When You Outgrow Books You Loved

One year in high school, my best friend and I decided to take “Independent Reading Seminar.” I thought this would be a good way to catch up on reading outside of class. What we didn’t realize is that it was an English classed aimed at students who didn’t read. The goal of the class was to teach high schoolers that reading is fun! Essentially, we got credit to read Teen Vogue, comic books, newspapers, or anything with printed words.

510VwbbHZkL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I decided to use my time to tackle The Fountainhead for an essay contest I was entering. The 700-page novel was longer than anything any of the other students had read and it earned me the title of “smartest kid in the class.” Without that dedicated time, I’m not sure I would have finished that heavy tome.

I’m not sure if I was the target age for The Fountainhead or not. In many ways, reading it at seventeen made the book much more impactful than if I had read it at twenty-seven. The themes of individuality and idealism made my teenage heart sing. As a questioner and overthinker, I didn’t fit into many groups in high school. I certainly wasn’t an outlier, but I wasn’t popular or nerdy or athletic or any of the things that truly gave you a group. So, the idea of fighting the system, of living true to your values, no matter what, gave me hope for the future.

Since then, I’ve read several more of Ayn Rand’s work. The older I’ve gotten, the less I connect with her particular brand of individualism and ideals. I’d say my favorite of the books I’ve read by her is We the Livingwhich is an autobiographical novel. That one helped me understand more of Rand’s need to push violently against and hints at too much community or communist overtones. I get that she experienced the harshest and most distorted expression of communism.

So, even though the values expressed in novels like The Fountainhead aren’t the values I’m living out today, this novel will always hold a special place in my journey toward creating my own idealism and way of thinking.

What book impacted you at a young age that doesn’t necessarily reflect your values today?

A (1)This post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. You can find the entire series over at my A Literary Life page. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Creating Space In a Crowded Week

This week has felt mentally crowded. Frank’s had to work late in preparation for the tax extension deadline so bedtime has been on my own. But what’s really thrown me for a loop is that Elle has decided to stop napping. Right when I thought I was going to have two mornings a week to myself and an afternoon of quiet, it’s become a battle.

IMG_0627I decided to handle this shift in routine like the mature and capable adult that I am. I grumped and threatened and got really, really annoyed. How dare my three-year-old ruin my ME time?!

Often, my go-to defense is to turn inward. I go into a self-sufficient mode, I don’t ask for help, and I don’t vent to my friends. This usually doesn’t help anything. I finally emerged from this space, went for a walk with a friend, Voxed another friend who has kids farther along than mine and gained some perspective.

I realized I need to recalibrate my expectations. Much like sleep regression, we need to start a new naptime training and move toward “quiet rest time.” Maybe on the days when it’s too much of a fight, we run errands or do other chores. Maybe we’ll go for a hike. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the woe is me feeling isn’t helpful. It has me reflecting on the ways life so often doesn’t go according to plan. I expect to enter a new season with grace and ease, floating through the transition beautifully. The reality usually is something quite different.

I hope what I’ve learned from this start-of-the-school-year nap boycott is to step back and assess what I can do when life doesn’t go according to plan. I know I can always throw a fit, but maybe there’s another way. Maybe next time, I’ll go for a walk first or Vox my friend with the gritty parts of life.

That’s what community is all about. I’m hoping that by leaning in, I find space to breathe this next week. That this crowded feeling eases and we move into a new rhythm.

How do you deal with the unexpected? What’s your best way of dealing with these crowded weeks?

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

Harvest Comes at the End of the Season

Even though we’re back in school and everyone is looking forward to all things autumn and pumkiny, our garden is still in the height of harvest season. We planted our veggies at the end of May and spent most of the summer watering and watching our plants grow. We have volunteer spaghetti squash from last year (or from the compost – who knows?) and we have an abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes. Our squash had an ok year and our green peppers were the best we’ve ever seen.

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Photo by Chad Stembridge on Unsplash

I always get antsy for our harvest in mid-July. The plants are big and leafy but we get very few vegetables. Maybe a zucchini or yellow squash, but nothing impressive. Not yet. I always have to remind myself that the harvest really happens in August and into September. In fact, by the end of September, many tomatoes wither on the vine because we’re already moving on to more wintery recipes. (I know this makes us terrible farmers but it’s true every year.)

