Dismantling Cynicism for Lent

Growing up, I had a complicated relationship with worship at church. I was raised in a setting where hands were held high in praise, where we swayed with our eyes closed, and where outwardly expressions of worship were a direct indication of your personal relationship with God. My naturally critical spirit turned toward an unhealthy cynicism as I watched my fellow teenagers literally cry out to Jesus on a Sunday morning and then do nothing to love their neighbors throughout the week. My way of rebelling was to mouth the words with my hands firmly planted at my side. I would not participate in any sort of staged worship, however detrimental it was to my own engagement.

Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Sadly, this cynicism has stayed with me for decades. In college, I rediscovered a love of singing out loud though the expectations for charisma at an Anglican church are fairly low. As an adult, I attended a variety of churches that featured all sorts of styles, from a robed choir to a leader who is an incredible musician but never invited the congregation to really join in.

At our new church, the worship is reminiscent of my childhood church. Praise music reminding me that God is on my side, a lot of battle imagery, and declarations of prosperity fill our service. When we first started attending, I was struck by the joy of our worship pastor. I had forgotten that worship was supposed to be joyful – that we can connect with God happily and openly.

But I still couldn’t bring myself to participate. A lot of the time, I would interact through quiet prayer. The lyrics often triggered headlines I had read or conversations I had. I used the time to grapple and question and pray. But if I’m honest, I also didn’t participate out of habit. After not singing for so long, it was easy to stand quietly.

One day after the service our worship pastor approached me and asked, Do you not like the worship here? I notice that you never sing along. Yikes! The blessing and curse of going to a well-lit church with an intimate congregation is that people notice. I stammered out a reason but his questions stirred me to really reflect and dig deeper into why I don’t participate.

Lent begins this Wednesday and for a time, I was stumped as to how I would participate in this season of remembering. My practice is to add something to my days, from writing notes to researching politicians leading our nation. Then, I read through Sarah Bessey’s Forty Simple Practices of Lent and paused at Day Thirty: Go to a church or a concert or an evening prayer service and sing your heart out.

So this Lenten season, I decided to sing every song at church. I’ll participate in dismantling my deep-rooted cynicism. But, I also want to recognize and celebrate my curiosity. So, in addition to singing along every Sunday, I’ll research the songs we’re singing. I want to know their origins and the biographies of the authors. Maybe I’ll walk away still unsure about singing along but I hope I’ll rediscover the power of corporate worship, of singing together, regardless of where we are on the journey.

Do you participate in Lent? I’d love to hear how you’re observing these weeks before Easter celebrations.

I’ve written quite a bit about Lent over the years. Here’s a link to previous posts: https://annierim.com/?s=lent
Some of my favorite practices have included writing notes to forty women, letting them know their impact on my life;
Listing forty cabinet members, researching their background, and praying for them (You could do this with presidential candidates or legislation, too);
Changing my phone settings to gray-tones to remind me of the false filters we often put on our lives;
Giving up wine and using that budget to fund Kiva microloans .

Creating a Vision in the Midst of a Quiet Season

Last month, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend a vision board party. The day before the event, I went to Target to get a cute board of some sort – maybe a hexagonal corkboard like our hostess used as an example. Or maybe a foam board so I could write phrases in the margins. As is my norm, I walked the aisles, decided crafting is not at all my happy place, and turned to leave the store. I stopped by the dollar section in one last hopeful sweep and found a small chalkboard for $3.00. I figured it was a small investment so I grabbed it and went home to look for dusty crafting supplies.

The next day, armed with my board and a copy of Smithsonian, I joined a group of women to cut, paste, and dream about our year ahead.

I wasn’t just hesitant because of my crafting skills. I had decided that this was the year to embrace the present. No one word, no tangible goals. I was going to truly live in the moment! So, how do you translate that to a board that’s meant to guide your goals? What would I put on it to invigorate my imagination and keep me on track to success?

As I flipped through magazines, an ad to visit Denali National Park in Alaska jumped out. Its campaign read,

It’s been waiting 56 million years.
Consider this your invitation.

Yes. This is what I needed to spark my imagination. I read it as both an invitation to seek adventure and as a reminder that it’s ok to pause and take things slowly. The world is here and ready, and it always has been.

This past year, I had the immense gift of getting to travel internationally twice. Frank and I spent almost a week in Paris to celebrate our tenth anniversary. Walking the streets that shaped my transition to adulthood reminded me of all the both-ands of life. Living abroad was both amazing and life-changing and harder than anything I’ve done since.

