Finding Truth Close to Home

Last week I had an unexpected afternoon to myself. I ate a solitary lunch and was looking at my to-do list. It was filled with everything from cleaning and household tasks to writing and more creative endeavors. But all of those things made me feel antsy and I knew that I wouldn’t be productive. I needed to get out.

Muslin Concepts

So, I headed to the Denver Art Museum for the Christian Dior exhibit. As I stepped into the first room, my breath caught. The beauty of Dior’s earliest collection literally made me stop. I had forgotten how incredible it is to see haute couture up close. The details, the quality, the way the fabric hangs is absolutely stunning.

After wandering for an hour or so, I felt refreshed and energized. I thought about my to-do list and all the things that would eventually get done. I so often hear that writing is about sitting down and doing the work; That often the muse doesn’t show up and yet we still need to be ready. And while I totally agree with this, I also need to remember that without filling my life with beauty and new experiences, the muse has very little to draw upon.

I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. The book is about Shapiro’s spiritual journey and a lot of it draws on her yoga practice. She writes about attending workshops and retreats around her home base of Connecticut. At one point, she is offered an opportunity to travel to India to study at an ashram there. The chance to go practice in the land of yoga’s origins tempts her. Honestly, even without a serious yoga practice, I’d imagine a trip to a new culture would be tempting to most of us. Shapiro turns down the opportunity and offers a reflection that has stayed with me.

Truths found out there don’t travel well.

Dani Shapiro, Devotion, pg 152

What she means is that if we can’t learn new truths at home, we aren’t ready to learn new truths. Traveling abroad won’t tell you what you can’t hear at home.

She’s not discounting travel or the beauty of learning from cultures outside our own norms. What she is saying is that we can’t depend on leaving home for a life-changing experience. If we are unable to be changed at home, we cannot expect to be changed abroad.

I needed to hear this. I’ve been feeling in a creative slump lately and it’s so easy to think that if only I could fill my world with a trip or an exotic experience then I would have material to spark creativity. I imagine how lovely it would be to walk the streets of Paris or Florence, surrounded by beautiful architecture where the very presence of greatness inspires so many of us. Or maybe a trip somewhere completely new like Peru or Palestine will spark that newness that is so exhilarating.

And while I will always feel invigorated by travel and exploration, I’m learning that the lessons I need to learn are right here. Now, a break in routine is often necessary to help us see those lessons. Shapiro didn’t limit her yoga practice to living room videos – she attended retreats and pushed her limits. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the routines of my small world, a visit to an exhibit twenty minutes away transported me to another place and time.

What I’m trying to remember is that intentionality starts at home. Where can I look to disrupt my routine? Maybe it’s a walk at a new park. Maybe it’s seeking out art exhibits that help me expand my horizons. Maybe it’s reading a challenging book in a different environment, rather than in my own living room. How am I holding both sacred – the need for new and the recognition that I can learn from where I am?

As January comes to a close and we enter February – perhaps the longest month of the year – I hope to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts. All the truths I need are close to home, right where I need them most.

How do you mix up your routine? What are some truths you’ve found right at home?

Are you signed up from my newsletter, The Compost Heap? It’s been a couple months since I’ve sent one out and I’m trying to get back in the practice. It’s a short letter with a thought, a book recommendation, and some other thing or two that has been interesting lately. You can sign up here: The Compost Heap.

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?

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?

Exactly Who I’m Meant to Be

I just got back from the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, where I spent four days learning about the intersectionality between race, voting rights, and faith. I have a lot to process and sort and am curious to see where this journey takes me. In the meantime, I had a SheLoves piece scheduled and was surprised at which moment hit home. It wasn’t part of the planned pilgrimage but an unexpected space in the middle of New York City. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves for the whole story.

annie-rim-i_m-still-that-19-year-old-2Recently, I had two hours to myself in New York City. This is special for many reasons, but especially because I hadn’t wandered a city by myself in over a decade. I spent my college years in Paris and my twenties exploring the world. Family life has since taken over my travel habits and I always have a companion on my adventures.

I was in the city with the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, a group of women learning about the intersectionality of voting rights, race, and faith. I debated joining others for lunch and exploring but knew I needed to set out alone. I walked a couple blocks in the drizzling rain, stopped into a shop for a vibrant pink umbrella, and continued on my way.

As I opened the umbrella and navigated my way through the crowded streets, nostalgia hit me. I spent hours of my college years walking the streets of Paris just like this, sneakers wet, umbrella low over my head, finding solitude in the crowds. I remembered how to jaywalk and pass slower pedestrians, stretching muscle memory my suburban life had forgotten.

I walked until I spotted a tiny coffee shop with a hipster hedgehog on its sign. It was narrow with a few hightop tables and a long bar looking out onto the sidewalk. I ordered a cafe au lait (something I would regret at two in the morning) and settled in for journaling and people watching.

As I watched, I played the what-if game. What if I had moved to New York after college instead of letting the mountains lure me back to Denver? What if our kids were raised in this environment? What if I never married but was able to live the (seemingly) freer life of a city professional? What if … ? Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What are your “pink umbrella” moments?

