When The Way Things Have Always Been Done Isn’t Best

Our tax season got off to a rocky start. Unmet expectations, a busy weekend, miscommunication, the stress of the unknown. After three rough weekends, I wondered if this was it. Was this how the year would go? Do I resign myself to a cloud over each family day?

IMG_8390Thankfully, Frank and I decided that, just because it started out badly, our tax season and our interactions didn’t have to continue this way. We talked, we made a plan, we recognized expectations that could be met and those that are too hopeful. We recalibrated and reset. This didn’t happen on a date or even over a glass of wine. It happened after I put the girls to bed by myself and he came home before 9:00, which is early these days. But we did it.

And I’m so glad we did. Last weekend was wonderful. We stayed in our pajamas after breakfast. We ate lunch at the Botanic Gardens and played in the sunshine. We talked and did all the things we do as a family when life isn’t stretched thin. It was a reminder that, in the midst of stressful times it feels like it is our new norm – that life will forevermore be unpleasant. It’s not, though. We had a choice to talk and listen. We chose to start fresh on a Monday night, three weeks into a busy season.

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Way Things Have Always Been Done lately. When tragedy strikes, we dig our heels in and feel sad and hopeless but recognize that this is just how life is. What can we change? Or we say, It’s a heart issue as though there’s nothing more to be done.

For Frank and I, our miscommunication was a heart issue. We both wanted things done our way and we weren’t able to stop and listen in a heated moment. We let our hearts be hurt and a bit hardened. But we also chose to change those same hearts toward a better way. It doesn’t mean we won’t argue again this tax season (or after). It doesn’t mean that expectations will always be met or that our feelings won’t be hurt. But it does mean we’re choosing love and kindness. We’re choosing to fix and restart.

Looking at history, I’m thankful for people who have stopped the status quo and helped ignite a reset. Without abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights leaders, and contemporary activists, we would still be living in The Way Things Have Always Been Done. Because we had women and men bravely stop the cycle of injustice, we have moved forward as a nation. Sometimes this means changing laws. Sometimes this means fighting for new laws. It’s slow going. We are still struggling to fully reset, even a century and a half later.

But just because we haven’t fully arrived, does this mean we stop? Do we condemn ourselves to live in brokenness forevermore?

 

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Source: Alyssa Milano

When I think about mass killings and the statistics about gun-related violence, I feel like any conversation of reform immediately stops because we are still living in the stressful mindset of The Way Things Have Always Been Done. But is it true? Is this the way things have always been done? Or have we been fed a narrative that benefits a few people at the cost of the rest of us? Are we believing that this is how life has to be because it truly is or because we’re mired down in division?

 

I’m not saying that every person needs to surrender their weapon tomorrow. We have many gun-owning friends who are the most responsible people I know. But reform and restriction are two vastly different things. We need a reset. This is a heart issue that also needs policy reform.

Thank God we chose early on this tax season to stop, listen, and reset. How damaging would it have been to our relationship if we had kept the status quo? We’re still in early days of modern gun policies. I hope that we can stop sooner than later and refocus the conversation. It’s never too late.

What are ways that you’ve reset your thinking about policy or politics? How do you make sure to stop and check the status quo?

The Compost HeapTomorrow is the last Thursday of the month which means The Compost Heap is heading to your inbox! Make sure you’re signed up for these monthly “secret posts.”

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Review + Giveaway: Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

I love the idea of a good morning routine. In my perfect world, I’d wake up around 6:00, have a cup of coffee, read some poetry, maybe write out a few thoughts longhand. If we’re really dreaming, I’d have time for a quick devotional or reading. Maybe a chapter in a book? This sounds like the perfect way to enter the day. I won’t go into the details of my reality but I will say, my reality is pretty far from my ideal scenario.

_240_360_Book.2456.coverIn her book, Hello Mornings, Kat Lee recognizes that a good morning routine starts the day out right. She also recognizes the difficulty in setting a good morning routine. It’s the rare person who has the time and space to get up, mentally prepare for the day, get in a solid workout routine, and make it into the office at a decent time. So, she suggests starting with three minutes. Even the parents of the fussiest newborn can squeeze in three minutes, right? Lee suggests creating three categories: God Time, Plan Time, and Move Time. In the beginning, each part should take one minute: Read one verse, quickly look at your calendar, drink a glass of water.

