One September Morning

I think my baby girl was about 6 weeks old when I first felt the itch to expand our world beyond the hammock in our backyard. While I loved snuggling my sweet newborn, I knew we needed a community. I was one of the first in our group of friends to have a baby and so I didn’t have a lot of stay-at-home girlfriends to lean on.

I remember typing in “MOPS near me” to Google one morning, knowing that an aunt of mine was a MOPS mentor for a group at her church in California. As little pinpoints filled the map on my screen, I wondered how I would pick one of the several groups that met within a couple miles of our house.

When my daughter woke from her morning nap, I closed my computer, packed a diaper bag with more essentials than I would ever bring with our second baby, strapped Bea into her car seat, clicked it into the stroller, and walked up the block on our first outing to our neighborhood library’s Book Babies hour.

Of course, we arrived late because that’s what moms of newborns do. As I unloaded and sat in the back of the group, a mom without a baby in her lap leaned over with a smile and welcomed me. Later, during “free play” time, she asked for my life story. Kathy is one of those women who probably knows details about everyone she’s in contact with––from regulars in the checkout line to those at her church. She has the ability to ask all the right questions and to make anyone feel safe and comfortable.

As we talked, she invited me to the MOPS group that had just started at her church. It was one of the farthest in my Google search but still only a five- minute drive from our house. I decided that this conversation was Divine Intervention. A few days later, I walked into a church and was greeted with coffee, muffins and women who wanted to know me. Kathy wasn’t there but she had told the leader about a new mom she had met at the library. This group was expecting me and I knew I had found my home.

As I sat at a table, holding my baby, watching the other moms work on a craft project, another mom asked if she could hold Bea so I could make my own craft. Before I knew it, April was bouncing her next to our table as I found myself with baby-free arms for the first time since giving birth.

It’s been seven years since that moment and I can now say with confidence, that morning was life-changing. These women have become our family’s close friends. We’ve celebrated birthdays and baby showers together, we’ve gone to each other’s homes for dinners and watch each other’s kids in a pinch. Recently, my family switched from our church of 10 years to fully commit to the community at our MOPS church. It has always been home, even though it took us time to realize that.

Looking back, that day in September seems so random. It’s rare when God speaks so loudly or so quickly to my questions. As school starts back, I’m looking for those nudges again. Where is God leading me? What relationships do I need to invest in? What volunteer opportunities will fit our family in this season? How will I look back on this season and recognize that God was speaking loud and clear?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/mops-story-one-september-morning

Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/

Pausing to Enjoy the Summit

When I moved back to Colorado after college, my dad and I would spend summers hiking the 14,000-foot mountains around Colorado. We’d wake up before dawn so that we could be stepping foot on the trail at sunrise. We’d hike all morning, eat an early lunch at the 10418255_10152599208242938_297764949818653760_nsummit, and then hike down before the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. I loved having lunch at the peak. It was a reward for hard work and it gave us time to pause and really enjoy the scenery. What’s the point of “bagging a peak” if you don’t stop to enjoy the view?

We were sitting in a circle at MOPS, talking about having one foot in the toddler world and another toe dipping into The Next Phase. Some of the women are firmly entrenched in the baby and toddler years but a group of us are starting to emerge. We’re not as sleep deprived; our kids are a bit more independent; school is on the horizon. What’s next?

It’s an interesting place to be – on the cusp. I don’t really know how long I’ll be at this summit, overlooking new ideas and opportunities. Part of me wants to just dive in and leave this last season behind. But reality means recognizing that being on the cusp is a slow journey.

I’m watching others take these next steps. They’re starting practices, taking classes, writing books, and pursuing dreams, all with kids the same age as ours. I compare myself and think that I should be ready for this next journey.

I’m remembering to stop at the peak, to eat my lunch, and to enjoy the scenery. I don’t know how long this will take – it could be a shorter pause than I’m anticipating. Or it could be a few more years until this next phase actually happens. I’m remembering to cheer for my friends, to work hard at my own goals, and am learning to savor this particular time in life.

How are you remembering to pause and enjoy the scenery? How do you balance living fully in the moment while pursuing dreams?

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

Small Actions Take Courage

I had the honor of writing about my experience in our school’s Family Literacy Program for the MOPS Magazine. They’ve republished the piece over at the MOPS Blog today so I thought I’d share an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to read the rest!

nordwood-themes-179255-unsplashWe sat together, sipping coffee. She asked how I took my coffee and I replied, “Usually black.” She told me she was the same. Back home, they grew and roasted their own coffee, which she would drink black. But here … We smiled and rolled our eyes toward the cream-filled mugs.

We talked about family and I asked her if she had plans to go back to Ethiopia to see her mom. She said, “No.” Last year, her father had been brutally killed, their house burned down, and her mother and siblings went into hiding. Now, they’re able to talk on the phone sometimes, but it’s hard. She doesn’t want to go there; they can’t come here.

