Transitions When Life is Always the Same

After a particularly dreary winter followed quickly by a stay-at-home order, spring is finally here. Of course, we can’t plant our annuals just yet for fear of another frost, but besides that potential, trees are blooming, windows are wide open for the majority of the day, and the hope of sunshine and an emergence from dormancy are on everyone’s minds.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The changing weather has made me even more aware of our unchanging days. I’m antsy to hang out with my neighbors without hovering at barely six feet away. I want to run to the store without overthinking whether or not it’s truly an essential trip. I want to host friends for dinner and celebrate birthdays and the end of the school year properly.

Our stay-at-home order has changed to a safer-at-home order which really doesn’t change life at all for our family. But the slightly looser mandate combined with the weather have loosened everyone’s outlook on what safety really means. Folks who were vigilant at the beginning are now choosing social functions over staying home. We all perceive “doing our best” and “safer” differently which, for this rule-follower, is stressful.

One friend recently commented that it feels like the beginning of the end. Frank and I were talking later, and reminded of an article that borrowed Winston Churchill’s quote, we’re really at the end of the beginning. We may have enough hospital beds available in this moment but we are far from implementing longterm best practices to safely reopen in a pre-COVID sense of the word.

In a lot of ways, I’m thankful we can at least say there’s a shift from being totally in an unknown state to one that is seeing some sort of change on the horizon. Any sort of movement feels hopeful. But is it?

Next week is Bea’s last week of school. We’re ending early to give staff time to sort out and clean up from distance learning but it means yet another transition, just as we’re settled into a routine. Summer break feels different, too. We’re not anticipating the same need for rest as in years past. Many of our favorite outings will be closed, at least for a little while longer. We’re not sure if summer camp will still be an option to break up the long weeks.

I’ve been thinking about how we can mark transitions in a time when most of our usual markers have been taken away. How can we shift from learning at home to lounging at home? How will we fill our days anew? I have a feeling this summer will be much more structured than years past. Whereas before I had the loosest of loose routines, now I wonder if we’ll need just a bit more guidance to our days.

Maybe this will be the year for each girl to pick one new thing to learn. Maybe we’ll figure out a family project to do. I’ve never been “that” type of summertime mom but maybe this is the year to not only tap into my homeschooling skills but also my organized summer skills. I want to view this next transition as an opportunity to try something new, even if it’s the only year that makes sense for us to do this.

As I watch our trees sprout leaves and our lilac bushes blossom, I’m not as envious at my own lack of change this year. Maybe I’ll have to be more innovative in the transition but it can still be there, teaching me about myself in ways I hadn’t explored before.

How are you viewing the next transitions, whether seasonally or as your own home starts to open up more? How do you mark your days in new ways?

Review: The Basic Bible Atlas by John A. Beck

I remember my first “real” Bible that I received as a middle schooler. It was marketed toward students and had applicable study questions scattered among the text. But one of my favorite parts of this Bible were the full-color maps at the beginning. I was able to imagine the world of the Ancient Israelites, track Jesus’ miracles, and follow Paul’s missionary travels along dotted lines. Those maps helped the Bible come alive as I was able to cross-reference them on our family’s globe.

The Basic Bible Atlas by John A. Beck takes me back to those early maps of my childhood. This comprehensive atlas was designed for those of us interested in historic biblical narratives but who aren’t pursuing a theology degree. I appreciate how map-forward Beck’s commentary is. Divided into sections starting with the Creation, Fall, and Rescue Plan Stories, moving into United and Divided Kingdom Stories, and continuing into the life of Jesus and the early church, the maps are at the forefront of the book. Beck comments on socioeconomic norms and challenges of the times and weaves history into the biblical context.

I appreciate that Beck focuses mostly on history and attainable facts around the region at a point in time. It is set up like a guide into the region and its changes over the centuries. Beck helps well-known stories add new dimension within the parts of the map he chooses to focus on.

