Like an Onion

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one….

Because they way you grow old is kind of like an onion or the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

Sandra Cisneros
Eleven
Woman Hollering Creek

This passage from Sandra Cisneros has been on my mind lately. Especially with the September 15 tax deadline craziness and the October 15 deadline looming, Bea and I have had a lot of unbuffered interactions lately. We are alike in many ways – passionate, opinionated, thoughtful – which can lead to much of our conflict. (A glimpse into the teenage years…?) When Frank isn’t around, we often push each other’s buttons and I stoop to the level of a three year old more often than I’d like to admit.

And, when Bea’s throwing a fit and I just want her to act older, I need to remember that she’s not just three – she’s two and one and trying to process life. As a thirty-three year old, I need to model that process and show her how we react, rather than getting sucked into the drama.

Dress up (Right before things got crazy...)
Dress up (Right before things got crazy…)

I think it’s also been hard having a sweet, cooing newborn. Our comparisons to Bea are probably unfair – I go from holding an 8 pound, snuggly baby to a 30 pound whirlwind of a preschooler. We go from baby mew-cries to 3-year-old shrieks. It’s hard to make that instant shift to gracious parenting.

But, how often do I expect others to make that instant shift for me? On those days when I am feeling like a five-year-old, just figuring out routines and structure or the times when I’ve got the attitude of a tween. I need grace for myself in those moments – to recognize all the years that make me who I am – and grace for others in their moments.

We have friends with an almost-one-year-old and we were gushing about our favorite time as parents – that 6-months to two-and-a-half years range when kids are full of brand-new discoveries, from walking to talking to simply exploring the world. Our friends laughed and asked if it’s all downhill after three.

It’s not, but it’s different. The discoveries are more social skills and behaviors and life is more about figuring out opinions and autonomy. It’s fun but challenging and exhausting and the weight of parenting really hits me.

And so, as we figure out this social world and help Bea become a functioning, gracious, strong human being, I try to stop and remember all those moments that lead up to this point. The discoveries of 4 months and the amazement of 2 years and the strength of 3. As we navigate this new season, I can’t forget all the seasons that got us here.

What age do you feel today? Parents of older kids, what was your favorite age?

Grace in Relief

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
– John Newton

Relief. Breathing a sigh of relief. Letting go. Those are the words that first come to mind, yet as I think of the relief I’ve gained from my faith and my community, I wonder if the idea of giving something to those in need is a better description.

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When I needed an authentic community of women, going through the same questions and struggles as moms, I found relief in my MOPS group. When I needed a community of questioners and thinkers and doubters and grapplers, I found relief in my weekly book club as we sort through thoughts on faith. When I needed to be reminded of hope and caring during tough times, I found relief in those who brought meals, sent texts, and cared for us as a family. Even after seeing a healthy heartbeat on the monitor, the relief of actually feeling this baby move was a much needed relief.

As I think about relief given to me – in big ways and small – I think about how I can offer relief. Perhaps it’s through a kind word, or a meal. Perhaps it’s through a playdate or babysitting. Perhaps it’s through a note dropped in the mail, just because. I often underestimate the power relief can hold and how precious the grace of relieving fears can be.

How have you found grace in relief?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Review: Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey + Giveaway

In fifth grade, I was sitting on the bus to school next to a friend from church. We were talking about sixth grade and she told me she had decided to transfer to our local Christian school. Without mincing words, she told me that anyone who stayed in the public school system was opening themselves to corruption from The World and would have to work much harder at being a good Christian. I was enough of a skeptic, even at 10, to give an internal eye-roll and we parted ways. She graduated from the Christian school and I graduated from the public school, my faith still more or less intact.

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In his new book, Vanishing Grace, Philip Yancey challenges this mentality amongst the Christian majority. By so insulating themselves from others, but focusing on the wrong movies and wrong habits rather than on issues like poverty and racism, the politics of Christianity is showing up more as a moralistic ideology rather than a radical inclusion of grace (227). He gives statistics that those who don’t identify as Christian view Christians as judgmental and hateful. This is far from the message of grace, acceptance, and love that Jesus shared.

