Transitions When Life is Always the Same

After a particularly dreary winter followed quickly by a stay-at-home order, spring is finally here. Of course, we can’t plant our annuals just yet for fear of another frost, but besides that potential, trees are blooming, windows are wide open for the majority of the day, and the hope of sunshine and an emergence from dormancy are on everyone’s minds.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The changing weather has made me even more aware of our unchanging days. I’m antsy to hang out with my neighbors without hovering at barely six feet away. I want to run to the store without overthinking whether or not it’s truly an essential trip. I want to host friends for dinner and celebrate birthdays and the end of the school year properly.

Our stay-at-home order has changed to a safer-at-home order which really doesn’t change life at all for our family. But the slightly looser mandate combined with the weather have loosened everyone’s outlook on what safety really means. Folks who were vigilant at the beginning are now choosing social functions over staying home. We all perceive “doing our best” and “safer” differently which, for this rule-follower, is stressful.

One friend recently commented that it feels like the beginning of the end. Frank and I were talking later, and reminded of an article that borrowed Winston Churchill’s quote, we’re really at the end of the beginning. We may have enough hospital beds available in this moment but we are far from implementing longterm best practices to safely reopen in a pre-COVID sense of the word.

In a lot of ways, I’m thankful we can at least say there’s a shift from being totally in an unknown state to one that is seeing some sort of change on the horizon. Any sort of movement feels hopeful. But is it?

Next week is Bea’s last week of school. We’re ending early to give staff time to sort out and clean up from distance learning but it means yet another transition, just as we’re settled into a routine. Summer break feels different, too. We’re not anticipating the same need for rest as in years past. Many of our favorite outings will be closed, at least for a little while longer. We’re not sure if summer camp will still be an option to break up the long weeks.

I’ve been thinking about how we can mark transitions in a time when most of our usual markers have been taken away. How can we shift from learning at home to lounging at home? How will we fill our days anew? I have a feeling this summer will be much more structured than years past. Whereas before I had the loosest of loose routines, now I wonder if we’ll need just a bit more guidance to our days.

Maybe this will be the year for each girl to pick one new thing to learn. Maybe we’ll figure out a family project to do. I’ve never been “that” type of summertime mom but maybe this is the year to not only tap into my homeschooling skills but also my organized summer skills. I want to view this next transition as an opportunity to try something new, even if it’s the only year that makes sense for us to do this.

As I watch our trees sprout leaves and our lilac bushes blossom, I’m not as envious at my own lack of change this year. Maybe I’ll have to be more innovative in the transition but it can still be there, teaching me about myself in ways I hadn’t explored before.

How are you viewing the next transitions, whether seasonally or as your own home starts to open up more? How do you mark your days in new ways?

The World is Good

The days are running into each other. I’m not reminded of Groundhog Day, at least not yet, but my general motivation waxes and wanes by the moment. Some days seem doable and I’m ready to do all the things. Other days, I wonder why it really matters whether or not I get up with my alarm. Spring is blossoming in our yard and I’m thankful for the reminders of growth, new life, and beginnings. But with the warmer weather, I’m achingly reminded that we can’t hang out with our neighbors; that our kids are incapable of riding bikes without getting too close.

It’s an odd season of blessings and loses. All the things I’m so grateful for are simultaneously stark reminders of things we are missing.

Early in our social distancing turned stay at home journey, I watched a sermon from our old church. The opening song was All Things New by Andrew Peterson. The refrain has stuck with me the past few weeks as we have sweet moments and hard moments:

The world was good
The world is fallen
The world is being redeemed

All Things New by Andrew Peterson

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that these days are filled with higher highs and lower lows than usual. Our family is connecting and the girls are playing together in the sweetest ways. But there’s also tender emotions and underlying anxieties that are simmering just below the surface. These weeks – and the weeks to come – are truly a lesson in living in the tension of liminality.