It’s not an overwhelming volume. As a 160 page paperback, I found it nice enough to keep on our coffee table without being so daunting that I didn’t pick it up to read through. I kept it in an easily-accessible spot, as I found myself reading a few sections at a time. This book could be read through, cover to cover but it is equally useful as a reference book, read out of order and as needed.

If you’re looking for a supplement to your Bible’s maps, if you have an interest in the geography of the region, or if you’re looking to deepen your understanding of the historic contexts of the Bible, I’d recommend The Basic Bible Atlas as an addition to your shelves––or coffee table!

Do maps help you create context? What are your favorite “additional” parts to modern Bibles?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion.

The World is Good

The days are running into each other. I’m not reminded of Groundhog Day, at least not yet, but my general motivation waxes and wanes by the moment. Some days seem doable and I’m ready to do all the things. Other days, I wonder why it really matters whether or not I get up with my alarm. Spring is blossoming in our yard and I’m thankful for the reminders of growth, new life, and beginnings. But with the warmer weather, I’m achingly reminded that we can’t hang out with our neighbors; that our kids are incapable of riding bikes without getting too close.

It’s an odd season of blessings and loses. All the things I’m so grateful for are simultaneously stark reminders of things we are missing.

Early in our social distancing turned stay at home journey, I watched a sermon from our old church. The opening song was All Things New by Andrew Peterson. The refrain has stuck with me the past few weeks as we have sweet moments and hard moments:

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world is being redeemed

All Things New by Andrew Peterson

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that these days are filled with higher highs and lower lows than usual. Our family is connecting and the girls are playing together in the sweetest ways. But there’s also tender emotions and underlying anxieties that are simmering just below the surface. These weeks – and the weeks to come – are truly a lesson in living in the tension of liminality.

When I first listened to this song, I started to cry. Rachael, the co-pastor of Highlands Church in charge of worship, had slightly changed the lyrics from past tense to present: The world is good. When life feels hard and overwhelming; when I just want an end date; when I want clear directions and guidance from people who know more than me; when my heart aches for those whose homes aren’t safe and who can’t use this time in productive ways, I remember that what gives me hope is that the world is good right now and that the world is being redeemed right now.

But in the middle of the good and the redeemed, we remember the world is also fallen. I don’t think fallen means bad but it is a reminder of how very broken we are. Our systems are broken and are failing so many vulnerable people; our earth is broken and overextended from our constant use; our bodies are broken and unable to fight this disease.

In many ways, I’m thankful that this is happening in the midst of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This is the whole point, right? That our hope is in the redemption. We don’t live in the brokenness, though that is certainly part of reality – both now and in normal times. We remember the goodness of our world now and the world that is to be.

How are you experiencing the goodness in the midst of the fallen? Where are you finding your hope during this particular moment?

Saving My Live – COVID-19 Edition

We are just over 24-hours into a stay at home order and on day -5 of home learning. Our spring break started this gradual-but-fast lockdown and I’m so thankful we had a full week to rest, get outside, and not worry about schedules, routines, and the rest of the school year. This past week has been a “soft start” to finding new routines and rhythms. We’ve gotten outside as much as possible, knowing that even our trails may be taken away if we’re not responsible.

Frank and I were reflecting on the tension of this new normal. In some ways, staying at home and together suits our family dynamic well. The girls love slow mornings, self-guided learning, and playing together (most of the time!) Frank has moved his office to the basement and we are so thankful for the fact that he already had a dedicated space mostly set up – it didn’t take much to switch over completely. I created workspaces for the girls in our library, right in the center of our house. And yet, there’s always that reminder that this sweet time is happening because the world isn’t normal. While I love having Frank home for every meal in the midst of tax season, I also recognize that this shouldn’t be happening.

But also in the midst of all the unknown, spring is arriving. The bulbs in our front yard are blooming and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on those seasonal changes that are saving my life. Like everything else, they look different than usual and specific to our circumstances. I think it’s important to mark these moments and I hope you will, too in the coming days and weeks.