Then, in October I got to travel by myself (for the first time since Frank and I met!) to Israel-Palestine where I met a dear friend for the first time face-to-face. Traveling alone stirred memories and feelings of excitement and adventure that I had forgotten. The trip was impacting in so many ways, but even just the reminder of who I once was grounded it as a touchstone experience.

Now, settled back into “normal” life, I wonder, what’s next? In some ways, those trips opened doors to this next stage of life and parenting. We’re able to leave the girls a bit longer, dig into parts of ourselves that were dormant the last handful of years, and start modeling to our girls who we were before we became parents.

I’m remembering, though, that while travel and adventure defined my worldview, it wasn’t my everyday normal. I still went to bed on time, packed my lunch, and went to work before I had children. I still dreamed big dreams and kept my feet planted in a city that is now firmly home.

In this year of quiet and presence, I want to remember the invitation to go and explore. But I also want to remember that things have been around for 56 million years. Even with an urgency that comes with climate change and political strife, I know this world will be ready and waiting for me. I find comfort in the fact that, when God created the cosmos, humans were the last to join the party. This doesn’t diminish our call to care for this earth but it’s a reminder that, maybe, we’re not as important as we think. That time truly is relative.

As hard as I’m trying to live in the present without a plan, I also know myself and I’m thankful for that vision board party. Maybe my board isn’t going to set me on the path to career success or visions of the next best phase. But I did hang it on the wall next to our coat hooks, where I see it daily as we grab backpacks and put on boots. I see it when I walk to the garage and when I’m switching out loads of laundry. It’s less a vision of tangible things and more a reminder of the person I was and am and will be again.

We’ll see how I feel about vision boards in a year or two or five but for now, this simple reminder is giving me hope and, yes, a vision for the future.

Have you ever created a vision board? How do you set intangible goals for yourself?

Notes from the Middle

I celebrated my birthday this last weekend. It wasn’t a big one or a milestone––just a normal, next year sort of birthday. I’ve been in the process of recovering from a terrible cold since Christmas. It goes in waves and I’ve maxed out on all the drugs so was reduced to napping on the couch, sipping an apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper concoction. Fortunately, after a feverish night, I felt well enough on my actual day to enjoy Frank’s boeuf bourguignon an afternoon of hanging out.

I was talking with a friend about this stage in our late thirties. We’re not really in the young parenting years of the “tired thirties,” though we’re not fully out of them yet, either. Nor are we yet in the world-conquering decade of the forties. Our kids are more independent but not fully. My identity is still that of stay-at-home mom, though I’m seeing a new season quickly approaching.

It’s a year that I could easily wish away, in pursuit of what’s next.

I recently got a book by an author I really like about being in her forties but just a few paragraphs in, I knew it was too soon. I’m not there yet. I liked what she had to say and am looking forward to reading it when the time is right but it’s just not yet my season.

I’m learning to be careful about living in the moment. I’m a person who can not only plan for what’s next but also romanticize the next stage. When people say, “Mamas of littles, it gets better!” I suddenly find myself fighting discontentment. I start noticing all the ways it’s not better and looking forward to the ways it will be.

But that’s not reality. Each season has its strengths and struggles and I’m remembering to embrace both. For me, this looks like having endless tea parties with Elle because it’s the last year we’ll have time and space to do whatever we want together. It’s blogging without goals of platform building or book publishing because that’s what I have the capacity for in this moment. It’s remembering the choices I’ve made and the fact that seasons of transition are just as important to embrace as the full-on season itself.

I love dreaming the big dreams and spinning ideas for what life could look like in the next years and decades. It’s fun and energizing. But I never want to take away from this moment. From walking to school and volunteering and having the space to just take a day off to rest or see a movie with the girls. These are unique and precious years, I know.

So just like my one word for the year is not a word at all, I’m starting this next year of life without much of a guide. I’m learning to plant my feet in the space I’m in now, to pursue dreams and ideas while holding them lightly. I’ll both expand on ideas and read more novels. I’ll invest in my community and in my small family. I won’t pick up the half-finished Costco box projects just yet because I’m starting to see the beauty in those games.

There’s something peaceful in sitting with this moment. I’m spinning less, comparing less, and finding more ideas that I hadn’t considered. I’m learning to lean into that freedom and my shoulders are relaxing a bit. Who knows where this year will end––I never do, right?––but for now, I’m thankful for the time and space to stop and enjoy.

