The View from My Kitchen Table

When you come to our house for dinner, depending on where you sit at the long farmhouse-style table, you’ll get a certain glimpse into our life and values. Perhaps you’ll sit facing the living room. You’ll see a large photograph taken at Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our friend took the photo looking up at the sky. Not everyone sees the red rock canyon in the picture. Some see fabric fluttering in the breeze. Others see an abstract swirl of orange, yellow, and red. In front of the photo are black and white photos of our family.

Perhaps you’ll sit facing the library with a view of full and semi-organized bookshelves. You’ll see a collection of favorite cookbooks, a chess table made from reclaimed wine barrels and scattered with craft projects as well as chess pieces. You’ll see two paintings of elephants, bought on a safari in South Africa and a photograph of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons.

Maybe you’ll sit facing the bank of windows that give you a view of our backyard. You’ll see two swings hanging from trees, places for our girls to play and connect with each other. You might have a view of our large pink poster with a Francis Bacon reproduction of a gorilla. I bought it at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice, lugged it across France and Italy, and kept it for over a decade, waiting for the perfect spot to frame and hang it. Behind it hangs a wall of mugs from our favorite museums.

Our home is filled with treasures from our past adventures, our love of art and the stories it tells, and pieces from places we weave into our family story. Our girls know that the world is a small place; that Frank and I love learning from nature and from other cultures, and deep sense of curiosity is infused on our walls.

I just returned from my grandma’s memorial service in California. She was the last of my grandparents and close great-aunts and -uncles to pass away. For me, she closes out a generation that has shaped my values and worldview.

One of my fondest memories of my grandma comes from her own kitchen table. Set in the corner of her green and yellow kitchen, I would sit at a chair and see a knickknack cupboard filled with trinkets from around the world. Some were collected from my grandparent’s travels. Some were gifted from friends. I loved looking at those little objects, imagining the places they represented.

I never really thought about my grandma’s legacy in my own decorating style but I see it everywhere. Our home is a gateway into storytelling and a reminder that our world is smaller than we think. That other cultures shape all of us, both in big and small ways.

I just got home last night from a weekend of remembering an exceptional woman. But this weekend also rounded out an whole month of family––from a triennial reunion with cousins and second cousins and third cousins–– to a week in Philadelphia staying up too late making all the sweet memories with cousins to hosting various family throughout the month. I’ll be sitting with all I’ve learned in July for a while, I think. Mostly, I’m thankful for such a tangible opportunity to appreciate and honor all the ways my family has shaped the woman and mother I’m becoming.

In another week of shocking national news, I’m returning to my kitchen table. I’m remembering to start small, with my own daughters. We’ll look at pictures that represent different cultures; we’ll have conversations about our friends and neighbors who are immigrants and gun owners alike; we’ll bicker over whose turn it is to pray for the food and we’ll do all the small routines that make up our evenings.

Life can feel overwhelming and I’m remembering that, in the midst of it all, the view from our kitchen table will shape and define my girls’ worldview far more than I realize. If you’re feeling a bit lost these days––for whatever reason––take a look at what you see from where you eat. Use that space as a reminder of your values and hopes for this world.

Describe the view from your kitchen table. How does it define you?

I’m a Small Part of A Big Story

I’ve been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Part of it is that my mental capacity is going toward this last push to the tax deadline. (Which is over tomorrow!!) Part of it is that I’m working on a Top Secret offline writing project that is taking up time and energy. (I’m nowhere near talking about it more, but if you want to be in the loop, sign up for my monthly newsletter: The Compost Heap.)

The universe isunder no obligationto make sense to you.Whenever I get in these slumps, I look for other small ways to spark my creativity. Just in time, Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy posted a #12daysofbookstagram, celebrating all the bookish things over on Instagram. I needed a distraction and this has been perfect. Day 4’s prompt was “favorite quote” and while there are many quotes that have inspired me over the years, this one from a recent read of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson jumped out. The epigraph reads,

“The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.”

-NDT

I need this reminder. As a typical ESTJ, Maximizer, One, Type A personality, I love making sense of life. Reading nonfiction, learning about other experiences, expanding my horizons are all things that are lifegiving practices. Figuring out the universe over a cocktail with friends is one of my favorite things.

But I can get trapped in the discontent of figuring things out. The universe is a vast mysterious place. In a lot of ways, there’s great comfort in knowing that we know very little. The unknows of the cosmos help put the heartbreaking news I read every day in perspective. It doesn’t dimish what we deal with on this planet at all but it helps me remember that we are a small part of a big story.

