What are Spiritual Practices Without Community?

When I was growing up, communion was served on silver trays with a pyramid of plastic cups filled with a swallow of grape juice. In the middle of the tray was a pile of small crackers. We would pass the tray down the aisle, each taking the bread and juice. We would hold the elements and wait for everyone to be served. Then, as a congregation, we would eat together. Now, we go to a church where communion is served at the front. We walk down in a line and one person tears a piece of bread from a loaf while another person holds a chalice of juice. As we dip the bread, we are reminded of the blood of Christ, shed for me.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Even though my childhood communion was eaten simultaneously with the entire congregation, it felt like a lonely act. And even though I’m eating the juice-dipped bread on my own as I walk back up the aisle, I feel much more connected to my community in this format. And isn’t that part of the point of communion? This communal aspect?

Recently, I got an email from Kiva microloans, celebrating seven years of lending with them. This means that this is my seventh year of Lenten practice. We’ve given up wine to fund microloans, I’ve written to forty influential women, I’ve fasted from social media, and I’ve prayed for forty of the president’s staff. This year, I wrote about needed a quieter, gentler Lent. Our season as a family needed something that required a bit less intention.

But now, just over a week away from Easter, I’m wondering if Lent is meant to be quieter? While I’ve enjoyed my daily Bible reading and on some days, it definitely has felt like I’m “giving up” time I could be spending reading other things, I’ve felt it’s missing something.

In reflection, the Lenten practices I’ve most connected with are the ones in which I’m participating with my community. Maybe I’m not doing the same thing but I’m engaging with others – through giving, through encouragement, through prayer. The practices that have fallen a bit flat are the ones that I’m all alone. The social media fasts are good but they also were inconvenient for my community. This year, my daily reading was good but they didn’t necessarily connect me with anyone else.

It has me thinking about the difference between mindfulness and spiritual fasting. Giving up the spiral of social media helped me be more mindful of my surroundings but was it an actual spiritual practice? I suppose if I had replaced my scrolling with Bible readings or devotionals, it may have felt more like that.

There are many important and healing mindful practices I can observe: moving my body, getting fresh air, limiting screen time, absorbing books and articles that make me think are all ways in which I stay connected to my world. In some senses, I’d call these spiritual practices. And yet, they are quite personal. Getting outside for a walk improves my own mood but it is something I can do in isolation just as easily as I can with a friend.

I’ve been thinking about spiritual practices and how Protestant Evangelicals are becoming more and more enamored with liturgical observations. Advent and Lent are becoming norms. We announce our social media fasts on all our platforms so people won’t miss us; we take beautiful candlelit photos leading up to Christmas; we find parts of the church calendar that make sense. I think it’s awesome. These rhythms have helped me slow down and notice. I love the seasonal aspect of the church calendar and how it helps me recognize the story of Christ throughout the year.

And yet, we’ve held onto our Personal Savior mentality as we try out these communal practices. We do Lent alone – it’s more about our own personal mindfulness than a communal practice. I’m wondering how I can change this? How can I better engage with my community as we deepen our practices together?

Maybe that’s what I’ve learned most this Lent. That I’m not meant to do this alone. The years when I’ve engaged with others have taught me so much – about myself, my world, and how God speaks through our longing. This year, I’ve learned that the absence of that was noticeable.

I’m glad for this Lent – that I did it alone. I needed the reminder to keep returning to community, however that looks. Maybe next year will look like intentionally fasting from something as a family or finding a friend to work through a study together. Maybe it will be getting out in my community and stretching myself. I have a year to lean into this reminder.

Ultimately, I’m remembering that, when God tells us that the greatest commandment is to Love God and Love our Neighbors, any practice I implement must reflect that. It’s not just about me. It’s about me loving God and my Community.

Do you follow the church calendar? How do you incorporate community into your personal practices? What have you learned this Lenten season?

The Compost HeapMy monthly newsletter, The Compost Heap is going out on Thursday! Are you signed up? It’s filled with book recommendations, poetry, a personal essay, and photos of our daily life. I hope you’ll join!


