The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

Gathering Fragments of a Mosaic

It’s been quiet around here the past couple of months. I think I haven’t acknowledged the toll on my own emotions, energy levels, and creativity the past two months have taken. It’s easy to say that there are seasons of productivity and seasons of rest but in the midst of dormancy, it’s hard to remember to lean into the quiet.

A friend recently sent me this quote:

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anaïs Nin
Two girls playing in the background; a stack of books on a table in the foreground. The scene is quiet, peaceful.
My view, more often than not.

When I first read this, I thought of the external experiences of the past couple months – of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, of hearing Dr. Wilda Gafney talk about infusing womanist theology into the narrative, of listening to an “intimate conversation” between Michelle Obama and Reese Witherspoon. Each of these days and evenings is weaving a thread that I can’t quite see. I know it’s there and that it’s important but I don’t have the necessary perspective yet.

I like to intellectualize quotes and seasons. When I read about receiving truth, I think of all that I’ve learned and all the ways that I’ve been changed from these experiences.

But sometimes the truths we receive are small and gritty. My “One Word” for 2018 is lean in. I expected this to mean that I would lean into writing and creativity. And in some very important ways, I have. However, I’ve also been leaning into this season of parenting – of having a little more time and space in my schedule while filling it with things that grow our community. I’ve been leaning into relearning French in preparation for our anniversary trip to Paris next year and learning to redeem some untruths I had internalized about myself in the initial experience of working toward fluency. I’ve been leaning into dreams about the next phase of life – of what my days will look like when, sooner than later, both girls will be in school fulltime.

I don’t like leaning into the mundane. It doesn’t sound as cool as leaning into big ideas and incredible opportunities. But I’m also finding some important truths in those mundane experiences. I’m remembering that redemption so often starts small, often with an hour a day of French or of putting aside plans for creativity in favor of snuggling with a book in front of the fire with my emerging readers.

In these twelve days of Christmas, after the presents have been opened and before we take time to celebrate and remember the Epiphany of the magi, I’m looking around our house. Scraps of wrapping paper and packaging are still out; decorations are still up though I’m starting to make piles of things to put away. We’re between seasons – still celebrating and feasting but also moving toward the quiet of January, when the light of the Epiphany candles seems even more necessary.

As this year comes to a close, I’m trying to approach my internal spaces in a similar way. I’m living with the clutter of celebrations while looking forward to all the new year has to offer. I know so many don’t like New Year’s resolutions and the weight they often carry but I love having a reason to reset and reevaluate in the midst of the dark winter. There’s something so hopeful about remembering that, even though it may not feel like it, the days are getting longer and light is shining.

In these last couple days of the year, I’m holding onto that one word even more closely and leaning into these small, quiet moments.

Did you choose “one word” for 2018? How have you seen it in your year? How are you embracing this last week between Christmas and a fresh year?

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/

You’re Doing It Right

For the first time in my life, I’ve started attending a weekly workout class. My friend, Erin was recently certified as a Revelation Wellness instructor and leads classes that focus on moving our bodies in joy. Of course, they’re really much more structured than that, with kickboxing, dancing, yoga, and strength exercises. I come away each week sore and stronger and I love how I feel.

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Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

One of the things she tells us throughout the class is, You’re doing it right. The whole point is to move our bodies. So this could mean pushing our limits, doing that extra pushup or five. Or it could mean walking in place with a smile because I’m still moving and celebrating this body God gave me.

Over and over during this hour I hear, you’re doing it right.

I need this so much. You’re doing it right.

There are times during our workout that I know I’m definitely not doing it right. My movements don’t mirror Erin’s or I just can’t find the beat. But I keep moving and smiling and remembering to be thankful for a body that moves, no matter how well or coordinated.

This last month hasn’t gone as expected. I joined the Write 31 Days challenge, as I have the past few years with a topic I thought I could write about easily: Reading. It turned out to be a lot harder than anticipated. Instead of sparking my creativity it felt too didactic; too much like recommendations than storytelling.

In the midst of this, we had an intense week, with an unexpected visit to the ICU for a few days to a drunk driver running into our backyard in the middle of the night. Life seemed to stop and writing was pushed aside for coordinating babysitting and meals and picking a book that would be a good hospital read. When the dust settled, I realized I had no desire to continue the challenge.

I’ve been working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s all about unblocking our creative natures – whether we’re artists, writers, lawyers, or anything between. Cameron believes we are all created in the image of a creative God and therefore we need to tap that creativity.

IMG_0817As I’ve made daily Morning Pages part of my routine and dug into my own creative nature, I’ve realized that I’m at a place in which I want to write less but write better. At one point in my journey, the frequency and discipline of publishing my writing everyday ignited my ideas. And that practice will most likely be beneficial again in the future.

But in this moment, I realized I need to dig a little deeper. I’m really good at reading about the things I need to do and not as good about actually doing them. I’ve read quite a number of books about justice and activism but am content sitting with that knowledge in the comfort of my cozy library chair. What am I doing to put this to practice?

Sometimes our craft is born out of the daily tasks of doing the work. And sometimes it’s born out of setting it aside and experiencing the life we are meant to live. Ideally, it would be a both-and situation.

This isn’t about not finishing a challenge or about the daily discipline of creativity. It’s about remembering that I’m doing it right. However it looks in this season, I’m doing it right.

Some days, we have very limited screen time and pack in the imaginative play, snuggled reading, and sweet family interactions. And some days, I let the girls watch an extra show so I can finish a chapter or I let Bea do her reading on the school’s leveled reading app rather than sitting by her side. I’m doing it right.

Some days, I’m invigorated and ready to practice writing or hand-lettering or any number of creative pursuits. Other days, I’m wrapped up in books and finish several in a week. And still other times, I’m content to connect with others via social media, letting my mind wander over the staged and beautiful highlight reels. I’m doing it right.

I’ve written about my high hopes for this season. For projects to be completed and languages to be learned. Some of my hopes have come to fruition – like working out regularly. Others haven’t begun – like downloading my old Rosetta Stone CDs to start learning French again. I’m remembering that this is a process and change takes time. I’m remembering that I need to take baby steps and that we have many more months to figure this all out. I’m remembering that, even when it feels like I’m incredibly unproductive, I’m doing it right.

I suppose this is the biggest life-lesson I’ve learned in this new stage: I can quit if something isn’t working. I can rearrange my time so that I am filled. As long as I’m moving my body in joy, I’m doing it right.

How are you doing your life “right”? How does this look different from how you anticipated it to look? 

Books Referenced in this Post:

51fTJcNvzHL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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.”