The Swirl of New Year’s Resolutions

For the first time in years, I started a new journal at the beginning of January. It just kind of worked out that way but it felt a little odd literally opening a new page at the beginning of a new year.

I absolutely love January and all the hope it brings. I know I’m the same human I was on December 31 but there’s something incredibly communal about society recognizing the value of assessing hopes and dreams and new possibilities.

In the midst of reset and choosing guiding words, I’ve seen more pushback this year than in the past. There are posts and articles about just living life – that we are enough without our resolutions.

On the one hand, I completely agree. Too much emphasis on a goal or hope can be debilitating. For this reason, I use an academic calendar to plan my writing and year, so that I can have a fresh start in August when there’s less pressure. I keep my journals going until the last page or so, rather than starting fresh each year. I reevaluate my goals as we approach summer and again as we end because those offer natural points in our family’s rhythm. I like being reminded that goals can happen at any time, regardless of time or season.

Our girls went back to school on Tuesday and we’re settling back into the rhythm we had established over the fall. In the space of my two free hours, I got the chores that had been hanging over my head during the break finished. It’s amazing how productive I can be when I only have myself to buckle in and out of the car!

While we were ready for a routine, I do love extended breaks. Turning off my alarm, having coffee in my pajamas, and creating space for spontaneity are all refreshing practices. Although I do look at people who take a day of quiet to reflect on the past year and feel a twinge of envy – most of my reflection is in my head while listening to a harmonica concert or a puppet show that would rival a Dada production.

Ultimately, I’m thankful that I have a full week between turning a page on a new year, filled with possibilities and hopes and visions and actually having time to reflect and let them sink in. Because that’s how life is – it’s so rare that we get to end one thing neatly and begin a new thing fully attentive. There’s a bleeding of the edges and a natural swirl around any transition. Not being able to cleanly begin the new year is a reminder for me of how these hopes and goals will most likely play out – in a messy, swirly sort of way.

But I do pick One Word to define my year. I also pick a handful of loose goals that I have – writing daily, learning French, practicing calligraphy, working out consistently. I don’t put a timeline or number after these goals – maybe hopes or ideas would be a better term for them. But I love starting each year with these at the back of my mind.

Even though those last few days of the break weren’t as magical as I envisioned (are they ever?) and even though our transition back to school hasn’t been as sweet as I had hoped (is it ever?) I’m hoping to take that lesson with me through the year. That, as I set goals and reevaluate throughout the year, I remember to give each transition and hope time and space. There’s going to be that awkward, messy, often frustrating transition but things often shake out and I’m so thankful for those steps, goals, and dreams that were simmering through the chaos.

As we set goals and visions for the new year, I hope you find space in the natural chaos of life to lean into the transition as well.

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

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? 

Life is Mostly Boring

When I lived in Paris, none of my apartments had washing machines. So, part of my weekly routine was packing up my clothes and the lightest of my homework books and walking to the nearest laundry to spend hours watching my clothes churn. In my last apartment, I would walk through the winding streets of Montmartre, quintessential Paris, to get to the laverie. Even though the setting was romantic, the activity was pretty boring. Put in a few loads, wait, read, switch them, wait, read, pack everything up, walk home.

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Image: RyanMcGuire via Pixabay

One of my biggest pet peeves about staying home with the girls is when people tell me that they couldn’t do this – it would be too boring. I’m never really sure how to respond to this because, honestly, staying home with young kids is often boring. We do fun things but most of our day is structured. Some days, we stay home and clean the house and do laundry. Some days are filled with adventures. But even at the museum or park, unless I’m with another mom to chat with, I sit on a bench with my book, watching my kids play. Not the most exciting life.

My guess is that if we were able to track the number of minutes per day we spent on boring activities, most of our days would be pretty boring. Commuting to work, answering emails, grocery shopping. No matter where you live or how exotic the setting, life is made up of these boring details.

In her book, The Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris talks about the liturgy of the ordinary moments. She connects the monastic rhythms of prayer and repetition to our own daily chores of dishes and laundry and raising kids, challenging us to find God in those repetitive moments. She says,

Ironically, it seems that it is by the means of seemingly perfunctory daily rituals and routines that we enhance the personal relationships that nourish and sustain us.

This is a reminder to me to find the holy in these everyday moments. I’ve tried to set aside time to pray and it just never seems to work out. Something is always happening when my alarm to stop and pray dings. But when I incorporate prayer into those mundane moments, I’m much more successful. I pray for a mom I know as I wipe the counters. I pray for my girls as I give them a bath. I pray for the world as I stir our dinner. I find that when I pray for the same thing as I do the same task, a habit is formed and my boring days seem holier.

