As Light Grows

It can be easy to look back to my childhood and think how different the world was. Of course, I’m remembering this world through eyes of a child. My world was my universe IMG_7521and stretched to the places I could walk and explore. When I was Bea’s age, my world also included our neighborhood in Germany and the countries my parents took us to visit during our years there.

While that would eventually shape my worldview, at the time, my world was as narrow as any 5-year-old’s.

For my girls, their world is our yard, the walks we take to school and the neighborhood park, play dates around town, our favorite national parks, our yearly visits to Philadelphia, and occasional visits to California.

I did a quick Google search of world conflicts in 1982. There were 42, ranging from martial law in Poland to the Hama massacre in Syria. I don’t know what the exact numbers are for 2017 but I do know that conflict has been with us since time began.

When we look at Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt after the birth of Jesus, I wonder how different it was for them to leave family and friends behind, knowing that little boys they knew would be killed from a family fleeing their home today?

Maybe the world isn’t all that different but my hope is different. I’m grateful that my girls will have access to global news easily and quickly. That they’ll know what is happening to their worldwide neighbors – both the victories and the laments.

As we keep lighting the Advent candles and our dinner table grows lighter, bit by bit, I am reminded that this world is growing lighter. That we are raising our kids with a deeper sense of hope and peace.

Where are you finding a different kind of hope these days? How do you celebrate raising kids with a different worldview?

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

The Power of Stories to Enlarge Our World

If you’ve been around here for even a day or two, you know I can talk books and books all the time. I truly believe reading and engaging in perspectives outside our usual thinking can help change the world. Today, I’m over at SheLoves Magazine sharing some of my journey of reading diversity. Here’s an excerpt, but I hope you’ll head over to SheLoves and join the conversation!

annie-rim-power-of-story3I am a nerd in the very untrendy sense of the word. I don’t wear cool glasses. I know little to nothing about pop culture references. My clothing style is firmly preppy without any funky flair. But I can engage in conversation about a lot of political topics, about some theology, and my favorite: history. As an art history major in college, I learned about the evolution of cultures and societies through their art and literature.

Talking books and ideas lights me up, makes me excited, gives me energy. And so, in today’s culture of divisiveness and other-ing, I turn to books to help me understand.

In her inspiring TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds me of the power of storytelling, of the necessity of listening to the stories of other cultures and experiences. Ideally, this happens face-to-face over a cup of something warm or a shared meal. Realistically, that’s hard to make happen naturally.

I’m unlikely to find someone to be my new culturally-diverse instant best friend, so I have made an intentional point to read more books by people of different nationalities, different backgrounds and identities than my own.

Of course, I had read diverse authors before, working through Paulo Coelho’s magical worlds and my year of books from Iran and Afghanistan. But I knew I needed to be more intentional, to pick books not only because they looked interesting but because they stretched me and grew my perspective. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

What are some of your life-changing books? How do you expand your reading horizons?

BackyardThis post is Day 26 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.

Books to See the Other

I was reflecting on books that have helped me to understand those we have labeled as The Other. Whether from a different socioeconomic background, a different culture, or a different political viewpoint, I think it’s important to read books that challenge our own worldview.

img_3774I’ve referenced many of these books already, but in case you’re looking for something new to read during this season, these are five nonfiction books that have helped me understand a different point of view a little better.

Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah
Working through the Old Testament book of Lamentations, Dr. Rah reminds prosperous countries that, without the recognition and practice of lament, we cannot truly experience joy. Without going into a doomsday prophecy, Rah links similarities between prosperous Jerusalem and prosperous America. How can we practice a destruction of ideology and how we read the Bible? (Another good essay about this is by Tanya Marlow for SheLoves Magazine: Blessed are the Overdramatic.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
I read this memoir at the end of last year and appreciated Mayfield’s commitment to learning from rather than about refugees. She and her family have chosen to live side-by-side these families and her compassion and empathy have helped me see this “Immigration Issue” as far more complex and meaningful.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
This is a memoir of a Palestinian Melkite Christian. What I appreciate about this books is that Chacour shifted my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from one of Jews-Muslims to one of deeper, wider spreading origins. I gained new insights into this conflict that took it far from the black and white point of view I had been raised with. (Also, this is our Red Couch book club discussion for March. I hope you’ll join in if interested!)

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
This is my winner for Books that Have Changed My Life. These stories are hard but necessary. It’s so important for us in comfortable homes with some sort of access to healthcare and assistance to remember what most of the rest of the world is experiencing. It’s also a reminder of why women’s issues here in America are so important to address.

Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
This is a timely book for anyone looking to go beyond helping the poor institutionally. How do we actually  live out the idea of opening our homes and learning to love our neighbors? Greenfield describes the highs and lows of living out this messy theology.

These are just a small handful of powerful books. I’d also suggest reading an author who looks different from you or who comes from a different background. A friend and I were talking about the need to read and know more about Native Americans. I’d recommend starting with Richard Twiss for a Christian perspective or Louise Erdrich for powerful novels.

What are some books that have helped you shift your worldview? 

