Reframing the Story Arc

Have you ever played that game, If you could only have one book forevermore on a desert island, which one would it be?

800px-Freytags_pyramid.svgSometimes, I feel like I’m playing that game with the girls. We listen to the same song over and over again in the car; Elle always reads Goodnight, Moon or Quiet Time with Cassatt before naptime; I sing Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs every night before bed with Bea.

I totally get it. Already I see the benefits of repetition as Bea is reading more and more and recognizing familiar words in unfamiliar texts. But it can also be mind-numbing. It makes me really reconsider which one book I would want on a desert island. (And, no. The Complete Works of Shakespeare doesn’t count.)

I’ve been having some conversations with really smart women about reframing the Bible’s traditional story arc. What would hope and expectation look like if Jesus, the Cross, and Resurrection wasn’t the climax of the story? What if we moved that all to the beginning? What if Heaven and the New Earth were set as the rising action? I’m just starting to mull all of these over, and I don’t know where they’re all going.

What I am learning is that the traditional story arc doesn’t apply to a lot of life. Seemingly right and wrong points of view are never as cut and dry. Conflict is made up of layers and layers rather than sides and clear lines. Redemption rarely follows the path I think that it should.

During one of these conversations, a friend suggested picking one part of the Bible and spending a year just with that. Look closely at the story and what the arc seems to be with what we know. Carefully peel back the layers of the text. Read books and commentaries about it.

I just finished reading the Bible in a year (though really, it took about two and a half years…) and I’m so glad I finally read it from cover to cover. But honestly? It didn’t really help with my understanding at all. It gave a foundation and overview, but I really do need to view this as a lifetime read – something that I slow down and take my time.

I’m learning that to walk humbly with God probably means to recognize that I don’t know the story arc at all. That I need to spend a lifetime reframing the rising action and climax. And that most likely, God’s story arc doesn’t look anything like the literary arc I’ve been taught.

My friend said that she hopes God is way more creative than we imagine and that even redemption and the New Earth is just the very beginning of the story. Who knows what worlds are to come?

Where do you find Jesus on the story arc? How have your views on the story journey been reframed?

BackyardThis post is Day 23 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

A Blessing for Walking Humbly

On Sundays, I thought I’d highlight a blessing to start our week. This week’s theme is walking humbly and this song from Heatherlyn Music immediately came to mind. Heatherlyn was our artist in residence at church a year ago and her music has changed the way I worship.

EVER by Heatherlyn Music

Peace, ever
Joy, ever
Following you
Light, ever
Love, ever
Radiating through

Hope, ever
Faith, ever
Strengthening you
Life, ever
Breath, ever
Nourishing you

And everywhere you go, may you always be home
And everyone you meet, be messengers of peace

Let your light shine through
And your heart ever be true
Move in grace and gratitude
And walk in wisdom, sharing all that’s good

Peace, ever
Joy, ever
Following you
Light, ever
Love, ever
Radiating through

And everywhere you go, may you always be home
And everyone you meet, be messengers of peace

May we choose courageously
May we hope defiantly
May we love outrageously
And walk on lightly, in humility

Beauty and laughter, ever filling you
Friendship, affection, surrounding you

BackyardThis post is Day 22 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Engaging in Uncomfortable Topics

Sometimes the idea of befriending the checker at the grocery store or volunteering with refugees seems too daunting. It may be outside my comfort zone to strike up a 32075671conversation in the park or I may not have enough extra hours to volunteer somewhere. Does this mean learning about people who believe differently, who look differently, or who are in a different economic bracket is out of our ability?

This is what I love about reading. I may not be able to have coffee with every refugee or march in every demonstration but I can get to know people outside the news headlines and stereotypes through a well-written memoir or well-researched novel.

Earlier this year, I compiled a list of books to help see the “other,” but I thought I’d add a few to it today.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
If you want to read more about immigration and refugees.
This powerful collection of short stories focuses on Vietnamese immigrants who have been displaced and affected by the Vietnam War. Honestly, this is a group of immigrants I don’t think about much. They aren’t in the news; the war ended before I was born, so it seems like history. However, it’s not ancient history. Our involvement in this war has shaped the way we view the military and our world responsibility today. These stories made me think about the lasting impact of our foreign policies and the displacement involved.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
If you want to read more about women’s rights, equality, and oppression.
This was a well… difficult book to read. Most of these fictional short stories included some sort of sexual abuse or violence. They were incredibly hard to read. The reason I always recommend Roxane Gay is because she does not tie up these stories with a neat, redemptive bow. She keeps them incredibly raw and real. After the recent #metoo stories that flooded social media, I think we could all do with a bit more discomfort and openness to hearing the stories of abuse survivors.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
If you want to read more about police engagement in predominantly black neighborhoods.
This book follows the story Starr, a high school girl after she witnesses her best friend shot in a “routine traffic stop.” It’s an incredibly timely book and, while it will make many people uncomfortable, I think that’s the point. Thomas does a good job of bringing the lasting reality of police bias and resulting misconduct to life. This is a young adult novel and, like most YA novels tie everything up with a tidy ending. I guess, at 15, I wanted that type of ending too, but I need to remind myself when I start to roll my eyes.

