Exactly Who I’m Meant to Be

I just got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, where I spent four days learning about the intersectionality between race, voting rights, and faith. I have a lot to process and sort and am curious to see where this journey takes me. In the meantime, I had a SheLoves piece scheduled and was surprised at which moment hit home. It wasn’t part of the planned pilgrimage but an unexpected space in the middle of New York City. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves for the whole story.

annie-rim-i_m-still-that-19-year-old-2Recently, I had two hours to myself in New York City. This is special for many reasons, but especially because I hadn’t wandered a city by myself in over a decade. I spent my college years in Paris and my twenties exploring the world. Family life has since taken over my travel habits and I always have a companion on my adventures.

I was in the city with the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, a group of women learning about the intersectionality of voting rights, race, and faith. I debated joining others for lunch and exploring but knew I needed to set out alone. I walked a couple blocks in the drizzling rain, stopped into a shop for a vibrant pink umbrella, and continued on my way.

As I opened the umbrella and navigated my way through the crowded streets, nostalgia hit me. I spent hours of my college years walking the streets of Paris just like this, sneakers wet, umbrella low over my head, finding solitude in the crowds. I remembered how to jaywalk and pass slower pedestrians, stretching muscle memory my suburban life had forgotten.

I walked until I spotted a tiny coffee shop with a hipster hedgehog on its sign. It was narrow with a few hightop tables and a long bar looking out onto the sidewalk. I ordered a cafe au lait (something I would regret at two in the morning) and settled in for journaling and people watching.

As I watched, I played the what-if game. What if I had moved to New York after college instead of letting the mountains lure me back to Denver? What if our kids were raised in this environment? What if I never married but was able to live the (seemingly) freer life of a city professional? What if … ? Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What are your “pink umbrella” moments?

Just Eat the Bread

The other day I was sitting next to Tui in Family Literacy when she offered me a partially eaten baguette from the Safeway bakery. Truly not hungry, I thanked her and declined. Showing up to Family Literacy means showing up to a feast every week. Some days, homemade empanadas show up; others times packages of Oreos are sitting on the back counter. One week we all enjoyed the sweetest Somali tea, thick and gritty with fresh spices.

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Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Nancy, the teacher eats everything. When Nagham offered her some white Cheez-It crackers, she graciously nibbled on two of them. There is not treat she turns down.

I was thinking about Tui’s offering the other day and realized it wasn’t about me being hungry but about sharing bread together. I don’t need any of the treats these women offer, but they continue to share chocolate-peanut butter granola bars and samosas freely.

Sharing snacks is a big part of doing life together. It takes our relationship from a teacher-student level to a relational space, made tangible by the food we share. They don’t expect reciprocity but they do hope for gracious acceptance.

Tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane by myself, heading to Syracuse for the start of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage. I’m excited and nervous for many reasons, ranging from the fact that I haven’t ever left the girls for so long to the curiosity of how this will impact and change my life. In one of our early group calls, the question was asked, What are you hoping for from this pilgrimage?

Answers were as varied as the women attending. Put on the spot and having to choose just one succinct reason, I recognized that my journey toward activism and partnership is incomplete without tangibility.

I can read all the article and books, watch documentaries and TED Talks, and listen to my heart’s content but until I eat the bread offered and tangibly get involved, I am a passive part of the change. What good are books and knowledge without action behind the learning?

I’m a fairly self-sufficient person and feel most relaxed when my ducks are in a row. Our family very rarely veers from our routine, I usually meal plan, and I’m pretty intentional about the books I read and how my worldview is being shaped.

But I wonder, am I overlooking offerings that I may not need but will nonetheless deepen my relationships with others and with the earth? Am I missing out on what God is offering because of my well-laid plans?

As I prepare for this pilgrimage, I have a stack of articles to read, some videos to watch, and a general idea of what we’ll be doing along the way. But the organizers of this journey are keeping the details vague. They want us to show up, to be in the moment, to come hungry.

I’m learning that I just need to eat the bread offered to me. That building relationships and deepening my understanding of activism and partnership go beyond well-curated books and experiences. Sometimes it means accepting what is offered, sitting and listening.

What about you? Do you take the bread that is offered or is it counterintuitive to accept gifts?

