Finding Truth Close to Home

Last week I had an unexpected afternoon to myself. I ate a solitary lunch and was looking at my to-do list. It was filled with everything from cleaning and household tasks to writing and more creative endeavors. But all of those things made me feel antsy and I knew that I wouldn’t be productive. I needed to get out.

Muslin Concepts

So, I headed to the Denver Art Museum for the Christian Dior exhibit. As I stepped into the first room, my breath caught. The beauty of Dior’s earliest collection literally made me stop. I had forgotten how incredible it is to see haute couture up close. The details, the quality, the way the fabric hangs is absolutely stunning.

After wandering for an hour or so, I felt refreshed and energized. I thought about my to-do list and all the things that would eventually get done. I so often hear that writing is about sitting down and doing the work; That often the muse doesn’t show up and yet we still need to be ready. And while I totally agree with this, I also need to remember that without filling my life with beauty and new experiences, the muse has very little to draw upon.

I recently finished Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Devotion. The book is about Shapiro’s spiritual journey and a lot of it draws on her yoga practice. She writes about attending workshops and retreats around her home base of Connecticut. At one point, she is offered an opportunity to travel to India to study at an ashram there. The chance to go practice in the land of yoga’s origins tempts her. Honestly, even without a serious yoga practice, I’d imagine a trip to a new culture would be tempting to most of us. Shapiro turns down the opportunity and offers a reflection that has stayed with me.

Truths found out there don’t travel well.

Dani Shapiro, Devotion, pg 152

What she means is that if we can’t learn new truths at home, we aren’t ready to learn new truths. Traveling abroad won’t tell you what you can’t hear at home.

She’s not discounting travel or the beauty of learning from cultures outside our own norms. What she is saying is that we can’t depend on leaving home for a life-changing experience. If we are unable to be changed at home, we cannot expect to be changed abroad.

I needed to hear this. I’ve been feeling in a creative slump lately and it’s so easy to think that if only I could fill my world with a trip or an exotic experience then I would have material to spark creativity. I imagine how lovely it would be to walk the streets of Paris or Florence, surrounded by beautiful architecture where the very presence of greatness inspires so many of us. Or maybe a trip somewhere completely new like Peru or Palestine will spark that newness that is so exhilarating.

And while I will always feel invigorated by travel and exploration, I’m learning that the lessons I need to learn are right here. Now, a break in routine is often necessary to help us see those lessons. Shapiro didn’t limit her yoga practice to living room videos – she attended retreats and pushed her limits. When I was feeling overwhelmed by the routines of my small world, a visit to an exhibit twenty minutes away transported me to another place and time.

What I’m trying to remember is that intentionality starts at home. Where can I look to disrupt my routine? Maybe it’s a walk at a new park. Maybe it’s seeking out art exhibits that help me expand my horizons. Maybe it’s reading a challenging book in a different environment, rather than in my own living room. How am I holding both sacred – the need for new and the recognition that I can learn from where I am?

As January comes to a close and we enter February – perhaps the longest month of the year – I hope to keep this at the forefront of my thoughts. All the truths I need are close to home, right where I need them most.

How do you mix up your routine? What are some truths you’ve found right at home?

Are you signed up from my newsletter, The Compost Heap? It’s been a couple months since I’ve sent one out and I’m trying to get back in the practice. It’s a short letter with a thought, a book recommendation, and some other thing or two that has been interesting lately. You can sign up here: The Compost Heap.

Small Acts of Faith and Justice

Frank and I have been watching An Idiot Abroad on Netflix. Created by comedian Ricky Gervais, we follow his friend, Karl as he experiences the Seven Wonders of the World. The twist is that Karl is a homebody and is very critical of travel. I have laughed until I got teary; Frank has fallen asleep more often than not. But, it holds his attention enough that we keep coming back.

In the last episode we watched, Karl visits Petra in Jordan. As he’s preparing to go, he makes the observation that (and I paraphrase),

It’s better to live in a hole looking at a palace rather than living in the palace because the view is better.

Because of his comment, Karl spends a night in a cave with a view of the monastery. The next morning, as he is looking at the view, he comments that his point is proven – who would want to look at his cave when they could wake up looking at such impressive architecture.

I’ve been thinking about this twist in perspective. How if we just turn around, our view is so much different. It’s not that it takes a grand move or great effort – it just involves looking the other way.

How often do I focus on the cave I’m looking at – the injustice, all that is wrong with the world, my own small gripes – when I simply need to turn around and see the beautiful palace behind me – the ways in which people are making changes, the distance we’ve come, all my own privilege.