This seems simple. I mean, I start my mornings with a glass of water. Surely I could add a verse and a look at the calendar. In the weeks since I’ve started reading this book, all I’ve added is an alarm set to (hopefully) wake me up before Elle. This is fairly hit-or-miss. It’s not Kat; it’s me.

I do appreciate her guidance to starting a routine with baby steps. If I can’t carve out three minutes, why would I be able to carve out a half hour? My problem is that three minutes is such a small goal that it seems too insignificant. And so I don’t do anything. What she’s challenged me to do is reshift my thinking. Maybe I need to diligently start a three-minute morning routine. If it’s so easy, why not? Admittedly, any new routine takes willpower and discipline and I just haven’t taken the steps to do this.

The strength of Hello Mornings is that it is a very clear and easy-to-follow guide to establishing a good morning routine. Lee takes research from other well-known habit books and incorporates the methodology into her own brand. I think it works, as she’s built an incredible community through her website, hellomornings.org. My criticism is that the website is so well run and successful, the book seemed a bit superfluous.

If you’re struggling to establish the first steps in a morning routine, Hello Mornings may be the exact formula you need to get going.

Are you a morning person? What helped you establish your routine?

The Compost HeapGIVEAWAY! I’m giving away my copy of Hello Mornings through my newsletter, The Compost Heap. This goes out on the last Thursday of the month so if you’re interested in winning a copy, sign up for the newsletter before February 21!

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Practicing Active Lament

Right before college finals, I remember thinking, I wish Jesus would just come back tomorrow. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about life and studying. Of course, I still studied and put in the work because that’s not how faith, Jesus’ return, or the imagery of Revelation really work.

IMG_2095I grew up being told that we are the hands and feet of Jesus. Sometimes being a Christian is described as being Jesus with “skin on.”

So when Christians pull out the verses of lament after a tragedy, I often wonder, why? Why are we willing to lament and wish for the return of Jesus if we don’t take the action part of his message seriously?

Jesus didn’t come to this earth to lament. He came to actively bring about a better way. He came to heal and to disrupt and to preach against the comfortable ideas of the time. He was subversive and made people squirm. He wasn’t popular.

My heart hurts with the news – again. I feel at a loss as to how to communicate with my congress whose pockets are lined by the gun lobby. I wish I could take the easy way out and send thoughts, prayers, and wishes that Jesus would come tomorrow.

Instead, I’m putting in the work of redemption. I’m raising kids who question, push back and don’t believe in the status quo. I’m educating myself on laws and the lobbying industry. I’m getting involved in efforts to change the way we do things. Yes, I’m still lamenting and praying. I’m even sending thoughts and prayers for the community reeling from tragedy.

But I’m remembering to DO justice, love kindness, walk humbly, and be the actual hands and feet of Jesus.

How do you practice active lament? How will your prayers move you toward action?

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

Balancing Conservation and Progression

Mom, are giraffes endangered? Bea asked the other morning at breakfast. Is that why they’re in zoos?

IMG-7431As I paused to answer, Bea continued to ask what made animals endangered; how do they end up threatened? We talked about hunting and climate change and how zoos keep a lot of animals safe. But we talked about how zoos are feeble, at best, at replicating a native environment. I asked her if she’d rather live in the wild or at a zoo.

I’d rather live in a zoo! You have people to feed you and play structures.

We moved on to other topics but I started thinking about her response. After reading Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman a few years ago, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with our zoo membership. Yes, there’s some great research and preservation happening in zoos. But there are a lot of depressed animals. What is the cost of preservation?

When I visited Estonia in high school, we went to a zoo that was all concrete cages. The animals may have had a branch to climb but ultimately, the tiger, the elephant, and the sloth all had about the same square footage. It was pretty depressing. I’m sure that zoo has changed in the decades since I’ve visited, just as our city’s zoo has expanded and created more thoughtful spaces for the animals. Conservation is still at the heart of the zoo model but best practices have changed and created a more authentic environment for the animals.

The question of responsible conservation isn’t just a question for zoos and animals. In the art world, there are divided camps over the philosophy of preservation. How much do we meddle? When do we recognize that an artist’s experimentation with paint isn’t sustainable? Does a painting need to last longer than 500 years in pristine condition?