Just Eat the Bread

The other day I was sitting next to Tui in Family Literacy when she offered me a partially eaten baguette from the Safeway bakery. Truly not hungry, I thanked her and declined. Showing up to Family Literacy means showing up to a feast every week. Some days, homemade empanadas show up; others times packages of Oreos are sitting on the back counter. One week we all enjoyed the sweetest Somali tea, thick and gritty with fresh spices.

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Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

Nancy, the teacher eats everything. When Nagham offered her some white Cheez-It crackers, she graciously nibbled on two of them. There is not treat she turns down.

I was thinking about Tui’s offering the other day and realized it wasn’t about me being hungry but about sharing bread together. I don’t need any of the treats these women offer, but they continue to share chocolate-peanut butter granola bars and samosas freely.

Sharing snacks is a big part of doing life together. It takes our relationship from a teacher-student level to a relational space, made tangible by the food we share. They don’t expect reciprocity but they do hope for gracious acceptance.

Tomorrow, I’ll be on a plane by myself, heading to Syracuse for the start of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage. I’m excited and nervous for many reasons, ranging from the fact that I haven’t ever left the girls for so long to the curiosity of how this will impact and change my life. In one of our early group calls, the question was asked, What are you hoping for from this pilgrimage?

Answers were as varied as the women attending. Put on the spot and having to choose just one succinct reason, I recognized that my journey toward activism and partnership is incomplete without tangibility.

I can read all the article and books, watch documentaries and TED Talks, and listen to my heart’s content but until I eat the bread offered and tangibly get involved, I am a passive part of the change. What good are books and knowledge without action behind the learning?

I’m a fairly self-sufficient person and feel most relaxed when my ducks are in a row. Our family very rarely veers from our routine, I usually meal plan, and I’m pretty intentional about the books I read and how my worldview is being shaped.

But I wonder, am I overlooking offerings that I may not need but will nonetheless deepen my relationships with others and with the earth? Am I missing out on what God is offering because of my well-laid plans?

As I prepare for this pilgrimage, I have a stack of articles to read, some videos to watch, and a general idea of what we’ll be doing along the way. But the organizers of this journey are keeping the details vague. They want us to show up, to be in the moment, to come hungry.

I’m learning that I just need to eat the bread offered to me. That building relationships and deepening my understanding of activism and partnership go beyond well-curated books and experiences. Sometimes it means accepting what is offered, sitting and listening.

What about you? Do you take the bread that is offered or is it counterintuitive to accept gifts?

0I would value your thoughts and prayers as I go on this journey – for learning, for peace, for this time away from my family. I’ll be writing about these experiences in the coming months, I know, but for now, I’m looking forward to absorbing and getting into this new world.

And, if you’d like, Freedom Road is still accepting donations for the trip. Our GoFundMe page is here. Thank you!

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.

Reframing How Interact with This World

There was a period in my twenties (and into my thirties) when I was part of three in-person book clubs. As a single and newly married person, this didn’t pose a problem at all. I had time to read, our schedules were flexible, and I had the mental capacity to dig into big issues. Fast forward nearly a decade and added children later and I’m no longer part of any real-life book clubs.

51+HOUEO-WL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_I had slowly quit them along the way, but the last one (that Books and Beer group) was the hardest to let go. It’s been a year since I stopped going and I know it was a good decision for my family, our schedule, and my time but being part of vibrant book clubs was a big part of my identity for a lot of years.

The next two books are ones I read with those clubs and they are books that have shifted my worldview and continue to impact the lens in which I process the world.

Published nine years ago, Half the Sky tells the stories of oppressed women from around the world. Each chapter digs deeply into a systemic condition that impacts women – from maternal death to daily safety concerns to sex trafficking and slavery. What is so powerful about this book is that the stories also tell of survival and overcoming those horrendous odds.

Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are committed to deep research and stunning storytelling. Even though the topics in this book are hard to digest, Kristof and WuDunn draw the reader into these stories and create empathy for women fighting for dignity and life around the world. This is a must-read for anyone wondering if women’s equality is an antiquated fight.

I read this book the year it was published so it’s been a while since I’ve read these stories and yet the impact it made on my life and the way I interact with news, especially about women, has had a lasting change.

* * *

51+3X+KL1IL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Growing up, my view of heaven was a place you go. It was for people who believed in Jesus and we would spend our days happily worshiping him. Surprised By Hope mixed up that notion and made me rethink the idea that we are just waiting here on earth for a future glory.

Theologian N.T. Wright walks the reader through the ancient roots to our theology of the afterlife. The part that stuck out to me most and has changed the way I view my own interactions with our world is the idea that heaven is really this earth, restored. It’s what Eden was meant to be. In this restored earth, we experience all God originally created for us.

Wright also talks about the idea that, in this restored earth, we do what gives us the deepest joy. That our days are indeed filled with worship but it’s not the endless church service I imagined as a child. Gardening, painting, inventing, scientific discovery are all part of the way we interact in this restored world.

I love this image so much. As I explore what gives me deep joy, I love thinking about what I could be doing for eternity, as an act of worship.

* * *

What about you? What do you imagine doing for eternity as an act of worship? 

A (1)This post is Days 13 & 14 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.