Gathering Fragments of a Mosaic

It’s been quiet around here the past couple of months. I think I haven’t acknowledged the toll on my own emotions, energy levels, and creativity the past two months have taken. It’s easy to say that there are seasons of productivity and seasons of rest but in the midst of dormancy, it’s hard to remember to lean into the quiet.

A friend recently sent me this quote:

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anaïs Nin
Two girls playing in the background; a stack of books on a table in the foreground. The scene is quiet, peaceful.
My view, more often than not.

When I first read this, I thought of the external experiences of the past couple months – of the RubyWoo Pilgrimage, of hearing Dr. Wilda Gafney talk about infusing womanist theology into the narrative, of listening to an “intimate conversation” between Michelle Obama and Reese Witherspoon. Each of these days and evenings is weaving a thread that I can’t quite see. I know it’s there and that it’s important but I don’t have the necessary perspective yet.

I like to intellectualize quotes and seasons. When I read about receiving truth, I think of all that I’ve learned and all the ways that I’ve been changed from these experiences.

But sometimes the truths we receive are small and gritty. My “One Word” for 2018 is lean in. I expected this to mean that I would lean into writing and creativity. And in some very important ways, I have. However, I’ve also been leaning into this season of parenting – of having a little more time and space in my schedule while filling it with things that grow our community. I’ve been leaning into relearning French in preparation for our anniversary trip to Paris next year and learning to redeem some untruths I had internalized about myself in the initial experience of working toward fluency. I’ve been leaning into dreams about the next phase of life – of what my days will look like when, sooner than later, both girls will be in school fulltime.

I don’t like leaning into the mundane. It doesn’t sound as cool as leaning into big ideas and incredible opportunities. But I’m also finding some important truths in those mundane experiences. I’m remembering that redemption so often starts small, often with an hour a day of French or of putting aside plans for creativity in favor of snuggling with a book in front of the fire with my emerging readers.

In these twelve days of Christmas, after the presents have been opened and before we take time to celebrate and remember the Epiphany of the magi, I’m looking around our house. Scraps of wrapping paper and packaging are still out; decorations are still up though I’m starting to make piles of things to put away. We’re between seasons – still celebrating and feasting but also moving toward the quiet of January, when the light of the Epiphany candles seems even more necessary.

As this year comes to a close, I’m trying to approach my internal spaces in a similar way. I’m living with the clutter of celebrations while looking forward to all the new year has to offer. I know so many don’t like New Year’s resolutions and the weight they often carry but I love having a reason to reset and reevaluate in the midst of the dark winter. There’s something so hopeful about remembering that, even though it may not feel like it, the days are getting longer and light is shining.

In these last couple days of the year, I’m holding onto that one word even more closely and leaning into these small, quiet moments.

Did you choose “one word” for 2018? How have you seen it in your year? How are you embracing this last week between Christmas and a fresh year?

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? 

Ruby Woo Pilgrimage: Will You Help?

Last year, I remember seeing a trending hashtag on Twitter about a lipstick that empowered women. Stories were told about wearing this bright red color to help boost confidence. The shade was just right for a variety of skin tones and I loved seeing women share the impact of this cosmetic. As the thread grew, women started dreaming of a pilgrimage and, from my view as the ultimate Twitter lurker, I saw a movement take shape.

Untitled designAs the story unfolded, I followed the hashtag and saw a powerful group of women make their way from Seneca Falls (where the American suffrage movement began) down to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives. Those photos prompted me to buy my own tube of Ruby Woo lipstick and all winter I wore that bright color and indeed, felt much more confident whenever I wore it.

Fast forward to this past spring. A peacemaking trip I had been dearly looking forward to fell through and I was letting myself feel disappointed about it. Right at that same time, I saw a friend post something about applications being open for the 2018 Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. On a whim, I decided to fill in the application. My heart was tugging toward something I could do to learn and participate in reconciliation work.

I’ll admit, when I got the email in June telling me I had “made it on the bus,” I was shocked and started second-guessing my place to ride along. My platform wasn’t big enough; I’m “just” a mom; why would my presence be needed?

But that’s the point. This bus of 40 women will represent seasoned activists, women of color, women who are just dipping their toes into this world of reconciliation; and women like me, who are here to listen and learn.

So, here’s the part where I’m asking you for help…

When I signed up for the pilgrimage, I knew we had the money set aside for this other trip. I thought I would just quietly pay my own way, quietly sit on the bus, and quietly learn from women more experienced than I.

Then I read the email. The organizers are asking us to fundraise for two other women who may not have the resources or the platform to ask. I’ve been thinking a lot about the work of reparations lately and when you look at the root, it means “repair.” By asking for help in fundraising for others, I’m using my own resources and privilege to help repair gaps that systemic injustices have created.

