Finding Hope in the Messiness

Advent either started yesterday or last Sunday, depending on how you observe the season. Regardless, we’ve gotten off to a semi-rocky start. We’ve had a dinner-long meltdown during our candlelit meal because I wouldn’t turn off all the lights; I forgot to print out the Jesse Tree ornaments that go along with Unwrapping the Greatest Gift; and our first piece of candy for the calendar was dug out of the depths of our leftover Halloween candy treat basket.

My friend Debby said it best in her post about being Out of Sync with Advent:

When I thought about how out of sync we’d be with the Christian world I realized that Jesus intentionally lived his life out of sync with the world. He came to turn things upside down a bit. To remind us that he is the way to true life, not money or status.

img_2389This point of view has helped me as we start out this week of Hopeful waiting. And perhaps it’s why we begin with the hope candle. Hope itself is so expansive, so messy and sometimes rocky.

Hope can embody a deep anticipation but it can also be a bit out of sync. I often use the phrase, I hope so not to mean eager waiting but to hedge any expectation, in case things don’t work out. I use hope to water down excitement; to guard against disappointment.

This season has been one of reframing hope. I find myself using the word when talking about politics, about current events. I hope things work out; I hope it’s not as bad as it seems; I hope it’s better than I expect.

But what kind of hope is that? What I need to do is frame hope in the sense of complete trust. We are waiting in darkness, eager for the light and hope to emerge with Christmas. I put my trust in that hope; I put my trust in the small child who promises peace to our world.

My hope for this Advent season is that we take the time to recognize and sit with the rockiness that is life. Jesus didn’t come to give us an easy life or a beautiful Christmas memory. He came to turn this world upside down; to stir up the status quo; to cast out fear. Perhaps that’s not what we see in the small baby in the manger but it’s what is to come. I find that messy, a bit scary, but ultimately so very hopeful.

How has your Advent started? How do you find hope in the midst of real life messiness?

A Lesson in Language and Empathy

Today I’m over at SheLoves Magazine, as they look at Legacy this month. As I ponder that word, I remember my own experiences of struggling as a cultural outsider and how that has translated into parenting choices we are faced with.

Here’s an excerpt – I hope you click over to SheLoves to read the whole thing.

Sending my kids to the neighborhood school, just a block away, isn’t a simple decision. Because of the way our education system is run, we are able to apply to any school–public, charter, or private—and hope our children are accepted to the one that best meets their needs. We are able to research the highest-performing schools in our district, as well as the surrounding ones. We are able to take the time to drive our children anywhere without worrying about gas money or making it to a job on time. We are able to ignore our neighbors in order to give our children the best education.

But I still remember my own struggles as a language learner. I remember my tongue would get tied and I would stress about not being fast enough. I would worry about grammar and pronunciation and being the dumbest student in class or the last to understand. I longed for a teacher or fellow student to say, “I get it. This is tough. Let me help you.”

I’m interested to see how my bright, eager-to-learn daughter adjusts to kindergarten next year. She has a thirst for learning that is contagious, and I hope it is nurtured, especially during these early years. But beyond being challenged in school, I hope her classroom is filled with kids who might not speak English at home. Who need to take a little extra time as they translate their thoughts. Who are every bit as bright and eager as my daughter, but have the added hurdle of navigating a new language.

How have your life experiences shaped the decisions you make for your family? Go over to SheLoves to join the conversation!

The Importance of Darkness

Mama? Can I just snuggle?

I knew that it was somewhere around 6:00. Frank had already left for work; I was starting to wake up, too but the sun hadn’t yet peeked through our curtains. Normally, we try to keep Bea in bed until her alarm turns green but on this morning, I moved Frank’s pillow closer and tucked Bea in beside me.

Image courtesy of Debby Hudson.

I’ve been working a lot lately and my part-time job has felt full. Our girls have felt the strain of time and energy. Even though Bea recently asked if I could go back to work so she could have a nanny like our neighbors, being gone so much had an impact.

When Elle misses me, she gets extra clingy, not wanting to be set down. When Bea misses me, she swings between being extra affectionate and being a rabid jaguar. Sunday seemed to lean more toward the jaguar end of the spectrum and I was so tired.

So, when she asked to snuggle, part of me just wanted time before we started our day together. But, I also knew that this girl who thrives on physicality – from hugs and snuggles to running and being active – needed to just be near, to be grounded.

I feel like I’ve needed to re-ground myself lately. I still wake up in a bit of shock over choices being made by our soon-to-be leaders. I’m sickened and sad over the way events are being handled and people are being treated. The divide in ideology makes me so sad and sometimes I wonder if the gap will be bridged.

I swing between wanting to listen, learn, and understand and feeling a bit rabid at the inexplicable fear of a majority culture. So I’m learning to ground myself. To stop for a while and step back. I know I can do this – that my own privilege allows me to turn of the news and curl up with my family – but I do it anyway, knowing that as someone with privilege, I can’t burn out.

Advent drawing 2015
Image courtesy of Corbin Hillam.

