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. 

Creating Space In a Crowded Week

This week has felt mentally crowded. Frank’s had to work late in preparation for the tax extension deadline so bedtime has been on my own. But what’s really thrown me for a loop is that Elle has decided to stop napping. Right when I thought I was going to have two mornings a week to myself and an afternoon of quiet, it’s become a battle.

IMG_0627I decided to handle this shift in routine like the mature and capable adult that I am. I grumped and threatened and got really, really annoyed. How dare my three-year-old ruin my ME time?!

Often, my go-to defense is to turn inward. I go into a self-sufficient mode, I don’t ask for help, and I don’t vent to my friends. This usually doesn’t help anything. I finally emerged from this space, went for a walk with a friend, Voxed another friend who has kids farther along than mine and gained some perspective.

I realized I need to recalibrate my expectations. Much like sleep regression, we need to start a new naptime training and move toward “quiet rest time.” Maybe on the days when it’s too much of a fight, we run errands or do other chores. Maybe we’ll go for a hike. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the woe is me feeling isn’t helpful. It has me reflecting on the ways life so often doesn’t go according to plan. I expect to enter a new season with grace and ease, floating through the transition beautifully. The reality usually is something quite different.

I hope what I’ve learned from this start-of-the-school-year nap boycott is to step back and assess what I can do when life doesn’t go according to plan. I know I can always throw a fit, but maybe there’s another way. Maybe next time, I’ll go for a walk first or Vox my friend with the gritty parts of life.

That’s what community is all about. I’m hoping that by leaning in, I find space to breathe this next week. That this crowded feeling eases and we move into a new rhythm.

How do you deal with the unexpected? What’s your best way of dealing with these crowded weeks?

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

Harvest Comes at the End of the Season

Even though we’re back in school and everyone is looking forward to all things autumn and pumkiny, our garden is still in the height of harvest season. We planted our veggies at the end of May and spent most of the summer watering and watching our plants grow. We have volunteer spaghetti squash from last year (or from the compost – who knows?) and we have an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. Our squash had an ok year and our green peppers were the best we’ve ever seen.

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Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I always get antsy for our harvest in mid-July. The plants are big and leafy but we get very few vegetables. Maybe a zucchini or yellow squash, but nothing impressive. Not yet. I always have to remind myself that the harvest really happens in August and into September. In fact, by the end of September, many tomatoes wither on the vine because we’re already moving on to more wintery recipes. (I know this makes us terrible farmers but it’s true every year.)

We’re three full weeks into our second year at our walkable neighborhood school. First graders still need a parent to pick them up and, even though this sometimes conflicts with Elle’s afternoon rest, I don’t mind carrying a sleepy preschooler to pick up her sister each day. These twice-daily treks to school have become a ritual of community that I would miss if we drove or if Bea rode the bus.

The faculty knows us and always say hello. We greet parents who are new friends and wave and connect with those we knew from last year. We walk home with a group of latch-key kids I’m getting to know better and yesterday I sent a note home with one of those girls, asking her mom to text about a play date.

Women from my Family Literacy group who have moved up due to language gains stop me, saying they wish they were in the beginner class so we could still see each other. Bea’s best friend’s mom joined Family Literacy and we got together last Saturday for henna.

IMG_0605If last year was for starting small roots in new soil, this year is seeing the shoots come up from our work. I don’t think we’re even into the leafy stage yet but I’m starting to see the results of our seeds. Last year, I was so excited about our new school and all we experienced that first year. Our kindergarten teacher was incredible! I made friends through Family Literacy! It was feeling like home.

And just shy of a month in, I’m amazed at how much deeper these relationships are growing. Even our new friendships feel deeper somehow, knowing we’ve been here a year and we’re committed for the next seven or so years as our girls progress.

Someone recently said that the word season is an overused term, especially in Christian culture, but as I watch our garden flourish, even when I’m ready to wind down and move into a cozier place, I can’t think of a more apt comparison.

We have planted seeds and are watching them poke out of the soil. I’m remembering that planting takes time, that vegetables don’t ripen until the very end of summer, and that our bounty gets us ready for a new season entirely.

I’m remembering, as we transition and make space with one foot in this new community and one still firmly in our preschool community, that I most likely won’t see the actual fruits of the intentional relationships we’re making for quite some time. Friendships take time and cultivation and community doesn’t happen quickly – no matter how I wish it would.

I’m learning to enjoy this space. To look at my plants with pride and anticipation of the fruits they will bear. I know not to rush things but to walk gently through the process.

What overused metaphor do you love for your life? Are you a gardener? How do you handle waiting for your harvest? 

Mapping My Hopes With a Foundation of Flexibility

School started last week for Bea and, while we have another week to go until Elle begins her preschool adventure, I’m enjoying the rhythms that the school year has to offer. This summer was pretty unstructured. Outside of a week at zoo camp, we hung out, went swimming, got on each other’s nerves, and played outside a lot. I think that freedom and boredom are incredibly important to a summer schedule, even if I get overwhelmed with the mess and chaos.