When I first listened to this song, I started to cry. Rachael, the co-pastor of Highlands Church in charge of worship, had slightly changed the lyrics from past tense to present: The world is good. When life feels hard and overwhelming; when I just want an end date; when I want clear directions and guidance from people who know more than me; when my heart aches for those whose homes aren’t safe and who can’t use this time in productive ways, I remember that what gives me hope is that the world is good right now and that the world is being redeemed right now.

But in the middle of the good and the redeemed, we remember the world is also fallen. I don’t think fallen means bad but it is a reminder of how very broken we are. Our systems are broken and are failing so many vulnerable people; our earth is broken and overextended from our constant use; our bodies are broken and unable to fight this disease.

In many ways, I’m thankful that this is happening in the midst of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. This is the whole point, right? That our hope is in the redemption. We don’t live in the brokenness, though that is certainly part of reality – both now and in normal times. We remember the goodness of our world now and the world that is to be.

How are you experiencing the goodness in the midst of the fallen? Where are you finding your hope during this particular moment?

Saving My Live – COVID-19 Edition

We are just over 24-hours into a stay at home order and on day -5 of home learning. Our spring break started this gradual-but-fast lockdown and I’m so thankful we had a full week to rest, get outside, and not worry about schedules, routines, and the rest of the school year. This past week has been a “soft start” to finding new routines and rhythms. We’ve gotten outside as much as possible, knowing that even our trails may be taken away if we’re not responsible.

Frank and I were reflecting on the tension of this new normal. In some ways, staying at home and together suits our family dynamic well. The girls love slow mornings, self-guided learning, and playing together (most of the time!) Frank has moved his office to the basement and we are so thankful for the fact that he already had a dedicated space mostly set up – it didn’t take much to switch over completely. I created workspaces for the girls in our library, right in the center of our house. And yet, there’s always that reminder that this sweet time is happening because the world isn’t normal. While I love having Frank home for every meal in the midst of tax season, I also recognize that this shouldn’t be happening.

But also in the midst of all the unknown, spring is arriving. The bulbs in our front yard are blooming and I wanted to take a moment to reflect on those seasonal changes that are saving my life. Like everything else, they look different than usual and specific to our circumstances. I think it’s important to mark these moments and I hope you will, too in the coming days and weeks.

In no particular order, these are my current lifesavers:

Republic of Tea Daily Greens
I had bought these packets of dried micro-greens back in January as an impulse buy at World Market and have been mixing them into water for occasional mid-afternoon energy slumps. These days, I’ve made them part of my daily routine. Usually, I enjoy them after our outdoor excursion while the girls are watching some pre-dinner screentime. I know it’s mostly psychological but in these day of limited freedom, I enjoy an extra boost of greens.

Nivea Creme
I brought several tins of Nivea Creme back from Paris last May and bought a few more this winter because Bea’s hands were drying out from the soap at school. With increased washing, I would massage it into her chapped hands each night. Now that we’re home and not using industrial soap, her hands have healed but using the creme has been a nightly help as we’re all still washing more than usual.

Quiet Rest
We haven’t done “quiet rest” since Bea was four years old. (I never really tried when Elle gave up her naps.) But now that we’re in close proximity and together all day long, an hour after lunch in our own bedrooms is necessary. Bea listens to an Audible book, Elle watches Storyline Online, and I’ve been working my way through Me and White Supremacy. I leave my phone downstairs and try to keep this time to truly rest. Earlier this week I was feeling heavy and sad and I was thankful for time to nap and rest my body.

Nightly Opera
We’ve started watching the Met Opera channel each night after dinner. We usually just get about a half hour in before bedtime but it’s been a fun way to end our evenings. Some operas spark our imagination and the girls beg for more at breakfast. This week is all Wagner and it’s a bit intense so we’ll just start it but usually don’t continue. We’ve never watched an entire 3-hour performance but I love introducing the girls to one of my favorite things.

Outdoor Spaces
Last but certainly not least is getting outside every day. I’ve never been so thankful for our backyard but there’s also something wonderful about getting out of our neighborhood. We have a state park just ten minutes away with a large network of trails. It’s been easy to find secluded areas to play and explore without running into other people. Watching other areas in the world and in our nation shut down even more because people aren’t following instructions, I want to be sure to get the girls out on trails as much as possible in case they close.

