This morning, with Ralph, having a latte.

I’ve never been one to stick to a routine for long. Since childhood, I’ve been through various and numerous phases. You name it, I’ve probably written it down or mentally tasked myself with the habit–make your bed every morning, write 500 words a day, exercise five times a week, cook every day for a month. From cleaning routines to reading schedules, I’m always curious about different habits and especially how people fit them into their own lives.

Regular people are out there jogging at 5 AM–every day! For weeks in a row! Months! Years!

Eventually the habits I set fall away, making way for something different or new–or no particular habit at all.

To be fair, some of them do stick. I always, always–even if I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine–wash my face before I go to bed. After almost 28 years, Sunday mass is the best kind of muscle memory. An evening walk has become a regular, treasured part of the day.

I often think about my grandfather–my dad’s dad. He was an Air Force veteran, a man of discipline, routine, and great humor. Every morning–even if he was traveling or visiting us–he would appear in the kitchen, fully dressed with his shirt neatly tucked into his khakis. He’d quietly set out a full breakfast spread, complete with a napkin, utensils, and cream for his coffee. Not just splashing half and half from the carton but pouring it into the actual porcelain creamer and, frankly, doing the whole thing right. Breakfast with Grandpa was the clink of spoons and milk over Cheerios and the newspaper crossword and endless cups of coffee. Travel mugs and phrases like “on-the-go” were entirely foreign to him.

My breakfasts typically look almost nothing like his. But as the years go on, I feel myself pulled in that direction. Living a life with more intention, less out of rigid habit and more out of joy in the ritual.

Without realizing it, a routine has formed rather effortlessly. I wake up. I make hot tea or a creamy matcha latte and find myself sitting on the back steps of our house in Little Rock. Ralph explores the yard, sniffing the dewy grass as I take slow sips from my mug, gazing at the sky. Sometimes it’s hot and humid, occasionally cool and cloudy. Today was brisk and blue-skied and I thought how lucky I was to be sitting right there in that backyard on a Monday morning. I felt the cool air on my face, my fingers wrapped around a warm cup. I sat very still, closed my eyes and offered up one of a thousand quiet prayers.

There is no expectation, no self-imposed goal. I’m not mentally checking a box. Guilt finds no home in me while I’m on those back steps. Lately, guilt is finding a harder and harder time finding a home in me at all.

Joy is how I know I’ll continue doing something. Cooking a hearty Sunday meal brings me joy. Seeing a crisply made bed brings me joy. Reading novels brings me joy. Sitting next to my husband in a church pew brings me joy. Writing this post, wrapped in a warm sweater while Norah Jones’s voice fills the house brings me joy.

I’m discovering that when joy–not guilt– is the driving force, habits become welcome comforts instead of obligations. If a habit flames out, that’s okay too. Maybe it’s making way for something unique or it simply wasn’t serving me anymore. I have the freedom to order my life in a way I love. I give myself full permission to luxuriate in the good things while taking care of the necessary ones. As I get older, I trust myself to be intentional without stressing about the details.

So today I’ll take a page out of Grandpa Jones’s book and do something with complete purpose. I’ll carve out the time to do it right and revel in the experience. I’ll pour that latte and do the work and maybe–always with a grateful heart–I’ll do it tomorrow too.

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