As we near Thanksgiving, I look over our Thankful Tree, hanging between our dining room and living room. Hiking, bath night, neighbors, PBS kids, cheese, community, walking to school have all made the list. I love having this tangible reminder of the tiny things I am so grateful for.

In so many ways, I’m glad Thanksgiving falls right before Advent begins. To celebrate with a feast of thankfulness (regardless of historical accuracy) seems to be the best way to prepare for this coming season when we celebrate the dark anticipation of hope come to this world.

Last year, I clung to Advent in the wake of attacks on Paris, of injustice after injustice happening here in America, as the refugee crises continued to swell. This year, things seem so much better in some ways and yet are still so bleak in others. And so, I will take time this Advent season to remember and pray. Perhaps it won’t be as public this year, but the habit of remembering and acknowledging in this darkness is so important.

This December, I want to light the candles and remember the way of peace, of hope, and of reconciliation.

How do you recognize Advent in the midst of Christmas celebrations?

For a beautiful series of community prayers around Advent, check out our Praying in Anticipation series from last year.

What Do I Want to Remember?

Things I enjoy about motherhood:img_2108

  • Making sweet memories
  • Watching the girls grow and develop into their own little humans
  • Being part of something bigger than just today’s mess – knowing that our conversations and intentions will shape the girls’ outlook
  • The reminder that unconditional love does exist and the daily modeling of forgiveness (mostly from the girls – I still struggle with this)

Things I don’t love about motherhood:

  • Refereeing & Disciplining
  • The longterm vision that our small choices and ideals actually do matter in the future
  • The mundane of life at home
  • Finding the balance of giving to the girls, giving to Frank, and remembering that self-care is important, too

We talked yesterday at MOPS about the dichotomy of motherhood – of the pressure to be red carpet ready 6 weeks after giving birth balanced with the spiral of yoga pants every day forevermore. As we weeded through labels and expectations, our speaker – a life coach – teased through the labels we put on ourselves.

She asked, what would our 90-year-old self say about this moment? What would our 5-year-old selves say about motherhood?

We decided that our 90-year-old self would say Let it go! and remind us of these precious, fleeing moments. That we should enjoy these days. We remembered our 5-year-old selves being excited about being moms, without realizing all the other stuff that goes along.

I loved this practice and want to extend it to all areas of my life. How can I step back and remember perspective? What will fade into the background? And how can I rekindle that childlike excitement of the future?

How do you keep perspective? What would your 90-year-old self remember about this stage of life?

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

Building a Rich Legacy

I’ve been thinking about legacy lately. Bea is at an age where it feels like what we do and how we parent matters a lot more. She’s starting to remember things and will most likely start keeping memories of this time in her life. What do I want her to remember? What is our family’s legacy – not just our small family but one that has been passed down through generations.

Here are some things that come to mind that my grandparents did with my parents, that my parents did with me, and that I am doing with the girls. (I also included one from Frank, since he’s a key player in this whole legacy building adventure.)

Love of Reading & Learning

Me and my dad’s dad

When my grandparents moved out of their home of 45 years, we packed boxes and boxes and boxes of books. My grandfather loved reading hardcover books. Some were classics, some were the latest John Grisham. Many were Christian, many were novels. Every single room in their home had shelves of books. I loved curling up next to him and listening to Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Amelia Bedilia, Miss Know-it-All, and so many more. I have pictures of all of my grandparents reading to me, which I treasure. When we took a photo of Bea reading with my dad, I remember noting the significance of this family treasure being passed along.

Now, in our home, we fill it with books. Most rooms have bookshelves and if they done, books are stacked on surfaces. Even with crammed shelves in their bedrooms and playroom, the library is a favorite spot for the girls. Even Elle insists on picking her own book when we visit. I am grateful for this love of reading – that it is our family norm and an ingrained part of our family’s culture.

Financial Awareness
Before Dave Ramsey wrote about his envelope system, my parents taught me to separate my allowance into categories of spend, save, and give. I remember the thrill of opening my first savings account and putting money aside. These lessons stayed with me into my teenage years, when I was able to pay for part of my first overseas experience with money I had saved to the way in which we budget and spend our money intentionally.

We opened Bea’s first savings account last year and she was so excited to sign her own name! About six months or so after we opened it, she asked if we could withdraw some money. When I asked why, she had a specific book in mind that she wanted to buy. I love that she already has an understanding of saving money for something you want. She also saves up her piggy bank to give to the Museum of Nature and Science’s saber tooth tiger.

I know we’ll have to go deeper one day, but for now, I’m glad that what my parents learned and taught me is being passed onto our kids.

I could put this one for mine as well, but when I asked Frank about a legacy from his grandparents, he told me about his PopPop’s garden. He remembers the boxes filled with tomatoes and peppers and other veggies. Boxes that remain at the house to this day. When Frank’s aunt sent us a stack of old family photos, many were pictures of his dad’s garden – packed tight with the same veggies his grandfather had planted.

We have always had a backyard garden but doing it with kids adds a new level to the experience. Bea loves going out to collect zucchini and tomatoes and both girls learned at a young age that tomatoes off the vine are the best. This year we were able to harvest some apples off our small tree, and it was so fun to make connections between small seeds and the snacks we were eating.