I’m also remembering that I’m part of a community and doing things on my own just isn’t how life is done at its best.

So I’m asking you, this little online community, to help. Would you donate a few dollars to this journey? I’d love for you to be part of it with me! Here’s the GoFundMe Page.

Here are some other details:

The Ruby Woo Pilgrimage is convened by Freedom Road, LLC.

Freedom Road’s founder, Lisa Sharon Harper wrote an article about the origins of Ruby Woo for Religion News Services: Hear the Pulpits Roar

Will you join my GoFundMe efforts? Our deadline is October 1, 2018!

I appreciate your consideration!

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? What is a life-changing journey you’ve experienced?

Almost-Summer is For New Goals

In January, a friend invited me to her home for a writers gathering. Five of us were all linked through our writing and our friend. I had just finished reading one woman’s book; another woman and I connected over facilitating online book clubs; another has kids about the same age as mine. We drank coffee, ate muffins, and talked about our writing goals for the year.

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Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Then we got to work. My friend had set up nooks around her home to give space to spread out, dream, plan, and work on whatever we needed to for a few hours of quiet. I opened my blogging calendar and mapped out some rough themes and ideas. One of my hopes this year was to write more, so I decided to try writing three times per week. I had tried this goal in the past to varying degrees of success, always amazed at those who blog daily and wondered if that would ever be me.

Now, as May comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about that goal to write more. I have blogged more and enjoyed the process but I realized that writing more and blogging more are two very different things. My creativity and energy went into blogging so any other ideas and projects were pushed to the margins.

I know that no one sets their calendars to the rhythm of my blog posts. A friend of mine actually noted when I was writing more and gave some good advice about finding space and time and voice.

I talked with my friend on a Friday morning a few weeks ago and starting thinking about when I could re-implement my goals. What perfect day would be good for writing more and blogging less? And then I realized that I could start whenever I felt like it. That, while goals create a good foundation, when they become limiting the point is lost.

IMG_8854So, last week I stepped back. I blogged when I had an idea and published when I wrote it, rather than scheduling it. I spent a day on the floor with Elle, rather than trying to play with her and squeeze in moments of writing. As we sat, chatting and building, she looked at me and said, I love playing with you, mama!

My goal is still to write more, but I’m thinking about how I can use my writing time more wisely. What needs to be public and what I can I work on long-term? How can I keep blogging – a medium I love – while saving my creativity for more in depth projects?

This shift in thinking has me considering other goals I’ve made that need readjusting. One of my favorite things about the start of summer is that it’s a time to reevaluate how those January resolutions are going. We’re not quite halfway through the year so tweaking and changing feels completely possible.

As I think about my One Word for the year, I’m remembering to lean into the shift of seasons. As tax season ramped up, my goal of working out before school fell to the wayside. Now that our schedule is shifting, how can I reintroduce that habit? Frank and I are doing a reset to our eating habits as winter fades and the healthier foods of summer come into season. And writing will look different, with both girls at home and life moving outside.

After that chat with my friend, I realized that, for as much as I love goals and outlines, I also love reevaluating them. When I take the time to recognize if my ideas are working or not, tweaking goals gives me as much peace as setting them in the first place.

Do you take time to reset your goals? How do you balance real life with your ideals?

The Compost HeapMy monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is going out on Thursday! Are you signed up? It’s like an old-school blog, filled with all the things we’re up to, books I’m reading, blogs I’m recommending, and thoughts on daily life.

I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

Books Referenced:

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

Building A Foundation of Feasting

I feel like you’d be happier all by yourself in an apartment in Paris than here with us. Frank and I were talking about this stressful season when I’m alone with the girls and he’s alone at work.

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Photo by Paul Dufour on Unsplash

My mind drifted to my freshman year in Paris when we would gather in my friend’s chambre de bonne at the very top of a building right in the midst of the city. We’d open her loft window, swing out onto the scaffolding, and climb to the rooftop with glasses of wine in hand. We’d sit and watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle on one side while the dome of Les Invalides glowed in the night. I imagined living in such a spot for a month – just long enough to immerse myself in all the quaint and beautiful pieces of Paris while leaving before the seven-flight trek up the stairs with groceries or walking down the hall for the bathroom would get old.

Frank nudged me and said, Don’t respond too quickly! In his perfect world, he would come home to the exuberant embrace of his family, the pack all piled together. In my perfect world, he’d come home and I’d retreat to an hour or so of absolute silence.

The reflective season of Lent has passed and we’re into the joyful season of Eastertide. For the next fifty days, the church celebrates Christ’s resurrection in this time before Pentecost. It’s a season of feasting and proclamation that Christ has risen, indeed.

