Detoxing, Refocusing, and Entering Into Advent

I’m sitting in my living room right now, laptop perched halfway on one knee, halfway on the arm of our old and worn-out chair. The fire is on, snow is covering the branches of the trees outside though the sun has melted it from the sidewalks and streets. My girls are across the street watching a movie with their bestest friend.

Even though it’s cozy and wintery, our house is not yet decorated for Christmas, nor do I have a desire to start early. (No judgement if you’re in the three months of Christmas camp!) I love this week before Thanksgiving. I love easing into the season and being aware. We have our November ritual of thankful leaves each night at dinner, remembering the small and big things we’re grateful for, preparing us for a nightly Advent reading later in the season.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

WordPress recently reminded me that I started this blog about six years ago. Some years were certainly more prolific than others but it’s interesting to think about writing in this space, in this teensy corner of the internet for that long. I’m glad I took the leap and am especially glad for the friends I’ve made because of this space. Of course, I’d do some things differently but I wonder if there’s any experience I’d be completely satisfied with?

One of the hardest parts about the writing world is the idea that you have to keep getting bigger; that there has to be a larger goal that simply blogging. I am so very proud of my friends who have started blogs that have turned into articles that have turned into books. That is pretty impressive! But I find myself comparing their successes to my own goals and dreams. I tried to make things work that didn’t and spent too much time on things that took away from writing.

So, as we enter this Advent season, a time of joy and anticipation, I want to return to the joy of blogging for its own sake. I’m joining my friend, Leslie in a “digital detox” as a way of staying more present in this season. But I’m also joining her because I want to remember why I started writing. I want to blog about the everyday lessons I’m learning and the things I’m into right now. I don’t want to think too much about polish or reach.

I’ve had an idea for an Advent book for preschoolers brewing for a few years now but have been bogged down in the steps I “should” take instead of writing it for me and my family and sharing it with whoever may benefit from a simple guide to the season. Instead of making it into an ebook or trying to sell it, I thought I’d write it here.

So, for Advent, I’ll be quieter on social media. I’ll be using my phone only for communication with people I know. But I may be louder in this space. I want to enter this season thoughtfully, yes, but I also want to reconnect with the small community here. I’m looking forward to using this season to refocus and to spark my own creativity.

What about you? Have you ever done a digital detox? How are you looking to enter this season of Advent?

Trust God And Do the Work

I was part of an interesting discussion on platform building in one of my Facebook writing groups. This particular group is populated by Christian bloggers so the discussion was mostly around promoting one’s work without promoting oneself. Many people said that they don’t promote but trust that God will put their words before the people who need to see them.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Maybe it’s because, after four and a half years of blogging, I’ve recently decided to make more of a platform-y effort. For a variety of reasons, I want to start moving this from a pure hobby to the potential for something more. So, I’ve created things and followed steps and started plotting more intentional ways to engage with online communities.

About a month after I first started blogging, all the established and serious bloggers declared that blogging was dead and they were done. Similarly, about a month after I decided to start being more intentional about creating a platform, an established blogger-turned-author-and-podcaster declared that platform building is dead and that we just need to enjoy the work. I suppose if I had several popular books under my belt and a loyal and engaged following, I’d feel similarly.

Two things have come to mind from these recent experiences.

First, we are all on our own journies. I need to remember this in so many areas of my life. So, to the established and successful author, I say Yes! Stop building your platform! Sit back and enjoy the years of hard work! And to the new blogger, just getting the courage to take words from journal to a public space, I say Yes! Enjoy the process and don’t overthink it! (In fact, read this piece by Richard Beck on the anti-platform. I love his unique perspective because he never played the game.)

Second, trust God but do the work. As someone with perfectionistic tendencies, I like to practice. I didn’t mind blogging quietly for years before starting to get serious. But once I decided to get more serious, I appreciate people helping me understand what actual next steps are. And so now I’m taking methodical steps to do this next phase right. (Or as right as anything can be.) I love learning from those who know what they’re doing, especially in areas I don’t know anything about. I love having a plan and trying new things. I don’t think it means I’m any less trusting, but I’m learning that trust and hard work are not mutually exclusive.

In MOPS last week, we focused on Hebrews 12:1-3. The verses are about running the race set before us and keeping our eyes on Jesus. The part that hit home for me are verses 1b-2a,

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I know that I’m taking this out of context – that it’s about a faith community and the idea of living out our faith. But I needed to hear this in my own writing journey, too. To remember that this race is marked out for me. That I don’t need to compare myself to the race others are running. I’m trusting that those markers make sense for my journey.

