“Be daring, be different, be impractical; be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. Routines have their purposes but the merely routine is the hidden enemy of high art.” Cecil Beaton

Yesterday at MOPS, we were talking about living a “Wow Life” – finding cures, solving world problems, being bigger than the ordinary. The reality is that our days can be mundane – making breakfast, reading Quick as a Cricket again, watching Daniel Tiger, shoving cleaning, reading, and rest into nap time.

I think it can be easy to categorize the mundane as a stay at home mom problem, but really, I fought the mundane long before Bea entered the picture. As a teacher, I got bogged down in just teaching second grade, in just teaching in the United States, in just… It can be so easy and comfortable to fall into a complacent routine. And, as Beaton notes, routines have their place.

What I’m grappling with these days is the merely routine. How do I create routines that give comfort and expectation without complacency? How do I embrace the known while continually keeping an eye on the unknown? How do I teach Bea to go out on fantastic adventures, knowing that home will be a safe constant?

I want to live a daring life, but I am gradually redefining what daring means in this stage. For some, daring means packing up, moving away, living grand adventures. For others, daring means moving across town. For me, daring means finding the confidence to embrace this phase in life – however mundane it looks from the outside, knowing that I am part of something greater, something far more daring than I can see today.

How do you embrace the daring adventure in your life?

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

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When I decided to attend college in Paris, I went with four years of German language classes and absolutely no knowledge of French. I was told not to worry – that I would quickly pick it up through required classes and from interacting with Parisians through daily life. About a month after my arrival, I was sitting in French class, struggling through To Be conjugations when my professor stopped, singled me out, and demanded to know why on earth I would consider moving to France without understanding the language. She questioned my motives, my intelligence, and ended the rant with a surprise conjugation quiz, which I quickly failed.

My French classes were like a scene out of David Sedaris’ memoir, Me Talk Pretty One Day. My teachers were anything but nurturing and I became so paralyzed by failure that even grocery shopping and interacting with Parisians became highly stressful. It wasn’t until the summer between my junior and senior years that I found success by volunteering on a small farm in the Dordogne region in southern France, where only French was spoken.

View of the farm

View of the farm

Growing up white, educated, middle class, I could never consider myself Other. Even now, I fully realize my privilege: I understand how to navigate systems in place here in America; I not only can fluently read but also know where to research items that I don’t understand; I have friends who are experts in their fields and feel comfortable asking for help and advice. The list could go on…

Even though I wasn’t ethnically or physically the other while in France, I did learn a small bit about how language and culture can be an other-ing experience. I learned how difficult daily routines can be when a system is unfamiliar and when a phone call requires hours of practice with a dictionary. I learned how lonely such an experience can be and how easy and necessary it is to find others who are similar. It became a survival for me to have English-speaking friends – people I could relate with immediately and not have to worry about correct vocabulary.

While my experience was still one of great privilege, the lessons I learned have carried me to a place of greater empathy. As a teacher, I understood why some parents had trouble learning English or why, after working several jobs, just needed to speak their native language. I had an inkling of how overwhelming and lonely and frustrating it can be to move to a new country, to try to navigate unknown systems, and to connect with new people. I can’t imagine trying to do that with children – it was difficult enough as a single person!

Now, as we raise Bea, I struggle with how much privilege she has. Our daughter already has the appearance and vocabulary of a child whose parents value independence, inquiry, and education. While I wouldn’t want to deprive her of that privilege, I do hope to pass on the empathy I have gained by living outside my comfort zone. And, I hope as she grows older and creates her own life experiences, that we can encourage her to pursue opportunities of otherness, so that she gains her own empathy.

How are your experiences as the Other? How do you find ways to connect and empathize with people outside your normal circle?

Linked with SheLoves Magazine’s We Are The Other synchroblog.

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Bea is obsessed with the Fantasia soundtrack these days. We listen to a few select pieces on repeat as we drive: “Girl with the Ball” (aka, Rhapsody in Blue), “Donald” (aka, Pomp and Circumstance), and “The Volcano” (aka, Firebird Suite). As we listen to the music, Bea asks for the stories, over and over again.

Her favorite at the moment is the Firebird Suite:

Our conversation usually goes something like this:
B: Mama, what’s happening now?
Me: Well, the volcano is erupting and lava is covering the earth.”
B: They are scared!
Me: Yes…
B: Mom, is the earth restored? Are they happy?
Note: This is a condensed version of what can be quite a long, circular conversation…

I love talking through the songs, helping her find meaning to those classic pieces. And, Bea loves anticipating the next scene – she gets excited or nervous or relieved, depending on the song. Last week, she was banging away on our piano keyboard and she ran in, exclaiming, “It’s the part when people are rushing away!” As she raced away to continue her composition, I noticed she was using all the low notes to create that feeling.

I was talking with a friend the other day about finding stories in music and art. I wondered how much I should feed into Bea’s need for an actual storyline and when I should start encouraging her to create her own ideas. I’ve tried asking, What do you think? but she’s insistent that I retell the story the way Disney imagined it. My friend and I talked about the importance of finding stories and meanings to help us interact – it’s so hard to just sit and listen or sit and look.

At the Clyfford Still Museum, I run into these same quandaries. Students ask, What does this mean? and I don’t get it! and I respond with, I don’t know. What do you think? Still’s intention was that the viewer brings her own experience to the art – he left very few notes on his process or the meaning behind his paintings. At first, this is a tough concept for students to grasp – they want to know the answers and they want me to tell them the correct answer. By the end of our visit, most are much more comfortable finding their own meaning within the painting and discussing different ideas for how Still created his pieces.

