Under Occlusion

Right about this time of year, my hands inevitably crack and bleed.  The knuckles, red and leathery, reveal winter fissures that make me wince. 

Nearly every part of my skin, if not already chapped, is vulnerable to the bitter cold winter air. 

And right about this time of year, I wear gloves everywhere.  I even wear them to bed.  I especially wear rubber gloves when I’m doing housework.  These tender hands need a barrier of protection against the elements.

My doctor friend says to put my hands “under occlusion” (covered with gloves) after using lotion to keep the moisture from evaporating.  Under occlusion, my hands have a chance to heal.  Occlude means to cover, block, or close, and I’ve decided it’s a great winter verb. 

My whole day becomes about protecting these little bleeding knuckles!  My skin isn’t as tough as I thought!  I’m putting these hands under occlusion! 

I realize that sometimes that’s the season I’m in:  vulnerable.  So I pull back, go inward, and rest more.  I’m under occlusion, and that’s right and good.  When I’m in a tender place emotionally, spiritually, or physically, that’s exactly when it’s appropriate and necessary to produce an extra layer of protection from whatever comes against me. 

My extra layer?  It might be more sleep, more prayer, more nourishment, more fellowship, more laughter.  It’s that kind of season, and we aren’t as tough as we thought.  We go under occlusion, and we’ll be ourselves again soon. 

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Do you have a cure for chapped hands? 

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Perfect Packing Snow (Pictures of the First Snowfall)

It’s snowing!  We scatter about the house, looking for mittens and boots.  This first snow, according to the Artist Friend, is particularly generous. 

It falls in great big glops, and so we know we’ve got packing snow.

You don’t need to tell a child what to do in packing snow like this.   

They make snowballs. 

They eat snowballs.
 

They throw snowballs. They attack one another, but then they turn their snowballs into a snowman. 

I loved my brief Autumn, and as I stand at my kitchen sink and look out to the forest, I welcome Winter.  What a generous snowfall; what a generous moment between sisters; what a generous warmth I feel as I look through this window. 

 Living with flair means we embrace this generous winter.

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Have you had snow yet?

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And There Was Light!

We’re slumped upon the kitchen table.  One daughter labors over math homework while the other colors slowly on paper.  I’m answering an email, sighing.  The day feels sluggish and old, dark and spent. 

Then, light invades through the kitchen window.

An hallelujah chorus of dappled light dances all around us.  For days–months–we’ve been in the dark shadow of winter.  The sky looks more like a sidewalk.

But not now.  Not for this one glorious moment when light breaks through.  The forest sparkles with it.  The sky has never seemed so blue, so wide, so clear. 

We bask in it. 

To bask means to derive great pleasure from something.  As I open wide the door and feel the sun on my face, I realize what makes this moment so pleasurable.

It’s because it’s been so very dark, so very gray.  

I’m thankful for contrast in my life.  I realize that’s the only way I learn to bask.  The hot showers I love because I’ve known the freezing ones; the deep breath of air I relish because I battled congestion for a month; the authentic community I cherish in my neighborhood because I’ve walked the road of loneliness; the joy rising up in my heart, so precious, because I once knew the despairing days of depression.

The beauty of contrast:  what we bask in because we’ve seen its absence.  A blessing, a mystery.

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Journal:  Can we only know joy by contrast?

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This is Some Ice Storm!

Our yard and driveway transform overnight into a skating rink.

The trees bow or else raise their limbs to silvery worship.

The ice cannot discriminate; it covers all things equally, thoroughly.

That ice, although dangerous, makes this winter morning glorious.  I look out the window and see how the ice upon the winter berry bush acts like a giant magnifying glass directing my gaze towards those buds. 

The children pull their snow pants on over their pajamas and hardly finish breakfast.  They skate on the driveway and worry over the tree limb that carries their tree swing.

It has no choice but to bend in a storm like this.  Lord, let me be covered like this–thoroughly–with whatever reflects your glory.  Let me bend and bow.  In this way, I will not break. 

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Journal:  Where do I need to bend and bow (instead of remain stubborn) today?

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Throwing Boiling Water into the Air Gives Us an Ice and Snow Display

I’d seen those Youtube videos where folks in Alaska or Canada throw pots of boiling water into the air only to have the water freeze immediately and rain down a puff of snow and ice.

I figure (since it’s -8 degrees F), I would try it myself.

We boil water, pour it into cups, and stand on our back porch.  Ready?  We toss the boiling water into the air.  Instead of water, an amazing cloud of snow falls beautifully to the ground.  The children have no idea why this is happening, but it’s fantastic

Even when I explain the science, it doesn’t diminish the awe.

I learn that the boiling water is already so close to being steam that, when I toss it into the air, the water breaks into tiny droplets with large surface areas.  They lose heat so quickly, and the drops are so small, that they literally freeze before they hit the ground.

That conflict in the air astounds me.  Boiling water meets freezing air, and–voila!–the water transforms into a beautiful and completely unexpected state.  A state so fantastic we experience awe

I remember this today as I press on against my own internal and external conflicts.  What transforms in me when I release these struggles amounts to something beautiful and gloriously unexpected.