I’m thankful for the writers who have gone ahead – who have created platforms and systems that I can learn from. And I’m thankful for writers who are alongside me and who remind me that we’re all doing this a bit differently, and that’s what’s so beautiful about creative endeavors in the first place.

I feel like this is a conversation that goes beyond writing. How do we build our businesses and retain trust and integrity? How do we balance trust and hard work? What gives you inspiration?

Life is a Narrative Story, Not a Report

One of the best outcomes of this practice of blogging has been learning the art of storytelling. My goal with each essay is to take a life experience and weave a greater thought that can be applied beyond my story at this moment. It’s been a good practice as I reflect on this phase of parenting. Some days are hard. What’s a bigger lesson I can learn from it?

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Image source: Falco on Pixabay

Part of embracing storytelling is letting go of journalism. I have no recording devices in our house to go back and make sure our conversations are accurately fact-checked. Sometimes I embellish things to make a point. It’s never as deep or complex as real life. In fact, it’s always funny talking with real-life friends about blog posts because they see so much more than is written. (It’s equally funny talking with people who read the blog but who I don’t see often in person. There are a lot of gaps between the written story and the lived story!)

I’m reading through Exodus right now and reflecting on the ways in which we read this text. Some read it in a journalistic style: Each of the elements of this story actually happened in the timeline stated. We read it literally and draw our conclusions based on that. Others believe it’s complete metaphor, leading us toward a bigger story. None of this happened but it helps give us a history and journey as a culture. Many are in the middle: The exodus probably happened, though probably not exactly the way the text states. It’s storytelling and the narrator will embellish certain aspects to make a greater point.

This is what we do. As Americans, we’ve created a narrative about scrappy underdog Colonists fighting the big business of Great Britain. It’s a cultural narrative that lives to this day. I was talking with a friend who said that even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, they won the narrative. We still revere antebellum culture, architecture, and memorials in ways that usually doesn’t happen to the losers.

We all do this, whether its written or a story we’ve told again and again over beers with old friends. The more we tell it, the more exaggerated it becomes. The bigger our audience, the more we need to think about how our stories can apply to more people. I write from a perspective of motherhood, but I try not to make my stories about motherhood.

I’ve been thinking about this as we interpret laws in our country that are over two hundred years old. We have created a cultural narrative around them, making them something that they weren’t originally. The problem is that my cultural narrative around a particular phrase in the Constitution is going to be skewed differently than someone’s from a different region or background. We all bring our own lens personally as well as within an overarching societal telling.

I’m wondering how to dig in deeper. When I meet with friends in real life and we talk about our journeys, they get a more dynamic story than the one on this blog. They know more sides, more nuances, more of our journey. How do I apply this to the news and current events? How do I step into the discussion and recognize that I’m reading the news and our laws through my own cultural lens?

I don’t have any answers or books to read. I suppose my next steps are simply being aware that I don’t have the whole story – none of us do. How do we interpret and process with this idea of not knowing? Will that help us break our steeped perspectives toward moving forward?

How do you step back and shift your thinking? What are ways you recognize your cultural lens in order to see things in a new way? Any helpful resources?

41P-7PjUPDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Recommended Resources: Chapter 3: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” from We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Recalibrating Toward Rest

I’ve never really been cutting edge. Growing up, my clothes were hand-me-downs from my fashionable cousin. I get most of my books from the library, so it’s rare I’m reading material that came out at the last minute. Maybe it’s because I’m such a processor that I have to sit with new ideas for a while before committing to action. Maybe it’s just that I’m not cool enough to be a trend-setter.

IMG_8155Right after I started blogging, seasoned bloggers declared that this medium is dead. No one reads blogs anymore! No one comments anymore! The golden age of blogging has passed! Many of these bloggers moved on to write books or create podcasts, which is awesome. I’ve loved many of their books and podcasts. Now, a few year later, some of them are coming back to blogging. In their newsletters, they’ve said they miss this type of conversation.

When I finally took the leap to start writing publicly, it was a bit disheartening to hear that the blogging world was dying. Was it worth it? For me, it has been. I didn’t start writing to get a book deal or build a huge platform. I did it to help view life more intentionally. For me, when I write an essay meant for public consumption, I have to put some thought into my life experiences and the message I’m learning from those moments differently than if I processed in a private journal. As with most creativity, this journey has been more for me than for recognition.

