Champagne for Breakfast

As I learn more about the church calendar, I’m trying to be more intentional about leaning into the different seasons. I’m remembering to pause and breathe in Advent before the celebration of Christmas, to feast for Epiphany before the fasting of Lent, and to really think about what it means to be “Easter people.”

When I hear the phrase, “Easter people,” it usually is in the context of the biggest Sunday celebration – hymns and hallelujahs, fancy dresses and elaborate dinners. We proclaim the risen Christ! And then go back to life as normal on Monday.

Theologian N.T. Wright talks about how the church is really good at remembering and practicing Lent, of taking time to fast and prepare. But we aren’t as good at remembering the 40 days of Easter celebration. He says,

No, we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

(exerpted from Let the Easter Parties Begin! by Internet Monk)

I’ve written before about things that are saving my life. I love that mid-winter practice when it is easy to forget that so many small things bring joy and comfort. But it also takes on a connotation that life itself is not saving me. That I am bogged down. So, in this Eastertide, I want to remember five things that are bringing smile-to-my-face JOY. That are filling me with laughter and hope. That help me remember we are an Easter people.

IMG_85821) My Little Free Library
I had been wanting a Little Free Library ever since we moved into our neighborhood. Our house is on the corner of a cul-de-sac, right around from a busier intersection that leads to our elementary school and is on the way to the middle and high schools. We get a good amount of foot traffic and I wanted to encourage community through books. Last month, my dad built and installed our library and the girls helped paint it. I love watching the ebb and flow of books and the way it’s connected our neighborhood in this short time.

2) Sweet Sister Time
IMG_8615Lately, the girls have been on an awesome streak of playing together and caring for each other. Of course, we still have our sibling moments, but their bond is growing and it is so awesome to watch these girls become friends. They read together, imagine together, ride bikes and hold hands. We were at a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s the other day and they were content spending the entire morning together. Elle misses Bea while she’s at school and can’t wait to pick her up. She runs to Bea, jumps into her arms, and Bea swings her around as they both say, “Sisters!!”

3) Writing Friends
It’s just been in the past few months that I’ve really started stepping into an identity of “writer.” (I know, I know. If I write, I’m a writer. Easier said than done.) I’ve had the opportunity to chat with other moms who are writers, to help friends on their pretty amazing writing project, and am even dipping my toes into bigger and more serious ideas. I still don’t introduce myself as a writer but I’m getting closer…

(Side note: If you want behind-the-scenes news about projects, sign up for my monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap. I also started an author Facebook page and would love it if you gave it a “like.” These things help!)

4) Rosé in the Basement
One of my favorite springtime celebrations is drinking rosé and eating runny cheese out in our yard while the girls run around. For Easter, Frank stocked us up with fun bottles and they’re just waiting for the end of tax season. Even though they haven’t made their way to the fridge yet, just knowing they’re ready and waiting gives me hope and happiness.

5) Generosity of Friends
I know that our community makes every single list of lifesavers but it’s for a good reason. I am blown away by the people who take care of us. A friend took Elle for the morning so I could make traction on a project and those 3 hours made all the difference! We’re heading to the mountains next week to get away and unwind after the tax deadline, thanks to the generosity of other friends. I am always amazed at how well our community cares for us, especially during these stressful seasons.

What about you? What is giving you JOY in this season? What keeps you smiling, even when you don’t realize it?

Making Space for Joy in the Details

We lit the Joy candle a day late this year. Parties, celebrating, community. This is what gives me joy. In the midst of all the sweet moments, we had our share of meltdowns and overtiredness because that’s part of this season, too. I often need to remember that it’s ok to reset in the mist of everything. I wrote this for the MOPS Blog and I hope it resonates, one week before Christmas.

Annie-Rim_Advent-2017We’ve had five years of practice in celebrating Advent with kids. Last year, I caught a glimpse at the results of our hard work and intention. At the time, my four-year-old was finally starting to “get” the daily readings, the candles, the coloring pages and family discussions. We actually start our preparation in November with a thankful tree so that by the time the first week of Advent arrives, we’re in a ritual as a family.

The thing I grapple with most about creating traditions is keeping the magic and wonder of the season alive. I’ve got the details down: Thankful Tree? Check! Christmas tree and decorations after Thanksgiving? Check! Boots out for St. Nicholas with Christmas jammies? Check! Candles and a wreath on our table? Check! Age-appropriate nightly devotional with optional coloring pages? Check!

Without these details, we wouldn’t observe the slower pace of Advent. It would feel like “one more thing” to do during an already busy month. Knowing which details work for our family has helped Advent run a bit more smoothly and has given space for the magic and joy of this season.

But sometimes I get too caught up in these details. I forget to pause and allow for joy and wonder. I focus on the outcome of the moments rather than the moments themselves. How can I live in the wonder of discovering the point of our Nativity if I’m so busy creating “easy” moments and experiences?

