These Are the Days, Fall 2016

This is how I remember my days.

These are the days of…

…cooler weather, finally.

…two-year old tantrums!  (She has some gems, including: “go ‘way Mommy!” “Leave me ‘lone!”)

…watercolor painting and “wasting” my expensive Arches paper by learning and not always trying for frame-worthy pieces.

…fall break, when I realize how much I wish I were still homeschooling my third grader.  Third grade in our public school is good for him in many ways.  But having him home this week makes me miss him more.

…sending lots of mail.

…football in the backyard.

…a first Ohio State football game at the Horseshoe for one lucky 8 year old.

…choosing self-care over constant productivity.

…freezing cold floors first thing in the morning.

…falling more in love with my husband and my kids.  I love these people.

…inspiration.  Something about the change in the weather has pushed me to paint more, write more, think more.

…carefully cultivating my friendships.

…catching up on my gratitude list.  I’m at #749.

…kids sleeping in past 6:30 am.  Yes.  This is of course all over my gratitude list.

What about you?  What things are making up your days this fall?

Gladiolas in the Fall

I have a terrible habit.  I buy plants out of season.  I do this because I’m cheap and I love flowers.  Frankly, it’s a little ridiculous because if I thoughtfully purchased bulbs and flowers at the right time, I would save money and have a beautiful garden.  I know this.

But if you drive by my house right now, you’ll see some mums my in-laws bought me (right flowers for the right season) and behind them, the swords of gladiolus flowers spiking out of my brick planter.  I bought them at Dollar General (another foolish way to waste money is to buy bulbs at the Dollar General) when they were 50% off and planted them several weeks ago when the summer was holding on to September.

As I planted them, I told myself they wouldn’t grow.

Then to my surprise, the sword lilies starting growing.  They kept growing.  They reached respectable heights and then did what plants in the wrong season do: they refused to bloom.

Today I was looking at them and pondering a prayer that my whole parish prays each week.  After Eucharist, we thank God for the Body and Blood of Christ and then say, “Now, send us out into the world to do the work you have given us to do….”  The first Sunday I visited this church four years ago, I wept when we prayed that.  It took me months to be able to say it out loud because I am a woman passionate and completely clear about the work God has given me to do in this world.  The tears would stop the words in my throat as I wrestled with God for two years about how Kentucky figured in to the work He has given me to do.

(The wrestling is done.  The work is still clear.  I remain passionate and walk with a bit of a limp from that wrestling match.)

Back to the gladiolas.  These flowers that are growing but won’t bloom remind me of that prayer because I did not plant them in the soil to do the work they are given to do.  If I had been thinking of the work they have been given, I would have planted them in early spring.  They are meant to bloom but I planted them at the wrong time to do their work.  They essentially can’t do their work through no fault of their own.  (Mea cupla.)

Lately some opportunities have been given to me to do things I love.  But they fail the “work I’ve been given” test.  I actually ask myself most mornings what my work is because I am easily distracted by things I like to do that are not my work.  Loving, caring for and discipling my children is my work during this season.  When I act like they are an impediment to my work, I’m just plain wrong and need an attitude adjustment.  Focusing on building a support team so we can return overseas is my work during this season.  When I delay building important relationships, I fail to do my work.

My husband and I got to share about intentional self-care in marriage at his seminary alma mater this past Monday night.  We shared with a packed house of couples.  We didn’t do it perfectly but it was fun.  Still I question whether it was my work.  Several more opportunities have floated into my inbox and I pray that, although I love what they represent, I will actually choose the work I’ve been given to do.  I can choose to do the work or I can say yes to many things that are lovely but not my work.  I can plant my life in the wrong things at the wrong time, and not blossom as I’m meant to.

 

Things I’ve Done List

I don’t have any bumper stickers on my car.  One day, I’m going to find the courage to commit and put one on the back of my amazingly awesome Mom-mobile also known as a 2006 Toyota Sienna.  

This morning I saw the one I’ll start with.  It said, “I do my own stunts” and featured a person flying through the air.  I liked it because it affirmed a recent realization: I don’t value a lot of my own work. It doesn’t make sense yet, but keep reading and it might.

I love making lists.  In high school, one of my dearest friends taught me to put things I would definitely accomplish that day on my list so I’d have the joy of crossing them off.  I’m not above putting things like “shower” and “get dressed” on my list.  I’m also not above putting things on my list after I’ve done them.  I’ve had people object to that and to them I say, “It’s my list.  Back off.”

