The Red Couch in 2019

For the past year and a half, I’ve been leading the Red Couch Book Club for SheLoves Magazine. Our mission is to help our readers dive into issues of social justice, reconciliation, and a renewed sense of the gospel. One of my favorite things is curating books that deepen understanding and broaden the narrative. I’m excited to announce our selections for 2019 over at SheLoves. I hope you’ll check them out and join our discussion!

I don’t know about you but 2018 just zipped by! I can’t believe we’re already announcing our Red Couch selections for 2019. (And, if I’m honest, I’m already thinking about what we’ll be reading in 2020…) The books we read this year were some of my favorites and, as always, I’m amazed at the timing of each. Sometimes I wonder if I’m sorting through the titles well or putting them in the best month and am in awe of how world events, personal epiphanies, and discussions in SheLoves all seem to support and extend the conversation through the titles we read.

This year, we’re trying something new. We’ll be doing six official books as well as our six “off month” books that we’ll discuss exclusively in our Facebook group. We’ll also be reading “six-month books.” These titles are ones that take a little longer to read. They are rich and slow and are meant to be savored. I’ll introduce them in an off-month but we’ll return to the themes throughout the subsequent months, as we take our time.

I really tried to ask the question, Who is telling this story? as I picked the books. Could the same idea be told from the point of view of an Indigenous woman or a person of color? As I thought about themes and ideas, I tried to dig into the gaps in my own point of view and hopefully, this will help us all view stories in new ways. Head over to SheLoves to find out our selections!

The Reality of Rest

Our fall break didn’t go as planned. I mean, when does any stretch of time off really go as planned? But this week capped any week I’ve ever had. From an unexpected health emergency landing my husband in ICU for a few days to a drunk driver plowing through our fence at midnight one night, we had a week I hope to never repeat.

On the last Sunday before our first grader had to return to school, we had plans to go to church and then to our local garden center for their Fall Festival. We’ve done this with our neighbors every year and it’s one of my favorite fall traditions.

As we were eating breakfast, I noticed the first sign of a migraine headache move across my vision. I’ve had ocular migraines since I was about 11 years old but with age, they’ve lessened in frequency and intensity. Now, I usually get one or so each year, after a particularly stressful event. So, it was no surprise that this migraine moved in as we were preparing for one last day of a highly stressful and unusual break.

The only way to combat these headaches is Excedrin, a dark room and rest. This was how I found myself on this last day to redeem a decidedly unmagical, unrestful week of break.

I’m going to go out on a generalizing limb here and guess that most of us moms have trouble resting. It isn’t until our bodies completely rebel against us that we take time to rest, and even then I often power through. (I still did two loads of laundry mid-migraine thanks to a potty training regression.) My husband absolutely stepped up, took the girls to church and the pumpkin patch, despite his 30% blood loss from the week before. But even with the best partner on this journey, rest doesn’t come naturally for many of us.

I often blame our current state of affairs for this lack of rest. We are constantly on the go, able to work from anywhere, always plugged in. It’s hard to truly rest. In fact, some of my favorite vacation spots are the places with spotty connections and no Wi-Fi because I’m unable to cheat and must just enjoy the moment.

But then I read the Bible and realize that this whole idea of rest has always been a revolutionary idea. Why else would God have to explicitly put rest as one of the Commandments? If we were able to naturally practice this essential skill, we wouldn’t need a divine reminder.

And clearly, the word of God didn’t change people’s attitudes toward rest. Centuries later, Jesus needed to remind his followers again and again of the importance of rest. He modeled it by going away to quiet places, much to the chagrin and bafflement of his disciples. He reminds us, Come to me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

I don’t know about you, but it gives me a lot of comfort knowing that I’m not the first or only person who struggles with rest. It’s human nature to want to get one more thing finished, to not trust that God’s wiring of our need for rest is holy.

In a perfect world, rest would look like a silent retreat away from all responsibilities. Last year, I was able to spend two nights at a convent, just me, some cows and a group of faithful nuns. I was able to hike and wander, to eat meals in silence, and to pray the offices as I wanted. I came home so rejuvenated!

That’s not my reality, though. My reality includes two early-risers who start the day enthusiastically ready to go. It starts with moments squeezed between squabbles and getting teeth brushed and into the cracks of naptime.

I’m learning to live in this tension of raising active and needy humans and longing for rest. Sometimes, rest looks like a walk after bedtime with our dog. Sometimes, rest looks like putting on screen time so I can just read the Bible or get something done. Sometimes, rest looks like setting my alarm a half an hour earlier to write a bit before the house wakes up. Sometimes, rest is acknowledging that I cannot get everything taken care of — and that’s OK.

