What I’m Learning From Mosses

It’s the first week of summer and we’re easing into life without routines here. Or, I suppose I should say “modified routines” because there’s always a need for some sort of rhythm to our days. This year, I’m learning from the mosses as I try to embrace slow growth, longterm goals, and letting myself be held by the earth. I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today, reflecting on the practices of leaning into the “boundary layer.” Here’s an excerpt–I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

In her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of MossesRobin Wall Kimmerer describes “Life in the Boundary Layer”—a place where mosses grow and thrive. The boundary layer is the space where earth and air meet. Mosses aren’t the only thing that thrive in the boundary layer. Humans experience it when we lie on our backs, sun on our faces, looking at clouds. We experience it when we allow the earth to hold us, the air to soothe us. If we were caught in a storm, the boundary layer would give us warmth and safety.

We are currently transitioning from school to summer and all the expectations and scheduling changes that go with that. When I look back on this past school year, I was far less productive than I was hoping to be. Instead of checking off all my hopes and plans, I found myself in a season of quiet and learning. I went on a pilgrimage that continues to reframe and push my thinking. I took a class that pushed and reframed my thinking. I read books that made me confront what I thought I knew and how far I thought I had come.

And beyond those tangible experiences, I found my everyday rhythms quieting and slowing down. I fought against this new pace, thinking I was in a slump or too distracted or too lazy to accomplish all I was imagining. I felt frustrated and hopeless.

A friend and I talked about harvests and how sometimes the harvest takes a long time. I think about the fruit trees in our yard and the years it takes them to grow to an age of production. Even then, anything can impact the harvest—an early frost, a fallow year, squirrels and birds. We aren’t guaranteed anything. Even these metaphors were less-than comforting.

And then I opened my copy of Gathering Moss and found what I was looking for. Not only does Kimmerer talk about the boundary layer, she talks about the slowness of moss growth. Patterns are traced over years; colonies expand by centimeters, not by acres. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

How do you lean into the slow growth of certain seasons? What are some ways you’re letting the boundary layer hold you?

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Letting Autumn Guide My Days

The nights are getting cooler and our garden’s harvest is slowing down. We ate tomato and cucumber salads, made tomato cobbler, and I baked two apple pies using the fruit from our backyard tree. It was a flurry of seasonal eating and delicious vine-ripened produce.

IMG_0705Less than a month later, things are slowing down. We’ll pick a few more tomatoes before it gets really cold but not many. Our squash plants are officially done and we’ll soon be turning our compost that’s been churning all summer into the earth as we prepare the ground for a long winter’s sleep.

It’s funny how we wait all season for a big harvest only for that harvest to be over in a matter of weeks.

Last week was a busy one for our family. Usually, I try to create space in the week with no plans or activities but through a variety of planned and unplanned visits and errands, we had a jam-packed week. One of my planned activities was to go for a walk with one of my pastors. We had talked about getting together for coffee but as we confirmed, a walk was suggested and I’m so glad it was!

I know that, especially with deeper or more intense conversations, walking helps my thought process. Sitting across from someone in a crowded space can feel a bit intimidating – not because of our relationship but because of the environment. It’s harder for me to have vulnerable conversations in the intimacy of a shared cafe space. But on a path out in the open, not looking directly at my friend? The conversation winds and meanders and we’re able to touch on big topics, comment on a puppy or flock of birds or beautiful garden, and circle back to those discussions.

As we were starting the second half of our six-mile loop, my pastor returned to a comment I had made earlier in our conversation about time and vocation and the big questions of what’s next? She reminded me that in order to produce, we must plant the seeds and then let them germinate and grow in the soil. She pointed out the books and conversations and groups I’m part of and wondered if I’m in a growing place. That I may not be producing much right now because I’m preparing for the harvest.

The way she phrased this thought fit into what I’ve been pondering and reading on my own but it all clicked as we worked up a sweat on that sunny morning. Recently, I’ve been in a production season. I’m seeing friendships grow at school and writing had come fairly easily. I was reading books that pushed my boundaries and was able to process those ideas quickly.

But the past few months have felt a bit more forced. I assumed it was our summer routine but, now that we’re over a month into school and autumny sorts of things, I’m still struggling through the work.

I just finished Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. This is a book that needs to be read at the right moment. If I had read it earlier this year or last year, I don’t think it would have meant as much as it has at this moment. In his last chapter, all about the seasons of life, he says,

“I am rarely aware that seeds are being planted. Instead, my mind is on the fact that the green growth of summer is browning and beginning to die. My delight in the autumn colors is always tinged with melancholy, a sense of impending loss that is only heightened by the beauty all around. I am drawn down by the prospect of death more than I am lifted by the hope of new life” (pg 98).

I’m watching our own leaves fall to the ground as the weather starts to shift. I love the changing of seasons – the active process of watching leaves turn brilliant before they fall. But the season itself can be quiet and melancholy. After the leaves fall but before the winter snows come, life is brown.

