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?

One September Morning

I think my baby girl was about 6 weeks old when I first felt the itch to expand our world beyond the hammock in our backyard. While I loved snuggling my sweet newborn, I knew we needed a community. I was one of the first in our group of friends to have a baby and so I didn’t have a lot of stay-at-home girlfriends to lean on.

I remember typing in “MOPS near me” to Google one morning, knowing that an aunt of mine was a MOPS mentor for a group at her church in California. As little pinpoints filled the map on my screen, I wondered how I would pick one of the several groups that met within a couple miles of our house.

When my daughter woke from her morning nap, I closed my computer, packed a diaper bag with more essentials than I would ever bring with our second baby, strapped Bea into her car seat, clicked it into the stroller, and walked up the block on our first outing to our neighborhood library’s Book Babies hour.

Of course, we arrived late because that’s what moms of newborns do. As I unloaded and sat in the back of the group, a mom without a baby in her lap leaned over with a smile and welcomed me. Later, during “free play” time, she asked for my life story. Kathy is one of those women who probably knows details about everyone she’s in contact with––from regulars in the checkout line to those at her church. She has the ability to ask all the right questions and to make anyone feel safe and comfortable.

As we talked, she invited me to the MOPS group that had just started at her church. It was one of the farthest in my Google search but still only a five- minute drive from our house. I decided that this conversation was Divine Intervention. A few days later, I walked into a church and was greeted with coffee, muffins and women who wanted to know me. Kathy wasn’t there but she had told the leader about a new mom she had met at the library. This group was expecting me and I knew I had found my home.

As I sat at a table, holding my baby, watching the other moms work on a craft project, another mom asked if she could hold Bea so I could make my own craft. Before I knew it, April was bouncing her next to our table as I found myself with baby-free arms for the first time since giving birth.

It’s been seven years since that moment and I can now say with confidence, that morning was life-changing. These women have become our family’s close friends. We’ve celebrated birthdays and baby showers together, we’ve gone to each other’s homes for dinners and watch each other’s kids in a pinch. Recently, my family switched from our church of 10 years to fully commit to the community at our MOPS church. It has always been home, even though it took us time to realize that.

Looking back, that day in September seems so random. It’s rare when God speaks so loudly or so quickly to my questions. As school starts back, I’m looking for those nudges again. Where is God leading me? What relationships do I need to invest in? What volunteer opportunities will fit our family in this season? How will I look back on this season and recognize that God was speaking loud and clear?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/mops-story-one-september-morning

Living On the Edge

This summer I did something completely outside my comfort zone. I composed an unsent letter and read it to an audience of strangers. I was one of about 15 or so people who read letters that ranged in mood and theme. One woman responded to a misogynistic text sent after a first date; an Uber driver wrote responses to his passengers; one woman wrote about an abortion and another wrote a letter to America through the lens of her experience as a black woman.

My letter was one of the tamer ones, written to a group of friends I lost a few years ago due to circumstance and misunderstanding. It was a healing process – I knew my feelings were hurt but I hadn’t realized how I hung onto those hurts.

I took away two lessons from this experience. First, we need to listen to more stories. Each person spoke between 5 and 10 minutes and, as an audience member, all you could do was listen and applaud at the end for their bravery. Folks were vulnerable and I was reminded that there are so many stories just below the surface, waiting to be told. It is powerful to be in a space in which my only response is to listen – no asking questions, no personal connections, no feedback. I need more of this in my life.

My second takeaway is how incredible it is to do something completely outside my norm. I lead a very routine and quiet life. And I like it that way. I like knowing that our meals are planned and that school pickup looks about the same everyday. I like having rhythms and expected behaviors to guide my days. But it is invigorating to do something new, something scary, something that gave me butterflies in my stomach the week before my performance.

It was a reminder to push my boundaries and to say “yes” to opportunities that make me nervous or that I don’t seem qualified for. It’s also made me wonder what I need to pursue, without invitation. What are some dreams I may have or even just some ideas that are bubbling below the surface?

As we transition from summer to school-season, I’m thinking of adding just one big risk to my days. Maybe I’ll fail at it or maybe it will teach me something new about myself. Either way, I want that feeling of challenge and a break from the average days. I don’t know what this will look like and perhaps the opportunity won’t present itself until months from now. At any rate, I’m calming my expectations and keeping my eyes open for something that will help me take a leap.

What are some new risks you’re taking? How do you intentionally pursue something outside your norm?

Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/

The View from My Kitchen Table

When you come to our house for dinner, depending on where you sit at the long farmhouse-style table, you’ll get a certain glimpse into our life and values. Perhaps you’ll sit facing the living room. You’ll see a large photograph taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our friend took the photo looking up at the sky. Not everyone sees the red rock canyon in the picture. Some see fabric fluttering in the breeze. Others see an abstract swirl of orange, yellow, and red. In front of the photo are black and white photos of our family.

Perhaps you’ll sit facing the library with a view of full and semi-organized bookshelves. You’ll see a collection of favorite cookbooks, a chess table made from reclaimed wine barrels and scattered with craft projects as well as chess pieces. You’ll see two paintings of elephants, bought on a safari in South Africa and a photograph of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons.

Maybe you’ll sit facing the bank of windows that give you a view of our backyard. You’ll see two swings hanging from trees, places for our girls to play and connect with each other. You might have a view of our large pink poster with a Francis Bacon reproduction of a gorilla. I bought it at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, lugged it across France and Italy, and kept it for over a decade, waiting for the perfect spot to frame and hang it. Behind it hangs a wall of mugs from our favorite museums.

Our home is filled with treasures from our past adventures, our love of art and the stories it tells, and pieces from places we weave into our family story. Our girls know that the world is a small place; that Frank and I love learning from nature and from other cultures, and deep sense of curiosity is infused on our walls.

I just returned from my grandma’s memorial service in California. She was the last of my grandparents and close great-aunts and -uncles to pass away. For me, she closes out a generation that has shaped my values and worldview.

One of my fondest memories of my grandma comes from her own kitchen table. Set in the corner of her green and yellow kitchen, I would sit at a chair and see a knickknack cupboard filled with trinkets from around the world. Some were collected from my grandparent’s travels. Some were gifted from friends. I loved looking at those little objects, imagining the places they represented.

I never really thought about my grandma’s legacy in my own decorating style but I see it everywhere. Our home is a gateway into storytelling and a reminder that our world is smaller than we think. That other cultures shape all of us, both in big and small ways.

I just got home last night from a weekend of remembering an exceptional woman. But this weekend also rounded out an whole month of family––from a triennial reunion with cousins and second cousins and third cousins–– to a week in Philadelphia staying up too late making all the sweet memories with cousins to hosting various family throughout the month. I’ll be sitting with all I’ve learned in July for a while, I think. Mostly, I’m thankful for such a tangible opportunity to appreciate and honor all the ways my family has shaped the woman and mother I’m becoming.

In another week of shocking national news, I’m returning to my kitchen table. I’m remembering to start small, with my own daughters. We’ll look at pictures that represent different cultures; we’ll have conversations about our friends and neighbors who are immigrants and gun owners alike; we’ll bicker over whose turn it is to pray for the food and we’ll do all the small routines that make up our evenings.

Life can feel overwhelming and I’m remembering that, in the midst of it all, the view from our kitchen table will shape and define my girls’ worldview far more than I realize. If you’re feeling a bit lost these days––for whatever reason––take a look at what you see from where you eat. Use that space as a reminder of your values and hopes for this world.

Describe the view from your kitchen table. How does it define you?