What about you? Are you in a season of hustle or pause? Are you pursuing the next right thing or are you breathing in this moment?

Habits I'm Keeping for the New Year

Our year started out wobbly. We all got sick and have passed around a terrible cold that’s going on three weeks. We’ve canceled plans, hunkered down, and lived on a soup diet. While our routines have been off, I’ve been thankful for habits I’ve formed over the past year or so.

While the new year is often a time to start new habits, I wanted to reflect one ones that have been working and that I’ll continue using in this coming year.

Mapping Out My Time
I’ve only done this twice so I’m not sure it can be included as a habit yet but in September and then again last week, I spent a few minutes creating the ideal week. My week rarely goes as planned but I like blocking out times I’ll have to myself and listing possible things to do. I block out other times when I know I’ll be with Elle. Blocking my week like this helps me manage my expectations and keeps me on track when I have moments of space.

Getting Up Early
I feel like I need to start with this one because for so many years, I wanted to create this habit and it felt as if the universe was against me. I’d read books about waking early to write or spend time with God or just to be and I found all the advice so discouraging. But then something shifted. The girls, while still early risers, learned to stay in bed until 6:30. With Bea starting school at 8:00, I found that being ready for the day before everyone rose made such a difference. I get up just 45 minutes before the girls an in that time am able to read, sometimes journal, get ready for the day, and have my bed made. I love knowing that the rest of the day could go completely wrong but those having those things done first thing means even the worst day has started with successes.

Starting the Day with Water and Ending it with Tea
I’ve been drinking a glass of water first thing since I was pregnant with Bea but this year, I started keeping a covered cup next to my reading chair in my bedroom. I fill it up at night and it’s ready to go when I wake up in the morning. Sipping this first glass while I read has changed drinking water from something I need to do quickly before I have coffee and breakfast to something that is slowly part of my wakeup routine.

At the end of the day, after putting the girls to bed, I brew a mug of tea. I started doing this when I went through a bout of insomnia a couple years ago. I was trying anything to trigger nighttime feelings. While the tea wasn’t a magical cure, I did like the way it signaled the end of the day. I sip that mug and either check my phone on last time or read a bit in a book before Frank and I watch an evening show together.

Using Screentime Settings
I’ve started using Screentime and Downtime settings on my phone and they’ve helped me be more aware of my consumption. For apps I enjoy but also know can be a waste of time, I set limits for the day’s usage. At 8:00 all my apps go to sleep and Frank and I spend that hour before bedtime reading or watching a show together on our television in the basement. Staying off my phone for that hour and a half before bedtime has helped in the wind-down process.

What about you? What are some old habits you’re keeping for this new year?

Pouring Champagne at the Potluck of Deconstruction

I’ve always loved starting meals with champagne, whether at home or out at a restaurant. There’s something so special about beginning a meal with a drink typically reserved for celebrations. Over at SheLoves Magazine, we’re talking about the journey of faith deconstruction and what we bring to the table. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over and join the conversation!

One of the most memorable dinner parties I attended while in college in Paris was a gathering hosted by a British couple who had lived in the city for years. I knew them from church, though the guest list was curated by a close friend of mine. Because they lived in a neighborhood I didn’t often visit, I padded my commute time on the metro. I arrived about fifteen minutes after we were told to be there with a box of chocolates from my local chocolaterie in hand as a hostess gift.

Unsurprisingly, I was the first to arrive. In a culture of French-British-American views of time, promptness was an interesting cultural idea to navigate. Our hostess greeted me and poured a glass of champagne. We settled in on the couch to chat as her husband put the finishing touches our multi-course meal.

We chatted for quite some time before I realized I had completely gotten the time of our party wrong! I accidently planned my route a whole hour before we were supposed to be there! I gasped out an apology to our hostess who graciously waved it away as she topped my champagne flute with sparkling wine.

That simple act of filling my glass and keeping the conversation going has stuck with me. How can I extend such easy hospitality to those around me? I remember feeling as though she had wanted me to come early, just so we could get to know each other a bit better.

This social-faux pas-turned-life-lesson in gracious hosting came to mind the other day as our SheLoves editorial team chatted about the “Potluck of Deconstruction.” We had been talking about popular imagery of building longer tables, of moving toward picnics in the woods or on the shore or in an open field. We wondered who would bring food to this potluck; someone has to provide the goodies, after all.