In art education, finding meaning is developmental. On one end of the spectrum, the viewer looks for a narrative. Even in nonrepresentational pieces, one can find birds or campfires or some sort of physical shape that helps tell the story. On the other end of the spectrum, a viewer can look at a painting and respond through feeling and emotion. There is no meaning beyond the present experience.

I was thinking about this process as I interact with people in my own life. I want to find meaning within their stories. As someone shares, I look for places I can connect; Where I can find a shape and create my own narrative within their story. I find it so difficult to simply sit and listen, to share an experience without looking beyond the moment. As much as I thrive on digging deeper and finding greater meaning, I also find it honoring when I can just sit in the present with a friend – when we are content to share life together without finding answers or creating a narrative.

Sometimes I wonder if that is part of redemption: When we are able to sit quietly in the moment, to listen to the music others create, and just listen without interjecting our own experience into their story. Or, more that we don’t need to interject our own experience into their story – that we have a realization of deep connectedness without having to express it in words.

How have you found ways to stop and listen?

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When I was in high school, my mom went back to school to earn a long overdue Master’s degree. She took weekend and summer courses to finish, managing to work and be present for her family as well. After she graduated and got a job doing what she loved, I was impressed with the change in her: She had gone from having a job that didn’t truly fulfill her gifts and skills to having a career that gave her the opportunity to help others in ways she was so talented. It made me realize that it is never too late to pursue a job that uses innate talents and brings life – to myself and others.

“The days are long but the years are short.” Gretchen Rubin

I remember hearing this quote quite a bit when I first became a mom. In that context, it meant savor those precious newborn moments – they fly by. And they do! What I’m noticing now with my long days is that I think about life after this moment: When Bea is in school and I have days to myself.

Enjoying the small moments

Enjoying the small moments

I feel like becoming a stay at home mom has given me an opportunity to really evaluate what I want to do next. Do I want to continue as is – be a mom, with plenty of time to help out at school and volunteer opportunities? Do I want to go back to teaching, with the benefits of matching holidays and breaks? Do I want to go back to school, to pursue art history or something completely different?Even though I have time to decide, the years are short and flying by. Bea will be in kindergarten in three short years, drastically changing our routine. In the meantime, I’m trying out different things and trying to be as open as possible. I want to look back at these years not only with the nostalgia of all that witnessing childhood brings, but also with the lens of self-discovery and knowing I said yes to new opportunities and experiences.

If you could reinvent yourself, what would you do? Are you pursuing your dream career or life right now or would you take a different track?

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

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Poets Anonymous: Times Alone

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Antonio Machado

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

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Review: Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma

Sometimes, when injustice in the world feels overwhelming, I think, At least I’m not actively part of the problem. I don’t support modern slavery or racism. I try to read labels and buy sustainably. Is that enough, though? Just because I’m not actually hurting someone, does that mean I’m helping to bring justice to the powerless?


In Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things, Ken Wytsma calls this thinking the silver rule: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you” (184). He argues that we have twisted the Golden Rule to something less – that as long as we are not actively harming anyone, it’s fine. In reality, justice calls us to love, sacrifice, initiate, speak up, and create change (192).

Throughout the book, Wytsma questions Christian apathy toward loving our neighbors and doing justice. He cites many verses in the Bible that call believers to act out their faith – that without clothing the least of these, we are not bringing about Kingdom changes. The main theme of this book is that without living out justice and reconciliation for the most vulnerable, Christians are completely missing the point of Jesus’ message.

Pursuing Justice is a good balance of life stories and practical advice. Wytsma cites examples in the Bible of how justice is commanded and gives actual stories of people living out these commands.

I had only two criticisms: In Chapter 11, Wystma talks about a life-changing book that got him on the path of justice, yet he never shares the title of that book. I looked in the notes, but could find nothing. My other pet peeve was the constant translation of Greek and Hebrew words. Sometimes the translation was helpful, but mostly it was distracting from the message.

I feel like this would be a good book for a wide spectrum of readers. For those who are interested in justice, but don’t know where to begin, Wytsma gives encouragement, resources, and help in getting started. For those who are immersed in justice work, this book would be a good source of what others are doing. Wytsma has years of experience and resources that those in that world would find relatable.

Especially in light of the past few months, when justice seems unattainable, this book gave hope for a world redeemed by justice.

Gardening, Teaching, Protesting, Financial Giving… There are many ways to support justice. How do you actively seek justice? Or, where would you like to begin?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Pursuing Justice. To enter, leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice in your world. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, October 17, 2014. (United States addresses only.)

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.

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September was a rough month for us. The biggest reason is that it started with a miscarriage. As far as they go, this was a healthy, “normal” miscarriage and it followed almost exactly what our doctor suggested we could expect. In that sense, it was a relief: Nothing terribly wrong, just a statistic of pregnancy. Of course, it was still devastating as we mourned the loss of someone we were so excited for. And there are still days when that sadness comes, unexpectedly.

What I am most amazed by from this experience is the care we received. I was hesitant to share the news – it hurt and it seemed so awkward to tell people. I do have a couple friends who have suffered miscarriages and I immediately reached out to them. They quickly came to us, taking care of us. Beyond the promise of I’ll be praying for you, they brought meals and asked questions, and dug into our story. They knew how to draw me out and knew how to process the experience with me.

Through this, I learned so much about community. That our friends want to share life with us – not just in the happy moments but in these tough moments. That it takes vulnerability to not only talk about sad events but to accept help offered. I wanted to do it on my own – to not accept play dates or help, but I quickly realized that this is a real loss and it’s ok to let others care for me.

Above all, I learned the incredible value of community. I learned that it is worth the time and effort to create space for others, to let them in, and to walk together through all of the experiences life gives us.

I find it easy to give care but harder to receive it. How about you? Are you more comfortable giving care or have you learned the art of receiving, as well?

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

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