I need people like DeGrasse Tyson, with such a different perspective, to broaden my gaze. When I couple books about astrophysics with memoirs that deal with issues of the moment like, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir I keep one foot in the important details of today that impact my actual neighbors while keeping a bigger picture perspective that lets me breathe.

As I read the news about a Black boy getting shot by his neighbor, about two Black men getting arrested for sitting in Starbucks, about the idea that the best way to combat war is with more bombs, I am overwhelmed but the injustices of this world. I read comments scoffing at the idea that anyone would actually want refugees in their homes as I imagine opening mine to Sara and Mona and Nagham, women who have become friends. My heart breaks for the disconnect we have between wanting the Ten Commandments posted in public buildings and actually living out the directives of having no other gods or not killing.

I keep reading the news because I have to. Because, if I take a break or turn it off, I’m choosing my own privilege over the reality of those who cannot turn off these policies and decisions that impact their everyday lives. I keep reading books that are hard and make me uncomfortable because these stories are not my own and I must remember and listen. I keep looking for ways to stand beside and learn from those whose voices have been ignored or dismissed.

But I’m also remembering to lean into the mystery of faith; the mystery of the cosmos. God doesn’t promise us answers; the universe owes us no explanations. Just because I’m not promised answers doesn’t mean I won’t keep searching. That’s part of how I experience God and love my neighbors – by digging into to stories and being present. But I’m also not going to get bogged down. I’m remembering that justice is slow but that doesn’t mean we stop; I’m remembering that my actions won’t make sweeping changes but that doesn’t mean I don’t model activism to my girls; I’m remembering that there is something powerful in being a small part of a big universe.

How do you balance perspectives of making a difference and being a small part of a big story? Which end of the spectrum gives you more comfort?

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.

Life is a Narrative Story, Not a Report

One of the best outcomes of this practice of blogging has been learning the art of storytelling. My goal with each essay is to take a life experience and weave a greater thought that can be applied beyond my story at this moment. It’s been a good practice as I reflect on this phase of parenting. Some days are hard. What’s a bigger lesson I can learn from it?

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Image source: Falco on Pixabay

Part of embracing storytelling is letting go of journalism. I have no recording devices in our house to go back and make sure our conversations are accurately fact-checked. Sometimes I embellish things to make a point. It’s never as deep or complex as real life. In fact, it’s always funny talking with real-life friends about blog posts because they see so much more than is written. (It’s equally funny talking with people who read the blog but who I don’t see often in person. There are a lot of gaps between the written story and the lived story!)

I’m reading through Exodus right now and reflecting on the ways in which we read this text. Some read it in a journalistic style: Each of the elements of this story actually happened in the timeline stated. We read it literally and draw our conclusions based on that. Others believe it’s complete metaphor, leading us toward a bigger story. None of this happened but it helps give us a history and journey as a culture. Many are in the middle: The exodus probably happened, though probably not exactly the way the text states. It’s storytelling and the narrator will embellish certain aspects to make a greater point.

This is what we do. As Americans, we’ve created a narrative about scrappy underdog Colonists fighting the big business of Great Britain. It’s a cultural narrative that lives to this day. I was talking with a friend who said that even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, they won the narrative. We still revere antebellum culture, architecture, and memorials in ways that usually doesn’t happen to the losers.

We all do this, whether its written or a story we’ve told again and again over beers with old friends. The more we tell it, the more exaggerated it becomes. The bigger our audience, the more we need to think about how our stories can apply to more people. I write from a perspective of motherhood, but I try not to make my stories about motherhood.

I’ve been thinking about this as we interpret laws in our country that are over two hundred years old. We have created a cultural narrative around them, making them something that they weren’t originally. The problem is that my cultural narrative around a particular phrase in the Constitution is going to be skewed differently than someone’s from a different region or background. We all bring our own lens personally as well as within an overarching societal telling.

I’m wondering how to dig in deeper. When I meet with friends in real life and we talk about our journeys, they get a more dynamic story than the one on this blog. They know more sides, more nuances, more of our journey. How do I apply this to the news and current events? How do I step into the discussion and recognize that I’m reading the news and our laws through my own cultural lens?