But my things to do lists are always longer than my time to do things so I end the day looking at five or ten things I didn’t get to.  This became discouraging.  So I changed my methodology and frankly, I think it borders on genius.  

I now make a “things I’ve done list.”  And I don’t shy away from capturing my accomplishments, friends.  Did I shower and get dressed?  That counts.  Read seventy-seven four picture books to my son?  On the list.  Cook dinner for my own family and a friend’s family?  Two entries, right there.  Have a baking day? Every item baked is an item I’ve done.  Have a hard conversation with someone?  It didn’t keep me from my work, it was my work, and so I record it. Write in my journal? Write a few thank you notes? Send encouraging texts to my friends? Care for the souls of others? All of it is on that list.  

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My daughter’s scribbles add some artistic interest to my log.

When I read this post on how to bullet journal (I have my own version of how to bullet journal but I love this article and it’s really the only one you ever need), I realized that I was creating a log.  By creating a log, I am valuing what I actually do each day.  Some of the log represents significant accomplishments that anyone would recognize as such.  Some of my log represents the way I pour into the lives of others that don’t feel important enough to write on a things to do list.  But since I’ve done them, they qualify.  As I consider them, I see their importance.  

I’ve started including “being” activities too.  Maybe you’ve heard people say, “You’re not a human doing, you’re a human being.”  Yes, and thank you for the reminder.  Instead of feeling like I’m wasting time or being selfish when I sit down to practice painting a watercolor sunset, I add it to my log and think, “Way to invest in something you love! Way to become more human!”  

Reading a book to my four year old before he takes a nap?  Incredibly valuable.  But until I started valuing my work enough to log it all, I didn’t see how much I was able to do in a day.  Now I’m patting myself on the back for doing my

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I did a lot of laundry that day.

own stunts, and writing it down.

(I learned after I wrote this post that some people call their log their “ta-da list.”  Yes, I am trading in my “to-do” list for my “ta-da” list.)

 

Compliments

Last night, my eight year old son and I went on a couch-to-5K run together.  His friend, our neighbor, joined us for the first part of the walk/jog.  After we dropped the neighbor off, we decided to keep walking and have a little time to talk.  (I love that my son wants to do this so much that I could do cartwheels in the street.  But I act cool.)

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I noticed a beautiful butterfly, brown and blue and yellow wings struggling, resting on the pavement.  My son knelt down and started to cup his hands around the hurt creature.  I told him instead to find a twig and we would coax the butterfly onto the twig and off of the street.  We did, it worked, and the butterfly stayed in the grass.  As I walked away, I said, “He will probably die.  But I hope he will die better than if he got run over in the road.”

My son answered, “I wonder if someone wants to give us a compliment.”

I pressed, interested in what he meant but totally clueless.  

“God, Mom.  I bet God wants to give us a compliment.  Because we took care of one of his creatures.”

I loved that my 8 year old son knows that God sees us and actually likes us and the things we do.  I didn’t learn that until I was well over 30.  

We started guessing what kind of compliments God, our heavenly Father, would give us.  I started listing ones I thought he might give my son.  As a parent, I think I had some good ideas.  Some my son accepted; one he told me was just dumb.  (I acted cool again.)

It was fun but by this morning I had completely forgotten the entire exchange.

On Wednesdays, I often a join a community that fasts together for 24 hours.  I hate love it.  It is just what I need but it can feel like a bitter medicine.  With no lollipop afterwards.  

I sat in the lobby at my YMCA so I could accomplish a few tasks while my daughter was in the free childcare.  The invitation to fasting for me in this season is an invitation to silence.  Since I cannot control the amount of silence in my outer world, I ask God to show me how to enter inner silence and hear his voice.  

My heart was quiet and a voice piped up.  I don’t even know if I can write down all it said but there were no compliments.  I started listening.  If you would plan better, your house would be clean.  If you exercised more faithfully, you wouldn’t still have 10 pounds of baby weight.  You don’t do enough.  You’re actually pretty lazy.  You should do more.  If you tried harder…  

Wait.  Stop.  This was not the voice of God.  Condemnation comes from someone but it isn’t the Triune God.  I know his voice.  He tells me hard truths.  He invites me to drastic change.  He has journeyed with me through massive transformation of the soul, mind, body.  His voice is not always easy but it is always love.  

Seeing a blank note card in my bag, this crazy idea floated through my mind.  Write yourself the compliments you think I’d give you.  

