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?

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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?

 

Leaning Into Ideas Rather Than Details

I just finished reading This is Not a Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestinian Festival of Literature, one of the most stunning collections of essays I’ve ever read. I spent over a month slowly reading the words, letting them sink in. Some days, I’d take a break. Often, I would only read one or two essays a night.

grown-up-1637302_960_720As December drew to a close, I knew I could have sped through a few more essays at a time to get one more book read before the year ended. Instead, I chose to savor each story and poem.

It’s with this mindset and intention that I’m entering 2018. After spending a few years tracking my reading goals with a set number, this year I decided to take a break. I’ve made a list of twenty books I’d like to read, and I know more will come. I want to slow down, to savor, to go deeper into these books.

It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot last year or that I rushed through my books. But sometimes, when a number is attached to a goal, I make it about the destination rather than the journey. I’m learning that some years are for measurable goals and other years are for visions and ideas.

I have a friend who creates categories she wants to learn more about each year and tailors the books she reads to those categories. Other friends do a “clear the shelf” challenge, where they stack books on a shelf in their home and try to empty it by the year’s end. (I suppose this is similar to my list…)

I was thinking about goals I have for this year and many of them are like my reading list. I have some ideas and hopes but none are conducive to creating a spreadsheet or checklist. I like that this year of lean in means leaning into the ideas rather than details. I’m not throwing out details but I’m also holding my goals a bit more loosely. I have a feeling that things are swirling around this year and I want to be open to learning rather than achieving.

In her chapter called “Composting,” Natalie Goldberg says,

“…we collect experience, and from the decomposition of thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil” (pp 18-19).

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Especially now at the start of the year, in these months when we turn the compost and wait for spring, I’m setting my goals knowing that there is some waiting to be done. I’m resting with an overarching vision of my year.

This is pretty counterintuitive for me. I like checklists and goals but it also feels peaceful and right. Maybe this year of lean in will mean big things but right now, lean in means leaning into immeasurable goals.

How do you set goals? Are you a checklist person or an ideas person? Have you ever switched up the way you track your goals?

Setting Goals as an Act of Hope

A new year means new motivation for projects and goals, right? Ringing in the new year in the dead of winter seems a bit counterintuitive. We’ve put most of the Christmas IMG_8058decorations away – we’ll save the lights for after Epiphany tomorrow. We’re still on Winter Break from school so our schedule is wonderfully relaxed but it’s still thrown off. It’s dark out early and I find myself struggling to get motivated. (I realize this is a Northern Hemisphere problem – my guess is that our Southern neighbors have a completely different view of new year’s goals.)

Maybe we need to set goals while we’re in hibernation mode? Maybe ringing in the new year right after the shortest day of the year is a way of keeping hope and looking forward to a season when it’s just easier to be motivated.

What I’m learning about my new year’s goals and hopes is that they don’t need to be achieved in January. Setting these goals is an act of hope for the entire year – for direction during those cozy, lethargic winter days as well as those bouncy, energetic spring days.

Many others have linked the season of winter to our own spiritual growth – of letting our roots dig in without signs of life; of giving ourselves rest to produce fruit later. I’m learning to take this approach even more globally.

As I read and learn about global conflict and am motivated to examine my own participation in activism, I’m also recognizing this season of growing my roots, of setting down a foundation before I act. As I look ahead in our family’s next stages, I remember that this is a season of growing strong roots in our girls – that this time before we send them off is mundane yet incredibly valuable.

I’m learning to view my goals and resolutions and one word as a long-term vision, not a quick checklist. That I’m on a slow walk through life, not a spirit or even a marathon.

How do you pace yourself in January? How do you balance goals with resolutions; short-term ideas with long-term visions?

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

One Word: Lean In

I wasn’t going to pick just one word to define 2018. This will be my fourth year using a single word to guide my year and I just wasn’t connecting with anything in particular. But as I reflected on this year of capacity and all the unexpected ways in which it has played out, I realized that a natural follow-up emerged.

Lean InThis year has been a year of changes for our family. I quit my job at the museum and almost immediately started volunteering as an editor with SheLoves Magazine. After years of feeling unsettled and one final year of stress, Frank made the decision to leave his job as president of a company to start his own business. Bea started full-day kindergarten. Even the best changes our stressful and this year, our family has been stretched to capacity.

As I think about 2017 and the ways in which I recognized capacity in my life – from time management to social justice to how I parent – I realized incredible opportunities rose when I said no to really good things in order to say yes to other really good things.

Some of those really good things have led to opportunities and other really good things that I never would have imagined a year ago. As the girls grow a little bit older and time looks a little bit different, I want to learn to confidently lean into those experiences and opportunities.

As I think about my own goals as well as those of our family, the phrase Lean In kept coming to mind. I want to lean into the next few months of Elle being home before starting preschool. I want to lean into social justice and opportunities to learn about peacemaking in our neighborhood and our world.  I want to lean into my community – to ask for help and guidance, to remember that life isn’t meant to be figured out alone. I want to lean into writing opportunities and experiences surrounding that. I know Frank is figuring out how best to lean into his business while also leaning into our family life.