Similarly, in spring Palmer reminds us of the slush and mud that precedes the blooms. That each season has that time of transition and muck before the brilliance.

I’m learning to lean into the burrowing nature of autumn. I’m quieting my soul, reading books that may not emerge in thought or conversation for a while, and putting aside that list of hopes and goals.

Practically, this looks like making lists of thoughts and ideas for writing but not putting pressure on myself to hit “publish.” This looks like starting and abandoning books that may be incredibly interesting but not what I need right now. It looks like really limiting my time reading the news, checking social media, and instead focusing on engaging in the small work of the now.

I was talking with another friend and she reminded me to give my soul space to breathe. I’m learning to do that. To balance breathing with discipline; to let the plants grow and nestle while still tending the garden. I’m leaning into autumn and remembering that, while seasons are predictably three months, my own life’s seasons aren’t so neat and tidy. And there’s something beautiful about that, too.

Life seasons don’t always follow actual seasons. What season are you in right now? How are you finding balance through it all?

Books Referenced:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Saying Yes to Jammies and Self-Care

Today is looking different than planned. We’re home, rather than on a last road trip and I was planning on laundry, cleaning, maybe a park, but definitely a quiet day. Bea woke up looking tired and complaining of a hurting tummy. I tried all the tricks – eating breakfast, drinking water, did she go to the bathroom?

IMG_6064And then I remembered the power of a mental health day. Maybe Bea really is feeling off. Maybe she’s just tired. Kindergarten has been one huge transition for us and day after day of routine can be too much for a five-year-old.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged mental health days, though I was too much of a “perfect student” to feel comfortable taking one. I knew I wanted to listen to my kids when they needed time off, to encourage rest and rejuvenation. How else do we model self-care and Sabbath-living?

So, we’re here, in our jammies, with no plans. Maybe a movie? Definitely the grocery store. Our deal was naptime so that I could get a few minutes of rest, too.

School is important and valued in our home but I want my girls to know that they are valued and important, as well. That we all need days off and I’m here to support them in all their popcorn and movie day needs.

How do you deal with mental health days and school? Any tricks to knowing for sure what an “upset tummy” is? And more importantly, how do you recognize a need for a mental health day for yourself?

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

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

We just got back from a camping trip out in the wilderness of Colorado. Our campsite didn’t have many amenities – just a vault toilet and a fire ring. We spent a few days playing in the dirt, using wet wipes the best we could, and letting our kids explore. We unplugged because we wanted to and because there’s no other option in these woods.

IMG_5065My friend and I were laughing at the amount of work that goes into a weekend camping trip. The baking and shopping and organizing beforehand and the unpacking and fifteen loads of laundry when we get home. How does a weekend of fun translate to a week of prep work?

But our girls, though exhausted, had an incredible time. After two nights, Bea wasn’t ready to come home to our ordinary routine.

I have a planner produced by a group called Sacred Ordinary Days. It follows the liturgical year and has helped me be more attuned to the church calendar. I love learning about the seasons – from the well-known Christmas and Lent to the emerging Advent and Epiphany, I’m noticing a new rhythm in my outlook.

Right now, we’re in the season of Ordinary time. This happens twice: Once in the weeks between Advent and Lent, known as Epiphany, and the much longer Pentecost, which stretches from Easter to Advent.

According to Sacred Ordinary Days, ordinary has two meanings: It serves as the contrast between the extraordinary times of feasting and remembering Jesus’ life and ministry on Earth. The second meaning comes from the word ordinal or counted time. This time isn’t about feasting but about remembering the role of the church in this world and our ongoing relationship with the Holy Spirit.

I get caught in a desire to live an extraordinary life. I don’t want to be ordinary – I want to change the world! To leave my mark! To make a difference! My reality is that our days look very similar to each other. Perhaps the nouns change a bit but the verbs are more or less the same.

I like the idea of viewing ordinary as ordinal. What am I counting? How are my rhythms shaping my days? Those flows and cycles and routines that lay a foundation for feasting and extraordinary celebrations.

If we lived in extraordinary time all the time, I would be exhausted. I’d always be preparing and anticipating and cleaning and busy.

Instead, I’m reminded that I count breaths and sit in the sunshine. We play outside and ride our bikes. Our adventures at home are laying the foundation for bigger adventures later. Our simple meals make the feasts more delectable.

I’m remembering that ordinary time is when we are healthy and ready for the next big thing. As Christians, it means that we are living in these days, preparing for a new Heaven and new Earth. As a mom, it means that I am doing the slow work of building confidence in my kids so they can go out into this world.

Now that we’re bathed and the laundry is finished and our sleep is restored, my girls are happy to be home. We are remembering the beauty of home, of our ordinary life, and of our quiet routine. We are also eagerly anticipating our next adventure, knowing that our ordinary home is here, waiting.