I’m in the middle of the Y lobby.  I’m already a little teary.  I’m hungry.  I’m going to cry in front of a lot of old men who are having coffee after their morning swim.  Oh, alright.  

So I do.  And I do (cry, that is).
What compliments would God give you today?  He will always be honest and he will always be love.  

The Best Advice

I listened to a podcast this afternoon as I cooked dinner that featured the best advice people had ever received.

The one piece of advice that stood out to me was given to a young mother with 4 children.  She said that she spends the bulk of her day doing things that will be undone: feeding children who will get hungry again, washing clothes that will soon be dirty, cleaning up toys that will be on the floor tomorrow.  The best advice someone gave her was to do one thing each day that cannot be undone.

She writes in a journal, or paints one wall in her home, or does one other long-lasting thing each day, grounding her life with meaning and permanence.

I really liked this idea.

I thought about the many ways I could concretize (is that a word? I don’t think so.) my days into something with permanence.  I could write more on the blog.  I could do things that make my largely invisible existence more visible. I could finish painting the fourth wall in my dining room.

Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 came to mind: “establish for us the work of our hands.”  I could definitely (and might) choose to do one thing each day that can’t be undone.  It sounds like a fun thing to add to my list of things to do.  But mostly I think I will pray that God’s grace (Moses prays that God’s favor would rest on his people directly before asking for the establishing of the work of their hands) would make the largely unseen and mostly undo-able work I do each day count for something permanent.

In the lives of those I love and in the humility I learn, establish for me the work of my hands.

 

These Are the Days, January 2016

These are the days of…

hot tea to combat cold winter weather.  I’m on my sixth cup as I type.

reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  My husband and I are close to fighting over who gets to read it at the boys’ bedtime.  It’s that good.

a four year old who narrates the world and his entire existence in it.  At times adorable, at time maddening.  He also starts over if he’s interrupted.  At the beginning of his paragraph.  I’m not making this up.  (Please don’t interrupt him.  Please.)

Transition.  My church moved locations, my husband is entering his last semester of grad school, my children are changing every day.  So many new things on the horizon.  I waffle between wanting to throw my arms open in anticipation and wanting to throw up.

basket time.  We have a basket full of the books we need to do memory work and reading for homeschool.  Listening to my son recite poetry and Psalm 23 and the Apostle’s Creed is always a high point.  Why didn’t I memorize these things when I was little?  Instead I know all the words to Billy Joel’s best songs.

epic Monopoly games.  We set it up almost every night, my biggest “versing” (versus) his father/the four year old “versing” me.  We play with intensity, then mark down on the white board where everyone is and put our properties and money in designated envelopes.  When things are really intense, we set it all back up before breakfast for a few rounds too.  I hope my children remember this with fondness.

hard things.  I have some friends and some family members who are facing hard things, and I face these with them in solidarity, although not in the same way as they must.  Illness, children who are ill, loss, the breaking apart of things that were meant to be permanent.  Was life this complicated when I was little?  I pray my children see us live a complicated life depending on God and also that they are protected enough to not see much of the complications, yet.

cold feet.  I wish I could hold my tea cup with my feet.

intention.  I can’t articulate how or why but intention is my word this year.  Each day I choose an intention.  Today it was to live with compassion toward all those I interacted with.  Life is different when I have an intention.

 

 

These Are the Days, December Edition

In August I posted a list inspired by Emily Freeman sharing the moments and ideas that were making up my days.  Using the same attention to my true moments and days, rather than the ones I want to have or have vicariously through some form of media, these are the days of:

Grief.

Being thankful for the history of the Church, and how it informs my daily life today (in particular, for the Council of Orange)

Creativity: starting painting classes again, trying to draw more, writing

Reading less: I’m noticing a pattern.  I gorge myself on books that others have written and suddenly I don’t have the appetite to write or paint or draw.  The year that I deliberately limited my reading was one of my most creative.  I think it’s time to go there again in 2016.

A baby learning to walk.  When did she get so big, and could this really have been my last first year as someone’s mother?

Returning to the Psalms

New habits.  I read Better Than Before and have been thinking a lot about habits, and how to have ones that reflect who I am and who I long to be.  One new habit that came out of a small group we led this fall: I can only check my social media after I’ve spent time meeting God in Scripture.  There have been some weeks where I haven’t checked in to Facebook at all.  But more, I find myself able to make time to read the Bible when before I might have mindlessly scrolled through a lot of status updates.

Attending to God in the midst of activity.  My one year old can open the fridge by herself.  That’s probably enough to summarize my whole life right there.  I’m needed and loved and interrupted by the moment.  I’m learning to love God and listen to his voice in the midst of serious motion.