Finding Balance is a Gift

The windows are open, at least for a couple hours on this warm January afternoon. The backyard fountain is running, reminding me of summertime when it flows nonstop. Our new deck is finished and, with the sliding door open, I’m thinking about the next season and using this space that has been too unsound for us to enjoy since moving in.

img_3388During quiet rest, Bea curled up next to me with her pile of books while I read Rising Strong. I debated sending her into the playroom, which is our usual quiet rest custom. Both of us need time apart, time to reenergize. But I’ve been thinking about kindergarten a lot lately and how these days together are quickly coming to an end. So we snuggled and read and were just together for a while.

I’ve drafted several blog posts lately but none of them seem right. Perhaps it’s because of my helpers, never far, always talking. Perhaps it’s because when I want to write something deep and profound and yet also encouraging, I’m just too tired.

Like everyone else, the news is exhausting. I wake up in the morning wondering, what next? A friend recently wished we could return to the days when Facebook was newborns and what we ate for dinner. And while part of me wishes for that too, I also recognize the privilege I have in being able to turn it off. I don’t need to check the news all that often because the news doesn’t really directly impact me.

But I also recognize this reality and am finding this balance. Of feeling grateful that our lives continue without too much impact. And of finding ways to instill important values. How do I want my daughters to remember this time? How do I want them to view their childhood? What do I want our family story to say?

So, with these windows open and the true blessing of sitting at a big work table with my daughters working next to me, I’m thankful for our life right now. For the ability to enjoy this day and these moments. And I’m also looking into ways we can spend our money to support those who are far more equipped and qualified to fight injustice. I’m emailing organizations about volunteering our time as a family.

I’m remembering that finding the balance is a gift I’ve been given. And I don’t take that lightly at all.

How are you finding ways to balance the news and balance your outlook on life? What is your best way to practice perspective?

I Am Not Orlando

I am not Orlando. I will never know what it’s like to face hatred and discrimination in my own church, in laws meant to protect, in the way I live my life. I have no idea what it’s like to have my family disown me, to have to announce my own identity to the world.

I am not BlackLivesMatter. I will never know what it’s like to get in my car, worried about being pulled over for a minor offense. I will never know what it’s like to face discrimination based on the spelling of my name or the origin of my family. I have no idea how hard it is to break out of the systemic oppression our laws and aide put on others.

In these moments of shock and outrage, I don’t know what to say or do. I grieve that we have not been able to learn from millennia of mistakes. Rape, mass murder, systemic discrimination are part of human history. And, while I do believe (or fervently hope) we are inching forward, I am still shocked that we as a human race have not been able to learn from the past, to take what we know about inherent human nature and try our hardest to pass laws, to make policies, to live our own lives in a way that moves forward.

I am shocked that with each death – whether one person by one gun or fifty people by one gun – we turn to fear rather than hope. That we use our fear to keep our ideals firmly in place rather than stepping back and living in hope for change. That we use our fear to blame a people group rather than looking at our own selves and wondering what we can do to change this system.

It’s hard for me to accept, but I’m learning more and more that my role as a mom is just as important as my vote for the people who represent my values. I’ll admit, my hope in top-down policies is dwindling and I wonder if they will ever change.

But my own small grassroots efforts? I am more committed to raising my daughters to hope, to love, to see without hate. It’s small, but we read Ezra Jack Keats’ books. Books about kids being kids. Kids who represent all cultures but books that are not about those cultures. They’re just about kids.

I am forever grateful for our church. A place where our girls are loved by people who may be gay or straight or trans or married or divorced or single. People who they see as safe and who don’t need labels. A place where, when Bea asks if two women can get married, they don’t just say yes, they show what that marriage actually looks like. (A lot like our own marriage.)

So, I can stand with those who suffer in Orlando and because of Orlando. I stand with those who face daily discrimination and hate.

But I am not them. I am privileged and am learning that I am not helpless with this privilege. I am learning that my own small acts are laying a foundation for my privileged daughters.

I hope that they will never have to stand with minority groups. That somehow in the next twenty years, we’ll figure it out. But I’m not naive and I have a feeling they’ll feel this same anger and helplessness time and again.

Until we can finally figure out how to truly love without condition, I’ll remember this from A Room with a View:

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

E.M. Forster

Will you stand with me, facing the sunshine? How do you teach your kids these big things in small ways?

Art Creates Empathy

One of my favorite memories growing up is sitting in front of my dad’s reference books in his home studio, looking through his Jansen’s History of Art while he drew. It was from his college days and the photos reflected its publication date. I remember looking at an image of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and talking with him about the restoration process. I couldn’t wait to one day travel to Rome myself to see the newly refinished vivid colors of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.

Browsing those reference books changed my life. In a very obvious way, they sparked an interest in art history that took me to Paris for four years, which in turn fed my love for travel and exploring different cultures. This worldview spilled into my second grade classroom, provided opportunities to work at a museum here in Denver, and has guided how we parent Bea.

