When Redemption Means a New Foundation

I have learned so much from Cara Meredith’s journey toward racial reconciliation. Her book, The Color of Life is a must-read for anyone embarking on the journey of grappling with tough questions. She has generously opened her platform to ask questions around “Listen, Learn and Listen Some More” and I have the honor of sharing some thoughts about my own journey of motherhood and racial justice. Here’s an excerpt – head to Patheos to read more!

In the spring of 2015, I was pregnant with our second daughter and driving to a conference on race, reconciliation, and immigration while listening to the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death on the radio. My normally quiet baby started kicking furiously as I listened and I paused at a stoplight, hand on my belly, to pray for this little girl—that she would have a heart for justice and reconciliation; that she would help form a world of listening and love rather than of fear and hate.

Early in my mothering journey, I learned that I had a choice in how I interacted with these small humans. I could try to learn from and do better than my parents and their parents, which seems like a natural hope. Or I could shift my mindset to redemption. I realized that simply “doing better” meant building a foundation on generational wounds. But to redeem those wounds and shift our family’s narrative meant doing harder work, shedding more tears, and asking forgiveness again and again as I learned from my daughters.

I had already started dismantling my perception of my role in “saving the world” early in my teaching career. After getting a master’s degree with an emphasis in Urban Education, I quickly realized that no amount of reading could replace the real experience of working with families whose children were not represented in our curriculum. Teaching at a charter school founded by white homeschooling families in the aftermath of its transition to a school that reflected the surrounding inner-suburban neighborhood meant asking questions about my own motivation and practices. It made me confront my own role in societal fears around success and color in what should be an educationally leveled playing field.

I was seven months pregnant with our first baby and seven years into my teaching career when I read the news of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Head over to Cara’s to read the rest and join the conversation!

What about you? What are the historic moments that have shifted your thinking?

Notes from the Middle

I celebrated my birthday this last weekend. It wasn’t a big one or a milestone––just a normal, next year sort of birthday. I’ve been in the process of recovering from a terrible cold since Christmas. It goes in waves and I’ve maxed out on all the drugs so was reduced to napping on the couch, sipping an apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper concoction. Fortunately, after a feverish night, I felt well enough on my actual day to enjoy Frank’s boeuf bourguignon an afternoon of hanging out.

I was talking with a friend about this stage in our late thirties. We’re not really in the young parenting years of the “tired thirties,” though we’re not fully out of them yet, either. Nor are we yet in the world-conquering decade of the forties. Our kids are more independent but not fully. My identity is still that of stay-at-home mom, though I’m seeing a new season quickly approaching.

It’s a year that I could easily wish away, in pursuit of what’s next.

I recently got a book by an author I really like about being in her forties but just a few paragraphs in, I knew it was too soon. I’m not there yet. I liked what she had to say and am looking forward to reading it when the time is right but it’s just not yet my season.

I’m learning to be careful about living in the moment. I’m a person who can not only plan for what’s next but also romanticize the next stage. When people say, “Mamas of littles, it gets better!” I suddenly find myself fighting discontentment. I start noticing all the ways it’s not better and looking forward to the ways it will be.

But that’s not reality. Each season has its strengths and struggles and I’m remembering to embrace both. For me, this looks like having endless tea parties with Elle because it’s the last year we’ll have time and space to do whatever we want together. It’s blogging without goals of platform building or book publishing because that’s what I have the capacity for in this moment. It’s remembering the choices I’ve made and the fact that seasons of transition are just as important to embrace as the full-on season itself.

I love dreaming the big dreams and spinning ideas for what life could look like in the next years and decades. It’s fun and energizing. But I never want to take away from this moment. From walking to school and volunteering and having the space to just take a day off to rest or see a movie with the girls. These are unique and precious years, I know.

So just like my one word for the year is not a word at all, I’m starting this next year of life without much of a guide. I’m learning to plant my feet in the space I’m in now, to pursue dreams and ideas while holding them lightly. I’ll both expand on ideas and read more novels. I’ll invest in my community and in my small family. I won’t pick up the half-finished Costco box projects just yet because I’m starting to see the beauty in those games.

