to the rules we had agreed on in terms of quantity, frequency, and type of beverages). And yet, I could look back at all our most memorable fights and point to one thing - alcohol. It was either the cause of conflict or it had turned a disagreement into something much more ugly.
We had spent the last four anniversaries in the wine country. Clearly that was not meant to be for this first ever sober celebration. My initial thinking was to isolate. As an introvert, that thought comes pretty naturally to me. My husband, on the other hand, is an extravert, so I did have him to consider. But really, he would be happy anywhere there were two things - me and fish ("have rod, will cast anywhere"). I very nearly booked us a cabin on the lost coast where I figured I could hole up reading and writing while he fished, with walks and meals together in between. My motherly self vetoed that, because there was no cell service and wifi was spotty. I cannot relax, let alone retreat, if I am not assured of communication with my kids - not just for emergencies but for their good night check-in and chat. Perhaps when they are all teenagers, I'll get over that.
I thought back to our earlier anniversaries when we had enjoyed going to the Monterey peninsula. We had stayed in Pacific Grove, but in recent times, we had gone to that area with the children (homeschool days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), so now it was hard for me to think of going there without them. There was one place that I didn't associate with our kids, but it had always seemed too ritzy: Carmel-by-the-Sea. Also known as Carmel. But not caramel, though that's good, too. If there is one thing I enjoy as much as (and sometimes more) than a vacation, it's researching a vacation. So I got to work and found a bed and breakfast right by the beach, in our price range, without a wine and cheese hour (cookies & tea instead) - am I good or what? No, I can't take credit. God led us to The Sandpiper. The proof of that will be in the next post...