That week of fall break taught me something important. If we don’t rest (however that looks) then our bodies will rest for us. When I go too long without that act of self-care, my body rebels against my worry and struggle. Maybe I need to start paying better attention to the gift that God has given me: That I depend on rest, for my physical health, emotional health and spiritual health.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/the-reality-of-rest/

The Case for Rereading Novels: A Guest Post


Rereading novels is one of my favorite memories of childhood. Curled up with an old friend, each time I got lost in a story, I’d learn new things about life through the characters. From classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to easy reads like Peanut Butter and Jelly, rereading was a rhythm of my reading life. It’s only been a recent change that I’ve stopped the practice and I miss it a lot.

Our guest author Melissa Chan, the designer of Literary Book Gifts, makes the case for rereading. Check out her shop for some great bookish gifts and scroll to the bottom for a special offer!

The Case for Rereading Novels

These days, with the sheer quantity of new novels coming out every day it can seem like one needs to devour books at the speed of light just to keep up. It can even be a challenge to only read all the current bestsellers, let alone any other books that catch your interest. Choosing where to devote your reading attention is a far more time-consuming task than just picking up a book and diving right in. I am a big supporter of diversifying one’s reading list to include titles and authors of all genres. Reading books by more than just one author will help you expand your horizon to find books you would never have thought you might have enjoyed. However, I love rereading books as well.

When there are so many new titles out there it can seem like a waste of time to read novels you have already read. Here are a few of the reasons why I personally love rereading novels. Perhaps it will get you thinking about picking up one of your favorite books again.

Themes are stronger the second time

I think most of us would agree that the very best books have timeless stories and themes that stay with us long after we put the book down. I’ve been fascinated when rereading passages of Moby Dick by Herman Melville at just how much I had missed during the first read through. In the case of Moby Dick, Melville’s writing is so descriptive and the plot so exciting that I tend to get caught up in it easily and forget about everything else. When picking up a book again for the second time, I already know what happens. This can bring more of a focus to the ideas, themes, and character development. In addition, there is time for reflection since the book was last read, allowing our minds ample time to understand, appreciate, and think through the story itself.

Rereading certain quotes or sections

Owning a few of my books in hard copy and audiobook has allowed me to mark up a few of them for my favorite quotes and passages. Books are a lot more than words. The narratives and characters can have such a powerful meaning to us. Experiencing their stories alongside our own can help us get through difficult times in our lives. Being able to quickly read a few pages from book I’ve already read can put me in a different mood right away. This is can be a big help considering that you never know what you are going to find when you open up a new book from an author whose work you’ve never read before.

Books never change, but people do

As time goes on we are different people than the ones we were when we read the book for the first time. A book to a child or teen can speak differently than to an adult. Books we read when we are young, perhaps in the school curriculum, will have entirely different meanings to us 20 or 30 years later. The lives we have lived in between influence how we read, and what we think about when we experience the story again. Reading books over a long period of time can show us how we have changed as people. Despite the words never changing in the book, people will always change and the reading experience is always a new one.

While I love rereading some of my favorite books, I don’t believe it is always the best strategy. When you are new to reading in general or to a particular genre I encourage you to explore. Find as many books as might interest you and read the first pages with an open mind. I know that I had thought I had found all of my favorite authors until I found Flannery O’Connor’s work. Her novels and selected stories are now a part of the list that I enjoy rereading all the time.

Melissa Chan is the designer of Literary Book Gifts,  an online gift shop for book lovers. She loves rereading novels, listening to audiobooks, and spending time in the library.

What about you? Are you a re-reader or is your to-read stack too high? How do you balance the comfort of old books with the discovery of new tales?

If you’re looking for bookish gifts, check out Melissa’s shop, Literary Book Gifts. She’s offering 20% off to my readers with the code ANNIERIM20. (I especially love the Tree of Life tote!)

Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin

One of the best things I’ve learned in the past six years of staying home is that glory is found in the ordinary. Maybe it’s that I became a mom at a time when we were busy rediscovering what Madeleine L’Engle and Kathleen Norris had found the generation before: That our deepest connection to spirituality happens in the small, quotidian spaces of our very ordinary lives. We encounter God in the rhythms of folding laundry, planning meals, and leaning into the tiredness of early motherhood.