We’re three full weeks into our second year at our walkable neighborhood school. First graders still need a parent to pick them up and, even though this sometimes conflicts with Elle’s afternoon rest, I don’t mind carrying a sleepy preschooler to pick up her sister each day. These twice-daily treks to school have become a ritual of community that I would miss if we drove or if Bea rode the bus.

The faculty knows us and always say hello. We greet parents who are new friends and wave and connect with those we knew from last year. We walk home with a group of latch-key kids I’m getting to know better and yesterday I sent a note home with one of those girls, asking her mom to text about a play date.

Women from my Family Literacy group who have moved up due to language gains stop me, saying they wish they were in the beginner class so we could still see each other. Bea’s best friend’s mom joined Family Literacy and we got together last Saturday for henna.

IMG_0605If last year was for starting small roots in new soil, this year is seeing the shoots come up from our work. I don’t think we’re even into the leafy stage yet but I’m starting to see the results of our seeds. Last year, I was so excited about our new school and all we experienced that first year. Our kindergarten teacher was incredible! I made friends through Family Literacy! It was feeling like home.

And just shy of a month in, I’m amazed at how much deeper these relationships are growing. Even our new friendships feel deeper somehow, knowing we’ve been here a year and we’re committed for the next seven or so years as our girls progress.

Someone recently said that the word season is an overused term, especially in Christian culture, but as I watch our garden flourish, even when I’m ready to wind down and move into a cozier place, I can’t think of a more apt comparison.

We have planted seeds and are watching them poke out of the soil. I’m remembering that planting takes time, that vegetables don’t ripen until the very end of summer, and that our bounty gets us ready for a new season entirely.

I’m remembering, as we transition and make space with one foot in this new community and one still firmly in our preschool community, that I most likely won’t see the actual fruits of the intentional relationships we’re making for quite some time. Friendships take time and cultivation and community doesn’t happen quickly – no matter how I wish it would.

I’m learning to enjoy this space. To look at my plants with pride and anticipation of the fruits they will bear. I know not to rush things but to walk gently through the process.

What overused metaphor do you love for your life? Are you a gardener? How do you handle waiting for your harvest? 

The Highs and Lows of Summer

At night when we eat dinner, we like to go around the table and share “highs and lows.” Something good that has happened in the day and something that wasn’t so great. Elle doesn’t quite understand the idea and hers often go something like, “My high was going to the zoo with mommy and Bea. And my low was seeing daddy when he got home!” Maybe it’s that her life is truly one big high. More likely it’s that she’s just too young to understand or remember the tough parts of the day. I love hearing about her lows-that-were-really-highs.

IMG_0485Summer is over and as I reflect on these past ten weeks out of our normal routine, I feel a bit like Elle. The highs and lows kind of meld together. A high was having unstructured and free days. A low was having unstructured and free days. Elle is reminding me of the both/and rather than either/or of life.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share a little summer update of highs, lows, things I learned, and little mundane moments.

Taking a Writing Break is Good for the Brain
I decided to take July off of blogging. I had a couple book reviews and things but mostly I kept this computer shut. I didn’t even send out my monthly newsletter! It was good to not stress about (self-imposed) deadlines and goals. But here we are, the second week of August, and I’m slowly stretching my writing muscles again. Routine helps. I know that as I sit down and practice, the words will come back. But it was hard to truly let go. To live in the moment. To not wish a bit for kids who were just a little more independent. It will come. Every year is so different. But it’s a tug, being productive and living in the moment.

(Have you signed up for my newsletter? It’s filled with book recommendations, an essay that’s a little more personal, poetry, and great reads. You can sign up here.)

Threenagers are the Best… And the Worst
Now that Elle is three, I’m remembering what a cool and awful season this is. We are catching glimpses of the future. Travel is easier, the girls’ friendship is blossoming, and Elle’s vocabulary and humor are so fun. Mixed with all these amazing moments are the frustrations of wanting to figure things out herself. I’m not much help, as I’m itching for a more independent season, as well. I’m remembering to slow down – for both of us – and take in these moments slowly, without wishing them away.

