Six Lessons for the Short Days of Long Winter Months

I’ve been learning a lot in the past six months. Really, I should say that I’m unlearning a lot. I’m unlearning things I thought I knew well, unlearning history and even my own beliefs. There will be more to write about these things in the future but right now, I’m letting these unlearnings settle and sort.

For quite a while, I was content leaning into this space and holding it quietly. Writing has been put on hold as I let these ideas and shifts weave their way through my thinking. But I’m also starting to get that itch to write regularly again. Jumping back in after months of sporadic posts seemed overwhelming so I’m starting with a list of things I’ve learned this winter.

Some of these are big things, others are small reminders of what works during these long months of short days.

What I’ve Learned This Winter

What I've Learned This Winter: Six Lessons for the Short Days of these Long Months in a white text box. The background is a stock photo of snowy mountains.

Routines Make Me Happy
It seems that every winter my sleep cycles get disrupted. When the girls were tiny, I blamed it on their six-month growth spurts but now everyone is sleeping through the night and I still wake up at 2:00, thoughts whirling. I’ve always been a routined bedtime person but in an effort to optimize my sleep, I’ve become stricter. Even adding a few more boundaries to my bedtime and wake-up routines have made my days better. Maybe the middles don’t go as planned but I know that I’ve bookended the day well, which makes me happy.

Learning Something New Is Good
Frank and I are heading to Paris in May to celebrate our tenth anniversary so I’ve broken out my old Rosetta Stone curriculum, downloaded Duolingo onto my phone, and subscribed to the Coffee Break French podcast. Every day, I practice French – somedays more than others but it’s rare that I skip a day’s practice in some form. I don’t know if this counts as learning something new, as it’s been more of a review but I love remembering things I used to know. After our trip, I’m eager to switch over to Spanish and continue this language adventure.

Experiential Dates are Essential
Frank and I have found that starting tax season with a series of experiential dates sets the tone for these three months of busyness. One year, we took three weeks of cooking lessons. This year, we spent two weeks learning the Cha Cha. Spending two hours fumbling through unknown steps, looking at each other in the eye was exactly what we needed in a season that’s so easy to miss fun connections.

When Stretched, Turn to the Wisdom of Others
I was recently asked to share my story and then pray for the MOPS International board members. Sharing my story is something I’ve practiced and felt comfortable doing. Praying in front of a group is something I’ve never enjoyed. I’d much rather pray one-on-one than in front of a crowd, especially of strangers. So I turned to Jan Richardson’s phenomenal book of prayers and reflections, In the Sanctuary of Women. Starting my own prayer with the wisdom of another woman gave me the words and courage to continue on my own.

Elle, a fleece-pajama clad 3-year-old with purple bifocal glasses is using her hands to stretch her mouth into a "silly face."

Embracing the Moment Doesn’t Mean I Can’t Dream of the Future
Elle has officially given up her afternoon nap and it’s been quite the adjustment. Suddenly my quiet afternoons are gone. In some ways, I like this – we can run errands and catch up on things that felt rushed in our morning hours. I’m remembering that the next year and a half before kindergarten is going to zip by and I’m embracing these “unproductive” moments. I’m also eagerly awaiting the next phase, remembering the both-and of motherhood.

Filling the Well, Turning the Compost, Leaning into the Quiet is Uncomfortable
As I’ve said, this has been a season of unlearning. I’m leaning into this time of growth and turning and yet I’m antsy to just learn the lessons! I want to step forward and apply all I’ve gathered. I know this process takes time and I’m holding this tension, sometimes gracefully and sometimes with impatience. I wish I could draw conclusions quickly and profoundly but I’m a slow processor and so am remembering that this quiet season will produce fruit.

What about you? What have you been learning this season?

Inspired by Emily Freeman’s quarterly question, What Have You Learned This Season?

Be Kind to Yourself

When I wrote this post for SheLoves, it was easy writing about the discomfort. That seems to be part of life, right? Leaning into the discomfort. Something didn’t feel complete about the piece. I worked on it, sent it to a friend, and finally sent it to my editor, thinking it was all about discomfort. And then I remembered the most important part: Be kind to yourself. I added in that imperative piece and it all came together. That seems to be the hardest part for me – remembering kindness to myself. I hope you’ll remember that today. Be kind to yourself.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

We stretched at the end of our weekly workout, faces on the mat, right hands extended, left arms stretched under our bodies, kind of in child’s pose. I’m sure there’s an official name for this stretch but I don’t know it. I do know it feels awkward and amazing, all at once. Just as the stretch feels more awkward than amazing, our instructor encourages us saying, “Lean into the discomfort while still being kind to yourself.”

Anyone who has taken any sort of yoga or workout class has probably heard something along those lines — lean into the discomfort. After an hour of movement, I often want to skip the stretching. I want to stop, change into clean clothes, move onto the next part of my day, and check off the box of healthy living. But that wouldn’t be kind to myself—mentally or physically.