Reading Geronimo Stilton.

Loving those fresh moments right after a young child has woken up.  I can’t explain it but those first few minutes of I’m-just-waking-up newness feel as magical as when I first held them.

Ice chewing.  (I’m not anemic.  I just really like to chew ice.)

A technology-free bedroom.  (New habits on display here.  Try it.  It will change your life–no phones, no laptops, no iPods, nothing.  People, books, beds.)

Transition.  A church move, and soon enough: graduation and a move for us.

New possibilities.  The canvas is in front of us and it feels very blank.

PG Tips.  Worth every penny.

Morning pages.  Three pages, written long-hand, every morning as a creative act.  Never to be shown to anyone, never to be mined for ideas for publication.  Just there to get the brain dumped on paper so I can attend to the creative work of crafting my life, including my normal writing.

New beginnings.

Anything marking your days that you’d like to remember them by?

Needing to Blog

I don’t know if I want to blog but I do know that I need to blog.

Last year I managed three posts.  That means it takes me over 100 days to remember to blog again.  

As I’ve sat with the nuns at the Community of the Transfiguration the past two days and reflected on the past year, I’ve come up against one major obstacle: my memory.  I have never had a great memory.  I am terrible at taking pictures or building scrapbooks to help me remember.  I regularly find myself anxious about what I will and won’t remember in a few decades, about all the wrong stories I’ll tell my children, about how they will feel when I tell them something they know isn’t true as our memories collide.  

I can’t seem to remember to blog but without blogging, I’m not sure I’ll remember the shape of my days.  So I want to set an intention to blog with regularity.  To share the moments of my days, to chronicle what I’m learning and how I’m growing, to explore my spiritual formation out loud on my blog.  

I only hope I remember to do it.

These Are the Days

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I’ve been enjoying the writing and thinking of Emily P. Freeman lately.  Her thoughts on smallness and the kingdom of God resonate deeply with me.  One way she practices a mindful awareness of her life and the presence of Christ with her in the life she actually has (not the one she should have, or wishes to have) is to make a list that she calls “these are the days” lists.  She jots down what her days are full of, slowing just enough to experience the presence of Christ in the moments that are passing quickly.

For me, these are the days of…

Burning candles to remember that Christ is with me.

Staying in pajamas and mopping with tea tree oil instead of being productive on a rare day without children.

Fly infestations in Kalas Village.

Learning spiritual formation in the joyful crucible of young motherhood.

Being disillusioned and disappointed in the expression of my faith community (Anglicanism, for me) while knowing that “the tree that is not taller than you does not shade you” (African proverb).

Meditating in motion, not stillness.

Teaching from a place of rest, not hustle.

Beginning new things (spiritual direction training for me, a Th.M. for Joel (we think!)).

Buying my firstborn Hobnobs at ridiculous cost so he can taste his favorite cookies from his life overseas.

Telling the truth, even when it is very, very hard.

Believing and trying to live into this: that God’s sovereignty does not excuse my (or others’) unwillingness to become mature and lead from a place of emotional wellness.

Resurrecting my blog, apparently.  Two posts in one week.

Laughing at myself because I can’t help but thinking that “these are the days of” should be completed by “Elijah”!

Elijah.  :-)

Stuck in the Middle of a Crowd

Sometimes, memories pop up from living overseas that surprise me.  They aren’t part of my “normal” memories…they aren’t stories that ever made it in a prayer letter or a photo book.  Usually they are stories that are hard to understand even for me, someone who lived in a Somali context for enough years to have some scaffolding to understand experiences in the Horn of Africa.  For this reason, I don’t share them, lest people from my home culture grossly misunderstand my host culture.  They are stories that grieve me, or hurt me, or scare me.  Mostly, they are stories that I’ve put on the shelf to think about and grieve “later.”  Later hasn’t come for many of these memories.

As I was cleaning under my couch, I found a page of questions I had written in red crayon.  Maybe when my boys were coloring, I was praying in crayon.  I don’t remember writing these questions and I have no idea why they were under my couch, along with 27 fly corpses, dozens of Legos, and my husband’s book that has been missing for days.  But instead of crumpling the paper up and throwing it away, I smoothed it out to see if it was precious.  In a way, it was.

My questions, directed in prayerful writing to God, included ones that sparked my memory: “What was it like to be surrounded by religious leaders?  Was it like that day in Eastleigh?  Were you ever afraid of them?  Were you afraid that day?”  