Awareness Through Travel
My brother and I were the same age as Bea and Elle are right now when my parents moved us to Germany. I always knew that move took a lot of courage but now I have a whole new appreciation for it. I link my own love of travel and exploration to those early years of navigating kindergarten in a foreign country.

Though we haven’t taken any international trips with the girls, we want to one day soon. And in the meantime, we are intentional with our family vacations. Where do we want to go that reflect our family’s priorities? How do we use our time off to help build our own values? From National Parks to historic sites in Philadelphia, we take time to recognize the rich natural and cultural history of America.

Both sets of my grandparents were known for their generosity. From time and skill to money and objects, my grandparents lived life with open hands and care for their neighbors. My parents live the same way. I remember watching my mom or dad sit at the dining room table, writing checks to various organizations each month. No matter our own financial situation, giving was a priority. So, from a young age, I learned to set aside a portion of my own money to give.

Now, Bea always asks for a dollar to put in the red offering bag at church. Though we do most of our giving online, we talk with Bea about where we give and why. I want this conversation to be one our girls remember having – one that helps shape their view of the world. We often can’t change policies so easily as we can support the organizations we most believe in. So, we use our dollars to vote and to support life-changing work.

What are your top priorities when you think about your family’s culture? What are some things that your grandparents did that affect the way you view the world today?

When Life is a Badger Fight

Look mom – my knee is all scraped because I got in a fight with a badger.

Wandering Supergirl

I looked at Bea’s already scabbed and newly bloodied knee. It did, indeed, look as though she had gotten in a fight with a badger. The source was from biking too fast, taking too many sharp turns, and valuing speed over safety.

Yesterday felt a bit like waking up after a badger fight. I was (and still am) so very surprised at what America most values. I was so sure that love would win, that kindness still mattered, that we weren’t really afraid of the unknown. I was wrong. My heart hurts for those who are truly, deeply impacted by the values represented in this election.

Bea asked me if she could still be president when she grew up and I couldn’t honestly answer that question. Can she? As long as we are afraid, can a minority or a woman or anyone who is different from the status quo become president without serious repercussions? In the next thirty years, I hope something changes.

I know I’ll feel hopeful again. I know that this presidency won’t be our worst and that, in the greatest scheme of things the next four years can’t really undo all the progress we as a nation have made. I know that my hope is in something greater, something that will last far beyond any nation we live in.

But I’ll also take time to grieve. To allow myself to be sad that my neighbors don’t love each other well enough. That I don’t love them well enough. That we still live rooted in fear rather than hope. I’ll acknowledge those big, sad feelings.

And then, I’ll move on. But this time with a new perspective. With a keener eye for injustice and how I can actively be part of the change. I’ll vote even more consciously with my dollars and support causes that will reflect my values, far more than any candidate ever could.

I’ll remember that it is in our small, everyday moments that these ideals are lived out. That small moments lead to big changes.

Ever the optimist, Bea told me that if she can’t be president, maybe she’ll be a “wanderer.” I told her that sounded good. She’ll be just as likely to fight a badger, either way.

How do you vote with your dollars? And, how do you explain politics to the preschool crowd?

I’m Not Voting My Values

Bea pulled out Barack Obama’s book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters yesterday. As we were reading the story of what makes America great – from the kindness of Jane Addams to the bravery of Jackie Robinson and so many other heroes in between – I got a little teary.

img_2143In this season of division and other-ing, I think it’s easy to forget what this country is founded on. It’s not founded on people who look like me or believe the same things I do. It’s not founded on people of the same class or education level. The thing that makes America so great is that we are built on diversity. Without activists and pacifists; without leaders and followers; without people giving up everything and people using their wealth for good; without artists and businesspeople, we wouldn’t have much of a country.

Like a lot of people, I’m staying away from social media (especially Facebook) until next week. But when I do check in, I’m noticing quite a few friends explaining that they aren’t voting for a candidate but for values. Values that reflect their own; values that mimic their view of a perfect nation.

I already voted but as I was filling in those bubbles, I realized I wasn’t voting for my own values necessarily. If I believe in the radical message of Jesus, that the Kingdom of God does not look like me or my perceived values, then I need to vote for my neighbor. I need to vote for people who don’t look like me or who don’t have what I have. I need to remember the “others” as I look at candidates and amendments and propositions that will impact the lives of my neighbors far more than they will impact me.

On Sunday, our message was taken from Psalm 23. What struck me most was when our pastor, Jenny Morgan reflected on verse 5:

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows. (Bible Gateway, NRSV)

Jenny said that often we view this verse as one of division – that we’ll get an amazing feast while others look on. But, what if it means that we’re all at this feast together? That our enemies are invited, too? That the table is big enough and Jesus is welcoming enough?

I’ll be watching the election coverage tonight and praying for our nation. I know that the coming weeks will be ones of continued division, but I hope of healing and reconciliation as well. And I hope that, regardless of who our next president is, we will remember to love our neighbors.

Does your faith impact who you vote for? How do you take an objective view of issues?