One of the most famous debates in the art world is the conservation of DaVinci’s The Last Supper. The past 500 years have been spent preserving a painting that began disintegrating 20 years after its installation. Yes, it’s an incredibly important piece of Renaissance art. But at what cost do we continue to preserve something that was an experiment in itself?

Lent starts today and this year, I’m not giving up anything big or adding any grand project to my days. It’s been a season of lots of change for our family in many ways but mostly because it’s our first tax season as business owners. In a hectic time of year, we have new layers of questions and unknowns to contend with.

So, I’m working my way through a traditional Bible study. I’ll be reading the plan each day, journaling, answering questions and reflections. I purposefully chose a plan from a more conservative point of view. I’ve been reading a lot of books that have stretched my thinking and am so glad for them but I’m recognizing the need to balance progression with conservation. What are interpretations that have pushed us in good was and what are interpretations that are solid foundations?

One of my hopes for this Bible study is to dig into my own views of Biblical conservation. What is worth preserving? What was truly an example of cultural context? What is the overarching storyline and takeaway? What I’ve learned about conservation is the imperfections of it. We conserve art and animals the best we can with the best resources we have. But when we learn new things and better ways, experts reevaluate those practices and implement new ones.

I’ll be spending Lent digging into the Bible, examining my conservative roots, and really trying to understand which pieces are worth conserving and which pieces of the story could be brought to light as we learn more about the history and storytelling of this era. I’m no theologian so, at the end of these forty days, there will be no radical reformation. But I’m hoping that there will be a deeper thoughtfulness to the story and the overarching plotline God is building.

How do you conserve what’s important while learning new things? What are your thoughts on preserving artwork?

Review: The Canticle of the Creatures by Luigi Santucci

Lent starts on Wednesday and I’ve been thinking of ways to practice a slower, quieter Lent this year. I’ll be working my way through Heather Caliri’s Word Made Art (you can read my review here) and I bought my first traditional Bible study in years. I want resources that help me slow down, dig deeper, and give plenty of grace as I practice intention during this already busy season for our family.

1542207596When I received The Canticle of the Creatures for Saint Francis of Assisi by Luigi Santucci, I wasn’t thinking I was getting a book to guide me through Lent. Structured so that each short meditation is from the point of view of one of the birds or animals St. Francis encounters, this small book invites the reader to pause and recognize that when God called us to love the world, this means all the world. From the nightingale and swallow to the fish and bees, each entry leads us into remembering justice, kindness, and peace.

There’s a reason Saint Francis is known and loved by Catholics and Protestants alike. His call to do justice for the poor, to recognize the beauty of nature, to live a simpler, more intentional life are inspiring in a world that so often forgets the holiness of these practices.

I’ve been reading this book slowly, one small chapter a day with breakfast. The stunning illustrations are a treat in the morning and the poetic storytelling start my morning with the type of devotion I haven’t experienced. I’m invited to slow down, to notice, and to remember that God is found in the small, everyday creatures.

I love that the stories are short enough to read at breakfast with the girls yet deep enough to carry me through the morning. Paraclete Press sent me a companion book, The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book. I haven’t started it yet, but I wonder if they’d be best read together. Starting on Wednesday, I’ll incorporate the two into my routine.

How are you slowing down during this Lenten season? Even if you don’t practice Lent, what are ways you stay grounded in the daily busyness?

I received this book free from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books Referenced in this Post:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

The Layers and Nuance of Privlege

I don’t know when I first became aware of my privilege. Maybe it was my first trip to a country of vastly different economic circumstance than my own. Maybe it was the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird and was confronted by systemic racism. Maybe it was IMG_8331when I started teaching and saw the vast discrepancies between kids whose parents had time and energy at night to read and sit beside them at the homework table. Maybe it was the first time I read about the reality of our prison system and the way we incarcerate.

Privilege has certainly become a loaded word in the recent years. It’s rare to hear someone say, it’s a privilege to visit. I usually hear it in the context of check your privilege or white privilege.

When we started attending our neighborhood school this year, I was hit with our privilege. I saw how incredibly prepared Bea was for kindergarten – from reading together to access to books and art supplies to the fact that we have multiple memberships to museums around our city. She has the background knowledge and supports to excel.

And, while I see her incredible circumstantial privilege, I also feel incredibly grateful that this is our educational experience. Not only is Bea learning academically, she’s learning about cultures and worldviews that we could not teach at home. She’s enthralled with her Muslim friends and empathetic toward kids who are tired from late bedtimes. She asks why some kids need extra help and why others can’t speak English.

