The Ten Blessings in “No Other Gods”

I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today introducing our Red Couch Book Club September read, No Other Gods by Ana Levy-Lyons. It’s a book about the Ten Commandments and shifting our view to that of Ten Blessings. Levy-Lyons helped me bring these ancient guidelines into my own daily practices. Here’s an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

This summer, my seven-year-old asked why we need speed limits. I thought a moment before replying, “Well, I think it’s because we have trouble loving our neighbors without rules. In a perfect world, every driver would be thinking about kids playing and other people on the road but sometimes we need laws to help us be safe.” We then went on to talk about other laws that would be solved by remembering to love our neighbor.

This is the crux of No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments by Ana Levy-Lyons. She takes what can often feel like an obvious and antiquated set of rules and brings them into modernity. What do these practices show us about loving God and loving our neighbors?

I find it interesting that it took centuries of human existence before God had to explicitly spell out how we need to interact with each other. Maybe God held out hope that we’d figure it out through natural consequence? Regardless, after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus narrative, the people had trouble blending their routines and expectations. They needed guidelines and a set of non-negotiable boundaries and so the Ten Commandments were given.

I think most of us can map out these ten ways to live: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, honor your parents. These are guidelines that make any community run well. I mean, when’s the last time you really struggled with not stealing something or with murderous thoughts?

Levy-Lyons brings these commandments into a “Ten Blessings” type of practice. What does it really mean for us in the twenty-first century to not covet our neighbor’s property? What does it mean for people to honor their parents when they come from an abusive home? I think we’ve all seen how these rules have been distorted to benefit those in power but how do we live them out in our daily lives?

Through the lens of liberation justice, Levy-Lyons breathes new life into this text. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

Have you read No Other Gods? How do you incorporate the Ten Commandments into your life?

Loving My Neighbor Through School Choice

Over the summer we were at a family gathering halfway across the country. It was a lot of catching up and conversation about education came up. A cousin asked if ours was a good school and I hesitated. Yes, our school is an incredible school! We love it and our teachers. My daughter is thriving and her curiosity is encouraged. But it’s also a school that recently went on academic probation. Our test scores are low, mostly due to the fact that we have a large immigrant and refugee population – one of the things that drew us to our neighborhood. I laughed and said, “Good is such a relative marker.”

We went on to talk about the point of education. Is it to ensure our first graders are constantly challenged or is it to build empathy? Is it to check off a list of skills our kids need to know or is it to learn to be in community, to love our neighbors? For our family, we knew we could fill in any academic gaps that may arise on our own. But it would be much harder to expose our kids to families whose values, economic capabilities, and cultural backgrounds are different from our own.

When we moved to our neighborhood, our oldest was two years old – not even in preschool yet. We knew we were moving into one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our state and also into a highly respected school district. When we walked to our neighborhood school, just a block away, on the weekends to play, we were greeted with an enormous sign, announcing its status as a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

Before having kids, I earned a master’s degree in urban education and taught for seven years at a charter school. I had studied the positive impacts of investing in neighborhood education while also working with families who had decided to choice into a different school. I enjoyed my time at a charter school, mostly because my grade level teammate was an incredible teacher. I knew the gift of working with her wouldn’t come often. Our school was a good fit for a lot of families but teaching at a charter was a reminder that there were excellent teachers there and there were people who would probably thrive in a different profession. The curriculum was good but not great. There were highly involved families and families who outsourced a lot of responsibility to the school. What I’m saying is, charter schools are not a magic cure. They have pros and cons, just like public schools.

As attendance to neighborhood public schools dwindles nationwide, my husband and I believed we were brought to our particular neighborhood for a reason. A natural outgrowth of that was to send our children to the school closest to us, where we could walk and meet other families in our area. Going to our local public school was the perfect opportunity to live out one of the Bible’s greatest commands: To love our neighbor.

Our dreams were realized at our school. Our daughter has had absolutely incredible teachers who love her and have poured into her curiosity. She has interacted with students from all over the world – over 40 cultures are represented. Just like my experience as a teacher, there are families who are highly involved and families who outsource responsibility to the school system. And they aren’t always the families you would expect.

Last year, our school went on academic probation. My husband asked if this impacted my love for our community and honestly, it made me value our school even more. When I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom each week, I see teachers who are highly committed to each and every student. When I spend each Wednesday morning teaching English to our immigrant parents, I see moms who are working hard to give their children the best opportunities. I love knowing I am raising my kids among these incredible families, regardless of what a test score shows.

I know school choice is a complex issue. There are as many reasons for choosing a school as there are schools and students. We all want what’s best for our kids. We have close friends who send their daughter to a private school that represents their minority religion and other friends who have chosen a charter school that offers Spanish immersion. We have friends who are as in love with and committed to their neighborhood schools as we are and we have friends who have chosen other options based on a variety of other needs.