With the announcement of the return to blogging (by some – I’m sure many others are still making the case for the death of blogging) I wondered if blogging had ever really died or if bloggers just needed a rest.

When I’m reading too many heavy books, I know it’s time for a break in that genre when the entire world seems hopeless. Often, I need not look farther than my Goodreads list to see that too many books on mass incarceration can shade my outlook on justice in this world. While these books are necessary, I need to balance them with fairy tales and memoirs to remind me that there are many stories in this world.

When our house seems claustrophobic and the mess seems unbearable, I know it’s time to get outside for a walk or a trip to the park before I tackle the clutter. A change of scenery, even for an hour or so, shifts my perspective of home.

I’ve written before about how we all rest differently – that sometimes rest looks like a nap; sometimes it looks like a hike in the mountains; sometimes it looks like a walk around the block.

What I do know, is that before we declare something dead, we most likely need to take a rest first. Whatever it is – from something as benign as blogging to something as impacting as spiritual burnout – I wonder if we need to pause and rest first. Maybe this means resting from the news or resting from reading Biblical commentaries. Maybe this means resting from journaling or a specific type of exercise. Maybe your rest means more of those same things but in different ways. When I get overwhelmed or easily annoyed, it’s time to rest. It’s time to recalibrate my mind and body, even if just for a few hours.

We’re entering our family’s tax season schedule. If I let myself get overwhelmed, I easily go to extreme places of death and destruction. What I’m trying to remember is that, before I declare our family dead from lack of connectedness, I may just need to rest, to call on my community for help, and to recalibrate what I know to be true.

How do you find rest in the midst of chaos? How do you recalibrate your expectations of an experience or situation when you’re overwhelmed?

The Compost Heap: A Newsletter

After hearing about the need to start a newsletter for a few years, I’ve finally decided to jump on the bandwagon. I like the idea of having a more conversational “this is what I’m into” sort of thing that doesn’t really fit in with the blog. So, I’d like to introduce The Compost Heap: Digging into the Soil of Ideas.

The Compost Heap

I wrote about Natalie Goldberg’s analogy to the craft of writing as a compost heap – that it takes time for our experiences to decompose into the rich soil of essays and poetry and stories. In this newsletter, I’ll give you a glimpse of what I’m processing.

You’ll get an essay, books I’m reading, things I’m learning, poems that are impacting my thinking, and other daily life and behind-the-scenes snippets. This is where I’ll share links to other great articles from around the web, any news that’s happening here, and where I’ll host my book giveaways.

I hope you’ll join this new conversation! You can sign up by clicking this link or the image below.

The Compost Heap

I’m looking forward to this new adventure! Is there anything you’d love to see in a newsletter format that doesn’t make it onto the blog?

Five Things I Learned in July

It’s August, which means school starts in just a couple weeks and our routine will start again. I’m thankful for this month off – we had a busy July and it was such a relief to know that I could focus on the present, to not worry about self-imposed deadlines. But, for the necessity of rest and rejuvenation, I’m also glad to be back!

I thought I’d start back with a few things I learned during July:

1) Finding God on Vacation
IMG_5400Frank and I went to Hawaii for five days, just the two of us. My cousin was getting married and we planned this trip back in February. Between the beginning of the year and our departure, a lot of unexpected changes happened. Suddenly, we wondered if going on this trip at this time was the wisest choice. But, it was already paid for and planned. As the dust settled around some big decisions, we realized that it was actually perfect timing. The smallest of details worked out – Frank had a week off before our trip so when we left, he had already started to unwind a bit to the timing Vacation Bible School at Bea’s preschool being the same week. We biked and swam and had coffee in bed. We were able to have actual conversations and process the past six months.

I had read a blog post right before leaving about not only finding God on vacation – that we needed to be able to find God in our daily lives in our ugly towns, as well. While I totally agree with that, it was nice to be reminded that God is in the details of a tropical vacation, as well.

2) Practice Really Does Make Perfect
Even though this break was necessary, I didn’t write on my own as much as I thought I would. We were busy with zoo camp and playdates and swimming and vacation. As much as I thought I would take the time I usually spend blogging to write for myself, without the accountability of hitting publish, it just didn’t happen. While I thought I’d have loads of ideas and posts ready to go for August, I found my brain going into summer laziness. I have a feeling it’ll take a few weeks to get back into the rhythm. And that’s ok. It’s still so necessary to take time off but I was surprised that I needed something more than self-motivation.

