Detoxing, Refocusing, and Entering Into Advent

I’m sitting in my living room right now, laptop perched halfway on one knee, halfway on the arm of our old and worn-out chair. The fire is on, snow is covering the branches of the trees outside though the sun has melted it from the sidewalks and streets. My girls are across the street watching a movie with their bestest friend.

Even though it’s cozy and wintery, our house is not yet decorated for Christmas, nor do I have a desire to start early. (No judgement if you’re in the three months of Christmas camp!) I love this week before Thanksgiving. I love easing into the season and being aware. We have our November ritual of thankful leaves each night at dinner, remembering the small and big things we’re grateful for, preparing us for a nightly Advent reading later in the season.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

WordPress recently reminded me that I started this blog about six years ago. Some years were certainly more prolific than others but it’s interesting to think about writing in this space, in this teensy corner of the internet for that long. I’m glad I took the leap and am especially glad for the friends I’ve made because of this space. Of course, I’d do some things differently but I wonder if there’s any experience I’d be completely satisfied with?

One of the hardest parts about the writing world is the idea that you have to keep getting bigger; that there has to be a larger goal that simply blogging. I am so very proud of my friends who have started blogs that have turned into articles that have turned into books. That is pretty impressive! But I find myself comparing their successes to my own goals and dreams. I tried to make things work that didn’t and spent too much time on things that took away from writing.

So, as we enter this Advent season, a time of joy and anticipation, I want to return to the joy of blogging for its own sake. I’m joining my friend, Leslie in a “digital detox” as a way of staying more present in this season. But I’m also joining her because I want to remember why I started writing. I want to blog about the everyday lessons I’m learning and the things I’m into right now. I don’t want to think too much about polish or reach.

I’ve had an idea for an Advent book for preschoolers brewing for a few years now but have been bogged down in the steps I “should” take instead of writing it for me and my family and sharing it with whoever may benefit from a simple guide to the season. Instead of making it into an ebook or trying to sell it, I thought I’d write it here.

So, for Advent, I’ll be quieter on social media. I’ll be using my phone only for communication with people I know. But I may be louder in this space. I want to enter this season thoughtfully, yes, but I also want to reconnect with the small community here. I’m looking forward to using this season to refocus and to spark my own creativity.

What about you? Have you ever done a digital detox? How are you looking to enter this season of Advent?

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?

Review: Take Back Your Time by Morgan Tyree

This year was a pivotal year for my schedule. With Elle in school three mornings a week, I found myself with enough extra time to catch up on dreams and projects while also enjoying the last days of full-time stay-at-home motherhood. It took some weeks of adjustment, but I slowly found a rhythm emerging between time for writing and creativity, volunteering, and taking care of health and fitness.

Now, three months into our school year and with some awkward breaks to mix up the schedule, I’m realizing that I may need a bit more structure to my schedule. It’s one thing to think, Monday mornings are for writing! and quite another to sit down in front of my computer at the library and realize I have no idea where to start. I’m so used to squeezing life into the margins, the wealth of time was crippling!

Enter Take Back Your Time by Morgan Tyree. In this conversational but focused book, Tyree empathizes with women of all walks. From working moms to business women to stay-at-home moms, she understands the stress and struggles of time management.

I’ve read business-based books before and found them helpful – to a point. What I loved about Take Back Your Time is that Tyree acknowledges and affirms all sorts of time constraints. She writes specifically to a broad audience and I felt seen in the pages of her book.

Filled with easy-to-implement strategies and structures, Tyree gives her readers tools and resources to start their time management revolution right away. None of her ideas were so complex that I put them off for another day. They were all simple enough to start right away. She also reminds her readers that, like any habits, new structures will take time and tweaking. I loved that she recognizes that these aren’t systems that will be perfect right away – this is an ongoing practice.

If you’re in a place in life where you see spaces of time where you know its being wasted or misused, this is the perfect book for you. Tyree will help you hone your hours and emerge with more space in your days.

What are tools you use for time management? How do you prioritize moments in your schedule?

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion,

Review: Nice by Sharon Hodde Miller

I had an experience recently where I tried to politely decline a request. I thought I had been clear, firm, and still nice the first time I said, “No, not right now.” The person asking kept asking… and asking… and asking. And each time I said no in a new and still polite way, it became harder. Finally after months, I found myself in a volunteer role I didn’t want and feeling quite resentful toward the whole experience.