0I would value your thoughts and prayers as I go on this journey – for learning, for peace, for this time away from my family. I’ll be writing about these experiences in the coming months, I know, but for now, I’m looking forward to absorbing and getting into this new world.

And, if you’d like, Freedom Road is still accepting donations for the trip. Our GoFundMe page is here. Thank you!

You’re Doing It Right

For the first time in my life, I’ve started attending a weekly workout class. My friend, Erin was recently certified as a Revelation Wellness instructor and leads classes that focus on moving our bodies in joy. Of course, they’re really much more structured than that, with kickboxing, dancing, yoga, and strength exercises. I come away each week sore and stronger and I love how I feel.

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Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

One of the things she tells us throughout the class is, You’re doing it right. The whole point is to move our bodies. So this could mean pushing our limits, doing that extra pushup or five. Or it could mean walking in place with a smile because I’m still moving and celebrating this body God gave me.

Over and over during this hour I hear, you’re doing it right.

I need this so much. You’re doing it right.

There are times during our workout that I know I’m definitely not doing it right. My movements don’t mirror Erin’s or I just can’t find the beat. But I keep moving and smiling and remembering to be thankful for a body that moves, no matter how well or coordinated.

This last month hasn’t gone as expected. I joined the Write 31 Days challenge, as I have the past few years with a topic I thought I could write about easily: Reading. It turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated. Instead of sparking my creativity it felt too didactic; too much like recommendations than storytelling.

In the midst of this, we had an intense week, with an unexpected visit to the ICU for a few days to a drunk driver running into our backyard in the middle of the night. Life seemed to stop and writing was pushed aside for coordinating babysitting and meals and picking a book that would be a good hospital read. When the dust settled, I realized I had no desire to continue the challenge.

I’ve been working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s all about unblocking our creative natures – whether we’re artists, writers, lawyers, or anything between. Cameron believes we are all created in the image of a creative God and therefore we need to tap that creativity.

IMG_0817As I’ve made daily Morning Pages part of my routine and dug into my own creative nature, I’ve realized that I’m at a place in which I want to write less but write better. At one point in my journey, the frequency and discipline of publishing my writing everyday ignited my ideas. And that practice will most likely be beneficial again in the future.

But in this moment, I realized I need to dig a little deeper. I’m really good at reading about the things I need to do and not as good about actually doing them. I’ve read quite a number of books about justice and activism but am content sitting with that knowledge in the comfort of my cozy library chair. What am I doing to put this to practice?

Sometimes our craft is born out of the daily tasks of doing the work. And sometimes it’s born out of setting it aside and experiencing the life we are meant to live. Ideally, it would be a both-and situation.

This isn’t about not finishing a challenge or about the daily discipline of creativity. It’s about remembering that I’m doing it right. However it looks in this season, I’m doing it right.

Some days, we have very limited screen time and pack in the imaginative play, snuggled reading, and sweet family interactions. And some days, I let the girls watch an extra show so I can finish a chapter or I let Bea do her reading on the school’s leveled reading app rather than sitting by her side. I’m doing it right.

Some days, I’m invigorated and ready to practice writing or hand-lettering or any number of creative pursuits. Other days, I’m wrapped up in books and finish several in a week. And still other times, I’m content to connect with others via social media, letting my mind wander over the staged and beautiful highlight reels. I’m doing it right.

I’ve written about my high hopes for this season. For projects to be completed and languages to be learned. Some of my hopes have come to fruition – like working out regularly. Others haven’t begun – like downloading my old Rosetta Stone CDs to start learning French again. I’m remembering that this is a process and change takes time. I’m remembering that I need to take baby steps and that we have many more months to figure this all out. I’m remembering that, even when it feels like I’m incredibly unproductive, I’m doing it right.

I suppose this is the biggest life-lesson I’ve learned in this new stage: I can quit if something isn’t working. I can rearrange my time so that I am filled. As long as I’m moving my body in joy, I’m doing it right.

How are you doing your life “right”? How does this look different from how you anticipated it to look? 

Books Referenced in this Post:

51fTJcNvzHL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Reframing How Interact with This World

There was a period in my twenties (and into my thirties) when I was part of three in-person book clubs. As a single and newly married person, this didn’t pose a problem at all. I had time to read, our schedules were flexible, and I had the mental capacity to dig into big issues. Fast forward nearly a decade and added children later and I’m no longer part of any real-life book clubs.

