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?

Creating Space In a Crowded Week

This week has felt mentally crowded. Frank’s had to work late in preparation for the tax extension deadline so bedtime has been on my own. But what’s really thrown me for a loop is that Elle has decided to stop napping. Right when I thought I was going to have two mornings a week to myself and an afternoon of quiet, it’s become a battle.

IMG_0627I decided to handle this shift in routine like the mature and capable adult that I am. I grumped and threatened and got really, really annoyed. How dare my three-year-old ruin my ME time?!

Often, my go-to defense is to turn inward. I go into a self-sufficient mode, I don’t ask for help, and I don’t vent to my friends. This usually doesn’t help anything. I finally emerged from this space, went for a walk with a friend, Voxed another friend who has kids farther along than mine and gained some perspective.

I realized I need to recalibrate my expectations. Much like sleep regression, we need to start a new naptime training and move toward “quiet rest time.” Maybe on the days when it’s too much of a fight, we run errands or do other chores. Maybe we’ll go for a hike. I don’t know.

What I do know is that the woe is me feeling isn’t helpful. It has me reflecting on the ways life so often doesn’t go according to plan. I expect to enter a new season with grace and ease, floating through the transition beautifully. The reality usually is something quite different.

I hope what I’ve learned from this start-of-the-school-year nap boycott is to step back and assess what I can do when life doesn’t go according to plan. I know I can always throw a fit, but maybe there’s another way. Maybe next time, I’ll go for a walk first or Vox my friend with the gritty parts of life.

That’s what community is all about. I’m hoping that by leaning in, I find space to breathe this next week. That this crowded feeling eases and we move into a new rhythm.

How do you deal with the unexpected? What’s your best way of dealing with these crowded weeks?

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

Twenty Years From Now

Life is all about the both-and, isn’t it? I both love staying home with the girls and I’m eagerly anticipating our next horizons. Living in this tension is hard work and I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine today, sitting in those feelings. There are no answers, but I know I’ll look back on this phase without disappointment. Here’s an excerpt and I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

annie-rim-twenty-years-from-now-2Exploration was part of life—from literally getting on a train to visit a new location to engaging with friends from different backgrounds and world views. This became a habit I held onto: Seeking out new information and ideas, either through books or over a meal with a new friend.

Fast-forward nearly 15 years and that quote doesn’t fill me with the same excitement any more. It fills me with nostalgia and wistfulness. The last time I traveled internationally was in 2011, before we even started trying to start a family. We’ve gone on adventures since then, yes, but they aren’t what I was imagining in my untethered early-twenties.

These days, you’ll find me at home in the suburbs, establishing healthy routines for our daughters and grappling with ways I can make a difference in my community through cultural interactions with our immigrant neighbors and by dipping my toes in the world of activism. Most often, life doesn’t feel glamorous or adventurous. It feels so very typical. When asked what I do, I most often shrug and say, I just stay home with the girls.

This isn’t the whole truth, but I never know how much a stranger really wants to know about all the ways I’m piecing together meaning in my own backyard. I still read a variety of books that challenge my thinking, my outlook, and my faith. I still seek out conversations and friendships with people who have lived different experiences, whether by choice or circumstance.

My husband and I were talking about this phase of life and parenting. I told him it’s a both-and feeling for me. I both wish we could travel and live a carefree life and I recognize the importance of tending our roots. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join the conversation!

What do you look back on, twenty years later, with fondness? What are choices you’re making now that are tough but you know will be good in the future?

The World’s Best Helper

I’m wondering if Elle’s love language is “Acts of Service.” Of our two girls, when it’s time to clean up, Elle is the one singing the song, putting away legos, being intentional about where things go. (Well, as much as a two-year-old can be intentional about tidiness.) Whenever I fold the laundry, she gets the greatest joy out of putting her clothes away herself.

IMG_8191The first time she tried to help, I wanted to distract her with books or games. She finally wailed, I just want to help you!! This declaration stopped me and I started looking for ways she could help. I give her one pair of pants at a time to run down the hall to her dresser but she loves this.

The other day, when it snowed, she insisted on using her little shovel to help move the icy chunks off the driveway. It takes longer and it’s hard not to redo her assistance but I’m remembering that we learn by doing.

