Six Lessons for the Short Days of Long Winter Months

I’ve been learning a lot in the past six months. Really, I should say that I’m unlearning a lot. I’m unlearning things I thought I knew well, unlearning history and even my own beliefs. There will be more to write about these things in the future but right now, I’m letting these unlearnings settle and sort.

For quite a while, I was content leaning into this space and holding it quietly. Writing has been put on hold as I let these ideas and shifts weave their way through my thinking. But I’m also starting to get that itch to write regularly again. Jumping back in after months of sporadic posts seemed overwhelming so I’m starting with a list of things I’ve learned this winter.

Some of these are big things, others are small reminders of what works during these long months of short days.

What I’ve Learned This Winter

What I've Learned This Winter: Six Lessons for the Short Days of these Long Months in a white text box. The background is a stock photo of snowy mountains.

Routines Make Me Happy
It seems that every winter my sleep cycles get disrupted. When the girls were tiny, I blamed it on their six-month growth spurts but now everyone is sleeping through the night and I still wake up at 2:00, thoughts whirling. I’ve always been a routined bedtime person but in an effort to optimize my sleep, I’ve become stricter. Even adding a few more boundaries to my bedtime and wake-up routines have made my days better. Maybe the middles don’t go as planned but I know that I’ve bookended the day well, which makes me happy.

Learning Something New Is Good
Frank and I are heading to Paris in May to celebrate our tenth anniversary so I’ve broken out my old Rosetta Stone curriculum, downloaded Duolingo onto my phone, and subscribed to the Coffee Break French podcast. Every day, I practice French – somedays more than others but it’s rare that I skip a day’s practice in some form. I don’t know if this counts as learning something new, as it’s been more of a review but I love remembering things I used to know. After our trip, I’m eager to switch over to Spanish and continue this language adventure.

Experiential Dates are Essential
Frank and I have found that starting tax season with a series of experiential dates sets the tone for these three months of busyness. One year, we took three weeks of cooking lessons. This year, we spent two weeks learning the Cha Cha. Spending two hours fumbling through unknown steps, looking at each other in the eye was exactly what we needed in a season that’s so easy to miss fun connections.

When Stretched, Turn to the Wisdom of Others
I was recently asked to share my story and then pray for the MOPS International board members. Sharing my story is something I’ve practiced and felt comfortable doing. Praying in front of a group is something I’ve never enjoyed. I’d much rather pray one-on-one than in front of a crowd, especially of strangers. So I turned to Jan Richardson’s phenomenal book of prayers and reflections, In the Sanctuary of Women. Starting my own prayer with the wisdom of another woman gave me the words and courage to continue on my own.

Elle, a fleece-pajama clad 3-year-old with purple bifocal glasses is using her hands to stretch her mouth into a "silly face."

Embracing the Moment Doesn’t Mean I Can’t Dream of the Future
Elle has officially given up her afternoon nap and it’s been quite the adjustment. Suddenly my quiet afternoons are gone. In some ways, I like this – we can run errands and catch up on things that felt rushed in our morning hours. I’m remembering that the next year and a half before kindergarten is going to zip by and I’m embracing these “unproductive” moments. I’m also eagerly awaiting the next phase, remembering the both-and of motherhood.

Filling the Well, Turning the Compost, Leaning into the Quiet is Uncomfortable
As I’ve said, this has been a season of unlearning. I’m leaning into this time of growth and turning and yet I’m antsy to just learn the lessons! I want to step forward and apply all I’ve gathered. I know this process takes time and I’m holding this tension, sometimes gracefully and sometimes with impatience. I wish I could draw conclusions quickly and profoundly but I’m a slow processor and so am remembering that this quiet season will produce fruit.

What about you? What have you been learning this season?

Inspired by Emily Freeman’s quarterly question, What Have You Learned This Season?

Be Kind to Yourself

When I wrote this post for SheLoves, it was easy writing about the discomfort. That seems to be part of life, right? Leaning into the discomfort. Something didn’t feel complete about the piece. I worked on it, sent it to a friend, and finally sent it to my editor, thinking it was all about discomfort. And then I remembered the most important part: Be kind to yourself. I added in that imperative piece and it all came together. That seems to be the hardest part for me – remembering kindness to myself. I hope you’ll remember that today. Be kind to yourself.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece. I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

We stretched at the end of our weekly workout, faces on the mat, right hands extended, left arms stretched under our bodies, kind of in child’s pose. I’m sure there’s an official name for this stretch but I don’t know it. I do know it feels awkward and amazing, all at once. Just as the stretch feels more awkward than amazing, our instructor encourages us saying, “Lean into the discomfort while still being kind to yourself.”

Anyone who has taken any sort of yoga or workout class has probably heard something along those lines — lean into the discomfort. After an hour of movement, I often want to skip the stretching. I want to stop, change into clean clothes, move onto the next part of my day, and check off the box of healthy living. But that wouldn’t be kind to myself—mentally or physically.

But taking the time to stretch and lean into the discomfort is what allows me to healthfully go on with the rest of my day. It’s this kindness that keeps me from getting hurt and is why I keep coming back to class, week after week.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase in other areas of my life lately. How am I leaning into the discomfort of life as I stretch my thinking? How is that discomfort preparing me to take what I’m learning and go back into my daily routines?