51+HOUEO-WL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I had slowly quit them along the way, but the last one (that Books and Beer group) was the hardest to let go. It’s been a year since I stopped going and I know it was a good decision for my family, our schedule, and my time but being part of vibrant book clubs was a big part of my identity for a lot of years.

The next two books are ones I read with those clubs and they are books that have shifted my worldview and continue to impact the lens in which I process the world.

Published nine years ago, Half the Sky tells the stories of oppressed women from around the world. Each chapter digs deeply into a systemic condition that impacts women – from maternal death to daily safety concerns to sex trafficking and slavery. What is so powerful about this book is that the stories also tell of survival and overcoming those horrendous odds.

Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are committed to deep research and stunning storytelling. Even though the topics in this book are hard to digest, Kristof and WuDunn draw the reader into these stories and create empathy for women fighting for dignity and life around the world. This is a must-read for anyone wondering if women’s equality is an antiquated fight.

I read this book the year it was published so it’s been a while since I’ve read these stories and yet the impact it made on my life and the way I interact with news, especially about women, has had a lasting change.

* * *

51+3X+KL1IL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Growing up, my view of heaven was a place you go. It was for people who believed in Jesus and we would spend our days happily worshiping him. Surprised By Hope mixed up that notion and made me rethink the idea that we are just waiting here on earth for a future glory.

Theologian N.T. Wright walks the reader through the ancient roots to our theology of the afterlife. The part that stuck out to me most and has changed the way I view my own interactions with our world is the idea that heaven is really this earth, restored. It’s what Eden was meant to be. In this restored earth, we experience all God originally created for us.

Wright also talks about the idea that, in this restored earth, we do what gives us the deepest joy. That our days are indeed filled with worship but it’s not the endless church service I imagined as a child. Gardening, painting, inventing, scientific discovery are all part of the way we interact in this restored world.

I love this image so much. As I explore what gives me deep joy, I love thinking about what I could be doing for eternity, as an act of worship.

* * *

What about you? What do you imagine doing for eternity as an act of worship? 

A (1)This post is Days 13 & 14 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Changing the Way I Build My Library

This week my plan was (and still is) to focus on books of my college years and my twenties. I spent most of my twenties single and discovering life so these momentous phases link well together. Because of an unexpected family crisis, I was unable to write at the beginning of this week and this is the first year I hadn’t written a few posts ahead. (Lesson learned!) We’re all back home and doing well so I thought, rather than try to catch up, I’d batch a couple books into one post. So, today and tomorrow will be two books.

51R+D9ZxrSL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_My college years were actually spent reading texts for school, most of which were art history tomes. Life-changing in the academic sense, but really more coffee table books than anything. I got my Master’s Degree in Urban Education and it was there that I really started reading people of color and digging intentionally into books written by authors who have the same background and perspective as the protagonist.

One of my favorite books during these grad school years was The House on Mango Street. Sandra Cisneros is a masterful storyteller and her fictional characters reflect her own life experiences. The short stories follow Esperanza, a Latina girl from Chicago. I love well-written short stories and Cisneros uses this form to create a stunning narrative arc.

One of my favorite stories in the book is “Eleven,” about how we are each of the ages we’ve already lived. That story has helped me parent when my girls (and myself!) act like two-year-old or ten-year-old or even our own ages.

The House on Mango Street sparked my thesis about using our classroom libraries to reflect the backgrounds of our students. I purposefully sought out books my students could relate with and, as I raise white girls, I have intentionally filled our home library with books that don’t reflect my daughters’ experiences. It taught me to be intentional about how I stock my libraries, especially for emerging humans.

* * *

51JAnJWnbkLAfter grad school, a friend and I were talking about reading and meeting guys. We wanted to start a book club that wasn’t simply women drinking wine together so we created “Books and Beer.” Every month we met at a bar and we advertised our club on Craigslist. (In the days before Craiglist got weird!) We thought a lot about our first pick – we wanted something that was easy to read, a good discussion, and a book that guys would want to read, too. Life of Pi by Yann Martel seemed a perfect choice.