I’m not great at this rhythm. More often than not, I forget to pray altogether. But when I do remember, I realize that God has given me these boring moments for a purpose. If my time was always filled with thinking, enriching, stretching activities, I would have no space for those quiet moments of finding God.

I’m embracing this boring season. Before too long, my days will be filled with other things outside my control and I’ll look back on these long, uneventful days with longing. Not just of this season of motherhood but of this time to find a holy space while doing the mundane.

How do you find holiness in the boring moments? Do you find peace in routine or do you thrive on new and unexpected events?

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What Works for Me Might Not Work for You

One of the things I love most about our house is the semi-open concept. Each space is clearly defined but without doors. So, our formal dining room-turned playroom is open to the living room and dining area. I can see and hear the girls playing while I’m in the kitchen. It’s great. Until the clutter seeps out into the rest of the space. (Which it always does.)

IMG_8123I read a blog post once about organizing a playroom into four separate bins for each season. You pack up everything each quarter and then put the “new” toys out to keep the playroom tidy and fresh. I loved the idea of this but the project itself seemed daunting. Once it was done, I’m sure it’s a great system but I wasn’t willing to spend days on end simplifying.

My current organization system is longterm. When Elle is in kindergarten in a few years, I’ll do a gigantic purge and we’ll start from there. In the meantime, we have crafts for 5-year-olds alongside infant toys mixed up in a gigantic hand-me-down kitchen. The thing is, when we have friends with kids of other ages, all the toys are eventually played with.

It’s such a reminder that what works well for one person may not be the right fit for me. And that is great! There are areas in our life that I am a stickler about and these nonnegotiables must seem like a lot of work to others who just don’t need structure in that particular area of their own lives. We all have these things that work well or don’t; areas that we must keep neat but let other things get messy.

I was talking with my MOPS group about picking One Word to define a year. For me, it’s been helpful and such an amazing thing to look back on over the years. I love seeing the thread of God’s faithfulness defined in each word. For Frank, setting SMART goals is how he best functions. Without a measurable time limit, his goals turn into dreams that turn into unaccomplished wishes. We all function differently.

As I read articles about starting the new year well, about simplifying or adding or changing things, I remember to learn from the experiences of others without trying to replicate them exactly for myself. I’m all about refreshing old routines but I’m also learning to know myself well and trust what works best for me.

What works best for you? Are you a goals person or a one-word person? What’s that one area that you have to have clean and neat or else everything else seems chaotic?

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

Caution Leads to Independence

On New Year’s Day, we bundled up and went for an icy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our winter here has been incredibly dry with very little snow but that week of Christmas was cold. When we got to the trailhead, old snow had iced over and we carefully set out for our mile “hike” around Bear Lake.

IMG_8042Adventurous Bea ran down the trail, sliding down any incline on her stomach, penguin-style. She spun, rolled, and dove through the snowy path, shedding her coat because she had worked up so much heat.

Cautious Elle rode atop Frank’s shoulders, taking in the view. Suddenly, Frank hit an icy patch and they fell into a snow bank. I don’t know how he did it, but Frank managed to fall and catch Elle all in one motion. She came away unscathed but startled.

When Bea falls and is surprised, we’ve learned to acknowledge her accident, give her a quick hug, and get her back on the bike or trail as quickly as possible. Once she’s back to the activity, she’s usually fine. Elle takes a bit more work. She needs to snuggle in and really observe her environment again.

After the tumble, we came to a hill at the edge of the lake. Someone had built a little snowman on top and Bea began sliding down. Elle watched for a while as we invited her again and again to join the fun. Finally, Frank took her in his arms and held her in his lap as they slid down the small hill. After that one experience, all Elle wanted to do was ride down that hill in our laps.

This experience reminded me of what we call “gradual release of responsibility” in teaching. When someone is learning something new, you can’t just throw them in the deep end. You model how to do it, then you sit beside them doing it together, then you have them do it on their own knowing you are close by to support until eventually, they can do it independently.

It’s a reminder that caution leads to independence. That, until we feel safe in a situation, we can’t take risks. Until Elle felt safe and secure with us by her side, she wasn’t able to slide down that hill alone.

When I was picking lean in to define my year, a friend reminded me of the importance of leaning into our community for support. It’s a reminder that asking for help and support is what makes us stronger and allows us to take greater risks.

As I look at this year and what it holds, I know that I’ll need my community to help me along the way. In big ways and small, the comfort and rooted knowledge that my friends and family are here to support me give me courage and strength to lean into new responsibilities and adventure. They also give me the courage to lean into those small, daily tasks that would feel overwhelming without their encouragement.

I know that leaning into what God has planned would come to nothing if I didn’t lean into the people God has placed in my life to help me along this journey.

How do you depend on your community? In what ways does leaning on others for help give you the ability to take greater risks?