In The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin adds her own observations to this practice of remembering that loving our neighbor means stepping out onto our front porch. That God’s goodness is found in taco meals and walking to school.

While I was reading The Ministry of Ordinary Places, I found myself nodding along and connecting with Martin’s story. We don’t interact with folks coming out of incarceration and addiction but we do interact with our very ordinary neighbors. Martin does a good job of bringing her reader into the story, regardless of the similarities. I appreciate that I could connect even though the details may look different.

But when I put the book down, I’d easily forget about it. The lessons and takeaways just didn’t stay with me. I have a feeling this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” Some books come to us at exactly the right time and this can make the most ordinary of books life-changing. Because so many of my peers have written about the ordinary spaces of life, I’ve immersed myself in this thinking. This was a good book but Martin didn’t push my thinking or make me respond with any life altering epiphanies.

I think this is fine. Some books are good in-the-moment reads. Not all books should be life-changing. (That would be exhausting!) If you’re looking for a good reminder of living a neighborly life, I’d recommend The Ministry of Ordinary Places. The very ordinariness of this book is what gives it strength.

What books have helped you remember your ordinary place? How do you connect with the everyday moments of life?

I received this book free from the publisher via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Who is Missing From the Story?

Mom, the first Thanksgiving lasted three days and the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims and they had a big feast to celebrate their friendship! 

National Day of Mourning plaque in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Well… Yes, kind of. I responded as we drove down the road. I hesitated, wondering if I should continue the story. If we should talk about our history of genocide and the thanksgiving feasts that celebrated the destruction of native societies.

Last week, one of our pastors texted that she was going to hear Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney speak and wondered if I wanted to join her. We’re coming off of a few weeks of busyness and I wondered if it was a good idea to head downtown for the conversation. I’ve been a longtime fan of Dr. Gafney on Twitter and have been meaning to read her newest book, A Womanist Midrash for a year so decided it was worth it.

It’s been just about a week-and-a-half since I got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage and I’ve been sorting through all the thoughts and ideas that started to germinate in those five days of learning and conversation. On the outside, I returned to my normal routine of school, volunteering, and all the daily tasks that keep our life humming. But my lens has sharpened. I’m looking at the narratives we’re telling our girls and ourselves and am remembering to ask, Who is missing from the story? Whose story needs to be told?

When we were on Ellis Island, we walked through an exhibit called The Peopling of America… it started in 1520. What?! What about the people who nurtured and cared for America’s land long before the first Europeans landed on these shores? A panel or two was dedicated to Native Americans but more as a sidenote in history rather than the genocide our ancestors committed.

Later, we had lunch with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis at Middle Collegiate Church, the oldest continuous church in the United States. After our inspiring lunch, we got a quick tour of the sanctuary where Tiffany stained glass windows told biblical stories. Most of these Middle Eastern characters are shown as white in these windows, except for one. I don’t remember the process but the church decided to add darker backlighting to the face of Jesus, making his skin tone a truer representation of the man who lived in ancient Palestine.

Who is missing from the story?

On Sunday, Dr. Gafney talked about how changing the narrative is going to make people very uncomfortable. We like our ancient stained glass windows and childhood Bible stories. But those aren’t true. Dr. Gaftney offered gracious ways of taking small steps toward inclusion – what if we hang banners between our windows, depicting a truer interpretation without completely destroying the past? What if we change our communion loaf to a bread whose color represents that of Christ who we remember?

Going to hear Dr. Gafney was the best way for me to round out that first week of reentry after the Pilgrimage. Her words solidified some of my biggest takeaways.

I’m not sure how these ideas will play out in my life but I know that for now, I can talk with Bea about the Wampanoag story missing from our school Thanksgiving retelling. I want her to feel safe questioning our history together. I can look at my own book choices and notice who is missing from the narrative. I can keep my mind open to ways in which I have embraced a comfortable yet inaccurate narrative.

As we look toward our Thanksgiving celebration, I want to be careful. We will be thankful as a family and we’ll eat all of the foods that we only eat this time of year. But we’ll also pause to remember the rest of the story. We’ll hang our banner beside the stained glass already here, adding a more complete narrative to our history.

Looking for a place to start?

Check out ManyHoops.com, a website devoted to creating a more complete Thanksgiving story. Coloring pages, recipes, traditional prayers, and history are all included.

Also check out Decolonizing Thanksgiving, a way to combat racism in school environments.

What about you? How are you remembering a fuller narrative this Thanksgiving?

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.

rodolfo-marques-772228-unsplash
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!