We have two more weeks until the end of tax season and then our family will celebrate its own version of feasting and joy. We’ll head out of town to reconnect outside of our normal routines and come home to a period of re-entry when we all learn to function as a family of four again.

In a lot of ways, this tax season has been one of the hardest for our communication. There are a lot of unknowns; the girls are in different phases; I’m involved in different types of things. The only constant with tax season is that every year is different – what we learned last year may or may not apply this year. And so, we need to feast and be joyful. It may not come naturally at first and feasting may look different for each of us. For Frank, he needs to feast on proximity with his family; for me, I’ll need to feast on solitude in the midst of reconnection. We’ll need to be intentional and extend lots of grace.

But the underlying spirit is one of celebration. Just like we’re celebrating spring and resurrection and new life, we’ll be celebrating this time as a family again. It doesn’t mean that every single moment will be happy and picture perfect but I need to remember that the point of it all is redemption and newness.

How do you celebrate this season of spring and redemption? What are things you’d like to be feasting on after Lent?

Small Things That Are Big Lifesavers

We’re partway through winter, though it’s hard to believe around here. Maybe the groundhog’s prediction of six more weeks will mean that we’ll have an actual winter? Though we’ve had a couple snowy days, it’s been an incredibly dry and temperate couple months. While I’m not complaining during our daily walks to school, I know we’ll wish for more snowmelt during those dry summer months.

IMG_8319I’ve loved looking back on the past few years of participating in Anne Bogel’s question, What’s saving your life? From lotion to neighbors to habits and learning, each year brings small things that are keeping me sane. I like keeping these lifesavers a bit mundane – things that happen nearly every day, that are reminders that life is good.

Online Book Clubs
Last fall, I made the hard decision of quitting my book club of over a decade. A lot of factors contributed to this decision and it was a good choice for our family. But I miss the camaraderie of reading a book in a community. There’s something about going deeper into a text. Enter: Facebook. I took over an online book club last year and it’s been incredible picking books, leading discussions, and digging deeper with women from all over the globe. I’m part of another Facebook book club that does a quarterly read-along. During the last week of the quarter, questions are posted on an event page and we discuss a book together. This quarter, we read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a stunning novel set in 1920’s Alaska. It’s a book worth reading on its own but I got so much more after discussing it!

Bold Lipstick
I’m not much of a makeup person at all but I read somewhere that a bold lipstick draws attention away from tired eyes. Yes, please! I wanted to look more put-together, even on days where my only outing is the grocery store. I’m still not much into makeup, but my two shades of bright lipstick have given me an unexpected confidence boost!

Party City
I’m not a crafty person at all. But I’ve slowly found myself looking for reasons to celebrate small and big holidays. We have some random hooks behind our dining room table and I’ve started hanging decorations from them – ornaments at Christmas, stars for Epiphany, hearts for Valentine’s Day. I don’t have decorations for every holiday because there’s something wonderful about an empty space most of the year. But during these winter months, I love having bright kitschy hearts hanging from those hooks. Because I’m not going to make them myself, I’ve found that Party City almost always has what I’m looking for – inexpensive, a little bit gaudy, brightly colored. Now that Bea understands the calendar more, it’s fun to feed into her excitement for new decorations.

Meal Planning
I wish I were creative and confident enough in the kitchen to just throw a bunch of stuff together for a fantastic dinner. Even typing that sentence caused some stress. We’ve been meal planning consistently for a while now but I was recently reminded what a stress reliever it is, knowing I have everything I need for a week’s worth of meals. Especially now that tax season is here, having our meals planned is one less stress.

Grace
We’re in an interesting season with the girls. While it’s still very hands-on, they’re also getting to be pretty independent. We’re establishing good routines and I’m feeling more comfortable leaning into new opportunities and adding goals to my plate. Of course, the moment I decide we’re in a good place to add something, life gets hectic or someone’s sleep patterns shift, or we need to huddle in as a family. I’m learning to give myself grace in those moments. It’s not that I need to scrap my goals or commitments but I’m allowing myself to mess up a little. To not always give as much time and attention as I imagine I can. And I’m learning that things continue; that no one cares as much as I imagine; that my commitments are still met and everyone is just fine. I’m learning that the circumstances will never be perfect, so what can I do in the meantime? It’s given me a lot of permission to continue pursuing opportunities without stressing about perfection.

I know there are many more things saving my life right now – from near-daily conversations about life and theology through Voxer to the accountability and care of our neighbors to my community gearing up for tax season with us. My life is constantly being saved by those small but big things.

So, as we’re on this downward slope to spring, what is saving your life right now? How do you pause in the midst of winter to reflect?

Linked with Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy for her annual life-saving linkup. 

For the curious, here are my lifesavers from 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Books Referenced in this Post:

41w+Snjfi-L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.