What is something ordinary you are thankful for? How do you recognize ordinary time in your own rhythms?

The Work of Peace

Mom, what do you want for Christmas? Bea asked the other day.

Oh, Time…… I responded wistfully, thinking of how lovely a quiet, peaceful afternoon with nothing to do would feel.

No, I think you want matching Christmas jammies with me.

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Matching jammies!

This week we lit the Peace candle on our Advent wreath. It’s a time to remember the declaration that this tiny baby came to bring peace on earth.

Especially with events of the past few months, it’s difficult to remember this promise: That God has come to bring peace. We’ve been inundated by name-calling politicians; by images of genocide and babies raised in the midst of the horrors of war; by those trying to protest peacefully being attacked violently; not to mention the everyday violence that somehow has become less horrific in comparison.

Lately, the word peace brings images of quiet and rest. And that’s one way to view the word. I remember when I was teaching, my classroom was rarely quiet. The kids were on task (mostly!) and busy, but there was a steady hum and buzz of work happening. I rarely asked for absolute quiet for several reasons. Partly, because it’s nearly impossible to require that of 26 8-year-olds and partly because absolute quiet isn’t often conducive to work getting done.

When I look at the buzz and noise of the world around me, sometimes I wish it would all just stop – that we would have peace at last. But I don’t think that’s the sort of peace that Jesus promises. I wonder if peace will come in the buzz of work being done. Of activists working toward social justice; of doctors working in dangerous areas; of politicians fighting for what’s best in our country.

When people lament the noise of continuous news or social media, I get it – it is a loud, often cacophonous drone. I long for the days of Facebook being about baby pictures and “What I’m thinking of…” But the reality is that I learn so much from following those who are different from me on Twitter; from seeing images of justice workers on Instagram. Sometimes I need the background noise to be the hum of work, as a reminder that peace can be a noisy and messy process.

So, while I wish for time and quiet space, I also am reminded that the peace of Christmas comes with activity, with purpose, and with work toward the promise of a deeper peace.

How are you reminded of peace in these final days before Christmas? How do you practice the work of peace?

Sing! Shout! Praise the Lord!

This morning, I woke to the whiiirrrrrr!! of the blender as Frank made breakfast smoothies. Above the noise of the motor, Bea was singing at top volume: I’M GONNA SING! SING! SING! I’M GONNA SHOUT! SHOUT! SHOUT! PRAISE THE LORD!!!!

When the blender stopped, Frank said, Bea, sing pianissimo!

WHY?!?! I’M GONNA SIT BY JESUS SIDE!

Quiet is a word that is not present much these days. We’re going and playing and singing and doing life and, with a part-Italian three-year-old, quiet just isn’t in the cards for this season.

I was reading the famous passage about Jesus inviting the little children to him.

13 Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

Matthew 19:13-15

Growing up, I heard this passage to describe unquestioning faith and wonder at God’s kingdom. As an adult, more and more, I’m hearing it as an invitation to embrace the why of our faith.

IMG_9719But, as a parent, I wonder… Does Jesus really mean that we should shout and dance and be loud as we discover his kingdom? That we should be so excited and so filled with wonder that we have to proclaim it?

Not in a “win people over for Christ” sort of way but in a way that exudes from our actions and decisions. If I am embracing my childlike wonder, if I am so thrilled about what I am learning because of Jesus, shouldn’t it affect all my choices in a loud way? In a way that isn’t passive or comfortable or convenient but in a way that pushes me toward the joyfully loud living of loving my neighbor.

How do you celebrate your faith in childlike joy and wonder?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is Quiet.

Pursue

In high school, pursuing God meant raising my hands in praise, saying the right things, and never questioning.

In college, pursuing God meant deconstructing all I’d known, reading the right books, and breaking just enough rules.

In my twenties, pursuing God meant book clubs over Bible studies, finding God in hiking and nature rather than in sitting and pews, and grappling with what the Upside Down Kingdom really meant.

Now, pursuing God still looks like bits and pieces of all those experiences. It also looks like the Jesus Storybook Bible and modeling restoration and redemption in our home. Pursuing God looks like justice through backyard gardens, Kiva loans, and Godly Play.

Sunday School
Sunday School

Pursuing God means chatting with a toddler while multitasking devotionals, taking time to pray while kneading bread, and making thoughtful purchasing choices as an act of hope for the future.

Pursuing God looks like walks, dinners, babysitting, hikes, camping, play dates, and doing life with friends who are family.

Pursuing God looks a lot quieter these days – more listening and sharing stories, less talking and sharing doctrine.

Pursuing God isn’t as loud or as grand as I once thought it had to be. But, in pursuing those quiet moments of grace, I find God more intertwined in my daily practices than ever before.

How has the way in which you pursue God changed and grown?

Linked with The High Calling’s Pursue God.

UPDATE: The High Calling featured an expanded version of this post over at their site.