Throughout the book, Yancey reminds others that the Kingdom largely exists for outsiders (159) and that by building walls and creating legalism, the American church is reflecting more of a political view than the gospel of love. He gives many examples of how the church operated best when it was the minority – having to look past differences, work toward social justice, and fill the gaps of government, the church thrived in those counterculture situations. He gives consideration for how we can view our faith as a corporate body now that Christians are the majority religion in America. How can the church create a new culture rather than mimic pop culture? (p 105) How can the church continue to serve its community in a loving, grace filled way, even as it has gotten involved in politics and mainstream ideals?

Yancey is not all negativity. He tells stories of churches and communities who are doing things well, who are trying to embody the idea that Jesus was about forgiveness but also about social justice and hospitality. He ends on a note of hope for the future church and its place in modern society.

He challenges Christians to stop the name calling, focus on matters of significance, and really review what the incredibly radical message of Jesus was: To spread love and grace to those who need love, to those who are hurting, to those who are othered in society. I feel that this is a timely book, given current American events and Yancey writes it in his usual approachable style that has engaged many over the decades.

What is your experience with the church? Do you find it inclusive or judgmental? Do you think it’s changing?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Vanishing Grace. To enter, leave a comment about your church experience, positive or negative. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, December 12, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Listen

Bea is obsessed with the Fantasia soundtrack these days. We listen to a few select pieces on repeat as we drive: “Girl with the Ball” (aka, Rhapsody in Blue), “Donald” (aka, Pomp and Circumstance), and “The Volcano” (aka, Firebird Suite). As we listen to the music, Bea asks for the stories, over and over again.

Her favorite at the moment is the Firebird Suite:

Our conversation usually goes something like this:
B: Mama, what’s happening now?
Me: Well, the volcano is erupting and lava is covering the earth.”
B: They are scared!
Me: Yes…
B: Mom, is the earth restored? Are they happy?
Note: This is a condensed version of what can be quite a long, circular conversation…

I love talking through the songs, helping her find meaning to those classic pieces. And, Bea loves anticipating the next scene – she gets excited or nervous or relieved, depending on the song. Last week, she was banging away on our piano keyboard and she ran in, exclaiming, “It’s the part when people are rushing away!” As she raced away to continue her composition, I noticed she was using all the low notes to create that feeling.

I was talking with a friend the other day about finding stories in music and art. I wondered how much I should feed into Bea’s need for an actual storyline and when I should start encouraging her to create her own ideas. I’ve tried asking, What do you think? but she’s insistent that I retell the story the way Disney imagined it. My friend and I talked about the importance of finding stories and meanings to help us interact – it’s so hard to just sit and listen or sit and look.

At the Clyfford Still Museum, I run into these same quandaries. Students ask, What does this mean? and I don’t get it! and I respond with, I don’t know. What do you think? Still’s intention was that the viewer brings her own experience to the art – he left very few notes on his process or the meaning behind his paintings. At first, this is a tough concept for students to grasp – they want to know the answers and they want me to tell them the correct answer. By the end of our visit, most are much more comfortable finding their own meaning within the painting and discussing different ideas for how Still created his pieces.

In art education, finding meaning is developmental. On one end of the spectrum, the viewer looks for a narrative. Even in nonrepresentational pieces, one can find birds or campfires or some sort of physical shape that helps tell the story. On the other end of the spectrum, a viewer can look at a painting and respond through feeling and emotion. There is no meaning beyond the present experience.

I was thinking about this process as I interact with people in my own life. I want to find meaning within their stories. As someone shares, I look for places I can connect; Where I can find a shape and create my own narrative within their story. I find it so difficult to simply sit and listen, to share an experience without looking beyond the moment. As much as I thrive on digging deeper and finding greater meaning, I also find it honoring when I can just sit in the present with a friend – when we are content to share life together without finding answers or creating a narrative.

Sometimes I wonder if that is part of redemption: When we are able to sit quietly in the moment, to listen to the music others create, and just listen without interjecting our own experience into their story. Or, more that we don’t need to interject our own experience into their story – that we have a realization of deep connectedness without having to express it in words.

How have you found ways to stop and listen?