As your kids enter school, I’d encourage you to ask: What motivates your school choiceIs it what’s truly best for your child and your neighbors? Is it motivated by fear of the unknown? 

Lean into where God has planted your family – perhaps there’s a reason … I know I have seen God at work in unexpected ways, right here at our neighborhood school and I am thankful I was here to witness it.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/school-choice-questions-ask/

One September Morning

I think my baby girl was about 6 weeks old when I first felt the itch to expand our world beyond the hammock in our backyard. While I loved snuggling my sweet newborn, I knew we needed a community. I was one of the first in our group of friends to have a baby and so I didn’t have a lot of stay-at-home girlfriends to lean on.

I remember typing in “MOPS near me” to Google one morning, knowing that an aunt of mine was a MOPS mentor for a group at her church in California. As little pinpoints filled the map on my screen, I wondered how I would pick one of the several groups that met within a couple miles of our house.

When my daughter woke from her morning nap, I closed my computer, packed a diaper bag with more essentials than I would ever bring with our second baby, strapped Bea into her car seat, clicked it into the stroller, and walked up the block on our first outing to our neighborhood library’s Book Babies hour.

Of course, we arrived late because that’s what moms of newborns do. As I unloaded and sat in the back of the group, a mom without a baby in her lap leaned over with a smile and welcomed me. Later, during “free play” time, she asked for my life story. Kathy is one of those women who probably knows details about everyone she’s in contact with––from regulars in the checkout line to those at her church. She has the ability to ask all the right questions and to make anyone feel safe and comfortable.

As we talked, she invited me to the MOPS group that had just started at her church. It was one of the farthest in my Google search but still only a five- minute drive from our house. I decided that this conversation was Divine Intervention. A few days later, I walked into a church and was greeted with coffee, muffins and women who wanted to know me. Kathy wasn’t there but she had told the leader about a new mom she had met at the library. This group was expecting me and I knew I had found my home.

As I sat at a table, holding my baby, watching the other moms work on a craft project, another mom asked if she could hold Bea so I could make my own craft. Before I knew it, April was bouncing her next to our table as I found myself with baby-free arms for the first time since giving birth.

It’s been seven years since that moment and I can now say with confidence, that morning was life-changing. These women have become our family’s close friends. We’ve celebrated birthdays and baby showers together, we’ve gone to each other’s homes for dinners and watch each other’s kids in a pinch. Recently, my family switched from our church of 10 years to fully commit to the community at our MOPS church. It has always been home, even though it took us time to realize that.

Looking back, that day in September seems so random. It’s rare when God speaks so loudly or so quickly to my questions. As school starts back, I’m looking for those nudges again. Where is God leading me? What relationships do I need to invest in? What volunteer opportunities will fit our family in this season? How will I look back on this season and recognize that God was speaking loud and clear?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/mops-story-one-september-morning

Living On the Edge

This summer I did something completely outside my comfort zone. I composed an unsent letter and read it to an audience of strangers. I was one of about 15 or so people who read letters that ranged in mood and theme. One woman responded to a misogynistic text sent after a first date; an Uber driver wrote responses to his passengers; one woman wrote about an abortion and another wrote a letter to America through the lens of her experience as a black woman.

My letter was one of the tamer ones, written to a group of friends I lost a few years ago due to circumstance and misunderstanding. It was a healing process – I knew my feelings were hurt but I hadn’t realized how I hung onto those hurts.

I took away two lessons from this experience. First, we need to listen to more stories. Each person spoke between 5 and 10 minutes and, as an audience member, all you could do was listen and applaud at the end for their bravery. Folks were vulnerable and I was reminded that there are so many stories just below the surface, waiting to be told. It is powerful to be in a space in which my only response is to listen – no asking questions, no personal connections, no feedback. I need more of this in my life.

My second takeaway is how incredible it is to do something completely outside my norm. I lead a very routine and quiet life. And I like it that way. I like knowing that our meals are planned and that school pickup looks about the same everyday. I like having rhythms and expected behaviors to guide my days. But it is invigorating to do something new, something scary, something that gave me butterflies in my stomach the week before my performance.

It was a reminder to push my boundaries and to say “yes” to opportunities that make me nervous or that I don’t seem qualified for. It’s also made me wonder what I need to pursue, without invitation. What are some dreams I may have or even just some ideas that are bubbling below the surface?

As we transition from summer to school-season, I’m thinking of adding just one big risk to my days. Maybe I’ll fail at it or maybe it will teach me something new about myself. Either way, I want that feeling of challenge and a break from the average days. I don’t know what this will look like and perhaps the opportunity won’t present itself until months from now. At any rate, I’m calming my expectations and keeping my eyes open for something that will help me take a leap.

What are some new risks you’re taking? How do you intentionally pursue something outside your norm?

Poised on the Horizon

My alarm has started going off at 5:45 after ten blissful weeks of waking up “naturally” at 6:30. (Can a mom of early risers wake up without assistance?) Bea has been back in school for a week and Elle starts preschool next week. We are easing back into schedules and routines after a busy July.