Small Actions Take Courage

I had the honor of writing about my experience in our school’s Family Literacy Program for the MOPS Magazine. They’ve republished the piece over at the MOPS Blog today so I thought I’d share an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to read the rest!

nordwood-themes-179255-unsplashWe sat together, sipping coffee. She asked how I took my coffee and I replied, “Usually black.” She told me she was the same. Back home, they grew and roasted their own coffee, which she would drink black. But here … We smiled and rolled our eyes toward the cream-filled mugs.

We talked about family and I asked her if she had plans to go back to Ethiopia to see her mom. She said, “No.” Last year, her father had been brutally killed, their house burned down, and her mother and siblings went into hiding. Now, they’re able to talk on the phone sometimes, but it’s hard. She doesn’t want to go there; they can’t come here.

When I signed up to be a tutor for the family literacy program at my daughter’s school, I hadn’t anticipated these stories. Stories of leaving children behind; of worrying about policies impacting their families here. Stories of loss and hope and struggle; the reality of living as an immigrant or refugee in America.

My first thought was that I had absolutely nothing to complain about. My life seemed easy, privileged and unreal compared with my fellow moms. Who was I to feel tired or annoyed with my kids? Who was I to question my next steps or identity as a stay-at-home mom? These women were working multiple jobs! They really knew what stress and work-life balance (or imbalance) looks like!

But that’s not fair – not to them or to me. I’m learning to stop and listen, but not to let the stories of others overwhelm my own journey. Maybe I don’t have to decide to move my family to another country, but I do have to make small decisions that will impact our future. Read the rest over at the MOPS Blog!

What are ways you’ve been gusty lately? How do you remember that your own courage matters, without comparing your journey?

Being Grateful for All Winter Has Taught

Elle and I met a friend at the Botanic Gardens on Monday. The weather was chilly but warmed up after about an hour. Most of the plants were still dormant and the staff had just conducted a controlled burn in the wild grasslands section so everything was brown and dry. We spotted a few fish in the pond, though nothing like the swarms we see in the

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

warmer months. But as we walked, we saw signs of spring: Crocus and wild iris have started pushing through the brown. A small daffodil bloomed near the cacti and succulents building.

My friend and I talked about how the gardens are lovely to visit, even on these bare almost-spring days. There’s something so peaceful about this space of cultivated nature right in the middle of the city.

It’s a reminder, too, not to wish for spring too quickly. Before we know it, blossoms will be everywhere and we’ll experience the open-window weather followed by a blizzard that springtime in Colorado offers. I love spring, I do. I love having the fountain running and barefoot girls dashing about. I love sipping rosé and eating runny cheese outside.

But I’m also learning not to wish away winter. There’s something so hopeful in the barren landscape. When I walk around our yard on warm days, I imagine the potential that spring and summer bring. We have a lot of perennial plants I’m looking forward to revisiting and I’m thinking about the annuals we’ll put in pots.

I want to savor this anticipation and remember that, without the dry winter weather and brown landscape, spring wouldn’t carry the same magic that it does.

I’m learning to look at my own life for these almost-spring experiences. What needs to be dormant, just a bit longer before it can blossom? What do I need to give time to rest and restore before it bears fruit? How can I appreciate the dry landscape and pause to anticipate before I get my hands dirty with actual planting?

I love looking back in reflection. Connecting the dots over a variety of experiences can be so life-giving. But I’m also learning to pause in the midst. To take time to breathe, reflect, and be still before moving on to greener seasons. I’m hoping that, by practicing a love for almost-spring, I’ll cultivate a pace of recognizing signposts at the moment instead of hindsight.

I’m still looking forward to spring – to open windows and consistently sunny days. To meals outside and daily check-ins with neighbors as we live out front. But I’m also loving these last three weeks of March before spring officially arrives when I can breathe in this change and remember to be grateful for all that winter has taught me.