In a more subtle way, those books gave me deeper empathy for the world around me. By looking at images of history, I looked through new eyes at what I was learning in school and reading in the newspaper. From Greek Antiquity and the Renaissance to Monet’s early picnic scenes and Duchamp’s ready-mades, I saw my own world through a new lens.

Our house is filled with art and we’re hoping to add to our collection. Most of the pieces we own were bought on travels, created by artists we know personally, are prints of exhibitions I went to in college, or murals my dad painted. The art in our home tells our family’s story – one of relationships and exploration.

Instructing Grandpa on her bedroom mural.
Instructing Grandpa on her bedroom mural.

This art is not only a tangible way to tell our own story, but I hope it plants the seeds of curiosity and wonder as our girls learn to recognize the places and artists they represent. I keep my art history books on low shelves around the house and Bea has her own small collection of books for children. She recognizes some famous artists and the idea of creating a mural or project is part of her daily vocabulary. As she creates, she narrates the story of her day or recent events – on some level, she already understands the storytelling aspect of art.

One of the most important things I learned when studying art history was how to stop and look at a painting. I might not know all of the deep symbolism or exactly what was happening during that time, but I did learn to “read” a painting: To start in a corner and let my eye move across the canvas. I learned to research the questions I had and how to find the answers that helped make the art come alive.

I wonder if we looked at the world in the same way if we could avoid many conflicts. Perhaps we need to stop, take some time to really look at a person or a situation, go find the answers to our questions, and then come back again. If we slowed down and really took the time to know others, to know stories, would we be as quick to jump to our own conclusions?

Art builds bridges – between whole cultures as well as individual stories. One of my favorite moments when I’m talking with a group of kids about the art of Clyfford Still is when they suddenly make a link to their own lives. They are no longer seeing a large canvas filled with color, but an emotion in which they can relate. Part of the Abstract Expressionist movement is helping the viewer look inward – that art doesn’t have to be a specific moment in history but can be a specific moment in your own life. It’s not taking the art or artist out of context, but bringing your own life experience into a more global idea. What I love most about that movement is the ability to see our own story in the work of an artist.

I’m learning to translate those ideas to my relationships and the way in which I read the world around me: To stop and find my own story within a larger context.

How has art affected your worldview? What have you learned from someone else’s creation?

Linked with The High Calling’s community theme: Art Matters.

Shaping a Broad Worldview

When I was four – just about a year older than Bea – my parents packed us up and moved to Germany for two years. I’ve always admired them for this move and I recognize how significantly it shaped my worldview. Living abroad, doing daily life, travel – this all played key roles in how I chose to spend my money, look at colleges, and read the newspaper.

Sledding behind our house
Sledding behind our house

Now, as a mom of almost two, I appreciate this even more. We moved six miles across town and it was exhausting. (In many ways, it still is.) I cannot imagine how tough it was moving and getting settled across the world, especially without email, Skype, even cheap phone calls.

The majority of our time in Germany was normal – I went to kindergarten, my dad went to work, my mom stayed home with my brother. But it wasn’t at all normal. My mom had to navigate grocery shopping with a toddler in an area where the idea of one-stop shopping was non-existant. They brought us on trips across Europe, but it was a far cry of hopping on a train with a backpack for a weekend. Toys, comfort items, nap times all had to be considered.

Frank and I have talked about shaping a broad global view for our daughters. How do we intentionally bring global awareness to our home? Part of me wants to emulate my parents – let’s just pack up and move somewhere for a few years! And part of me is so hesitant. When I did that in college, I had the luxury of only caring for myself. (At times, that seemed awful, but in reality, the ability to only focus on myself is nothing compared to dependent children.)

I hope that if opportunities arise, Frank and I show the courage that my parents did, to put comfort and security aside and expose our kids to the adventures the world has to offer.

How did your parents shape your worldview?

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

What book got you reading?

I am a reader. It’s always been an outlet for me; a chance to travel to new cultures, worldviews, and adventures. I’m part of three book clubs and also read a couple additional books on my own each month. Recently, I read two 5-star books in a row: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. They earned their stars for different reasons, but both books kept me enthralled and I learned so much about life through each.

It’s so exciting to see Bea already taking an interest in books. She loves classics like Goodnight, Moon, The Snowy Day, and Madeline, but also loves a series of art history board books and Jennifer Adams’ Baby Lit series. We will sit for long stretches, reading together. Mostly she loves snuggling and being read to, but sometimes she loves reading on her own or to her dolls.

Frank and I were talking about that one book that made us readers. The book that opened that door and introduced reading as a pastime. His book was A Farewell to Arms, when he was in high school. It was hard for me to come up with mine. Some of my earliest memories are reading with my parents and grandparents. I would fall asleep listening to the Miss Know-It-All series and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Later, on my own, I loved Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. I have read and reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is dogeared and taped together. As an adult, I have shifted more toward nonfiction. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage remain favorites.

All that to say, I don’t think I could choose just one book. I don’t have a memory of not reading. Give me a title and I could tell you how that particular book has shaped my life, but I couldn’t give that honor to a single book.

What book got you reading? Or, what books shaped your outlook today?