Even though I don’t love rising early, I do love having some minutes to myself before the day truly begins. I sit in my hot pink chair by the window, read a devotional thought from Walter Brueggemann and a chapter in The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I’m dressed and ready by the time the girls wake up around 6:30.

The other morning, I was peeling hard boiled eggs, stocking up the fridge for breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks. I was hoping to complete the task in the small window between brushing teeth and leaving for school and found myself rushing. The more I hurried, the more trouble I had pulling the shell from the white of the egg. The membrane would stick and I found myself getting frustrated. Looking at the clock on the microwave, I left half a dozen eggs in the ice water bath where they had been cooling and put the container of peeled eggs in the fridge. I decided to finish my task after walking Bea to school.

When we returned just fifteen minutes later, I found my mindset had shifted and I took my time tapping the eggs against the counter and peeling the shell off. When I took my time, the task became so much easier and quicker. Soon, eleven eggs (minus one eaten right away) were stored in the fridge, ready for a healthier option to bunny crackers and popsicles after school.

Cracking those eggs made me pause and take note of how I so often live my days. Bea just started second grade and Elle will be in her last year of preschool. Time seems to be picking up speed. It’s not that I want to stop in this season – we’re just now catching glimpses of more independence and possibly easier adventures – but it does make me recognize the ache of time passing.

Maybe it’s that we’re in a transition year as a family and my last grandparent just passed away. Maybe I’m more attuned to the fact that I’m approaching a season of shift – for my girls and for myself. I’ve been asking the question, “What next?” for a while but it’s feeling more and more real, knowing that this time next year both girls will be in school all day long. What does this mean for me?

I want to rush the process, to have a plan in place by next August. I want to know what I want to be when I grow up. But that is such a misnomer – that we suddenly become something when we are twenty-two year old graduates or thirty-seven year old moms. This takes the journey out of the equation.

Recently, I read a passage about Patience and Longing in In the Sanctuary of Women. Jan L. Richardson reflects on the fact that we are so often wedged between Longing and Patience. In a poem she says,

Patience has not told her
she has some envy
of Longing’s perfect ache
or that she thinks it must be an art
to hold oneself
so perpetually poised
toward the horizon.

For her part,
Longing has not confessed
that there are days
she find Patience restful.
Soothing. A relief.

In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson, pg 177

I’m remembering that neither one nor the other is the place to rest but that leaning into both patience and longing can be a simultaneous act. I can confidently dream and embrace what is on the horizon while also finding rest and relief in the waiting.

I’m slowing my pace, putting aside tasks until I have the time to do them well, and remembering that I may not discover what it is I’m meant to do in the next season right away. And that’s ok. I’m leaning into the journey, saying yes to what I need to lean into and saying no to distractions. I’m planting my feet in the present without feeling guilty or anxious about listening to dreams of the future.

Where are you on the journey? How do you lean on both longing and patience?

Learning Hospitality Through Play

This morning, the Friday of the first week of school, Elle and I visited yet another park. Nearly every day this week, we’ve explored our favorite playgrounds, trying to fill the void left by Bea’s absence at school.

Normally, I bring a book along so I can read while Elle climbs and digs and scampers around. Today, our park excursion was unexpected––halfway through a practice bike ride to her preschool, we changed course and headed to the neighborhood park instead.

Finally, Elle had my full and undivided attention. I helped her climb a tree and we then commenced in a long and often incomprehensible game about camping and sleeping that only a four-year-old could imagine and sustain for twenty minutes.

I recently read a comment by a mom whose children are in their late teens and early twenties. She was reminiscing about the little years, wishing she could go back for just one day, put aside her own desires, and simply play with her children. Nostalgia keeps us going, doesn’t it? After five eternal minutes of playing, I know I’ll look back on these days with nostalgia but I hope I have a dash of realism mixed in. Yes, I want to pay attention and be present. I totally understand the developmental importance of imaginative play and made up games. And yet, I also recognize how mind-numbing they can be.

In her new book Invited, my friend Leslie Verner quotes Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen talks about how we as parents are hosting our children. They are our closest guests. They are not ours to control but ours to host and extend the practice of hospitality.

That idea was what kept me playing today. Not for nostalgia or because I particularly loved the game but because in so many ways, I’m learning the art of hospitality from Elle. She invited me into her world and the least I could do was join in and participate, even if just for twenty minutes.

Where have you experienced unexpected hospitality? And, do you love or loathe imaginative games with kids?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “hospitality.”

Also, check out Leslie’s new book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Not only did I get to read one of the first drafts, I’ve had the honor of sharing conversations and playdates with Leslie as she wrote this book. It released on Tuesday and is an wonderful, encouraging look at what we can learn from other cultures about hospitality––and it doesn’t have anything to do with a beautiful table or a clean home!

Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/