Some of my friends thrive on spontaneity and magical moments come naturally for them. Joy is not something they plan into their lives. Even as I write this, I know that joy is so much deeper than the plans themselves.

But I also am a realist and know that even the best intentions of letting go of holiday expectations can be forgotten in the midst of everything we juggle. I’m remembering that God created me as a detail-oriented planner and I can find joy within my nature.

It’s not too late to pause and recalibrate. I’ll do self-checks throughout this season to make sure I’m truly enjoying all that we’ve planned. If I’m not, I remember it’s not too late to fix it! What can I let go of or reframe so that I’m less focused on the details and more focused on the reason I planned those details?

If you’re like me, and can feel a bit lost in the midst of holiday expectations, can I offer a few ways to keep your joy at the center of all the plans?

Write down what reminds you of the birth of Jesus.

I know this sounds cheesy, but think about which activities you do during this time that bring the focus back to the manger. Is it a personal devotional each morning? Is it playing Christmas hymns in the car or while you make dinner? Is it lighting the Advent candles each night with your family? Whatever keeps that focus at your core, find time to do it every day. Keep it simple!

Decide what you can outsource.

I can’t do it all, nor do I want to. I have a friend who loves crafting with her kids and they sit together cutting out leaves for their Thankful Tree each year. That’s not me. So, I go to our local teacher supply store and buy precut bulletin board leaves. The outcome is the same and it guarantees success for our family. Likewise, my mom has a tradition of baking cutout cookies each year for our annual Christmas party. It’s time consuming and messy and feels like one more thing. But it’s a sweet time of creativity and bonding for her and my girls. Buy something ready-made or find a friend, neighbor or relative who loves doing that. Asking for help is a great way to bring your community together.

Remember that each year is different.

Our first year of Advent as parents looked vastly different from last year, which will look different from this year. I’m learning to gauge what works and doesn’t work and adjust as needed. This may mean that we only read a Bible verse at dinner, rather than a whole devotional. Or maybe this year, we’ll have time to color all the ornaments for a Jesse tree instead of a few selected coloring pages. Remember the practice of this season – we are creating traditions and rituals to help shape our kids’ faith. Keep it about them!

All of these small things helps me remember the joy of the season. As much as I’d love to go back to a time before consumerism and parties and the chaos of December, I am remembering that this is the world I live in. How do I find joy within our cultural norms and expectations? How do I keep Christ at the center of our anticipation? By working to make space in the midst of it all, I am finding joy and Christ in all the details of the season.

How’s Advent going for you this year? What are you learning? How do you make space for resets?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/advent-2017-making-space-joy-details/.

The Joy of Newborns

We’re officially in the midst of holiday busyness – parties and shopping and December birthdays filled our week. All really good things, filled with the wonder of relationships and community. But busy, nonetheless.

img_7983
Newborn Elle

Frank’s birthday was last weekend and, as has become our tradition, he took Friday off work and we spent the whole day Christmas shopping. We braved the mall. We went to Toys R Us. We were exhausted and overstimulated. But we also went out to lunch. And we chatted and connected. We found that it’s a good way to infuse the magic of Christmas into the chore of Christmas shopping.

This week we light the joy candle on our Advent wreath. (Though, in keeping with our theme of messy Advent, we didn’t actually light it on Sunday…) This week, we remember the shepherds awe and wonder and declaration of joy at the newborn king.

This week makes me remember the joy of the newborn phase. No matter how long or short or hard or easy labor is; No matter how fussy or happy newborns can be; No matter how we rank our newborn and new parent experiences – This phase is exhausting. They are up in the middle of the night; they are helpless; they are so needy.

And yet, when our girls were first born, I experienced joy in a way I could never have imagined before. In the midst of tiredness and overstimulation and fumbling through getting to know a brand-new human, there is an underlying joy that goes beyond happiness and contentment. It’s the joy I imagine Mary felt in those first few hours of new motherhood.

It’s, by extension, the joy that the shepherds experienced when they found this newborn baby.

This week, even in the midst of stocking stuffer shopping and pageants and more parties, I hope to keep that memory of newborn joy present. The joy that is so transformative and transcending. The joy that is Christmas.

How do you remember joy in the midst of this crazy time of year? How does joy differ from happiness for you?

Comfort and Joy

Bea is very much like her dad – Christmas lasts all year long. After a particularly grating repeat of one CD during July, I laid down the rule that we could read Christmas books any time of the year, but no music until after Thanksgiving!!

Bea "comforting" Elle
Bea “comforting” Elle

One of Bea’s favorite Christmas books is a series of carols illustrated by Tomie dePaola. One of them is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Whenever Elle is crying in the car and I ask Bea to comfort her, she will say, Shh! Shh! Shh! Comfort and joy, sister! Comfort and joy!