3) Recognizing That Books Fit a Specific Season
I’ve been trying to read War and Peace for over a year now. While we were packing for Hawaii, my thought was to only bring that one book so I would be forced to read it. But then, Unfamiliar Fishes arrived at the library and my online book club was reading The Thorn Birds. I brought those as backups. I read Unfamiliar Fishes on the plane ride over, justifying that since it’s about the history of the impact of missionaries on Hawaii, I had to read it before landing. And then I only brought my e-version of War and Peace and didn’t want to bring that to the beach. So, there it sat. I was kind of disappointed that I only added about 100 pages to my dent. A friend reminded me that Tolstoy isn’t going anywhere and that this simply may not be the best season for this particular tome. I deleted it from my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf so that my failure wasn’t taunting me and I’ve felt a bit lighter since. I know there’s some sort of life metaphor in there, but for now, my new goal is to read it before I’m 75.

4) Removing Social Media in Order to Connect with Social Media
I-joined-the-tribePart of not blogging was also taking an intentional rest from social media. I deleted the apps on my phone and only checked in during nap time. By quieting the noise, I was able to focus on a few Facebook groups that I had wanted to participate in. One is The Dangerous Women Tribe, hosted by SheLoves Magazine. These fierce women are changing the world and the daily conversations and interactions are truly inspiring.

I’m also on three book launch teams and it was nice being able to participate more in the discussions. I’m almost done with two of the books and highly recommend them! Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha is available now and is an important look at the theology of adoption and how God uses the story of adoption to restore our relationships.

I’m almost done with Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel, which releases on September 16 (but you can preorder now and get some fun goodies!) Anne breaks down popular personality frameworks into useable, helpful information. The chapter on Highly Sensitive People was such a necessary and enlightening read for me! If you’re into personality frameworks at all, this is the book for you!

Up next: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore and Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – stay tuned for reviews and giveaways!

5) The Power of Routines in the Midst of Summer
I intentionally started our summer without many plans. I wanted us to rest, relax, have pajama days, and just enjoy the slowness of this season. Around the last week of June, Bea and I started really getting on each other’s nerves. No amount playdates or lazy days were helping. And then zoo camp started and she was engaged with a teacher every morning. She learned about habitats, pet animals, made new friends, and created her own habitat. And our relationship was restored! I still don’t believe in over scheduling summer, at least for our family in this stage, but it was a reminder that kids love structure and a kid like Bea loves outside stimulation. I think next summer, we’ll do zoo camp again and I’ll keep an eye on our rec center catalogue as well.

The summer is certainly flying by – Bea starts kindergarten in just a couple weeks and then I know I’ll be looking back at these unstructured days nostalgically. But I also know that she is so ready for the challenge and excitement of elementary school and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new season holds for us.

What are some things you’ve learned over the summer? What’s your favorite summer – lazy days, loose rhythms, or scheduled routines?

Enjoying the Noisiness of Summer

Different seasons have different volumes, don’t they? Winter is quiet, hibernating. We are in a set routine and getting out of the house feels more necessary in some ways. october 25, 2018party starts at 7pmSummer is loud, active. Even on days we don’t get in the car, we’re outside biking and climbing and getting wet.

In those quiet winter months, I appreciate the connection of places like Instagram, Facebook, and routine blogging. We’re already in a rhythm with school and regular activities and these fit naturally into place.

In summer, these same good things feel like more noise. Space feels harder to carve out and I don’t have the same amount of time or energy to devote to thoughtful planning and writing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing – summer is about making memories, no matter how small and I want to focus on those moments.

So, I’m intentionally taking the month of July “off” from blogging and regular social media check-ins. We’ll play and maybe I’ll post something randomly on Instagram but, really, I just want to stay focused and present without any feeling of deadlines.

I have a couple book reviews and a discussion post over at SheLoves for the Red Couch club. (We’re reading Threading My Prayer Rug by Sabeeha Rehman – join us? We have discussions going over at our Facebook group.)

I also want to take time to plan out my goals and vision for this space. How can I make it better? How can I (re)find my voice? Otherwise, things will be quiet around here and I focus on the noisiness of of our actual lives.

I hope your summer is filled with all the good noises, too! What are ways you focus on your actual life?