My first thought was that I would bring champagne, of course. It’s a rare day that we don’t have a bottle of bubbles in the fridge, ready to celebrate. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What would you bring to the “Potluck of Deconstruction”? How do you celebrate what you’ve learned along the way?

Best Books of 2019

This year was a slower year of reading. Part of this is that my time has shifted, as it does every year with school and seasons. Partly it’s that I read longer and deeper books, which I needed. I still finished 66 total and of those, 20 were 5-star reads.

I won’t share all of those best reads here (you can check out my Goodreads page for all my reading lists and reviews) but I wanted to highlight some of my absolute favorites and am aiming for a mix of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.

It’s interesting doing year-end reviews. Some books that I gave 4 stars, I remember with 5-star fondness. And some of my 5-star reads aren’t as memorable as I thought they would be when I finished reading. But I never go back and change reviews. I like to trust the process and the fact that I felt something at the time after finishing a book. So, these are the 5-star books that stuck with me and that I’d recommend to almost anyone.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This book had been on my radar for a while but after taking an Indigenous Voices class where it was highly recommended by both our teacher and a guest speaker, I knew I needed to read it sooner. I had read The Lost City of Z by Grann and loved his style. Killers of the Flower Moon did not disappoint. Delving into the Osage murders that happened in Oklahoma at the beginning of the twentieth century, Grann combines incredible research, solid journalism, and engaging storytelling to remember the lives of those who were murdered. He also weaves in the formation of the FBI and its role in the investigation. This is a must-read for many reasons––Indigenous history, a perspective on a powerful institution’s beginnings, and a reminder that we must continue to pay attention to stories that aren’t part of mainstream history classes.

Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart by Alice Walker
I started the year reading much more poetry than I ended the year, which is something I’d like to remedy. I loved starting my morning with a mug of coffee and a poem or two as we eased into the day. Alice Walker’s most recent collection of poems were quite political but they made me think. Walker helped me look at the news through the lens of people who don’t look like me, who aren’t in my same socioeconomic bracket, and who are impacted by policies and decisions that don’t necessarily impact my own life. The format of these poems made me pause and reexamine in ways that only poetry can––opening the eyes of those who are looking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I hadn’t read an epic generational novel for a while and Pachinko didn’t disappoint. The plot follows four generations of a Korean family who moves to Japan before World War II, and who stays through its reconstruction. Lee tells their story in a way that helped me understand a region and history I hadn’t known about before. She also wrote in a way that I could connect attitudes toward immigrants in my own country, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. Lee’s storytelling and ability to connect the past to current events makes this book feel like a timeless classic.

Voice of Witness Oral Histories by McSweeney’s
There are about ten volumes in this series, ranging from stories of those locked in solitary confinement to refugees who have settled in the United States to those who survived Burma’s military regime.

I read three this year: Palestine Speaks, edited by Cate Malek was in preparation for my trip to Israel-Palestine. The stories were powerful and mostly from the perspective of Palestinians living in the region, though Malek chose to include two narratives from Israeli perspectives, which strengthened the collection.

Underground America, edited by Peter Orner followed the stories of those who have come to the United States and have stayed without proper paperwork. Some stories highlighted how easy it can be to extend a temporary visa; others were about human trafficking; and still others were about those who make the treacherous journey across deserts for an “illegal” border crossing. All of these stories helped build empathy and made me remember that there are no easy answers when it comes to undocumented immigration.

Lastly, I read Hope Deferred, edited by Peter Orner about the lives of Zimbabweans living under the terror of Robert Mugabe. I was especially interested to read this, as we have dear friends from Zimbabwe. They would allude to stories but I never fully grasped the terror of those decades of violence and disruption. This was the hardest of the books I read in this series. Many of the governmental crimes are unimaginable and, while none were described in a gratuitous way, it became difficult to read after a while.

I’ll be returning to this series in the new year. My hope is to read a couple of these books a year, to gain perspective through the power of listening (or reading) the stories of those who have lived through what have become political stands.

On Writing by Stephen King
I try to read a couple books about the craft of writing each year and King’s had been recommended by a variety of writers and readers. This book, which is part memoir and part guide, is a reminder of just why King is such a successful author. His storytelling is incredible and his attention to detail impressive. On Writing inspired me to pick up more of King’s work and I plan to read more in the years to come. I’d recommend this to anyone, regardless of an interest in writing.