In no particular order, these are my current lifesavers:

Republic of Tea Daily Greens
I had bought these packets of dried micro-greens back in January as an impulse buy at World Market and have been mixing them into water for occasional mid-afternoon energy slumps. These days, I’ve made them part of my daily routine. Usually, I enjoy them after our outdoor excursion while the girls are watching some pre-dinner screentime. I know it’s mostly psychological but in these day of limited freedom, I enjoy an extra boost of greens.

Nivea Creme
I brought several tins of Nivea Creme back from Paris last May and bought a few more this winter because Bea’s hands were drying out from the soap at school. With increased washing, I would massage it into her chapped hands each night. Now that we’re home and not using industrial soap, her hands have healed but using the creme has been a nightly help as we’re all still washing more than usual.

Quiet Rest
We haven’t done “quiet rest” since Bea was four years old. (I never really tried when Elle gave up her naps.) But now that we’re in close proximity and together all day long, an hour after lunch in our own bedrooms is necessary. Bea listens to an Audible book, Elle watches Storyline Online, and I’ve been working my way through Me and White Supremacy. I leave my phone downstairs and try to keep this time to truly rest. Earlier this week I was feeling heavy and sad and I was thankful for time to nap and rest my body.

Nightly Opera
We’ve started watching the Met Opera channel each night after dinner. We usually just get about a half hour in before bedtime but it’s been a fun way to end our evenings. Some operas spark our imagination and the girls beg for more at breakfast. This week is all Wagner and it’s a bit intense so we’ll just start it but usually don’t continue. We’ve never watched an entire 3-hour performance but I love introducing the girls to one of my favorite things.

Outdoor Spaces
Last but certainly not least is getting outside every day. I’ve never been so thankful for our backyard but there’s also something wonderful about getting out of our neighborhood. We have a state park just ten minutes away with a large network of trails. It’s been easy to find secluded areas to play and explore without running into other people. Watching other areas in the world and in our nation shut down even more because people aren’t following instructions, I want to be sure to get the girls out on trails as much as possible in case they close.

I know that these lifesavers will likely change often but for now, these simple things are what keeps me grounded. We are doing our best to follow the most extreme version of the guidelines so that we can help flatten the curve quickly and effectively.

What is saving your life in these early days of spring? How are they different in light of COVID-19?

Review: Defiant by Kelley Nikondeha

Before I begin, I want to give a full disclosure: Kelley is a dear friend – one with whom I chat every day (sometimes several times a day!) I had the honor of reading the very first draft of Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom back when it was loosely called Exodus Strong. She and I finally met in person last October in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Our week toodling around Israel-Palestine cemented an already wonderful friendship.

I say this because there is no way I can write an impartial review of Defiant. But I will say, Kelley was one of my favorite theologians, long before we became friends. I had followed her essays over at SheLoves Magazine and then was on the launch team for her first book, Adopted where I tried not to fan-girl… too much!

Beyond our friendship, Kelley’s ability to research a passage in the Old Testament and then use that knowledge mixed with her sanctified imagination to bring to life the stories of the twelve women of Exodus is awe-inspiring. From known women like Jochabed and Miriam to naming and filling in the stories of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah and diving into the Seven Sisters of Midian, we are introduced to a world of women whose stories were sidelined for centuries. Kelley weaves into the biblical narratives modern women who defy Pharonic Forces, from Emily Schindler to Ahed Tamini and Bree Newsome.

Defiant is a book written to give home in perilous times and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate season for its launch. I know we’re all looking to freshen our bookshelves in this season of quarantine and social distancing. Do yourself a favor and order it now, before Amazon demotes books to nonessential delivery schedules.

Living a Still Life

Our COVID-19 disruptions conveniently began with Spring Break. I spent the week before shopping a bit more – buying an extra bottle of olive oil and making sure we had some veggie soup frozen for later but I really didn’t think to systematically go through my cupboards until an emergency was announced and schools closed a day early.