As always, with picking one word, I know that this will take me in directions I could not possibly dream. I hesitated to pick lean in precisely because it seems riskier than my past words. But then, especially the past few years, I see how these words and intention have built on each other. I know that leaning in may take me outside my comfort zone, but I’m also realizing how incredible those risks can be.

Do you pick One Word to guide your year? How have your words changed your life?

(If you’re curious… My One Word 2014 was Grace; 2015 was Choose; 2016 was Enough, and 2017 was Capacity.)

Check out OneWord365 for word ideas and to find others with your same word.

Full Capacity is Quieter Than I Expected

I have the honor of sharing some thoughts at SheLoves Magazine about my “One Word” for the year: Capacity. At just about a third of the way through 2017, I’m finding that I may have misunderstood my word and I’m learning to pause and recalibrate my expectations. Head over to the SheLoves to read the whole article, but here’s an excerpt:

Annie-Rim-Quieter-Full-Capacity3We’re in the midst of a chaotic season in our home. With two young girls, life is always running at full speed. My husband is an accountant and the weeks leading up to the April tax deadline are extra busy and stressful. The other day, I pulled out some frozen chili for dinner. While I was defrosting it I noticed it seemed a bit chunkier than normal chili but the frenetic pace of early-evening solo parenting pushed the thought to the back of my mind. When my husband, Frank, came home from work and reheated his portion he asked, “Did you add sour cream and Frito chips to the beef stew?”

It wasn’t a huge mistake, but it’s one that totally encapsulates this season of life. I am running at full capacity, often to the detriment of the details that make up the big picture. Did we have a hot meal for dinner? Yes. Big picture! Was it the meal I had planned? No.

When I claimed “capacity” as my one word for 2017, I felt pretty good about it. My word for 2016 was “enough” and I felt that this would be a good follow-up. I had spent a year calming my expectations, sitting at Jesus’ feet, channeling my inner Mary rather than my dominant Martha. But now, I was ready to fill up that space! Martha has a place in my life, too, and I was eager to be open to opportunity and live to my fullest capacity. A third of the way through this year, I’m realizing how deeply I have misunderstood both of my guiding words.

Enough isn’t a pass to sit back and let life pile up around me, knowing that I am truly enough. And capacity doesn’t mean filling my time to the brink, even if it’s full of really good things.

Recently, I was reading Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong. At the beginning she says, “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough.” Read the rest over at SheLoves and please join in the conversation!

If you picked One Word for 2017, how is your journey going? What have you discovered, four months into the year?

Remembering to Ride My Tricycle

Elle just turned 18-months and her little personality has taken off. She’s trying to form complete sentences and even told me her first story the other day. It’s so amazing to watch her follow in Bea’s footsteps, trying so hard to be just like her big sister.

Most of the time, Bea takes the time to help and guide Elle. In the bathtub, I overhear Bea slowly talking to Elle, Elle! This is an elephant. Can you say el-e-phant? Elle! This is a towel. Can you say tow-el? Elle! Do you believe in Jesus? Say, I believe in Jesus! Elle!

Other times, Bea is frustrated when her little sister draws on an art project or knocks down a lego creation. And for as much as Elle emulates her big sister, she wants to do things on her own. She wants to be just like Bea but without the time and effort and years it took for Bea to learn her 4-year-old achievements.

img_3613When we ride bikes, Elle loves sitting on Bea’s two-wheeler, wrapping her feet around the seat, and having me run through the cul-de-sac. She makes vrrrooooommm!! noises and loves going fast. Bea lets her do this for a time, but soon wants her own bike to speed around. Elle is not content with her little balance trike – she wants to skip ahead to what the big kids are riding.

My one word for this year is Capacity. I’ve alluded to different decisions we’ve already made that seem to have fulfilled this word. I want to say, Look! I’m doing it! Just two months into the year and I’ve succeeded!

But this past week has been a bit chaotic and not at all productive. Part of that is because we took a much-needed, long-overdue trip to visit family. It was good cousin-filled chaos and the productivity of seeing aging grandmothers. But I was easily lost in my to-do list. I wanted to get into a rhythm, to fill my now free moments with other really good things.

I was recently reminded of the need for rest. That without taking time to pause, I won’t be refreshed and ready for whatever the next adventure may be. I had fallen into a habit of checking off the boxes, completing my word instead of viewing it as a slow, unfolding process.

Who knows where capacity will take me this year? Perhaps it will push me beyond my comforts. Perhaps it will push me to do less, to open up my capacity for rest. My guess is that I’ve only begun to scrape the surface of what this year holds for me and our family.

Rather than trying to skip ahead and ignore the necessary steps along the way, I’m learning to stop and recognize these steps as developmental. I need to learn to ride that little balance trike before I can tackle a two-wheeler.

How do you stop to remember to take baby steps? Are you methodical by nature or do you like to skip ahead?