There’s something peaceful in sitting with this moment. I’m spinning less, comparing less, and finding more ideas that I hadn’t considered. I’m learning to lean into that freedom and my shoulders are relaxing a bit. Who knows where this year will end––I never do, right?––but for now, I’m thankful for the time and space to stop and enjoy.

What about you? Are you in a season of hustle or pause? Are you pursuing the next right thing or are you breathing in this moment?

Preparing for a Season of Dormancy

This past weekend was one of those gorgeous autumn days with warm weather and blue skies. Because we had early snow and frost, we decided to spend this beautiful day winterizing our garden and yard. I had already pulled our vegetable plants after the first frost but we went through our containers, tilling in the compost we had been turning since last winter. We spread mulched leaves over the tops, tucking our garden into bed until spring. I trimmed our perennials back, cut the vines down, and Frank cut down our sad and struggling peach tree.

To the left: garden beds, trimmed and covered with mulch, ready for winter. To the right: a double barrel compost turner

A couple days later, we woke to an inch of snow and seeing how neat and tidy it looked over our gardens made me happy. This feeling is deeper than my check-box personality, though seeing everything exactly as it should be does give me joy. Really, spending the day working in our yard was redemptive. This time last year, Frank was recovering from losing a third of his blood and spending three days in the ICU due to an ulcer. We were also recovering from the mess and repercussions of a drunk driver running through our backyard fence and into our yard.

Last year, gardening was the last thing on our to-do list. We let everything just kind of die and settle into the winter. But we saw the impact this year. Our vegetables never thrived and even our tried-and-true perennials were a bit lackluster. All spring and summer, I was reminded of the importance of doing the work that leads to rest.

I needed this tangible reminder the planning it takes to enter a season of dormancy and unseen growth. I just returned from a week in Israel-Palestine, listening and learning about the region. It’s an understatement to say all that we experienced was complex. It’s not a two-sided issue or one with easy answers but a constant reminder of the importance of listening to multiple narratives.

I went on this trip expecting it to be a culmination of sorts. A year ago, in the midst of all that home chaos, I left for the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. It was the longest I had left my family and the first time I had done something this big for my own learning. Like any true pilgrimage, I left with more questions than answers, more realization that it was a step along the journey. From there, I enrolled in a class about Indigenous Voices, learning how I can better balance the narrative taught by school and society. Another stepping stone on the way.

I suppose I wanted this trip to Israel-Palestine to bring about all that I had learned. I wanted to walk away with tangible takeaways and next steps. Instead, I entered into the complexity of stories. I traveled with a liberation theologian, who has listened to multiple sides but choses to stand with the oppressed. I met a women who is working in Hebron, one of the most antagonistic areas in the region, listening to her stories of daily aggressions. And I had the privilege of meeting a women whose job is developing curriculum to teach about peace heroes, those men and women who bridged the divides and worked toward mending what seemed impossible.

Again, I left with more questions than answers and wondered what the next steps on this journey would entail.

I like the process and understand its importance but if I’m honest, I often use the journey as a means toward the destination. I like the sound of the journey being the goal in itself but the reality feels so much different. I want to know that all these markers aren’t just for me. But maybe it’s ok if they are. Maybe all that does need to change and deepen is my own perspective.

I was thinking about this past year as I dug our compost into the garden beds. Everything takes so much time. Our compost had been turning and added to all year. We saved our scraps, filled the bins, turned them, and turned them, and turned them. Compost itself takes a long time to make. And then to till them into the soil. To prepare it for six months of quiet and refueling. If you were to visit our home, I doubt you would look at those garden beds in awe. You would see bins of dirt, waiting for spring. All that work for something that looks very similar to what we started with is unseen, unnoticed.

I’m remembering to mark the process on this journey. I don’t know what all of these moments will mean – from our family’s crisis to my own journey to how it impacts the way we parent and raise a new generation. What I do know is that the unseen work of composting and tilling and of getting a garden ready for winter is what reaps benefits in the spring.

Maybe next year we’ll plant a garden that is abundant because of our preparation. Maybe we’ll let the ground lie fallow for a year, letting the nutrients rest and recover. Either way, I feel settled knowing that the work has been done to prepare for that time.

After a year of intense journeying, I’m wondering if I need my own season of lying fallow. Of reading fewer books about these big topics, of staying closer to home, of letting all that I have seen and learned sink it and re-nourish my faith and my outlook.