I don’t have any answers or books to read. I suppose my next steps are simply being aware that I don’t have the whole story – none of us do. How do we interpret and process with this idea of not knowing? Will that help us break our steeped perspectives toward moving forward?

How do you step back and shift your thinking? What are ways you recognize your cultural lens in order to see things in a new way? Any helpful resources?

41P-7PjUPDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Recommended Resources: Chapter 3: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” from We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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

Reframing the Story Arc

Have you ever played that game, If you could only have one book forevermore on a desert island, which one would it be?

800px-Freytags_pyramid.svgSometimes, I feel like I’m playing that game with the girls. We listen to the same song over and over again in the car; Elle always reads Goodnight, Moon or Quiet Time with Cassatt before naptime; I sing Egg Thoughts and Other Frances Songs every night before bed with Bea.

I totally get it. Already I see the benefits of repetition as Bea is reading more and more and recognizing familiar words in unfamiliar texts. But it can also be mind-numbing. It makes me really reconsider which one book I would want on a desert island. (And, no. The Complete Works of Shakespeare doesn’t count.)

I’ve been having some conversations with really smart women about reframing the Bible’s traditional story arc. What would hope and expectation look like if Jesus, the Cross, and Resurrection wasn’t the climax of the story? What if we moved that all to the beginning? What if Heaven and the New Earth were set as the rising action? I’m just starting to mull all of these over, and I don’t know where they’re all going.

What I am learning is that the traditional story arc doesn’t apply to a lot of life. Seemingly right and wrong points of view are never as cut and dry. Conflict is made up of layers and layers rather than sides and clear lines. Redemption rarely follows the path I think that it should.

During one of these conversations, a friend suggested picking one part of the Bible and spending a year just with that. Look closely at the story and what the arc seems to be with what we know. Carefully peel back the layers of the text. Read books and commentaries about it.

I just finished reading the Bible in a year (though really, it took about two and a half years…) and I’m so glad I finally read it from cover to cover. But honestly? It didn’t really help with my understanding at all. It gave a foundation and overview, but I really do need to view this as a lifetime read – something that I slow down and take my time.

I’m learning that to walk humbly with God probably means to recognize that I don’t know the story arc at all. That I need to spend a lifetime reframing the rising action and climax. And that most likely, God’s story arc doesn’t look anything like the literary arc I’ve been taught.

My friend said that she hopes God is way more creative than we imagine and that even redemption and the New Earth is just the very beginning of the story. Who knows what worlds are to come?

Where do you find Jesus on the story arc? How have your views on the story journey been reframed?

BackyardThis post is Day 23 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.

The Power of Storytelling

I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell and how we can best listen to the stories of others. It’s made me think about my own experiences and how my story has been shaped over the years. I have the honor of sharing these thoughts over at SheLoves Magazine. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to join the conversation!

Annie-Rim-The-Power-of-Storytelling3I’m learning to stop and listen more. I’m learning that by including these words “tell me more,” I’m recognizing that we all have more than what appears on the surface. What if, when visiting our friends who are better at decorating or cooking or meal planning, we included, “Tell me more.” What was their journey to finding this particular creative outlet?

If I were to tell more about my birth story now, I’d recognize that from the second we stepped into the hospital, things changed from our perfect birth plan. I’ve learned that this is parenthood: Change from the plan. Rarely do my days go the way I’ve planned; rarely do the ideals I had formed before becoming a mom play the way I’d imagined. And I’m learning that this is good. My takeaway is that I hold my ideals loosely and am ready to reevaluate.

The power of storytelling is world changing. “Tell me more” isn’t yet a natural habit, but I’m hoping that by remembering to incorporate it more and more into my conversations, it will become second nature. And that as I hear those deeper stories, the ones that go beyond a blog post or a quick conversation, my worldview is shifted. I feel far fewer comparisons and am finding quite a lot of commonality.

The more I listen, the more naturally stories resonate and I see myself in those around me. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join the conversation there!

How has active listening changed your perspective?

The Mom Quilt

Learning to embrace my story has been a challenge for me. Especially after our decision for me to stay home with our kids, my sense of identity drastically shifted. I no longer had an identifying profession but I also felt that I was living a very uninspiring, mundane life. Nothing I did was out of the ordinary, so how could my story help others? After three years of staying home, of moving to the suburbs, of living in the “norm,” I’m learning that my story does matter – that it can encourage others, even though it’s not fancy or romantic.