I’m shifting my view of privilege again. Yes, we are a family of privilege. There is no doubt about that. But we are also a family who feels privileged to know and interact with our neighbors and classmates. I’m remembering that this word is layered and nuanced and I need to reintroduce the gratefulness of privilege into our outlook.

What feelings do you get when you hear the word privilege? How does your privilege make you grateful? How does it help you see others in a more gentle way?

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

Small Things That Are Big Lifesavers

We’re partway through winter, though it’s hard to believe around here. Maybe the groundhog’s prediction of six more weeks will mean that we’ll have an actual winter? Though we’ve had a couple snowy days, it’s been an incredibly dry and temperate couple months. While I’m not complaining during our daily walks to school, I know we’ll wish for more snowmelt during those dry summer months.

IMG_8319I’ve loved looking back on the past few years of participating in Anne Bogel’s question, What’s saving your life? From lotion to neighbors to habits and learning, each year brings small things that are keeping me sane. I like keeping these lifesavers a bit mundane – things that happen nearly every day, that are reminders that life is good.

Online Book Clubs
Last fall, I made the hard decision of quitting my book club of over a decade. A lot of factors contributed to this decision and it was a good choice for our family. But I miss the camaraderie of reading a book in a community. There’s something about going deeper into a text. Enter: Facebook. I took over an online book club last year and it’s been incredible picking books, leading discussions, and digging deeper with women from all over the globe. I’m part of another Facebook book club that does a quarterly read-along. During the last week of the quarter, questions are posted on an event page and we discuss a book together. This quarter, we read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a stunning novel set in 1920’s Alaska. It’s a book worth reading on its own but I got so much more after discussing it!

Bold Lipstick
I’m not much of a makeup person at all but I read somewhere that a bold lipstick draws attention away from tired eyes. Yes, please! I wanted to look more put-together, even on days where my only outing is the grocery store. I’m still not much into makeup, but my two shades of bright lipstick have given me an unexpected confidence boost!

Party City
I’m not a crafty person at all. But I’ve slowly found myself looking for reasons to celebrate small and big holidays. We have some random hooks behind our dining room table and I’ve started hanging decorations from them – ornaments at Christmas, stars for Epiphany, hearts for Valentine’s Day. I don’t have decorations for every holiday because there’s something wonderful about an empty space most of the year. But during these winter months, I love having bright kitschy hearts hanging from those hooks. Because I’m not going to make them myself, I’ve found that Party City almost always has what I’m looking for – inexpensive, a little bit gaudy, brightly colored. Now that Bea understands the calendar more, it’s fun to feed into her excitement for new decorations.

Meal Planning
I wish I were creative and confident enough in the kitchen to just throw a bunch of stuff together for a fantastic dinner. Even typing that sentence caused some stress. We’ve been meal planning consistently for a while now but I was recently reminded what a stress reliever it is, knowing I have everything I need for a week’s worth of meals. Especially now that tax season is here, having our meals planned is one less stress.

Grace
We’re in an interesting season with the girls. While it’s still very hands-on, they’re also getting to be pretty independent. We’re establishing good routines and I’m feeling more comfortable leaning into new opportunities and adding goals to my plate. Of course, the moment I decide we’re in a good place to add something, life gets hectic or someone’s sleep patterns shift, or we need to huddle in as a family. I’m learning to give myself grace in those moments. It’s not that I need to scrap my goals or commitments but I’m allowing myself to mess up a little. To not always give as much time and attention as I imagine I can. And I’m learning that things continue; that no one cares as much as I imagine; that my commitments are still met and everyone is just fine. I’m learning that the circumstances will never be perfect, so what can I do in the meantime? It’s given me a lot of permission to continue pursuing opportunities without stressing about perfection.

I know there are many more things saving my life right now – from near-daily conversations about life and theology through Voxer to the accountability and care of our neighbors to my community gearing up for tax season with us. My life is constantly being saved by those small but big things.

So, as we’re on this downward slope to spring, what is saving your life right now? How do you pause in the midst of winter to reflect?

Linked with Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy for her annual life-saving linkup. 

For the curious, here are my lifesavers from 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Books Referenced in this Post:

41w+Snjfi-L._SX328_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.