Are you anticipating spring? How do you prepare for a new season?

Spending Quality Time With Art

My top Love Language is Quality Time. During tax season, this means we are very protective of our weekends. We try to make sure to eat at least one meal as just the four of us and we keep Frank’s one day off as relaxed as possible. Of course, things happen and we engage with our community but we also realize how sacred these days are during this busy season.

IMG_5323Last weekend, I met a friend for the Degas exhibit at the Denver Art Museum on our family day. Our meetup had been planned for a while and I was looking forward to catching up with my friend as well as seeing an incredible retrospective (my favorite type of exhibit.)

I came away from those couple hours spent in the museum completely refreshed. It reminded me that, while Quality Time usually refers to the people in our lives, I think it can also refer to the things that bring us joy. Ever since quitting my job at the Clyfford Still Museum a year ago, I haven’t prioritized the time to go to galleries and exhibits. Before I’d get my art-fix at work but now, I have to be much more intentional.

Walking through the galleries, looking at Degas’ stunning use of texture and movement IMG_8509in his sketches, seeing images of my old neighborhood in Paris all filled me with happiness that I didn’t realize I’d missed. I needed to spend some Quality Time with paintings. Walking through the galleries filled a travel itch and reminded me that Denver’s culture scene is growing and getting richer every year.

I’ve been reflecting on other ways I need to build in quality time with things I love. I already create room for reading and, while that is indeed fulfilling, it doesn’t necessarily get me out of the house. How can I use the time I have wisely to create spaces for me to really thrive? Sometimes, it means taking some time away. My experience at the museum would have been completely different had the girls been along. Sometimes, it means modeling something I love. When I’m reading, the girls know not to interrupt. (In theory…)

The friend I went with recently created a bucket list and she’s been faithfully working on it. Some of her goals are big. But she said the key to a good bucket list is keeping most of it small and local. What can you achieve with a Groupon and a day off? She’s inspired me to create my own list. What are things I want to do in the next year? What can I do now, without much planning? What’s worth asking for help or babysitting?

I’m realizing that, while my “love tank” will always be mostly filled by spending quality time with Frank and the girls, I also need to remember ways in which quality time might not include them. I’m learning to not feel guilty about leaving them for a morning, especially when I come home refreshed and ready for another week of tax season.

How do you prioritize activities that are life-giving for you? Does your family share your passions or do you find ways to fulfill those on your own?

Books Referenced:

51ItBwnbJ6L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Planning Unstructured Time

We had last Friday off of school, the weather was springlike, and Bea had big plans for not doing anything. Her plan for the day went something like this: We weren’t going to get in the car at all, we would play outside as much as possible, we would have a picnic lunch at the park nearby.

IMG_8476I had some cleaning to do so did that while the girls explored our unused backyard. Then we packed sandwiches and snacks, got out bikes and strollers, and headed to the park. We played and ate and made new friends and came home rejuvenated.

It was such a reminder of the importance of unstructured time. Even though Bea had a plan for our day, it included a lot of loose play. When I went to call a friend while the girls were swinging, Bea exclaimed, No! This is just mom, Bea, and Elle time! Just the three girls! No one else!!

She needed focused time and I was glad I could give that to her. There’s a lot about decision fatigue lately. Solutions include wearing a uniform, eating the same thing for breakfast every day, and eliminating all unnecessary choices.

I think it’s funny that we need research to tell us this when all we need to do is look at our kids. Bea knew that, after weeks of structure at school, she needed to rest by having a day of unstructured play. Of course, if every day were filled with unstructured play, the days would be too long and boredom (the unproductive kind) would set in. A little structure is a good thing.

But I can learn so much from my kids about rest and play. When my to-do list seems overwhelming; when life seems overstructured; when I have decision fatigue, maybe I just need to get outside without an agenda, play, and have a picnic.

How do you pause to rejuvenate in the midst of structure? What are ways you find spontaneity?