But taking the time to stretch and lean into the discomfort is what allows me to healthfully go on with the rest of my day. It’s this kindness that keeps me from getting hurt and is why I keep coming back to class, week after week.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase in other areas of my life lately. How am I leaning into the discomfort of life as I stretch my thinking? How is that discomfort preparing me to take what I’m learning and go back into my daily routines?

I’m in a creatively quiet season right now. At first, when the words were hard to find, I welcomed the space, knowing that sometimes we need to stop and listen before we can produce. But months have gone by and that quiet is turning to discomfort. How long will this last? I’m starting to push against the discomfort, questioning my abilities and purpose. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some ways you are remembering to be kind to yourself?

Allowing What Is Already In You To Swell Up

The other day my Facebook memories reminded me that it had been a year since I took the girls to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade. The photo is of us bundled up, huddled together in the freezing cold. Elle is leaning over a cup of hot cocoa, too cold to hold it herself.

The caption reads, “We did it! It was cold, there were tears. But I brought a thermos of hot cocoa and we marched with our community. We talked about the work Martin Luther King Jr did and the work that still needs to be done. On the drive home, after we warmed up a bit, I asked if they’d do it again. Elle said no, she’d rather go to a park. But Bea gave an enthusiastic green light, check, yes! I’m remembering that raising activists takes time and that hot cocoa makes the coldest moments bearable.”

The memory was well timed because just a couple days earlier, Bea had asked when the Martin Luther King Jr Day Parade was happening again – she cannot wait to create a tradition. (I haven’t heard the same questions from Elle. Maybe she’s sticking to her park plan…) It doesn’t take much for Bea to create an annual event – she loves planning and traditions but it still made me glad that this is one she looked back on with fondness and hope for reprisal.

As we’ve settled back into our routine and I’ve had a little more space in my days to reflect, I’ve been thinking that it’s been two months since I returned from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage. That first month was filled with thoughts and ideas and hopeful next steps, even if those were a ways away. But now, with more time and more routine between me and that journey I started to feel a little discouraged. What have I done in those two months? It doesn’t feel like much.

I’m reminded of a paragraph from one of my favorite childhood books, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s at the end of the story after a great mystery has been solved. Mrs. Frankweiler says,

I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.

E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing enough to create young activists. Shouldn’t we be going to more marches, reading more books, digging deeper into the injustices around us? Yes… and, we need to let these experiences swell up and touch our lives. I love knowing that Bea still holds the memory of her first march dear – that she wants to continue this tradition. Who knows? Maybe we’ll expand to more. Maybe this will spark an interest in justice down the road.

For now, I’m remembering to give life time. To choose the activities that make sense for our family in this moment on the journey and to trust the process. I want to be careful as I raise my girls – that they will want to continue this new narrative as they grow older, without burning out at a young age.

I want to remember this for myself, too. That I’ve been given a whole lot of new information in these past two months. I’ve continued to read books, to dig deeper, and to question more. But I also need to let things sift and settle, to create time and space to allow all I’ve learned to swell and grow.

On Monday, we’ll likely join the march again as we start to set down roots and traditions in activism. And like last year, my biggest goal will be to stay warm and have fun. There will be plenty of time for deep conversations and grappling with reasons it’s so important to show up and march. For now, we’re gathering information and letting it grow.

What are some ways you are leaning into facts and ideas you’ve accumulated? How are you holding space for them to swell?

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/

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?

Letting Autumn Guide My Days

The nights are getting cooler and our garden’s harvest is slowing down. We ate tomato and cucumber salads, made tomato cobbler, and I baked two apple pies using the fruit from our backyard tree. It was a flurry of seasonal eating and delicious vine-ripened produce.

IMG_0705Less than a month later, things are slowing down. We’ll pick a few more tomatoes before it gets really cold but not many. Our squash plants are officially done and we’ll soon be turning our compost that’s been churning all summer into the earth as we prepare the ground for a long winter’s sleep.

It’s funny how we wait all season for a big harvest only for that harvest to be over in a matter of weeks.

Last week was a busy one for our family. Usually, I try to create space in the week with no plans or activities but through a variety of planned and unplanned visits and errands, we had a jam-packed week. One of my planned activities was to go for a walk with one of my pastors. We had talked about getting together for coffee but as we confirmed, a walk was suggested and I’m so glad it was!

I know that, especially with deeper or more intense conversations, walking helps my thought process. Sitting across from someone in a crowded space can feel a bit intimidating – not because of our relationship but because of the environment. It’s harder for me to have vulnerable conversations in the intimacy of a shared cafe space. But on a path out in the open, not looking directly at my friend? The conversation winds and meanders and we’re able to touch on big topics, comment on a puppy or flock of birds or beautiful garden, and circle back to those discussions.

