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?

 

Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

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

Creating Boundaries and Finding Balance

We’re doing the Whole30 reset again. Not because we don’t know what we need to do to eat healthfully but because, without rules and a commitment, it’s easy to cheat and let things slide. There is always a special occasion; always a reason to splurge. This time around isn’t as stressful since we continued to make many of the recipes throughout this past year. It also isn’t as fun since we kinda know how we’re going to feel – and that we’ll most likely get off track again by this time next year.

CreatingBoundariesandFindingBalanceI’m still glad we’re doing it though. It’s a reminder that resets are necessary. That even when we know what’s good for us, boundaries are necessary. I have a feeling that most of us are like that, whether or not it’s about the food we eat. We have indulgences and habits that aren’t bad, in and of themselves, but perhaps aren’t the best.

I was reminded of this with my reading habits the other day. I often lean toward nonfiction genres and this year have been making it a point to read more fiction. And I’ve read some incredible fiction! There are so many incredible storytellers in our world. I’ve also read a lot of mediocre fiction, which totally has its place, as well. But I noticed the more easy fiction I read, the harder it became to focus on nonfiction. And then I started reading easy nonfiction, with more conversational tones and format.

I was critiquing a book I had just started and Frank asked, Why are you reading that? You have another book about the same topic that’s meatier. Why don’t you just read that one?

Since life really is too short to read books I don’t love, I returned the other book to the library. It’s not a bad book – in fact it’s perfect for its intended audience, but at this moment in life, I’m not that audience. I picked up the thicker tome with thinner pages and smaller font and have set about reading it.

It’s harder. And my brain hurts more. But, already I recognize how much better this is for me at this point. I’ve taken a break and indulged in really great and really fluffy books, which was fun. And now I need something meatier. It’s a reminder that I should probably be a little more intentional about balancing the books I’m reading – whether it’s a heavy nonfiction with fun fiction or more thoughtful fiction with lighter nonfiction. All are good but, like food, they’re good when balanced and moderate.

This link to food and reading has made me pause and wonder what other areas of my life I’m off-balance a bit. What small recalibration would make certain activities healthier? I’m looking at our family’s schedule and we have a lot of really good commitments and activities. But we also have a limited amount of time. How do we balance those? What season are we in, where certain groups makes sense and others don’t? I’m looking at my exercise routine (or lack thereof) and am wondering how I can make small changes to my priorities and schedule to fit more of that into my days.

Like I said, I think there’s a time and place and necessity for fun, easy, fluffy foods, reads, and activities. And there’s a season for weightier and healthier ones. I’m remembering to take some time to asses and look at all areas and choose small changes that make sense.

I like the idea of fall-housekeeping for lifestyle choices. I’m remembering that it’s never too late to start a new habit. That I don’t need to wait until the start of the school year or January or the first of the month or Monday. I can start tomorrow or at 2:00 in the afternoon. Small changes happen any time, and I’m looking for opportunities.

How do you balance the meat and veggies of life? Do you have to stop and be intentional or does this happen naturally for you?

Remembering to Ride My Tricycle

Elle just turned 18-months and her little personality has taken off. She’s trying to form complete sentences and even told me her first story the other day. It’s so amazing to watch her follow in Bea’s footsteps, trying so hard to be just like her big sister.

Most of the time, Bea takes the time to help and guide Elle. In the bathtub, I overhear Bea slowly talking to Elle, Elle! This is an elephant. Can you say el-e-phant? Elle! This is a towel. Can you say tow-el? Elle! Do you believe in Jesus? Say, I believe in Jesus! Elle!

Other times, Bea is frustrated when her little sister draws on an art project or knocks down a lego creation. And for as much as Elle emulates her big sister, she wants to do things on her own. She wants to be just like Bea but without the time and effort and years it took for Bea to learn her 4-year-old achievements.

img_3613When we ride bikes, Elle loves sitting on Bea’s two-wheeler, wrapping her feet around the seat, and having me run through the cul-de-sac. She makes vrrrooooommm!! noises and loves going fast. Bea lets her do this for a time, but soon wants her own bike to speed around. Elle is not content with her little balance trike – she wants to skip ahead to what the big kids are riding.

My one word for this year is Capacity. I’ve alluded to different decisions we’ve already made that seem to have fulfilled this word. I want to say, Look! I’m doing it! Just two months into the year and I’ve succeeded!