What are some novels that have helped you learn about uncomfortable topics?

BackyardThis post is Day 21 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

The Courage to Unlearn

Whenever I’ve flown across the ocean, there’s a moment when I’ve looked down and only seen water. It’s a different feeling, knowing that there is no land for miles and miles. IMG_5455I’ve never taken a long boat ride or a cruise, but I wonder what that feeling of losing sight of the land is like? Knowing that one is truly out to sea?

I am at my best when I am learning new things. When I remember that my life experience and outlook are limited and that I need to dig in and listen to more stories, I feel alive and active.

This week has been incredibly busy but incredibly filling. From discussions that are shifting my view of the narrative arc I’ve always had of the Bible to learning about next steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; from Voxing about books and travel and cultures to teaching English language learners the meaning of Small Talk, this week has been filled with a lot of conversations and perspectives that are giving me pause and creating a shift in my thinking.

I’m reminded of the Andre Gide quote,

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.

Andre Gide, The Counterfeiters

In so much of my thinking and perspective, I love taking small day-trip sails out into new waters but I usually keep the shoreline in sight. I find security in being tethered to what I already know and perceive.

What I’m learning is the importance of going out farther, deeper, without the safety of the shore. That takes courage and a good, knowledgeable guide but I’m feeling more and more ready to take what I’m learning to some new levels. When I do this, my outlook is kinder and more empathetic. It’s certainly uncomfortable, unlearning and relearning, but I think this path of discovery is worth that.

What’s something you’ve had to unlearn recently? How do you balance growth and discovery?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “discover.”

BackyardThis post is Day 20 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

The Practice of Kindness

When we moved into our neighborhood, there was an empty field next to our cul-de-sac. I suppose it was only a matter of time before our neighborhood started growing, just like everywhere else in the city and suburbs. Now, part of our daily routine is to walk over to look at the tractors.

IMG_6768At least two or three times a day, Elle likes to check on the progress. The workers have become enamored with her and have even offered to let her drive the tractor, whenever she’s ready. (The verdict so far is that it’s too scary!!)

We wave, say hi, and make friends. It’s a small act, but every day a smile seems to make a difference and the men love asking her questions and telling me about their own kids. They invite us to look at their progress and tell us where to stand for the best view of the giant machines at work.

Yesterday, we were walking home from school and the girls got into an argument over an umbrella. Elle threw herself on the ground and Bea sulked off toward home. I kept an eye on Bea and was finally getting Elle situated when Bea rounded the corner. By the time we got home, I couldn’t find Bea anywhere.

She wasn’t in the house. I called out back. I ran around our cul-de-sac. I asked the workers if they had seen her. They immediately stopped what they were doing, hopped in their trucks, turned the flashing lights on, and patrolled the neighborhood.

As it turned out, Bea was sitting in the side yard, “taking a quiet moment.” I ran back to the construction site to let everyone know that Bea was found.

This had me reflecting on the practice of kindness. My first inclination isn’t to make friends with random workers nearby. But, they’ve been our neighbors, in a sense, for the better part of a year and will be around much longer. I love that Elle came to look at tractors but created a friendship in the meantime.

It’s made me think about natural relationships that I may be overlooking. Who are the moms I see frequently at the park? What about taking time to get to know the checker at the grocery store who opens his aisle specifically for us? (Elle has a way with strangers!) How am I showing kindness, loving my neighbor, getting to know them a bit more?

I just finished taking a class about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around but one takeaway was remembering the practice of kindness. It’s hard to vilify someone you actually know. It’s hard to demonize people you share dinner with or talk with about your kids. When we intentionally practice kindness, even to those who seem to be an enemy, how does our perspective shift?

I’m a fan of the underdog and tend to side with them first and foremost. But I’m learning to stop, to listen, and to remember to show kindness, even when it seems too difficult.

I suppose kindness is like most things in life. It seems to come easily and naturally to my kids, who rarely see strangers for long. It becomes more and more difficult, the older and “wiser” I get. It takes practice to reintroduce this requirement.

Perhaps showing kindness to an enemy is just too much right now. But showing kindness to the construction workers down the street might be a good place to start.

Where can you practice kindness? Is there a tangible place you can stretch yourself a bit?

BackyardThis post is Day 19 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Kindness Takes Courage

The way to Elle’s heart is sharing. When Bea gave her a cinnamon cracker, leftover from her school snack, Elle beamed the entire walk home, showing me the cracker and exclaiming, Bea shared with ME!