IMG_0487Now that school has started, I’m itching to get back into a productive routine. This first weekend of the school year arrived and I found myself out of sorts and frustrated. I looked back on the week and saw all the things I wanted to do that just didn’t get done. Elle and I went to the zoo but I didn’t write as much as I was hoping; we didn’t clean the playroom; we just kind of hung out.

With Elle starting preschool two mornings a week, I’ve been imagining all of the things I’ll get done with those five extra hours each week. I have big plans! I’m going to practice French and work on a project that kept getting shelved over the summer and really go through the closets for a good purge. Frank and I want to have morning-dates and I want to try to find a workout rhythm. I want to volunteer in Bea’s classroom and go to the art museum regularly. I absolutely recognize that I have more planned than I have space for.

Before preschool begins, I’ve started making lists of my hopes for this year. Things I want to accomplish and rhythms I’d like to create. I’m hoping to map out this time so that it’s not wasted away doing things I could do with Elle around.

But I also want to be intentional about this time with Elle. I’m recognizing that these goals and hopes need to be flexible and fluid. I see how quickly the time passed before Bea started full-time school and I want to savor these moments with Elle.

In her reflections on summer routines and the beginning of a fall schedule, author Addie Zierman says,

“And so I’ve come to accept that this summer, for me, was not supposed to be about being productive, or even really functional. It’s been about being grounded.”

Addie Zierman: Field Notes from the End of Summer

As I plan my fall and our new schedule, I need to remember these words. I have hopes of productivity and I know our routine needs to be functional for our family. But above all, I need to find the ways in which we all stay grounded and rooted. How am I building a schedule that leaves me energized and fulfilled for those days I spend with Elle? How can I feel as productive as possible during my alone time so that the after-school flurry feels more energizing rather than draining?

I have a feeling this will take a good amount of trial-and-error and I need to remember that this is part of building rhythms, as well. What is working? What clearly needs to be fixed? How can I read my family and myself through this shift in seasons?

For now, I’ll keep scribbling my lists and goals as I assess what makes the most sense for us, at this moment.

How do you set goals at the beginning of a new season? How do you tweak your plans along the way?

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?

Almost-Summer is For New Goals

In January, a friend invited me to her home for a writers gathering. Five of us were all linked through our writing and our friend. I had just finished reading one woman’s book; another woman and I connected over facilitating online book clubs; another has kids about the same age as mine. We drank coffee, ate muffins, and talked about our writing goals for the year.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Then we got to work. My friend had set up nooks around her home to give space to spread out, dream, plan, and work on whatever we needed to for a few hours of quiet. I opened my blogging calendar and mapped out some rough themes and ideas. One of my hopes this year was to write more, so I decided to try writing three times per week. I had tried this goal in the past to varying degrees of success, always amazed at those who blog daily and wondered if that would ever be me.

Now, as May comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about that goal to write more. I have blogged more and enjoyed the process but I realized that writing more and blogging more are two very different things. My creativity and energy went into blogging so any other ideas and projects were pushed to the margins.

I know that no one sets their calendars to the rhythm of my blog posts. A friend of mine actually noted when I was writing more and gave some good advice about finding space and time and voice.

I talked with my friend on a Friday morning a few weeks ago and starting thinking about when I could re-implement my goals. What perfect day would be good for writing more and blogging less? And then I realized that I could start whenever I felt like it. That, while goals create a good foundation, when they become limiting the point is lost.

IMG_8854So, last week I stepped back. I blogged when I had an idea and published when I wrote it, rather than scheduling it. I spent a day on the floor with Elle, rather than trying to play with her and squeeze in moments of writing. As we sat, chatting and building, she looked at me and said, I love playing with you, mama!

My goal is still to write more, but I’m thinking about how I can use my writing time more wisely. What needs to be public and what I can I work on long-term? How can I keep blogging – a medium I love – while saving my creativity for more in depth projects?

This shift in thinking has me considering other goals I’ve made that need readjusting. One of my favorite things about the start of summer is that it’s a time to reevaluate how those January resolutions are going. We’re not quite halfway through the year so tweaking and changing feels completely possible.

As I think about my One Word for the year, I’m remembering to lean into the shift of seasons. As tax season ramped up, my goal of working out before school fell to the wayside. Now that our schedule is shifting, how can I reintroduce that habit? Frank and I are doing a reset to our eating habits as winter fades and the healthier foods of summer come into season. And writing will look different, with both girls at home and life moving outside.

After that chat with my friend, I realized that, for as much as I love goals and outlines, I also love reevaluating them. When I take the time to recognize if my ideas are working or not, tweaking goals gives me as much peace as setting them in the first place.

Do you take time to reset your goals? How do you balance real life with your ideals?

The Compost HeapMy monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is going out on Thursday! Are you signed up? It’s like an old-school blog, filled with all the things we’re up to, books I’m reading, blogs I’m recommending, and thoughts on daily life.

I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

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.