12009816_10156153220155046_7104302124610833731_nAt MOPS last week, we talked about race and reconciliation and what we can do as moms. Sometimes it feels as though I can’t do anything. I get so caught up in playdates and temper tantrums and nap times that I forget I can do something. It may not be big or immediately world changing, but it can change my focus, it can help build foundations for Bea’s and Elle’s worldviews, and it can change the world one person at a time. We talked about the simple act of talking with another mom at the park or of offering to help a struggling family with homework can help change the systemic problems in place. As Sarah Bessey says in her book, Out of Sorts,

Seemingly small acts of faith and justice are still acts of faith and justice.

I struggle with finding that balance between small acts of justice and slacktivism. How can my small acts change the world without simply forgetting about it after I reshare an article on Facebook?

I think it does start with a change in perspective – of looking at the monastery rather than the cave. Of seeing all that has been done before getting bogged down with all that still needs to be done. Of remembering the moms and small acts that were done before me – that the world is changed one person at a time, even though that seems so slow.

So this week, I’m focusing on shifting my perspective. I’m looking for small moments to seize and for ways to model the act of world changing, even if it does happen at the park.

How are you changing the world in small ways? And, would you rather live in a cave with a view of the palace or in a palace with a view of the cave?

Review: Let’s All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

Sometimes it seems that making big, life-changing decisions feels easier and more natural than deciding what to make for dinner. When I decided to attend college in Paris, it seemed the only place I could consider – who wouldn’t want to study art history in the center of Paris? It never occurred to me to be nervous or afraid in the decision-making process. Only until after I moved and settled in did I realize the courage it takes to live abroad at 18 years old. Similarly, when I decided to spend three months teaching in Kathmandu, it seemed the be a very natural transition. I had never been to Asia; I missed the mountains; I wanted to see if I enjoyed teaching – where else would I try it out but in Nepal? Looking back, these decisions were brave. At the time, they seemed the next logical step in my journey.

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In her book, Let’s All Be Brave, Annie F. Downs explores the idea that bravery is born in small moments and decisions. She opens the book by saying how she is not a naturally brave person. She grew up on the same piece of land her grandparents had owned for 50 years; she went to college where all her church friends went; she traveled and did missions trips, but never for more than a couple weeks. She was content living her life in familiar comfort.

In her mid-twenties, Downs felt she should move to Nashville. Even though it’s only three hours from her home, this move starts a series of brave moments. From quitting her steady job to pursue writing to taking a job in Scotland for a season, she learns to say “yes” to those small moments that turn into brave decisions.

Following the trend of telling short stories, Downs uses this format in a cohesive manner. She gives depth in a short space and her stories fit her theme. I also appreciated her vulnerability in talking about loneliness, being single, and the importance of community. The writing style is very informal and it feels as though I’m chatting with Downs rather than reading about her journey. She is able to write conversationally without making me lose the depth of her message.

I’d recommend this book especially to women in college and early twenties. Even though Downs is my age, I didn’t feel a sense that she was writing for my peer group. As I read this book, I kept thinking of twenty-something women I know who I wanted to share this with. I know it’s meant for a larger audience, but Downs’ style and subject seems best suited for young women starting out in life.

What are some brave moments in your life that seemed small or even normal at the time?

Normally I’d put this book up for a giveaway, but as mentioned above, I kept thinking of women I know who would enjoy it. So, I’ll be sending this to one of them. If you know a young woman who could use encouragement to be brave, I’d recommend buying Let’s All Be Brave for her!

I review for BookLook Bloggers
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Small Moments

If I were to capture the small moments of my day, to remember in fifty years, I would want to remember…

Bea, talking in her crib. Not ready to get up, but awake, greeting her day.

My MOPS group, doing community, life, and mothering together; Learning to speak and receive truth into our lives.

Sun shining into the playroom; Reading Hafiz while Bea makes “strawberry waffles” in her kitchen.

Stopping playtime so that Bea can pray for her friends – listing her MOPS buddies first and moving on to her cousins and playdate pals, hands folded, eyes screwed shut, thankful for her own small community.

Last minute dinners with longtime friends, letting our kids play together as we end the meal with port and scotch, marveling at how life has continued to keep us together.

Weekly, lively discussions about faith and life, things important and fleeting, meeting over drinks and dinner in the middle of the same restaurant, building relationships that have spanned over six years, watching as we progress in our own theologies.

Choosing to read next to Frank, rather than watch TV, constantly interrupting to share something new, and challenging each other to continually learn.

What are some of your small, daily moments?

Linked up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing for five minutes.