In her book, Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, Sharon Hodde Miller describes my experience. She says that niceness for the sake of placating and being polite can often lead to disillusionment and cynicism. Miller isn’t calling for people to be rude or inconsiderate but she does take the stance that we need to be firm, honest, and unwavering.

This starts with responses to requests but is rooted in our faith. In the context of White Churches who stayed quiet during the Civil Rights Movement, Miller reminds us of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s words from Birmingham Jail,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail

Miller expands on King’s statement by saying that in pursuit of niceness, good Christians were, “…committed to the status quo than they were to justice. They were more committed to comfort than they were to courage. They had good intentions – great intentions! – but they weren’t willing to count the cost of them” (pg 77).

Throughout the book, Miller reminds her readers that the fruits of niceness can often be unhealthy and rotten. God calls us to a faith that steps out into the world of justice and pushing against the status quo. It is a faith that is uncomfortable and deep. This can make those around us feel uneasy but by sugarcoating injustices with the excuse of keeping the peace or being polite, we are failing the call of the message of good news.

I appreciate that Miller doesn’t call for unkind confrontation but rather thoughtful subversion and intentional pushback. She warns that niceness can lean to bigger divides than we realize while sacrificing the very character of Jesus.

This book came at the right time for me. It was a reminder to stand firm, not only in my boundaries with others but also in what I’ve learned about my faith itself. How do I engage in thoughtful conversation without ignoring my own convictions?

If you’ve ever been caught in an uncomfortable place because you tried to be too nice, this book is an encouraging reminder that we can be in community while also standing true to our beliefs.

Has being too nice ever gotten you in trouble? How do you balance politeness with conviction?

I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Balancing Environmental Disturbances

The more I learn, the more I unravel. Favorite childhood books are coming under scrutiny and it’s hard to balance nostalgia with a sense of doing better. Last week, I grappled with the idea of Intermediate Disturbance Hypothosis, the idea that too much disturbance is just as harmful as too little diversity. Here’s an excerpt––head over to SheLoves to read the whole essay!

My seven-year-old daughter and I just finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It took us all summer with stops and starts because of camping trips and visits with family. I was amazed at how engaged Bea was in the story since this was the first “capital L” piece of literature we tried.

About halfway through the story, Bea stopped me and declared, “There are no girls in this story! Why not?!”

I turned to the copyright page to check the publication date: 1937. We talked a bit about the time period in which Tolkien was writing—that fantasy wasn’t a “girl’s audience.” Bea wasn’t convinced.

When we finished the book, I asked her how she liked it. She decided it was good but added, “I’m writing two more versions. One with only girls and one with both boys and girls so that they’re even.”

I was recently talking with a friend about the books we read with our children. Should I get rid of all the Dr. Seuss books in our house because of his racist artwork? What about Ma’s fear of the Osage Nation as they built a cabin on occupied land? Should all our books pass the Bechdel test, requiring two named female characters to have a conversation with each other?

Our answer is no… not yet.

My husband read the entire Little House series with Bea. I’ve read The Hobbit with her. Our bookshelves still have well-loved copies of Hop on Pop and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Our answer, as with most of our parenting choices, is really, let’s talk about it. Let’s think critically about our choices. But let’s not ban anything just yet.

As someone who values history and context, I want to raise my girls with a sense of place in time. We are not making decisions in a vacuum—the stories we hear, the politics we support, the ways we think about God are all products of hundreds of years of stories, literature, and collective behaviors. Some of these behaviors are unhealthy, both to us individually and to society as a whole. Most of our western nations have been built on the foundation of colonialism and slavery of some sort. We can’t escape it.

So how do we raise kids who are aware and knowledgeable? How do we start to repair the sins of the past? Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What foundational book do you find yourself questioning today? How do you hold the tension between growth and appreciation for the journey?

The Ten Blessings in “No Other Gods”

I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today introducing our Red Couch Book Club September read, No Other Gods by Ana Levy-Lyons. It’s a book about the Ten Commandments and shifting our view to that of Ten Blessings. Levy-Lyons helped me bring these ancient guidelines into my own daily practices. Here’s an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

This summer, my seven-year-old asked why we need speed limits. I thought a moment before replying, “Well, I think it’s because we have trouble loving our neighbors without rules. In a perfect world, every driver would be thinking about kids playing and other people on the road but sometimes we need laws to help us be safe.” We then went on to talk about other laws that would be solved by remembering to love our neighbor.

This is the crux of No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments by Ana Levy-Lyons. She takes what can often feel like an obvious and antiquated set of rules and brings them into modernity. What do these practices show us about loving God and loving our neighbors?