Last month, I had the opportunity to submit an essay to a collection of stories about motherhood. It was a good challenge for me – I had to think about stories in my life that could connect to women and mothers from all walks. I was drawn to this project, not just to share my story, but to support an amazing vision of helping mothers in Kenya.

11830667_10205790011041948_900574549_nThe Mom Quilt, compiled by Paula Rollo, Becky Mansfield, and Jodi Durr, is a collection of these stories, stitching together the journey of motherhood. Besides sharing stories, I love that Paula, Becky, and Jodi have decided to donate 100% of the proceeds to Mercy House Kenya. (Sound familiar? It’s the same organization that benefits from Fair Trade Friday!) Mercy House’s mission is to support mothers who otherwise would consider terminating their pregnancies by offering health care, education, and support during the pregnancy and after.

Right now, water is trucked to the Mercy House property from miles away. The proceeds from the Mom Quilt will go to building a well right on the property. The goal is to raise $40,000 for this project. And when we hit that goal? Well, there are many other projects to benefit Mercy House!

You can sign up to receive updates about the project here:

This $10 book will be in e-format only for the time being. Because 100% of the proceeds can go straight to Mercy House (as opposed to the 40% of a traditional book), the e-book option is the most beneficial to the people who need it the most: The moms at Mercy House.

I thought I’d share a small excerpt of my essay here:

The other day, my nearly-three-year-old, Bea and I got into it. It was hot, we missed our window to cool off with a post-nap swim, and my husband, Frank wasn’t due to arrive home for at least another 45 minutes. I don’t remember what sparked the power struggle, but it was difficult to tell who was three and who was thirty-three…. Realizing that time-out would just frustrate me more, I told Bea I was going upstairs to read and that she had to stay downstairs. Our house has cut-outs on the upper level, so I was able to hear Bea reading in the living room while I was in my bedroom. I have never heard Hop on Pop “read” with such vehemence!

Three years in, and I’m slowly learning what seasoned moms told me from the start: Motherhood is messy.

Before I had Bea and quit my job to stay home with her, I was a second-grade teacher. My classroom was a tightly run operation to the point that we had to have serious discussions about flexibility when I scheduled a substitute. I assumed that when I had my baby, finding a schedule and filling our days with meaningful activities would be a breeze. After all, one child couldn’t possibly be more difficult than twenty-six!

And then I had Bea and I got my first lessons in the messiness of motherhood. She was a relatively easy baby and I had no problems achieving my ideals of breastfeeding and baby wearing, though sleep seemed elusive. I even mastered the one-handed read-while-nursing hold on a book so I continued keeping up with my book clubs. What I didn’t realize was all the other stuff that surrounds newborns. The inability to get motivated was the biggest. I’d semi-clean, semi-cook, semi-do all the things I assumed would be easily taken care of because I’d have so much time. If I could handle all this with a full-time job, surely I’d have time to do it all and more when I was just staying home all day.

I entered the world of motherhood in the midst of the “embrace your mess” messages. Articles and blogs encouraged moms to let their houses get dusty, to not worry about Pinterest-level activities, and to invite friends over in the midst of the chaos. In many ways, I needed this message. I needed to remember that it’s ok to have company, even if I didn’t get around to vacuuming. That our friends liked us for us and not the state of the dishes in our sink. I needed to remember that it’s ok to buy play-dough from the store rather than making my own – no matter how easy it is.

Mine is one of sixty stories of motherhood. If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of this book, follow the link here:

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Sharing Stories

In my MOPS group, we’ve chosen to use our “off” weeks as time to share stories. At first, this was daunting. Many women were worried they didn’t have a story to share; they had “journey envy,” as they had led such a drama-free life; they didn’t like speaking in front of others. But, as women have stepped forward and shared with courage, we’re discovering the power of story and storytelling.

We’ve heard from women who came from idyllic, stable families; women who raised siblings at the age of 9; women whose parents made tough choices about family and immigration; women who have seen the effects and redemption of unhealthy doctrine. We’ve shared of the hard, early days of motherhood and the lessons learned from building a family.

We’ve learned that our stories are interconnected, no matter how seemingly separate the details are. We’ve learned that God can take hard, impossible moments, and bring about grace and redemption through them.

Mostly, I’ve learned that our stories are important. By taking the time and creating the space to share our own stories, we are slowly learning pieces of a bigger story, a greater puzzle of how we are all connected and intertwined.

Have you shared your story lately?

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