In Bea’s mind, joy means Elle will stop crying. I think for many of us, this is our definition. Joy equals happiness. But, then I am reminded of Psalm 30:5

Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

When I’ve had a night of weeping or a season of struggle, the aftermath is never a quick shift. I struggle to go from sadness to happiness in a snap. But, that deep peace and joy? As I’m emerging from a tough season, it’s there – deep rooted and a reminder that, though struggles happen and sadness is part of life, joy is never far.

I’m learning to love this deep joy. This joy that is not happiness but is married to contentedness, to peace, to a deeper understanding that life is made up of so much more than fun, happy moments.

How do you view joy? Can joy and sadness happen simultaneously?

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

Strength in Community

I’ve never had a dorm experience. When I decided to attend the American University of Paris, I also decided to forgo a typical college experience. From living with a family to cramming three of us into a one-bedroom to a small studio alone to finally finding a quintessentially Parisian one-bedroom shared with a best friend, I learned quickly the art of opening my home to my community.

Some of my favorite memories were hosting brunches and dinner parties and cocktail hours with other expat students and twenty-somethings. We would squeeze into small living rooms, eat off of borrowed plates, and share life together. No one cared how big or small or mismatched everything was. (Though we did love congregating at one friend’s massive two-bedroom flat in the heart of St. Michel.) We had all chosen, for various reasons, to come alone to a big, bustling city and we needed to create our own families and tight-knit community.

Easter in San Sebastien
Easter in San Sebastien

Looking back, over ten years later, I find myself thinking romantically of those days of picnics by the Seine, spontaneous day trips to Normandy, and weekends in San Sebastien. In reality, there were disagreements and misunderstandings and cliques and hurt feelings. Not many, but it was no idyllic community. For most of us, our commonality was being away from home. And yet, we chose to continue, to be vulnerable, to question and grapple and grow together.

When I moved back to Colorado, I was surprised at how quickly and easily it was to fall back into old habits. My first few years in Denver, I went from church to church, looking for that instant community. I slowly made friends, but those deep, shared experiences were hard to come by. As stressful as living abroad was, I longed for the instantaneous connection of needing a community.

I finally found a church and settled in. I made friends and joined book clubs that are still meeting. But, it was still easy (especially when the particular pastor I didn’t connect with was preaching) to find church in the mountains or with friends, rather than in the actual building. When Frank and I were first married, we tried to combine churches and communities and finally had to just choose one.

Now, five years later, we are still at the same church. We have, through bumps and questions, chosen to stay, to choose community. And, seven years later, I still meet weekly with the same book club. Through marriages and babies and misunderstandings and questions, our group has grown deeper because we have chosen community. I guess, that’s what I’ve learned: Community is a choice. Abroad, it was a choice that had to be made quickly, so seemed easier. Now, it’s a choice I make continuously but one that has given me deep and lifelong friendships.

When I think about the words in Nehemiah 8:10, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” I think of the choices we make to prepare food for each other, to choose joy over grief, and to allow those experiences to change and deepen us.

What is your community like? How do you make choices to create lasting relationships?

Linked with (in)courage’s Joy of the Lord is our Strength.

Joy

“…but if the goodbye is not painful, the hello cannot be joyful, either.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude

When I was 18, my dad and I, along with 4 gigantic suitcases, got on a plane to Paris. I was heading to my freshman year of college in the iconic city. We dropped off my luggage at the flat I was sharing with friends of our family’s and then set off on two weeks of visiting family friends who lived in Europe. After traveling through France and Germany, classes were set to start and my dad was going back to Colorado.

We walked up to a cemetery at the top of a hill in the small suburb where I would live during my first semester. It overlooked the western side of Paris, and you could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. My dad and I talked about the year ahead and he prayed for me – for my classes, relationships, and in finding community. We then headed to the airport, where I sobbed as I watched my dad stand on the moving sidewalk, waving until I couldn’t see him anymore.

The next semester was tough. Learning French was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be; living in the suburbs, while it provided the support and stability of living with a family, felt far from my classes and new friends; homesickness was much more intense than I could ever imagine. Thankfully, this was before Facebook – I’m not sure I would have lasted if I could have seen my friends having “normal” college experiences.

Miraculously, I was in France during the years when airline tickets were cheap. A flight during the holidays ran just over $500. I was able to come home for Christmas and summer vacation and my family came to visit a couple times each during my nearly-4 years abroad. Each time I came home, it was such a relief, such a wave of ease and joy. Each time I went back, it was hard. I was glad for my experiences and how France shaped me, but those were incredibly difficult years, and saying goodbye was never easy.

After college and a few months in Nepal, I returned to Denver, ready to begin adult life. I had briefly thought of continuing the adventure – perhaps New York? But, deep down, I knew I needed the stability and ease of my home-state. I look at my very unadventurous life now: living in a small house with a big yard, staying at home with Bea, walking Daisy, running errands, and dreaming with Frank about our future. I think about all the painful goodbyes of college and how that time away molded me into who I am today. And, I’m so thankful for the joy of our simple life now.

Linked up with SheLoves Magazine’s month of Joy.