Pursue

In high school, pursuing God meant raising my hands in praise, saying the right things, and never questioning.

In college, pursuing God meant deconstructing all I’d known, reading the right books, and breaking just enough rules.

In my twenties, pursuing God meant book clubs over Bible studies, finding God in hiking and nature rather than in sitting and pews, and grappling with what the Upside Down Kingdom really meant.

Now, pursuing God still looks like bits and pieces of all those experiences. It also looks like the Jesus Storybook Bible and modeling restoration and redemption in our home. Pursuing God looks like justice through backyard gardens, Kiva loans, and Godly Play.

Sunday School
Sunday School

Pursuing God means chatting with a toddler while multitasking devotionals, taking time to pray while kneading bread, and making thoughtful purchasing choices as an act of hope for the future.

Pursuing God looks like walks, dinners, babysitting, hikes, camping, play dates, and doing life with friends who are family.

Pursuing God looks a lot quieter these days – more listening and sharing stories, less talking and sharing doctrine.

Pursuing God isn’t as loud or as grand as I once thought it had to be. But, in pursuing those quiet moments of grace, I find God more intertwined in my daily practices than ever before.

How has the way in which you pursue God changed and grown?

Linked with The High Calling’s Pursue God.

UPDATE: The High Calling featured an expanded version of this post over at their site.

Perfect Timing

Sisters
Sisters

A few months after our wedding, Frank and I decided it was the perfect time to add a puppy to our family. We had talked about wanting to be a dog family before getting married and, since we wanted our puppy trained before tax season began in January, we decided September would be a good time to start looking. Right after our conversation, Frank noticed a sign in the coffee shop by his office. A backyard breeder on the north end of town had puppies that would be ready for a home in a couple weeks.

We made an appointment and drove up to look at the puppies. They were beautiful! Some sort of shepherd mix, we fell in love with a quiet female. She was old enough to go home right away, so we brought her with us and spent the weekend getting to know our newest family member. Frank’s office is in a Victorian house on a double lot with a large fence around the grassy area. We decided that we would train our dog to go into work with him. She would be a mostly outdoor dog, but we thought being with Frank and outside all day was better than having her stay inside.

Frank brought her to work that first Monday – before we had taken her to the vet or even gotten tags for her collar. After an unproductive morning of playing with her in the yard, Frank went in to meet with a client. He heard her whimpering and barking outside, but was told by a dog-owning friend to ignore her cries – paying attention to them would create a spoiled dog.

After his meeting, Frank went down to check on our pup, only to find that she had disappeared. There was no sign of how she could have gotten out of the fenced yard. We searched the neighborhood, made signs, and spent weeks visiting shelters after work. Our only thought is that someone heard her cries and came into the unlocked yard to take her.

It was our first tragedy as a young family and I wondered if we would ever get another dog or if we would be competent parents with our own human children. After lots of processing and finally accepting the reality that we had lost our puppy, we decided to start thinking about a new dog. The more pragmatic side of me wondered if we had missed our window of opportunity to train a dog before tax season. Frank, who is far more optimistic, said we would figure out the timing – we wanted a dog, and we should look for a dog.

Daisy's first day home
Daisy’s first day home

This time around, we went to Lifeline Puppy Rescue, where I fell in love with a bear cub-like, energetic, jumping puppy. Frank wasn’t as sure, but little Daisy and I bonded as she snuggled into my lap. We took her home with us that day and before we made it to our house, had stopped at Petsmart for ID tags.

Daisy Deux never went to the office. We kennel trained her to stay at home and she happily became a one-family dog. We did a puppy training class that ended a week before the craziness of tax season began, and now, five years later, I can’t imagine better timing for our first “child.”

The past few weeks have been a lesson in timing for me. I am reminded that any time I have made plans for the perfect timing of something, life happens and things usually don’t go the way I planned. From professional opportunities, marriage and family, to kids and pregnancy, opportunities and interactions come along that are completely out of my control. And, in hindsight, the imperfect timing of it all is actually more perfect than I could have planned.

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop planning my life – it’s part of who I am. But, I can learn to adjust as I go. I’m slowly learning to hold my plans loosely and to go with the flow when twists and turns occur. And as much as I love planning, I love looking back on the imperfections of my plans to realize how amazingly everything has fallen into place.