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Journal:  Today, I experience a funny conflict:  Every other family member has a hot shower this morning, and when it’s my turn, I enter a freezing waterfall.  Talk about boiling rage meeting freezing!  I laugh about God’s sense of humor since I had just chosen the blog entry for today.  I learn that even my cold shower can transform something about my character.  Every conflict, disappointment, and struggle surely can.  How are my struggles transforming me today?

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Simple Moisture to Solve Winter Woes

I learn today the damaging results of winter.  This season, combined with the effects of drying heat in my home, makes us feel brittle and cracked.   There’s barely any moisture:  we shock each other every time our bodies meet, our hair stands on end, and we suffer from congestion and raw skin. 

I wake up with sinus pain and achy joints.   As I tell my pharmacist all my winter woes this morning, I’m simultaneously piling up medications for congestion and sinus headache.  He leans over the counter and tells me my problems will more likely be solved by simple moisture.   “Save your money,” he tells me.

That’s a pharmacist with flair. 

Humidify whatever space I’m in.  Boil water on the stove.  Pour the boiling water over a tray of vapor rub.  Drink liquids all day long.  All day long.  In a season like this, we don’t have the luxury of relaxing into our environment.  We assume a vigilance to make our indoor spaces suitable.

With these things in place–the liquids, the humidifier, the steam vapor–I then relax and breathe.  I drink deeply and breathe deeply to survive such a season as this.

The solution of simple moisture for what’s physically brittle and cracked reminds me of my journey towards spiritual health.  I drink deeply of truth and breathe deeply of spirit–setting things in place in my environment to do so–so I might experience the kind of health that goes deeper than this cracked skin and congestion.

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Journal:  How am I adjusting my physical and spiritual environment towards health? 

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Will Eating Snow Kill Me?

Holiday Snowfall

Traveling south, we emerge into a winter wonderland.  Every direction you turn, you see white fluffy frosting, pure enough to eat.

So we actually eat it.

I stand by a tree, lean in, and lick like I’m eating from a kind hand.  My children shovel snow into their mouths like it’s vanilla ice cream.

I imagine coconut or maybe white chocolate flakes. 

For a moment, I think about pollution, toxic things, and all the germs I’m taking in with every lick.  I’ve read the websites that tell me I’m eating more bacteria with every taste of snow than if I were actually eating dirt in the yard.  This was last year, when the girls wanted to flavor their snow with syrup to pretend they were pioneer girls like Mary and Laura Ingalls.  I let them, even though I read that you should limit your snow consumption to one cup every 5 years. These websites also claim that I am eating spores from outer space every time I eat a snowflake.

Just now, I think I ate 2 cups of snow.  I’m doomed! 

I couldn’t help it.  The sky made a beautiful gesture–an appetizer offered from the trees’ arms, like servers’ platters at a fancy party–and I bent down and received what nature made.  I am trusting my stomach acid to neutralize what I’ve just done to myself. 

Living with flair means I eat a little snow. Maybe just one lick.  I just had to.

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Layer Up

On a cold day like today, with temperatures below 20 degrees and a wind chill that takes your breath away, I have no choice but to face my day with layers.  And I’m especially cold since I’ve barely recovered from my illness.

With tights, long johns, knee-high pink socks, black boots, wool skirt, wool sweater, wool jacket, hat, scarf, and mittens on, I walk around campus.  I’m cozy, tucked-in, secured like a newborn swaddled in quilts.

I’m actually a little warm.

Layering is the only way to survive the winter.  In fact, layering will always keep you warmer than a single heavy coat.  Layering acts like insulation on the body and slows the transfer of heat.  Heat trapped between clothing layers works as thermal insulation, and I stay warm all day. 

Layering my clothing to regulate body temperature made me seriously consider the concept of other forms of regulation.  Hasn’t my weight loss journey been about layering up my surroundings with good choices–veggies, then fruits, then whole grains, then lean proteins, then dairy?  Hasn’t my mood regulation been all about layering the day with good sleep, positive relationships, spiritual practices, and exercise?

I start the day, add layers of good things,  and eventually feel the warmth of thermal insulation protecting my mind and body from whatever comes against it.   Living with flair means I layer. 

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What Can Warm You

A Woodpile

This time of year in Pennsylvania, I can see woodpiles in the side yards of homes.  Folks use wood burning stoves or fireplaces to heat their homes in the cold winter. 

Every time I pass by these wood piles, I experience a particular nostalgia for warm, cozy rooms.  I can hear the crackle of the fire; I dream up the glow in the room.  I let the imagined heat embrace my face and hands. 

Mostly, I think about how secure that family must feel; they’ve stored up fuel for warmth.  They’ve planned ahead.  They’ve prepared for the cold winds.  A wood pile symbolizes a security against that inevitable change of season. 

I’ve passed that wood pile for several weeks now, and even this morning, I can’t help but smile at the warmth it will bring to that family.  The winter will come, and they will not just endure, but they will also have delight over these snowy days inside. 

I think about the change of season in my own heart:  winter.  When will it come?  When will I experience the next bitter thing, the next cold front that puts me inside?   I can’t know, but I can prepare for it.  I can store up all the truth I can; I can build up a pile of beautiful, good things to warm me through the next season of suffering. 

I gather each log–each moment of wonder and worship–and I stack it up for later.  When I need it, that truth can burn bright and warm and help me delight in what I must endure.  

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, / Kallerna)

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