For some months, I taught in Eastleigh, the primarily Somali neighborhood (you might call it a slum) of Nairobi, Kenya.  The streets and my classes were full of people who had just escaped different crises in Mogadishu and the surrounding areas.  It was a time of powerful aggression by Al-Shabaab, and my students shared stories that are too raw and too private and not mine to share.  Full of fear, full of pain, full of grief.  Eastleigh is also home to many Kenyan Somalis and to a strongly Muslim religious community.  If you’ve ever read any of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s writings, you might remember some of her descriptions of Eastleigh from her time there (which were by no means objective).  Otherwise, unless you’ve been there, it’s probably not a place you’ve heard of or ever will.  

I worked at a Mennonite Community Center that had been in Eastleigh for a long time, and had a decent enough reputation to remain.  At the moment when I taught, it was understaffed and being boycotted by the local community.  A short-term missions team from the States (bless their hearts, if you know what I mean) came in and in a fundamentalist, conservative Muslim community, tried to teach sex education.  Like I said, bless their hearts.  The class caused a ruckus, religious leaders instructed young people to boycott the community center and I arrived, ready to finish my grad school requirement for a teaching internship but with almost no students.

Thankfully, a regular teacher of ESL with an American accent and passport overcame a lot of the boycott, and I found myself with enough students to teach four mornings a week.  I didn’t have a place to stay in Eastleigh and I’m not sure I could have convinced my bosses to let me live there, frankly.  So each morning, my husband fought Nairobi traffic (again, if you haven’t experienced it, I probably can’t describe it well enough, so I’ll just leave it at that) and dropped me off in a sea of men leaving the mosque and insane matatu drivers and sewage running in the road and people yelling to me in Swahili until they realized I answered in Somali.  

For the most part, I was welcome enough.  I didn’t have the welcome I enjoyed in other Somali communities in my five years in the Horn of Africa but I was ok.

One afternoon, waiting for my husband to come and pick me up, I popped over to my local copy shop who had been printing all my lessons for me.  Coming back out at the time that midday prayer dismissed left me in the sea of young men and several older, religious leaders.  I was an anomaly–my skin shouts out that I’m not Somali, my head covering mumbles that I’m aware of being in a religious community that values modesty, my language skills defend my presence there but clearly show that I’m not a true belonger.  The sea of men around me turned quickly from disinterested, to curious, to openly hostile.  Again, in case it needs to be said, this is one of only a few incidents over years of living abroad when I experienced hostility on this scale.  My normal days were full of welcome and hospitality and generosity and love.  

The religious leaders started grilling me, ridiculing me, yelling at me.  I didn’t feel completely out of control but also knew that, unlike my daily life in Djibouti, no one else in the crowd was defending me, or telling the shouters to knock it off.  Quickly, I saw that I was at the mercy of a group of people who really didn’t appreciate my presence that day.  It took a while, and involved some aggression on their part and a somewhat fierce standing of my ground.  Soon enough I saw a small white Subaru bounce along the potholes and washboard road, and I thanked God for my husband’s arrival, and for His providential guidance out of a scary and potentially harmful crowd.

I’ve been, briefly, at the mercy of hostile religious leaders who would like me gone, or at least humiliated, and maybe hurt.  What was it like for Jesus to live there, often, for the course of three years of public ministry?  Was he afraid?  When they surrounded him with the intention to kill him, to throw him off a cliff, he didn’t get to teleport away to a safe location.  He had to look at eyes full of hatred and anger and listen for the voice of God, showing him his next steps.  

He didn’t sit down and have a friendly debate.  There were rocks picked up, and likely rocks thrown.  I’ve had a few thrown my way too, and while a few rocks don’t kill, they do bruise.  What was it like for him to live with the hostility of religious leaders in his community directed toward him every day, every time he worshiped?  I don’t know the answers but I feel strangely comforted to know that he understands fully the quiet fear that can quickly turn to panic when you find yourself in the middle of a crowd, with palpable anger pulsing through the group, with men who believe they represent the Creator of the universe at the heart of this group, turning toward you, turning on you. 
I wonder if my lack of trust for men in religious authority comes both from the stories of religious leaders that the Gospel writers share, as well as my own experiences.  And I’m thankful that my Savior lived his life in the will of God, even when that meant dying at the merciless hands of those who were to be the leaders of mercy in their day.  And I pray for those in religious authority in the places I worship, that they will know the true place of their power and use it in service, humility and grace.