Are you a planner? How do you go with the flow?

Thistles

While out in California to meet relatives before our wedding, one of my aunts commented that I had always been a bit harsh but Frank softened those rough edges. After my initial defensiveness, I’ve realized she may have been right.

I’m a critical person by nature. I have high standards for myself and for others and am always critiquing. Frank is a natural optimist, seeing people and situations through a rosy tint. It takes a huge effort for Frank to lose faith in someone’s potential. I still wouldn’t call myself the most generous person on earth, but he is rubbing off on me and my expectations of humanity are shifting.

Earlier this year, I read Luci Shaw’s The Crime of Living Cautiously and part of a chapter struck a chord and stuck with me. In “The Risk of Relationships,” Shaw ponders how we define flowers and weeds. She talks about the relativity of designating certain plants as weeds, noting wild day lilies that grow along highways and the resiliency of clover in fields (pp 95-6). She connects this image to our own relationships and habits of categorizing those around us as flowers (those like us) and weeds (those we don’t understand). And yet, these are all relative distinctions.

West Highland Thistle
West Highland Thistle

For our first anniversary, Frank and I hiked the West Highland Way, a 95-mile trail climbing through the Scottish Highlands. Keeping us along the Way were guideposts carved with the Scottish thistle. The Way, in general, is well-marked and we rarely needed the thistle to guide us. On our last day, nearing the end of a long 14 miles, we lost the path and couldn’t find a guidepost. I was so tired, my feet hurt, and knowing the end was so close made things seem worse. We searched for the thistle and finally, as I slumped against a stone wall, Frank found it around a corner. I perked up and we trudged into Fort William, proud of such an accomplishment.

When we arrived back in Colorado, after about two weeks’ absence, we found our yard overrun with our own thistles. The weeds had gone to seed and spread and I spent the next weeks pulling up the nettles, a never-ending rash on my forearms. The irony was not lost on me that summer, as I grumbled over our weeds. The very plant that, just weeks before had been my guidepost, was now my deep-rooted enemy, infiltrating my garden.

Because we don’t use chemicals on our yard, thistles come back every year. Last year, we resigned ourselves to them, trying to see the beauty but I think they may have choked out our poppies as a result… While blooming, thistles are beautiful – I love the tall stalks and light-purple flowers. But until they bloom, they just prick. Even our two-year-old knows to keep away from the “fistles.”

Blooming backyard thistle
Blooming backyard thistle

Initially, I connected Shaw’s analogy to others: I’ve learned so much through that prickly relationship; She became more beautiful once I viewed her as a flower rather than a weed. And, I’ve come to realize, I’m being the weedy one. How am I being prickly toward others? How can I shift and show more blossoms and fewer nettles?

When I give myself grace, when I allow myself to shift from weed to flower, I begin to give grace to others. I have such trouble shifting mentality, but when I am gracious with my own needs, my own values, my own insecurities, I am far more gracious with the seeming imperfections of others. I have started asking, How can I be a guide rather than a nettle? How can I see the wild beauty in others rather than pulling them out and forcing my own, neatly planted ideals?

Shaw describes God as an artist-gardener, loving the wild mix of plants and flowers, contained and rambling that cover His garden. She says,

“So I have to believe that uninterrupted nature, weeds and all, is divine art” (pg 98).

Sometimes we need the nettling, unpleasant side of the weed. Sometimes I need that push-back to my own ideologies in order to shift perspective and grow. In trying to embrace the weed-as-flower, I can just as easily not recognize its inherent weediness. How can embracing all aspects of the wild beauty of the weed empower me to embrace all aspects of a difficult relationship or habit?

Shaw concludes,

“And then perhaps a relationship can begin to form and flourish between a flower and a weed. They can perhaps beautify the landscape together” (p 100).

Maybe, instead of sweating and giving myself rashes, I need to sit back in the hammock, surrounded by nettles and poppies, intentional and unintentional plantings, and enjoy being part of this wild beauty.

Do you struggle with weediness? How can you see beauty in weeds this week?