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

Coming To Terms With a Stereotypical Family

I’m honored to be over at The Mudroom Blog today. Their theme this month is Adoption and Foster Care and I was surprised to find that I had something to say about it. While it’s not in our plan right at this moment, one thing I’m learning about planning my family is that there is no plan – only trust and grace. Here’s an excerpt. I hope you’ll head over to The Mudroom to join the conversation!

When I was Planning Out My Life in my twenties, I assumed I would:

  1. Get married
  2. Adopt a puppy
  3. Have 2 biological kids
  4. Foster and/or adopt another kid or two
  5. Live Happily Ever After

I got married and we soon adopted a puppy. Three years later, we gave birth to our first daughter and three years (almost to the day) after that, our second daughter was born. We’re at a place with our youngest that, if I was to go by my original schedule, we should start filling out paperwork and taking preparation classes to explore foster care and adoption. This is what we should do. We are fairly stable, fairly well-educated, mostly good parents. Shouldn’t we be saving the unwanted children?

But whenever I put aside my savior complex (because, of course, fostering and adoption must be so much bigger and deeper than that) I still can’t bring myself to fill out the paperwork because of one big reason. I’m tired. Having two young kids is tiring. (I know, I know. Try filling a minivan before talking about exhaustion!)

I’m embarrassed that only two kids makes me too tired to want to add to our family—either biologically or through foster care. I’m embarrassed that I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of preschool next year, when I can claim two mornings a week for myself. I’m embarrassed that I’m not digging deeper into an unwavering capacity in God’s energy.

For a long time, I felt proud of our family plan. And maybe that’s why it feels too overwhelming now. Read the rest over at The Mudroom and join the conversation there!

Did you map out your family plan? How has it changed? What have you learned from those changes?

Toasting Each Season

One of my favorite Parisian celebrations is the anticipation of le Beaujolais Nouveau every November. Shops paint their windows declaring, Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! At midnight, trucks unload the new wine and everyone became a connoisseur. In college, I had no idea what to look for in this new batch of wine, but the communal aspect of an entire city coming together to celebrate in the grayness of late-fall remains a favorite memory.



Because of its release in mid-November and the light, new flavor, this wine goes well with heavy Thanksgiving foods. So, every year we buy a half case to enjoy throughout the season. I’m sure we could find better Thanksgiving wines but the Beaujolais is good and filled with memories. I still look forward to joining in the celebrations, even from afar.


Last week, I found a forgotten bottle and we had it with some ratatouille. It was ok. This is not a wine to save – it’s meant to be tasted right away. We drank it and agreed that a certain je ne sais quoi was missing from a late-February experience. It just wasn’t as good.

Life is a little like Beaujolais Nouveau, isn’t it? A lot of experiences and opportunities are perfect for a certain season or moment. Letting them sit too long can make a good thing just ok.

I’ve been grappling a bit with this idea. Recently, some opportunities presented themselves that made me consider some next steps. I really struggled with timing and direction. I was confronted with my own feelings of contentment and an idea of scarcity in making decisions.

I’m still not sure the direction the next few months or years will take. I’m always surprised at where this life leads – it’s never what my plans really look like. But I’m learning to be picky. I think a lot of paths and directions will lead to good things but I want to be sure that I’m not missing out on a great path in place of something that is ok.

Sometimes choices remind me of a Beaujolais Nouveau. They are good and fun in a specific season but in the long-term, they’re just ok. I’m remembering that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ll always love drinking new wine in November and December. There are opportunities and paths that are perfect for a short season.

But I’m learning to hold those loosely and not to forget my bigger goals and dreams in the midst of all this. I’m remembering to be patient and discerning while also allowing myself to be excited and dream.

I’ll be ready to declare la Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé again in November but in the meantime, we’ve stocked up again on slightly aged Cabernets and Pinots with a couple rosés thrown in for those warm springtime days. I’m toasting to this particular season and remembering to appreciate these moments.

What are your favorite seasonal beverages? Have you ever taken a path that was good for a season but not great long-term?