But this past week has been a bit chaotic and not at all productive. Part of that is because we took a much-needed, long-overdue trip to visit family. It was good cousin-filled chaos and the productivity of seeing aging grandmothers. But I was easily lost in my to-do list. I wanted to get into a rhythm, to fill my now free moments with other really good things.

I was recently reminded of the need for rest. That without taking time to pause, I won’t be refreshed and ready for whatever the next adventure may be. I had fallen into a habit of checking off the boxes, completing my word instead of viewing it as a slow, unfolding process.

Who knows where capacity will take me this year? Perhaps it will push me beyond my comforts. Perhaps it will push me to do less, to open up my capacity for rest. My guess is that I’ve only begun to scrape the surface of what this year holds for me and our family.

Rather than trying to skip ahead and ignore the necessary steps along the way, I’m learning to stop and recognize these steps as developmental. I need to learn to ride that little balance trike before I can tackle a two-wheeler.

How do you stop to remember to take baby steps? Are you methodical by nature or do you like to skip ahead?

Slowing Down to Enjoy the Journey

For my birthday, friends gave me a gift card to a local bookstore with instructions to enjoy an afternoon browsing – either online or in person. I thought about this invitation to simply look at books and so I invited my friend along. We both have young kids so time spent together in a bookstore seemed amazing.

We spent the morning wandering the store, talking about life, meandering in our conversation. There was no agenda and it was lovely getting to simply catch up. I even decided not to buy a book from my to-read pile and let a title jump out.

It was such a reminder of the need to be intentional with friends. This woman and I see each other fairly regularly, but rarely one-on-one. I was tempted to spend a morning alone but knew that I would rush through the store, buy something quickly, and return home to relieve Frank of errands. Having a friend with me helped me slow down and enjoy myself a bit more.

Last week we were in California visiting family. One evening, after the girls had gone to bed, my aunt was working on her Bible study and I was reading. She invited me over to talk through the lesson with her and we spent the next hour discussing and combing through a verse in Nehemiah I most likely would have skimmed over on my own. In the midst of reading about those involved in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, we talked about current events, our own views of qualification, and how God uses us in unexpected ways. My daily quiet time is alone, but this was a reminder of the importance of sitting side by side and talking.

img_3240I’ve been thinking about modeling a lot when it comes to my life and my girls. It’s faster and easier to do things without them. Dinner prep is way less frustrating and a lot safer without my two sous-chefs. Reading my morning devotional is a lot more pleasant when I can focus on the words. And yet, that’s not reality. So, I pull out extra carrots at dinner and let Bea chop them. I brush my teeth while reading Spurgeon and letting Elle climb around the bathroom. I include and model what my own day looks like.

Just now, I’ve struck a deal with Bea to help me clean the playroom. She originally suggested I do it while she was at school and in some ways, it would take a lot less time and be a lot less stressful if I did just do it myself. But it’s not my playroom or my mess. So we agreed that we’d do it together.

Time alone to rejuvenate is something that is essential to most of us, in varying degrees. But I’m reminded more and more that life is done together. It may not be easier but when we choose to sit side by side, the journey seems richer.

How do you intentionally slow down? What are some ways you stop to enjoy this journey?

Finding My Identity in a Pair of Sneakers

I bought the red and black coq sportifs because I wanted to feel French, to blend in. You can tell a tourist by her shoes and I had moved beyond tourist status. I chose the sneakers partly for their kicky French fashion and partly for functionality – I walked everywhere in Paris.

Before these, I had replaced my more American shoes with European styles, but I had never taken the plunge to such a French brand. It wasn’t until after I spent time working on a farm, immersing myself in the language and culture and finally – finally! – feeling fluent enough, did I buy these shoes.

LIFEI wore them for about six months or so in Paris before leaving France for my next adventure. They were my hiking shoes as I trekked and explored Nepal for three months post-graduation. They took me into the Santa Cruz mountains where I struggled with my identity as a Christian, as a retail worker, as someone who didn’t exactly know what was happening next. They gave me identify – the girl who had lived in Paris. They even took me back to Europe, though not to France. This time, I wore them through Italy, feeling as though I may pass for French-ish, and not a total American.

I clung to the coq sportifs long after they were comfortable – when the insole was worn down and the funky smell permanently imbedded in the fabric. I eventually replaced them with another pair, bought from Zappos, which I still have, but they aren’t the same. They aren’t as authentic, though I still wear them. And when I do, I feel less mom-ish and more international.