As we were starting the second half of our six-mile loop, my pastor returned to a comment I had made earlier in our conversation about time and vocation and the big questions of what’s next? She reminded me that in order to produce, we must plant the seeds and then let them germinate and grow in the soil. She pointed out the books and conversations and groups I’m part of and wondered if I’m in a growing place. That I may not be producing much right now because I’m preparing for the harvest.

The way she phrased this thought fit into what I’ve been pondering and reading on my own but it all clicked as we worked up a sweat on that sunny morning. Recently, I’ve been in a production season. I’m seeing friendships grow at school and writing had come fairly easily. I was reading books that pushed my boundaries and was able to process those ideas quickly.

But the past few months have felt a bit more forced. I assumed it was our summer routine but, now that we’re over a month into school and autumny sorts of things, I’m still struggling through the work.

I just finished Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. This is a book that needs to be read at the right moment. If I had read it earlier this year or last year, I don’t think it would have meant as much as it has at this moment. In his last chapter, all about the seasons of life, he says,

“I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life” (pg 98).

I’m watching our own leaves fall to the ground as the weather starts to shift. I love the changing of seasons – the active process of watching leaves turn brilliant before they fall. But the season itself can be quiet and melancholy. After the leaves fall but before the winter snows come, life is brown.

Similarly, in spring Palmer reminds us of the slush and mud that precedes the blooms. That each season has that time of transition and muck before the brilliance.

I’m learning to lean into the burrowing nature of autumn. I’m quieting my soul, reading books that may not emerge in thought or conversation for a while, and putting aside that list of hopes and goals.

Practically, this looks like making lists of thoughts and ideas for writing but not putting pressure on myself to hit “publish.” This looks like starting and abandoning books that may be incredibly interesting but not what I need right now. It looks like really limiting my time reading the news, checking social media, and instead focusing on engaging in the small work of the now.

I was talking with another friend and she reminded me to give my soul space to breathe. I’m learning to do that. To balance breathing with discipline; to let the plants grow and nestle while still tending the garden. I’m leaning into autumn and remembering that, while seasons are predictably three months, my own life’s seasons aren’t so neat and tidy. And there’s something beautiful about that, too.

Life seasons don’t always follow actual seasons. What season are you in right now? How are you finding balance through it all?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Ruby Woo Pilgrimage: Will You Help?

Last year, I remember seeing a trending hashtag on Twitter about a lipstick that empowered women. Stories were told about wearing this bright red color to help boost confidence. The shade was just right for a variety of skin tones and I loved seeing women share the impact of this cosmetic. As the thread grew, women started dreaming of a pilgrimage and, from my view as the ultimate Twitter lurker, I saw a movement take shape.

Untitled designAs the story unfolded, I followed the hashtag and saw a powerful group of women make their way from Seneca Falls (where the American suffrage movement began) down to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives. Those photos prompted me to buy my own tube of Ruby Woo lipstick and all winter I wore that bright color and indeed, felt much more confident whenever I wore it.

Fast forward to this past spring. A peacemaking trip I had been dearly looking forward to fell through and I was letting myself feel disappointed about it. Right at that same time, I saw a friend post something about applications being open for the 2018 Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. On a whim, I decided to fill in the application. My heart was tugging toward something I could do to learn and participate in reconciliation work.

I’ll admit, when I got the email in June telling me I had “made it on the bus,” I was shocked and started second-guessing my place to ride along. My platform wasn’t big enough; I’m “just” a mom; why would my presence be needed?

But that’s the point. This bus of 40 women will represent seasoned activists, women of color, women who are just dipping their toes into this world of reconciliation; and women like me, who are here to listen and learn.

So, here’s the part where I’m asking you for help…

When I signed up for the pilgrimage, I knew we had the money set aside for this other trip. I thought I would just quietly pay my own way, quietly sit on the bus, and quietly learn from women more experienced than I.

Then I read the email. The organizers are asking us to fundraise for two other women who may not have the resources or the platform to ask. I’ve been thinking a lot about the work of reparations lately and when you look at the root, it means “repair.” By asking for help in fundraising for others, I’m using my own resources and privilege to help repair gaps that systemic injustices have created.

I’m also remembering that I’m part of a community and doing things on my own just isn’t how life is done at its best.

So I’m asking you, this little online community, to help. Would you donate a few dollars to this journey? I’d love for you to be part of it with me! Here’s the GoFundMe Page.

Here are some other details:

The Ruby Woo Pilgrimage is convened by Freedom Road, LLC.

Freedom Road’s founder, Lisa Sharon Harper wrote an article about the origins of Ruby Woo for Religion News Services: Hear the Pulpits Roar

Will you join my GoFundMe efforts? Our deadline is October 1, 2018!

I appreciate your consideration!

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? What is a life-changing journey you’ve experienced?