I’ve been leading a discussion about Original Blessing by Danielle Shroyer. Her premise is that we are born out of blessing, not sin. That God’s ultimate intention for us is to bless us, not to curse us. It has been an incredible book. Shroyer digs into the first three chapters of Genesis – chapters describing how good the Earth is and God’s love for creation. The actions in the Garden of Eden are framed through curiosity rather than disobedience. As a result, the human journey is filled with the potential for perfection.

I am reminded of this as I try to fold laundry or tidy our house. I see a lot of potential but because people live here it will not be perfect. Even when the girls are grown up and Frank and I have the house to ourselves, I have a feeling that I’ll still be striving for this unattainable perfection.

I wonder how God sees us as we learn and fumble? Is God hoping for us to slowly get toward perfection? Is that what the restoration of the earth means?

Or is the point the potential for perfection? Did God create an imperfect world on purpose so that we always see the potential?

I kind of like the image of God, creating humans to help shovel snow like two-year-olds. The work isn’t really getting done, but we’re learning. I’m wondering if that’s the point – that we are learning and fumbling? That we won’t get it right and that’s ok. That having faith like a child means embracing the desire to help enthusiastically, even as we’re kind of creating more work.

I can get overwhelmed when I look at how far this world feels from restoration. We have such a long way to go. And yet, maybe this is the point. It’s not that we stop trying and just wait for heaven to come. It’s that we keep on trying enthusiastically, imagining that we really are doing a fantastic job of helping.

I’m learning to embrace the enthusiasm. In her own mind, Elle is the world’s best and most efficient helper. I hope she keeps this image of her worth and gifts. I hope that her enthusiasm doesn’t wane as she grows older. And I hope that my own is rekindled as we fold laundry and shovel snow together.

How do you make space for potential over perfection? What tasks do you find yourself most connected to God’s patience?

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A Call to Live Small and Practice Peace at Home

Last week was fall break. We had no plans – no playdates, no excursions, just lots of lazy pajama mornings and slow-paced days. On Monday, I woke up with a migraine headache. I’ve gotten these since I was eleven years old, to varying degrees of intensity and frequency. The commonality is that my vision is obstructed and I feel nauseous. Thankfully, my parents were able to take the girls for the day and I spent our first glorious day of break miserably in bed.

IMG_7115I may take out my stress in headaches; Bea takes hers out in sleep. She’s always been prone to night terrors and restlessness. Over break, with the ability to breathe and unwind, she was unable to sleep through the night. Yes, we had a week of pajama days but they weren’t as restful as I was envisioning. They stemmed from exhaustion and lethargy from interrupted sleep and inability to rest.

In Mending the Divides, Jon Huckins & Jer Swigart end the book reminding us that peacemaking starts in our own homes, with our own families. I have a really hard time being loving, gracious, and peaceful when I’m running on a week of sleeplessness. I’m selfish and looking for conflict.

As we’re finishing up this month of looking at Micah 6:8, I’m realizing that doing justice starts with seeing the big picture in my own home. Bea isn’t waking us up out of vindictiveness. She’s a five-year-old who needs her safe parents in the middle of the night. Loving kindness means choosing to not respond sarcastically to Frank when all I want to do is drink a cup of coffee in silence. I live in a family who wakes up ready to go, while I love to ease into the morning. Kindness is a choice I can make each morning before any coffee has been made. Walking humbly looks like not needing to be right. When Bea wakes up from a restless night, she’s loud and screechy and tired, which manifests itself in a surplus of energy. It’s grating and I just want her to understand that she is the reason the morning is rough. But where does that lead? What good does that do?

I want this verse to be a commissioning – a great call to living BIG and well in this world. The reality, like so much of the Bible, is a call to live small, in our own homes and lives. How can I listen well and live as a peacemaker with strangers if I can’t even practice this with my daughter?

I suppose that is the most humbling part of this. Seeing that all the learning and reading and writing do nothing unless I can shift my thinking and behavior with the people I love most.

How do you practice peace in your day-to-day life? Which do you find more doable – the big practice of peace or the mundane practices?

BackyardThis post is Day 30 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.