Screen Time is July’s Best Friend. But Unplugging is Pretty Awesome, too.
We started the summer strong. Playdates, zoo camp, activities, swimming, camping, limited screen time. And then the long hot days of July felt longer and hotter. And the amount of screen time got longer and longer. I don’t feel guilty about that at all. The girls got outside for unstructured play every day. They drew and read and squabbled and created. But I also was pretty relaxed about letting them watch an extra show (or three) more than usual.

IMG_0302When we drove up to Wyoming, we had a 10-hour drive ahead of us. Reception is sketchy at best in the Tetons and Yellowstone so we decided to go the screen-free route. It was mostly good. There were a few moments on the drive when I wondered what we were thinking but overall, the detox was great and the girls didn’t miss their shows. Lesson learned: All bets are off in the summer. Screen time is a savior but it’s also sweet to completely unplug.

Summer Celebrations are the Best
The last week of July is filled with celebrations for our family. Bea’s birthday is three days after our anniversary and Elle’s birthday is three days after that. It’s a chaotic and cake-filled week but I love having a reason to celebrate in the mist of those lazy summer days. The girls still love having a joint birthday party and I love inviting tons of friends for hot dogs, Costco sheet cake, and kids running wild in the backyard. What began as a stressful feeling of poor planning has turned into a week that I look forward to.

Community Abounds
This summer has been a lesson in the value and richness of diverse community. At my low points, I long for a “church home,” where our social circles are at and where we find all we need. Our reality is that we attend services at one church, have a fantastic parent community at another church, and are getting more and more plugged in with our school and neighborhood community. Sometimes this feels incredibly disjointed but a few different moments reminded me that this is an incredible gift. Our girls are growing up with a wide range of experiences, values, beliefs, and worldviews and I am so grateful for that.

There’s always a bittersweet feeling at the end of summer. I can’t believe that alarms are set and we’re back in the school routine. If I learned anything this summer, it’s that seasons pass quickly and as long and tough as some days can be, I know I’ll look back on these little years with fondness and gratefulness that I was able to be part of these daily moments.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Untitled designIn case you missed it, I’m raising money for women to join us on the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. Read about it here and please consider donating – every bit helps!

We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit gracelikescarlett.com for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

What are Spiritual Practices Without Community?

When I was growing up, communion was served on silver trays with a pyramid of plastic cups filled with a swallow of grape juice. In the middle of the tray was a pile of small crackers. We would pass the tray down the aisle, each taking the bread and juice. We would hold the elements and wait for everyone to be served. Then, as a congregation, we would eat together. Now, we go to a church where communion is served at the front. We walk down in a line and one person tears a piece of bread from a loaf while another person holds a chalice of juice. As we dip the bread, we are reminded of the blood of Christ, shed for me.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Even though my childhood communion was eaten simultaneously with the entire congregation, it felt like a lonely act. And even though I’m eating the juice-dipped bread on my own as I walk back up the aisle, I feel much more connected to my community in this format. And isn’t that part of the point of communion? This communal aspect?

Recently, I got an email from Kiva microloans, celebrating seven years of lending with them. This means that this is my seventh year of Lenten practice. We’ve given up wine to fund microloans, I’ve written to forty influential women, I’ve fasted from social media, and I’ve prayed for forty of the president’s staff. This year, I wrote about needed a quieter, gentler Lent. Our season as a family needed something that required a bit less intention.

But now, just over a week away from Easter, I’m wondering if Lent is meant to be quieter? While I’ve enjoyed my daily Bible reading and on some days, it definitely has felt like I’m “giving up” time I could be spending reading other things, I’ve felt it’s missing something.

In reflection, the Lenten practices I’ve most connected with are the ones in which I’m participating with my community. Maybe I’m not doing the same thing but I’m engaging with others – through giving, through encouragement, through prayer. The practices that have fallen a bit flat are the ones that I’m all alone. The social media fasts are good but they also were inconvenient for my community. This year, my daily reading was good but they didn’t necessarily connect me with anyone else.

It has me thinking about the difference between mindfulness and spiritual fasting. Giving up the spiral of social media helped me be more mindful of my surroundings but was it an actual spiritual practice? I suppose if I had replaced my scrolling with Bible readings or devotionals, it may have felt more like that.