I’m in a creatively quiet season right now. At first, when the words were hard to find, I welcomed the space, knowing that sometimes we need to stop and listen before we can produce. But months have gone by and that quiet is turning to discomfort. How long will this last? I’m starting to push against the discomfort, questioning my abilities and purpose. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What are some ways you are remembering to be kind to yourself?

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?

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?

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!

Learning Leads to Action

I’ve been thinking a lot about activism and how I want to model being active in our community, in politics, and in our world to the girls. At first, I was intimidated by SheLoves’ theme, “I keep showing up” because so often, I don’t show up. It’s easier to hide behind ideas than it is to bundle up and get outside. I hope today’s thoughts about showing up encourage you to put your learning into action. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

annie-rim-learning-leads-to-action-3After weeks of temperate weather, we woke up the morning of Martin Luther King, Jr day to snow and temperatures well below freezing. I debated canceling our plans to attend the march. It seemed like a lot of effort to bundle up my two girls, find parking, stand in the cold, and march for four miles. Would they really remember this moment? Shouldn’t I wait until they are older, when they would appreciate all the effort that went into an outing like this?

As I scrambled eggs, I looked over to see my fleece pajama-clad girls reading sweetly by the fire. I grabbed my phone, intending to text our friends and say that we were opting for a cozy snow day. Instead, I listened to a Vox from another friend who said, “Just bring a thermos of hot chocolate!”

I finished making breakfast, we bundled up in layers, I made a big thermos of extra chocolaty hot cocoa, and we headed out on the icy roads to City Park. We found parking just a block away. There were tears, mittens got wet and the hot cocoa was spilled and refilled. We ran into friends from church. We walked for a few blocks before my friend and I were faced with a mutiny of five cold children, five years old and under.

After we carried our wailing children back to our cars, switched out wet socks for dry, and headed to a nearby McDonald’s Play place, my friend and I talked about the need for collective memory. I took a picture of me and the girls in a brief moment of smiles. I want them to remember that we did this and it was good.

On the drive home, I asked if they’d do it again. My two-year-old said no, she’d rather go to a park. But my five-year-old said yes! Green light checks! Read the rest over at SheLoves and join in the conversation!

How do you put your learning into action? Would you label yourself an activist?

When Life Gives You Lemons, Drink Champagne

I had a birthday this weekend and it did not go as expected. A trip had been planned; that trip got canceled. I was pretty bummed but then Frank took the girls to the Women’s March and I went to a used bookstore and had a quiet reading lunch. We got a babysitter and had a lovely date night. It snowed and our neighbors fed my family so I could have alone time. I drank champagne while eating leftovers from the fancy date restaurant. All in all, it was a good reminder of what a birthday weekend really should look like: Family, friends, books, and bubbles.

I learned a lot from this weekend that I hope to carry into this next year:

IMG_8185It’s OK to Feel Your Feelings
When I woke up the morning after canceling my flight, I was really sad. I didn’t feel like celebrating. And I let myself feel those feelings. If I had plastered on a happy face, it would have been fine for a while but eventually, that disappointment needed to be felt. So, I did. This year, I want to remember to feel my feelings. Not to wallow in them or to let them ruin an entire day. (And sometimes, it’s just not the right time or place to feel every emotion and I have to wait.) But I want to recognize the health and importance of feeling the uncomfortable feelings – the ones of disappointment or hurt. When I stop and recognize them, I also see some root causes that I may not have noticed before.

What Was My Desired Outcome?
When the actual trip didn’t happen, I thought about things I was looking forward to: Reading a book on the airplane, catching up with a dear friend, resting, solitude, seeing a new place. While I couldn’t catch up with my friend like I was hoping, I did try to recreate some of my other hopes. I stayed in bed and read while Frank took the girls on some outings. I started my “airplane book” at a restaurant and read it for the amount of time I would have been on the plane. When life doesn’t go as planned, I hope to stop and recognize my hopes and outcomes – what can I do to create space for creativity and rest?

Call on Your Community
When we had to shift our plans, we called our babysitter to see if she was free for a date night. I texted a friend about getting together. Our babysitter was available; my friend wasn’t. But reaching out and asking helped get ideas rolling. Once I started thinking about things I wanted to do, I was motivated to get dressed and do them. At first, I wanted to keep my disappointment to myself, but by letting others in, I realized what support and love I have right here – something I hope to never take for granted.

Drink Champagne
A few years ago, Frank got me a case of sparkling wine for my birthday. The idea was that we’d have enough “everyday champagne” to toast all the moments – big and small. So, on this weekend, the girls drank Martinelli’s sparkling cider with every meal and I sipped on Cava all afternoon by the fire. We had the fancy Champagne on my birthday dinner but having something sparkly to sip all weekend reminded me to celebrate every moment, no matter what.

Now, with a few days between me and my initial disappointment, I have a much better perspective. Do I still wish I could have spent some quality time with my friend? Absolutely. But I know it will happen. And the gift of remembering these perfect small details of life made this birthday weekend one that I hope helps define my year.

What are some good life lessons you’ve learned out of disappointment? How do you recalibrate your expectations?

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Books you might like:

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(This book gave me perspective.)

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(My “airplane” book.)

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