When I signed up to be a tutor for the family literacy program at my daughter’s school, I hadn’t anticipated these stories. Stories of leaving children behind; of worrying about policies impacting their families here. Stories of loss and hope and struggle; the reality of living as an immigrant or refugee in America.

My first thought was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about. My life seemed easy, privileged and unreal compared with my fellow moms. Who was I to feel tired or annoyed with my kids? Who was I to question my next steps or identity as a stay-at-home mom? These women were working multiple jobs! They really knew what stress and work-life balance (or imbalance) looks like!

But that’s not fair – not to them or to me. I’m learning to stop and listen, but not to let the stories of others overwhelm my own journey. Maybe I don’t have to decide to move my family to another country, but I do have to make small decisions that will impact our future. Read the rest over at the MOPS Blog!

What are ways you’ve been gusty lately? How do you remember that your own courage matters, without comparing your journey?

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/.

When Hospitality Becomes Reality

Even though I wrote this for the MOPS blog well over a month ago, we’ve just come off three solid months of houseguests. As we head into the holiday season, I hope you find these words encouraging!

annie_rim_hospitalityWhen we were searching for a house three years ago, one of the pieces of my wish list included a dedicated guest room. In our tiny starter home, our guest room-office-library-catchall room was fine but didn’t exude Martha Stewartesque hospitality.

After looking at many different sizes and ages of homes with our realtor, we popped into a random open house one Saturday – and found our dream home. It was old enough to have character but new enough to be up to code. And it included a dedicated guest room with bright windows looking into our yard filled with mature trees.

My dream had been to offer this space to anyone in need: friends, family, folks from church, and those in need of a short-term place to rest.

For a variety of reasons (mainly consisting of two young kids), our guest room stayed empty, save for the annual visits from family and close friends. I loved walking by the one always-tidy room in our home, but I also felt a tug to fill it somehow.

This year, our guest room has been filled from mid-August to the end of October. Between weekend visits from family to friends visiting from Zimbabwe, to another friend moving to Denver and needing a place to land before finding a job and home of her own, our guest room has felt like a revolving door.

My dream was put into practice. Some of the guests were incredible, helping with housework and entertaining our girls. Some were unexpected and high maintenance. Our long-term guest made our transition to kindergarten easier, as she stayed home with our napping toddler while I did afternoon pickup.

But, two full months of other people in our house also took a toll. Our five-year-old cried one night as she brushed her teeth in our bathroom, wishing she could just have her own bathroom back. My communication with my husband hasn’t been what it usually is, because someone is always around and we can’t talk as freely as we usually do.

Again, there are pros and cons. Maybe our daily communication isn’t the same, but we’ve taken advantage of someone being home after bedtime so we can take our neglected dog out into the neighborhood for an evening walk.

I just bought a book about hospitality being a Christian tradition. I’ve just barely started it, but I knew I needed the reminder that, as Christians, hospitality isn’t just something nice to do. It’s a rooted part of our faith – from Abraham and Sarah providing a meal to angels in disguise, to Mary and Martha hosting Jesus and the disciples, to the early church opening their homes to Paul and the missionaries – hospitality defines Christianity.

This season of hospitality has been rich and exhausting. In so many ways, I am looking forward to walking by an empty guest room again, smiling at the only tidy room in the house. But I am also thankful that we are able to model this open-handedness to our daughters. It’s been a challenge to them, but such an important lesson in sharing what we have, in using our own blessings to bless others.

It’s a reminder that, no matter what words I use to tell my children about the message and life of Jesus, the way they really understand it is when I choose to live it out, in our family’s values, in my own attitude, and in ways that they can see God at work in our family.

How has the practice of hospitality stretched you? As we go into this season of increased guests, how do you balance an open home with quiet space?

Originally posted over at The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/hospitality-becomes-reality.

Sharing Stories

In my MOPS group, we’ve chosen to use our “off” weeks as time to share stories. At first, this was daunting. Many women were worried they didn’t have a story to share; they had “journey envy,” as they had led such a drama-free life; they didn’t like speaking in front of others. But, as women have stepped forward and shared with courage, we’re discovering the power of story and storytelling.

We’ve heard from women who came from idyllic, stable families; women who raised siblings at the age of 9; women whose parents made tough choices about family and immigration; women who have seen the effects and redemption of unhealthy doctrine. We’ve shared of the hard, early days of motherhood and the lessons learned from building a family.

We’ve learned that our stories are interconnected, no matter how seemingly separate the details are. We’ve learned that God can take hard, impossible moments, and bring about grace and redemption through them.

Mostly, I’ve learned that our stories are important. By taking the time and creating the space to share our own stories, we are slowly learning pieces of a bigger story, a greater puzzle of how we are all connected and intertwined.

Have you shared your story lately?

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