There are many important and healing mindful practices I can observe: moving my body, getting fresh air, limiting screen time, absorbing books and articles that make me think are all ways in which I stay connected to my world. In some senses, I’d call these spiritual practices. And yet, they are quite personal. Getting outside for a walk improves my own mood but it is something I can do in isolation just as easily as I can with a friend.

I’ve been thinking about spiritual practices and how Protestant Evangelicals are becoming more and more enamored with liturgical observations. Advent and Lent are becoming norms. We announce our social media fasts on all our platforms so people won’t miss us; we take beautiful candlelit photos leading up to Christmas; we find parts of the church calendar that make sense. I think it’s awesome. These rhythms have helped me slow down and notice. I love the seasonal aspect of the church calendar and how it helps me recognize the story of Christ throughout the year.

And yet, we’ve held onto our Personal Savior mentality as we try out these communal practices. We do Lent alone – it’s more about our own personal mindfulness than a communal practice. I’m wondering how I can change this? How can I better engage with my community as we deepen our practices together?

Maybe that’s what I’ve learned most this Lent. That I’m not meant to do this alone. The years when I’ve engaged with others have taught me so much – about myself, my world, and how God speaks through our longing. This year, I’ve learned that the absence of that was noticeable.

I’m glad for this Lent – that I did it alone. I needed the reminder to keep returning to community, however that looks. Maybe next year will look like intentionally fasting from something as a family or finding a friend to work through a study together. Maybe it will be getting out in my community and stretching myself. I have a year to lean into this reminder.

Ultimately, I’m remembering that, when God tells us that the greatest commandment is to Love God and Love our Neighbors, any practice I implement must reflect that. It’s not just about me. It’s about me loving God and my Community.

Do you follow the church calendar? How do you incorporate community into your personal practices? What have you learned this Lenten season?

The Compost HeapMy monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is going out on Thursday! Are you signed up? It’s filled with book recommendations, poetry, a personal essay, and photos of our daily life. I hope you’ll join!

Caution Leads to Independence

On New Year’s Day, we bundled up and went for an icy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our winter here has been incredibly dry with very little snow but that week of Christmas was cold. When we got to the trailhead, old snow had iced over and we carefully set out for our mile “hike” around Bear Lake.

IMG_8042Adventurous Bea ran down the trail, sliding down any incline on her stomach, penguin-style. She spun, rolled, and dove through the snowy path, shedding her coat because she had worked up so much heat.

Cautious Elle rode atop Frank’s shoulders, taking in the view. Suddenly, Frank hit an icy patch and they fell into a snow bank. I don’t know how he did it, but Frank managed to fall and catch Elle all in one motion. She came away unscathed but startled.

When Bea falls and is surprised, we’ve learned to acknowledge her accident, give her a quick hug, and get her back on the bike or trail as quickly as possible. Once she’s back to the activity, she’s usually fine. Elle takes a bit more work. She needs to snuggle in and really observe her environment again.

After the tumble, we came to a hill at the edge of the lake. Someone had built a little snowman on top and Bea began sliding down. Elle watched for a while as we invited her again and again to join the fun. Finally, Frank took her in his arms and held her in his lap as they slid down the small hill. After that one experience, all Elle wanted to do was ride down that hill in our laps.

This experience reminded me of what we call “gradual release of responsibility” in teaching. When someone is learning something new, you can’t just throw them in the deep end. You model how to do it, then you sit beside them doing it together, then you have them do it on their own knowing you are close by to support until eventually, they can do it independently.

It’s a reminder that caution leads to independence. That, until we feel safe in a situation, we can’t take risks. Until Elle felt safe and secure with us by her side, she wasn’t able to slide down that hill alone.

When I was picking lean in to define my year, a friend reminded me of the importance of leaning into our community for support. It’s a reminder that asking for help and support is what makes us stronger and allows us to take greater risks.

As I look at this year and what it holds, I know that I’ll need my community to help me along the way. In big ways and small, the comfort and rooted knowledge that my friends and family are here to support me give me courage and strength to lean into new responsibilities and adventure. They also give me the courage to lean into those small, daily tasks that would feel overwhelming without their encouragement.

I know that leaning into what God has planned would come to nothing if I didn’t lean into the people God has placed in my life to help me along this journey.

How do you depend on your community? In what ways does leaning on others for help give you the ability to take greater risks?