While the book itself wasn’t life-changing (though it was one of my first magical realism reads) the marker of this book club was. We met at bars for years and we did indeed meet guys who read. (Though none of our spouses came directly from book club.) Eventually, we stopped advertising on Craigslist and even stopped meeting at bars. As life changed, it became a more traditional book club of women meeting in homes, drinking wine. After 10 years, I stopped going last year but it will always hold a special place.

What I loved about this book club was finding books that fit a large audience. We never knew who would attend and so we tried hard to find books that were thought-provoking but that would also reach a wide variety of readers. We would always have a stranger or two at each meeting and it was always interesting to hear such different perspectives.

Life of Pi sparked a wonderful decade of reading for me and I won’t ever get rid of my copy, even if I never read it again.

* * *

Since we have two books, I have two questions: Is there one particular book that changed the way you build your library? If you were to start a book club, which book would you pick for your inaugural read?

A (1)This post is Days 11 & 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

When You Outgrow Books You Loved

One year in high school, my best friend and I decided to take “Independent Reading Seminar.” I thought this would be a good way to catch up on reading outside of class. What we didn’t realize is that it was an English classed aimed at students who didn’t read. The goal of the class was to teach high schoolers that reading is fun! Essentially, we got credit to read Teen Vogue, comic books, newspapers, or anything with printed words.

510VwbbHZkL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I decided to use my time to tackle The Fountainhead for an essay contest I was entering. The 700-page novel was longer than anything any of the other students had read and it earned me the title of “smartest kid in the class.” Without that dedicated time, I’m not sure I would have finished that heavy tome.

I’m not sure if I was the target age for The Fountainhead or not. In many ways, reading it at seventeen made the book much more impactful than if I had read it at twenty-seven. The themes of individuality and idealism made my teenage heart sing. As a questioner and overthinker, I didn’t fit into many groups in high school. I certainly wasn’t an outlier, but I wasn’t popular or nerdy or athletic or any of the things that truly gave you a group. So, the idea of fighting the system, of living true to your values, no matter what, gave me hope for the future.

Since then, I’ve read several more of Ayn Rand’s work. The older I’ve gotten, the less I connect with her particular brand of individualism and ideals. I’d say my favorite of the books I’ve read by her is We the Livingwhich is an autobiographical novel. That one helped me understand more of Rand’s need to push violently against and hints at too much community or communist overtones. I get that she experienced the harshest and most distorted expression of communism.

So, even though the values expressed in novels like The Fountainhead aren’t the values I’m living out today, this novel will always hold a special place in my journey toward creating my own idealism and way of thinking.

What book impacted you at a young age that doesn’t necessarily reflect your values today?

A (1)This post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

The Beginning of Social Justice Awareness

Yesterday, I mentioned a librarian who made space for me to dig deeper into the books we were reading as a class. Another influential person was her assistant (whose name, twenty-some years later I can’t remember!) This paraprofessional was always recommending young adult books grounded in social justice.

0440407850I read about Kurdish sisters fleeing to safety; I read about Holocaust survivors; I read about migrant farm workers and people crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. Looking back, these books easily could have been written last year. In some ways, it’s sad to think that our world hasn’t changed all that much. In other ways, I’m so thankful for a teacher who would make me aware of these human rights crises from a young age.

Journey of the Sparrows is one of those books that comes to mind from that era of reading. It follows the journey of three young children who travel from El Salvador to the United States, crated in the back of a truck. They end up in Chicago, where their story continues as they try to find work and make a life as undocumented immigrants.

This book paved the way to books like Enrique’s Journey, a journalistic book about a young boy crossing the border to find his mother. It laid the groundwork for my reading of Tell Me How it Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and is why I stand on the side of the refugee.

And, while Journey of the Sparrows was formative in itself, it will always represent that adult in my life who pushed my thinking and opened my eyes to a greater world. I hope that, as our girls grow older and their friends come to our home, I can be that adult for someone as well. I want our girls to be raised with a global awareness and a heart for the injustices both right here and around the world. Having these books in our home is helpful but having another trusted adult recommend them is incredibly powerful.

One of my greatest hopes is that they will have a librarian in their own school journey, just like I did, who sees that potential for justice and a heart for helping to push against systems of oppression.

Is there an adult who has influenced your reading journey? When did you start reading books that impacted your view of social justice?

A (1)This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.