We went to the mountains for a couple days, a trip already planned and one that seemed to align with the instructions to socially distance from our friends and neighbors. We needed those couple days in the sunshine and fresh air, with blue skies for our hikes and incredible views from our windows.

Now we’re back and still technically on break but a new reality is looming. Our governor has already extended the school closures to the end of April and we’re waiting to hear what online learning will entail. There are a lot of unknowns and I’m thankful that this is coming in this season when I’m used to staying home with the girls and crafting new schedules and rhythms for each season.

I’ve been hesitant to make big goals, for myself or the girls, partly because things are changing so rapidly and partly because I don’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation.

Still Life, Pitcher and Fruit Paul Cezanne 1894

I’ve always loved still life paintings and how they give us a glimpse into what was important at a certain moment in time. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters would create still life scenes to depict wealth and status – each wheel of cheese and vase of flowers told a story about a family. Later, impressionists like Paul Cezanne reimagined still life scenes to show the everyday moments of everyday people. Vincent Van Gogh painted garden flowers and items anyone would find in nearby fields.

Then I read this from The Art of Life by Joan Chittister, in her March reflections around still life paintings:

I, for one, know how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic and miss the power of the mundane, the wisdom of the daily, the comfort of regularity, the unexciting exciting dimensions of what it means to be really alive. And yet my life cries out for more and more and more of it always.

Joan Chittister, “The Art of Life”

I needed this reminder as we stay close to home and lean into the still life mentality. What is important for our family in this season? We’ll do the schoolwork our district assigns and we’ll have a rhythm to our days because we need that. But I want to teach my girls to look for the still life – for the mundane, for the wisdom of the daily, and for comfort in regularity.

I want them to look back on these months as a time we connected as a family, a time that we learned to argue and forgive in ways we didn’t need to before, a time in which we were together.

I think one of the things we’ll do to start this new reality is create our own still life drawings. I want us to create a tangible reminder that this is a moment to observe, to mark in time, and to share what is most valuable to our family.

Will you join us? I’d love to hear what your still life looks like in this moment.

When Redemption Means a New Foundation

I have learned so much from Cara Meredith’s journey toward racial reconciliation. Her book, The Color of Life is a must-read for anyone embarking on the journey of grappling with tough questions. She has generously opened her platform to ask questions around “Listen, Learn and Listen Some More” and I have the honor of sharing some thoughts about my own journey of motherhood and racial justice. Here’s an excerpt – head to Patheos to read more!

In the spring of 2015, I was pregnant with our second daughter and driving to a conference on race, reconciliation, and immigration while listening to the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death on the radio. My normally quiet baby started kicking furiously as I listened and I paused at a stoplight, hand on my belly, to pray for this little girl—that she would have a heart for justice and reconciliation; that she would help form a world of listening and love rather than of fear and hate.

Early in my mothering journey, I learned that I had a choice in how I interacted with these small humans. I could try to learn from and do better than my parents and their parents, which seems like a natural hope. Or I could shift my mindset to redemption. I realized that simply “doing better” meant building a foundation on generational wounds. But to redeem those wounds and shift our family’s narrative meant doing harder work, shedding more tears, and asking forgiveness again and again as I learned from my daughters.

I had already started dismantling my perception of my role in “saving the world” early in my teaching career. After getting a master’s degree with an emphasis in Urban Education, I quickly realized that no amount of reading could replace the real experience of working with families whose children were not represented in our curriculum. Teaching at a charter school founded by white homeschooling families in the aftermath of its transition to a school that reflected the surrounding inner-suburban neighborhood meant asking questions about my own motivation and practices. It made me confront my own role in societal fears around success and color in what should be an educationally leveled playing field.

I was seven months pregnant with our first baby and seven years into my teaching career when I read the news of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Head over to Cara’s to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What are the historic moments that have shifted your thinking?