In many ways, this new pair reflects who I am in many of the same ways as that original pair did. Living abroad shaped who I am – my worldview; my passions; my sensibilities. And yet. I don’t speak French anymore – I haven’t for over a decade. I don’t really travel anymore, either. I’m firmly in a phase where yoga pants and running shoes are a perfectly acceptable uniform.

There’s something about pulling out those French sneakers that makes me feel that certain piece of my identity. That piece that will travel again one day. That did have amazing experiences and will again.

These sneakers are reflected as Bea pulls out French books for kids that have been gifted over the years. They are reflected when Frank and I go to the opera or splurge on a beautiful dinner. They are reflected when we dream about exposing our kids to actual castles, rather than relying on the Disney version.

When I look back on that original pair, I’m glad I finally threw them away. They are not the person I am anymore. I am glad, too, that I bought that second pair – that pair that reminds me of who I was, of how that has shaped who I am, and that I am still on a journey of becoming.

I wonder which pair of shoes will take me through this next season?

This was inspired by a workshop I took at the Writers on the Rock Conference about the “Precious Ordinary,” led by John BlaseWhat is your precious ordinary?

Do you have an item or object that represents a specific phase in life? How has it changed in meaning over the years?

Cultural Context & Purple Hibiscus

Growing up, I knew some church holidays were based on a pagan celebration. Clearly, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th with a Christmas tree in the manger. This year, I just learned that Easter is not, in fact, aligned with Passover, but is celebrated on the first full moon after the spring Equinox.

I get why the early church did this – we all need cultural context to best understand things and the early Christians utilized this effectively. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that most practices and celebrations are based on paganism and have declared All Celebrations to Be 100% Christian.

When I was in Nepal, my friend and I visited a Catholic church. I was longing for a familiar practice and she was raised Catholic so came along. Even though the words were Nepali, we could follow along based on the liturgy, which was the same. We sat on cushions on the floor and the incense used was distinctly more central-Asian than Eastern European, but the rituals were familiar.

book-purplehibiscus.pngIn Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses the complexity of melding cultural traditions with modern Christianity. Heroine Kambili is raised with her brother, Jaja in a strict Catholic home. Not just strict as in practice – though it is to an abusive level – but strict in the sense that “true” Catholics are white and European. And as Nigerians, they must act as white and as European as possible to truly reflect God and His religion.

On a visit to their liberal Aunty Ifeoma’s house, Kambili and Jaja are shocked to experience the world of Catholicism combined with traditional Igbo song and culture. Because of her abusive indoctrination into what true Catholicism should look like, it takes Kambili quite some time to warm up to the idea that one can practice both native rituals and still be Catholic.

Purple Hibiscus brought up so many ideas from how we do missions to how we have Westernized Christianity and to what degree.

Mostly, it has me wondering, if by forgetting our past, we are missing out? Kambili experiences such a rich faith when she is able to see it through the lens of her Igbo ancestry.

Richard Twiss brings up similar ideas in his book, One Church, Many Tribes. He discusses the fact that, when we don’t allow for indigenous culture within Christianity, we miss out on a rich history and a new way of looking at the Gospel.

As a Protestant Christian from Western European descent, it’s hard for me to imagine a rich cultural heritage. Ancestrally, I come from the line of thinking that takes all iconography and relics out of churches; that creates a blank space to focus inward rather than outward.

In Paris, I would explore richly decorated Orthodox basilicas and ornate cathedrals; In Nepal, I stood in awe of the brightly colored Stupas; in Ecuador, I was reminded of the ideas that Western theology was the only way to see Jesus.

As Adichie so beautifully illustrates throughout her novel as Kambili discovers a grace-filled faith, filled with the teachings from her childhood but also the rich song and belief of her ancestors, she finds herself emerging from a muteness caused by abuse.

I wonder if, when we ignore the ancient cultures that have contributed to modern Christianity; when we fail to recognize the beauty in celebrating all paths, the church is rendered mute? We cannot declare the true beauty and grace that Jesus brought when we are stuck in how the world and the church should look.

When we open our minds to other cultures and their contributions, will we finally be open to all the church as the Body of Christ has to offer?

alexandre-dulaunoyToday, I’m joining Cara Meredith as she Reads for Change. Head over to her blog to hear her thoughts on Purple Hibiscus and to join the discussion.

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