Runners Up (Because it’s hard to narrow down such awesome reads!)
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Calipso by David Sedaris
The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby
Womanist Midrash by Dr. Wilda Gafney
The God Who Sees by Karen Gonzalez
Circe by Madeline Miller

For 2020, I want to read another book on writing, dive into the idea of pilgrimage in faith, literature, and poetry, and read a scholarly book on something. (I’m not yet sure of the topic!)

What about you? What books stood out for you this year? What are your reading goals for the coming year?

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Preparing for a Season of Dormancy

This past weekend was one of those gorgeous autumn days with warm weather and blue skies. Because we had early snow and frost, we decided to spend this beautiful day winterizing our garden and yard. I had already pulled our vegetable plants after the first frost but we went through our containers, tilling in the compost we had been turning since last winter. We spread mulched leaves over the tops, tucking our garden into bed until spring. I trimmed our perennials back, cut the vines down, and Frank cut down our sad and struggling peach tree.

To the left: garden beds, trimmed and covered with mulch, ready for winter. To the right: a double barrel compost turner

A couple days later, we woke to an inch of snow and seeing how neat and tidy it looked over our gardens made me happy. This feeling is deeper than my check-box personality, though seeing everything exactly as it should be does give me joy. Really, spending the day working in our yard was redemptive. This time last year, Frank was recovering from losing a third of his blood and spending three days in the ICU due to an ulcer. We were also recovering from the mess and repercussions of a drunk driver running through our backyard fence and into our yard.

Last year, gardening was the last thing on our to-do list. We let everything just kind of die and settle into the winter. But we saw the impact this year. Our vegetables never thrived and even our tried-and-true perennials were a bit lackluster. All spring and summer, I was reminded of the importance of doing the work that leads to rest.

I needed this tangible reminder the planning it takes to enter a season of dormancy and unseen growth. I just returned from a week in Israel-Palestine, listening and learning about the region. It’s an understatement to say all that we experienced was complex. It’s not a two-sided issue or one with easy answers but a constant reminder of the importance of listening to multiple narratives.

I went on this trip expecting it to be a culmination of sorts. A year ago, in the midst of all that home chaos, I left for the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. It was the longest I had left my family and the first time I had done something this big for my own learning. Like any true pilgrimage, I left with more questions than answers, more realization that it was a step along the journey. From there, I enrolled in a class about Indigenous Voices, learning how I can better balance the narrative taught by school and society. Another stepping stone on the way.

I suppose I wanted this trip to Israel-Palestine to bring about all that I had learned. I wanted to walk away with tangible takeaways and next steps. Instead, I entered into the complexity of stories. I traveled with a liberation theologian, who has listened to multiple sides but choses to stand with the oppressed. I met a women who is working in Hebron, one of the most antagonistic areas in the region, listening to her stories of daily aggressions. And I had the privilege of meeting a women whose job is developing curriculum to teach about peace heroes, those men and women who bridged the divides and worked toward mending what seemed impossible.

Again, I left with more questions than answers and wondered what the next steps on this journey would entail.

I like the process and understand its importance but if I’m honest, I often use the journey as a means toward the destination. I like the sound of the journey being the goal in itself but the reality feels so much different. I want to know that all these markers aren’t just for me. But maybe it’s ok if they are. Maybe all that does need to change and deepen is my own perspective.

I was thinking about this past year as I dug our compost into the garden beds. Everything takes so much time. Our compost had been turning and added to all year. We saved our scraps, filled the bins, turned them, and turned them, and turned them. Compost itself takes a long time to make. And then to till them into the soil. To prepare it for six months of quiet and refueling. If you were to visit our home, I doubt you would look at those garden beds in awe. You would see bins of dirt, waiting for spring. All that work for something that looks very similar to what we started with is unseen, unnoticed.

I’m remembering to mark the process on this journey. I don’t know what all of these moments will mean – from our family’s crisis to my own journey to how it impacts the way we parent and raise a new generation. What I do know is that the unseen work of composting and tilling and of getting a garden ready for winter is what reaps benefits in the spring.

Maybe next year we’ll plant a garden that is abundant because of our preparation. Maybe we’ll let the ground lie fallow for a year, letting the nutrients rest and recover. Either way, I feel settled knowing that the work has been done to prepare for that time.

After a year of intense journeying, I’m wondering if I need my own season of lying fallow. Of reading fewer books about these big topics, of staying closer to home, of letting all that I have seen and learned sink it and re-nourish my faith and my outlook.

What are some markers in your own lifelong pilgrimage? What are you learning about the importance of all perspectives and narratives?