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.

Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

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

Finding My Place at Home

This summer passed by in a flash. Before we knew it, school started and we were thrown into a routine. Part of me was so ready to get into this rhythm of schedules and the security of knowing what happens on Tuesday. But part of me mourned the fact that we were out of time for one more camping trip; one last swim at the pool; one more lazy day.

IMG_5895I suppose this is what the changing seasons is – an excitement in the new mingled with disappointment of what is lost.

We had a trip to Yellowstone planned for this weekend. Just one more adventure before the weather turned cold. We’d stay in a little cowboy cabin, head down to Jenny Lake one day and up to Lake Hotel and the Geyser Loop the next. Until we saw the forecast for snow. As much as we love northern Wyoming, I didn’t want to be in a cabin without heat or electricity in the snow and rain.

In so many ways, this is probably a good thing. We just got back from a weekend in Ocean City (where it rained!) and are still settling into a good routine. A laid-back weekend is never a bad thing.

Frank grew up going to Ocean City – it’s part of his family history and it was fun watching the girls create a new generation of memories there. All of the cousins go regularly and love it and it was magical watching our landlocked kids chase the waves, dig in the sand, and eat ice cream right before a greasy dinner. Ask any of Frank’s family for a memory of childhood and most likely Ocean City will play a large part of the story.

In a lot of ways, we want Yellowstone to be similar for our kids. Already, Bea remembers hikes we’ve done and geysers we’ve seen. We want this park to be a place of good family memories, the stuff that starts most of our stories.

Last year, I listened to part of a podcast and the phrase, theology of place was used. I don’t remember the exact point or where the conversation went from there, but that idea stuck with me. It’s the theology of tangible moments; of creating a gritty story that you can run through your fingers. It’s finding God in the routines outside of home; in the stories we tell as a family to our children. It’s this idea that our place matters. The locations in which we choose to spend our time matter.

I love the intentionality behind this theology. That our routines matter and that kids have something to look forward to in their vacations. And yet, life gets busy or things happen and that place may look different.

When I reflect on our weekend in Ocean City, our girls loved the physicality of being next to the ocean, yes. But the loved hanging out with their cousins, playing games, reenacting Moana, waking up together, eating every meal together so much more. I need to remember the point behind the place.

I’m learning to look around right now, in our own home. What are we doing to establish a theology of place routine? I remember that for many, an escape to the mountains or the beach is simply not possible. And yet, this family rhythm is still important. What park do we always visit? What pancakes mark rest and vacation? What simple things do we do to remember our place in this world?

I’m not sure if this is exactly what that podcast meant but for me, theology of place is grounding me home and reminding me that our everyday rhythms are as significant as the vacation routines we’ve established, as well.

Where do you find your rhythms? When you think about theology of place, do you think of your home or a destination?