I find it interesting that it took centuries of human existence before God had to explicitly spell out how we need to interact with each other. Maybe God held out hope that we’d figure it out through natural consequence? Regardless, after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus narrative, the people had trouble blending their routines and expectations. They needed guidelines and a set of non-negotiable boundaries and so the Ten Commandments were given.

I think most of us can map out these ten ways to live: Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery, honor your parents. These are guidelines that make any community run well. I mean, when’s the last time you really struggled with not stealing something or with murderous thoughts?

Levy-Lyons brings these commandments into a “Ten Blessings” type of practice. What does it really mean for us in the twenty-first century to not covet our neighbor’s property? What does it mean for people to honor their parents when they come from an abusive home? I think we’ve all seen how these rules have been distorted to benefit those in power but how do we live them out in our daily lives?

Through the lens of liberation justice, Levy-Lyons breathes new life into this text. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

Have you read No Other Gods? How do you incorporate the Ten Commandments into your life?

Loving My Neighbor Through School Choice

Over the summer we were at a family gathering halfway across the country. It was a lot of catching up and conversation about education came up. A cousin asked if ours was a good school and I hesitated. Yes, our school is an incredible school! We love it and our teachers. My daughter is thriving and her curiosity is encouraged. But it’s also a school that recently went on academic probation. Our test scores are low, mostly due to the fact that we have a large immigrant and refugee population – one of the things that drew us to our neighborhood. I laughed and said, “Good is such a relative marker.”

We went on to talk about the point of education. Is it to ensure our first graders are constantly challenged or is it to build empathy? Is it to check off a list of skills our kids need to know or is it to learn to be in community, to love our neighbors? For our family, we knew we could fill in any academic gaps that may arise on our own. But it would be much harder to expose our kids to families whose values, economic capabilities, and cultural backgrounds are different from our own.

When we moved to our neighborhood, our oldest was two years old – not even in preschool yet. We knew we were moving into one of the most diverse neighborhoods in our state and also into a highly respected school district. When we walked to our neighborhood school, just a block away, on the weekends to play, we were greeted with an enormous sign, announcing its status as a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”

Before having kids, I earned a master’s degree in urban education and taught for seven years at a charter school. I had studied the positive impacts of investing in neighborhood education while also working with families who had decided to choice into a different school. I enjoyed my time at a charter school, mostly because my grade level teammate was an incredible teacher. I knew the gift of working with her wouldn’t come often. Our school was a good fit for a lot of families but teaching at a charter was a reminder that there were excellent teachers there and there were people who would probably thrive in a different profession. The curriculum was good but not great. There were highly involved families and families who outsourced a lot of responsibility to the school. What I’m saying is, charter schools are not a magic cure. They have pros and cons, just like public schools.

As attendance to neighborhood public schools dwindles nationwide, my husband and I believed we were brought to our particular neighborhood for a reason. A natural outgrowth of that was to send our children to the school closest to us, where we could walk and meet other families in our area. Going to our local public school was the perfect opportunity to live out one of the Bible’s greatest commands: To love our neighbor.

Our dreams were realized at our school. Our daughter has had absolutely incredible teachers who love her and have poured into her curiosity. She has interacted with students from all over the world – over 40 cultures are represented. Just like my experience as a teacher, there are families who are highly involved and families who outsource responsibility to the school system. And they aren’t always the families you would expect.

Last year, our school went on academic probation. My husband asked if this impacted my love for our community and honestly, it made me value our school even more. When I volunteer in my daughter’s classroom each week, I see teachers who are highly committed to each and every student. When I spend each Wednesday morning teaching English to our immigrant parents, I see moms who are working hard to give their children the best opportunities. I love knowing I am raising my kids among these incredible families, regardless of what a test score shows.

I know school choice is a complex issue. There are as many reasons for choosing a school as there are schools and students. We all want what’s best for our kids. We have close friends who send their daughter to a private school that represents their minority religion and other friends who have chosen a charter school that offers Spanish immersion. We have friends who are as in love with and committed to their neighborhood schools as we are and we have friends who have chosen other options based on a variety of other needs.

As your kids enter school, I’d encourage you to ask: What motivates your school choiceIs it what’s truly best for your child and your neighbors? Is it motivated by fear of the unknown? 

Lean into where God has planted your family – perhaps there’s a reason … I know I have seen God at work in unexpected ways, right here at our neighborhood school and I am thankful I was here to witness it.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/school-choice-questions-ask/