What are some markers in your own lifelong pilgrimage? What are you learning about the importance of all perspectives and narratives?

Balancing Environmental Disturbances

The more I learn, the more I unravel. Favorite childhood books are coming under scrutiny and it’s hard to balance nostalgia with a sense of doing better. Last week, I grappled with the idea of Intermediate Disturbance Hypothosis, the idea that too much disturbance is just as harmful as too little diversity. Here’s an excerpt––head over to SheLoves to read the whole essay!

My seven-year-old daughter and I just finished reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It took us all summer with stops and starts because of camping trips and visits with family. I was amazed at how engaged Bea was in the story since this was the first “capital L” piece of literature we tried.

About halfway through the story, Bea stopped me and declared, “There are no girls in this story! Why not?!”

I turned to the copyright page to check the publication date: 1937. We talked a bit about the time period in which Tolkien was writing—that fantasy wasn’t a “girl’s audience.” Bea wasn’t convinced.

When we finished the book, I asked her how she liked it. She decided it was good but added, “I’m writing two more versions. One with only girls and one with both boys and girls so that they’re even.”

I was recently talking with a friend about the books we read with our children. Should I get rid of all the Dr. Seuss books in our house because of his racist artwork? What about Ma’s fear of the Osage Nation as they built a cabin on occupied land? Should all our books pass the Bechdel test, requiring two named female characters to have a conversation with each other?

Our answer is no… not yet.

My husband read the entire Little House series with Bea. I’ve read The Hobbit with her. Our bookshelves still have well-loved copies of Hop on Pop and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? Our answer, as with most of our parenting choices, is really, let’s talk about it. Let’s think critically about our choices. But let’s not ban anything just yet.

As someone who values history and context, I want to raise my girls with a sense of place in time. We are not making decisions in a vacuum—the stories we hear, the politics we support, the ways we think about God are all products of hundreds of years of stories, literature, and collective behaviors. Some of these behaviors are unhealthy, both to us individually and to society as a whole. Most of our western nations have been built on the foundation of colonialism and slavery of some sort. We can’t escape it.

So how do we raise kids who are aware and knowledgeable? How do we start to repair the sins of the past? Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the conversation!

What foundational book do you find yourself questioning today? How do you hold the tension between growth and appreciation for the journey?

Learning Hospitality Through Play

This morning, the Friday of the first week of school, Elle and I visited yet another park. Nearly every day this week, we’ve explored our favorite playgrounds, trying to fill the void left by Bea’s absence at school.

Normally, I bring a book along so I can read while Elle climbs and digs and scampers around. Today, our park excursion was unexpected––halfway through a practice bike ride to her preschool, we changed course and headed to the neighborhood park instead.

Finally, Elle had my full and undivided attention. I helped her climb a tree and we then commenced in a long and often incomprehensible game about camping and sleeping that only a four-year-old could imagine and sustain for twenty minutes.

I recently read a comment by a mom whose children are in their late teens and early twenties. She was reminiscing about the little years, wishing she could go back for just one day, put aside her own desires, and simply play with her children. Nostalgia keeps us going, doesn’t it? After five eternal minutes of playing, I know I’ll look back on these days with nostalgia but I hope I have a dash of realism mixed in. Yes, I want to pay attention and be present. I totally understand the developmental importance of imaginative play and made up games. And yet, I also recognize how mind-numbing they can be.

In her new book Invited, my friend Leslie Verner quotes Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen talks about how we as parents are hosting our children. They are our closest guests. They are not ours to control but ours to host and extend the practice of hospitality.

That idea was what kept me playing today. Not for nostalgia or because I particularly loved the game but because in so many ways, I’m learning the art of hospitality from Elle. She invited me into her world and the least I could do was join in and participate, even if just for twenty minutes.

Where have you experienced unexpected hospitality? And, do you love or loathe imaginative games with kids?

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

Also, check out Leslie’s new book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Not only did I get to read one of the first drafts, I’ve had the honor of sharing conversations and playdates with Leslie as she wrote this book. It released on Tuesday and is an wonderful, encouraging look at what we can learn from other cultures about hospitality––and it doesn’t have anything to do with a beautiful table or a clean home!

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/

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?