IMG_7052I don’t know when I started changing my language, but when the girls do things for each other, I use the word kind instead of nice. So when Elle showed me her cracker, I responded, That was so kind of Bea!

When I think about our family’s values, kindness goes much farther than niceness. Sure, I want my kids to be nice but I would rather that they are fiercely kind. One one level, these words seem interchangeable so I decided to look them up.

It’s no wonder I prefer kind over nice. The origin of nice comes from the Latin word nescire or “ignorant,” which evolved to the Old French word nescius or “foolish.” It wasn’t until the 1700’s that nice became synonymous with pleasant. (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

The word kind has a much different story, originating from the Old English word cynd which has evolved to kin, or family. (Merriam-Webster dictionary) If you Google kind, one of the definitions that comes up is “each of the elements (bread and wine) of the Eucharist.”

No wonder kind has so much more depth and substance! To be kind is to treat someone like family, to love them as kin.

I know that the ancient Hebrew text wouldn’t have used the word kind. In fact, the New International Version of the verse translates it as, “to love mercy.” The Message paraphrase reads, “be compassionate and loyal in your love.”

I suppose it’s a reminder that words and translations matter and that how we read a text depends on the lens in which we view it. However, I think I’m going to stick with “love kindness.” Kindness feels accessible to my everyday life. This doesn’t mean it’s easy or natural; but it’s a word I use naturally and one I can understand easily.

To me, kindness means sharing. Not just sharing our cinnamon snack cookies, but sharing life together. Sharing a meal, sharing in silence, sharing in heartache and joy. When I scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feeds and read countless women (and men) saying, #metoo, I sit in kindness, sharing their grief. When I read the news of natural disasters both here and abroad, I sit in kindness and sorrow for nations who don’t have the infrastructure to rebuild or assist quickly.

Sitting in kindness isn’t passive; it’s not sweet or gentle. Kindness takes courage to not shift into the more tepid niceness. Kindness might look obstinant or threatening to the status quo. Kindness might push back against oppression. But I don’t think kindness is aggressive or mean. Kindness is remembering the humanity in all sides of an issue or disagreement.

I’m learning that kindness looks like listening to both sides, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion or that I don’t stand with the oppressed. I beleive this fierce kindness can change the world, activiely bringing restoration.

How do you interact with words and translations? (Which Bible translation is your favorite?) How do you see active kindness in your community?

BackyardThis post is Day 18 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Kindness Looks Different Every Day

I just finished writing my post about being kind to yourself when I completely flipped out on the family of disgusting pigs I live with. I have a fairly long fuse when it comes to building-blocks-1563961_960_720clutter and everyday filth. I quickly learned that nap time is my time and I rarely clean or do chores. The playroom is a constant source of stress but not enough for me to actually do something about it. I have an idealistic hope with realistic expectations of what living with young kids is like.

But when the end of my fuse is reached, there is absolutely nothing that seems right. Every speck of dust makes me think that we are wallowing in the depths of unhygienic dispair.

After skipping church for a much-needed pajama morning, we were herding everyone toward the car for some playground and pumpkin picking family time. I looked at our toy-strewn dining room table with crusted leftover sauce from dinner a few nights ago and the idea of leaving this house became too much.

Frank suggested I stay home and write. His go-to solution for these moods is that I need quiet time to read or write. And he’s mostly correct. After he drove the girls off, I recognized that I couldn’t write when I knew what was looming upstairs. So, I did a quick tidy, vacuumed, and wiped down the table. Our bathroom and kitchen counters still need to be cleaned. There are toys on the floor that I vacuumed around. Yet, it was just enough for me to be in a better space mentally.

I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert who said something along the lines that if you want to pursue creativity, you have to give something up. Meaning, there is not enough time in the day to write and clean and make beautiful fall memories and take a nap and exercise and…. We have to choose. We have to prioritize. We can’t have it all. (Does anyone know this quote? I googled all sorts of ideas but couldn’t find it.)

I need to remember this in my own path toward kindness. Sometimes (most times) being with my family wins above writing or cleaning or whatever else is on my to-do list. But sometimes, I have to skip the pumpkin patch so that I can vacuum and write and be quiet.

The vacuuming took less than ten minutes. Could I have done it another time? Sure. But, it was getting in the way of my outlook–toward myself, toward my kids, and toward my mental wellbeing.

I’m learning that there’s no prescriptive formula for self-kindness. What I need one day will be different from what I need another day. I need to remember this as I pursue loving kindness toward my neighbors. What they need one day won’t be the same isn’t what they might need on a different day.

As we learn to love kindness, I think this is important to remember. We are complex beings who need all sorts of different things. When we remember this and learn to shift with our ideas of kindness, perhaps we’ll understand each other a bit more.

How do you enter into a creative space? Do you have to have a clean workspace or are you ok with a bit of clutter? 

BackyardThis post is Day 17 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.