I know that these lifesavers will likely change often but for now, these simple things are what keeps me grounded. We are doing our best to follow the most extreme version of the guidelines so that we can help flatten the curve quickly and effectively.

What is saving your life in these early days of spring? How are they different in light of COVID-19?

Review: Defiant by Kelley Nikondeha

Before I begin, I want to give a full disclosure: Kelley is a dear friend – one with whom I chat every day (sometimes several times a day!) I had the honor of reading the very first draft of Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom back when it was loosely called Exodus Strong. She and I finally met in person last October in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Our week toodling around Israel-Palestine cemented an already wonderful friendship.

I say this because there is no way I can write an impartial review of Defiant. But I will say, Kelley was one of my favorite theologians, long before we became friends. I had followed her essays over at SheLoves Magazine and then was on the launch team for her first book, Adopted where I tried not to fan-girl… too much!

Beyond our friendship, Kelley’s ability to research a passage in the Old Testament and then use that knowledge mixed with her sanctified imagination to bring to life the stories of the twelve women of Exodus is awe-inspiring. From known women like Jochabed and Miriam to naming and filling in the stories of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah and diving into the Seven Sisters of Midian, we are introduced to a world of women whose stories were sidelined for centuries. Kelley weaves into the biblical narratives modern women who defy Pharonic Forces, from Emily Schindler to Ahed Tamini and Bree Newsome.

Defiant is a book written to give home in perilous times and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate season for its launch. I know we’re all looking to freshen our bookshelves in this season of quarantine and social distancing. Do yourself a favor and order it now, before Amazon demotes books to nonessential delivery schedules.

Living a Still Life

Our COVID-19 disruptions conveniently began with Spring Break. I spent the week before shopping a bit more – buying an extra bottle of olive oil and making sure we had some veggie soup frozen for later but I really didn’t think to systematically go through my cupboards until an emergency was announced and schools closed a day early.

We went to the mountains for a couple days, a trip already planned and one that seemed to align with the instructions to socially distance from our friends and neighbors. We needed those couple days in the sunshine and fresh air, with blue skies for our hikes and incredible views from our windows.

Now we’re back and still technically on break but a new reality is looming. Our governor has already extended the school closures to the end of April and we’re waiting to hear what online learning will entail. There are a lot of unknowns and I’m thankful that this is coming in this season when I’m used to staying home with the girls and crafting new schedules and rhythms for each season.

I’ve been hesitant to make big goals, for myself or the girls, partly because things are changing so rapidly and partly because I don’t want to add stress to an already stressful situation.

Still Life, Pitcher and Fruit Paul Cezanne 1894

I’ve always loved still life paintings and how they give us a glimpse into what was important at a certain moment in time. In the seventeenth century, Dutch painters would create still life scenes to depict wealth and status – each wheel of cheese and vase of flowers told a story about a family. Later, impressionists like Paul Cezanne reimagined still life scenes to show the everyday moments of everyday people. Vincent Van Gogh painted garden flowers and items anyone would find in nearby fields.

Then I read this from The Art of Life by Joan Chittister, in her March reflections around still life paintings:

I, for one, know how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic and miss the power of the mundane, the wisdom of the daily, the comfort of regularity, the unexciting exciting dimensions of what it means to be really alive. And yet my life cries out for more and more and more of it always.

Joan Chittister, “The Art of Life”

I needed this reminder as we stay close to home and lean into the still life mentality. What is important for our family in this season? We’ll do the schoolwork our district assigns and we’ll have a rhythm to our days because we need that. But I want to teach my girls to look for the still life – for the mundane, for the wisdom of the daily, and for comfort in regularity.

I want them to look back on these months as a time we connected as a family, a time that we learned to argue and forgive in ways we didn’t need to before, a time in which we were together.

I think one of the things we’ll do to start this new reality is create our own still life drawings. I want us to create a tangible reminder that this is a moment to observe, to mark in time, and to share what is most valuable to our family.

Will you join us? I’d love to hear what your still life looks like in this moment.

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?