Spring is Saving My Life

After the winter that barely was, spring is here. Trees are blossoming with bees buzzing around; our backyard fountain is running again and birds are splashing and drinking; our hyacinths have bloomed and our other bulbs are pushing out of the ground. The windows are open. At first, just in the afternoon but now for longer and longer stretches.

SpringI know that we very well could get a blizzard or two in April and even into May, but after such a mild winter, I wonder. For now, I’m enjoying this spring weather. As Leo Tolstoy says in Anna Karenina, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”

While there is nothing like cleaning the house with all the windows open, I’m more energized by the seasonal projects we look forward to. It’s still too early to actually plant anything in the garden, but we start to dream as we sip gin and tonics outside during nap time. We start to plan our camping trips and what Life After Tax Season will entail.

I love this idea of spring cleaning and planning and projecting. Dreaming about our next literal season as the warm weather and longer days are tangible is an important part of soul care, I think. Taking time to connect our bodies to the seasons, to remember that we are part of nature and in that, recognizing the need to shift our spirits with the seasons.

That’s what I love most about Lent and Eater aligning with springtime and new life. It seems natural to pause and take stock of where I am spiritually as I’m tidying and reorganizing my physical environment.

Just as I find the practice of stopping to take account for what’s saving my life midwinter, I love the practice of remembering that in spring, everything is saving my life. This is a time when I live out all my winter mantras and ideals. This is when life is blooming and I’m excited about our next season – both in decisions our family is making as well as the actual next season of March-June springtime.

So, as ice melts in my glass and I savor an afternoon of dreaming and list-making with Frank, I’m grateful for these spring moments of cleansing and renewal. Of a glimpse into what is to come, even if we do have another blizzard or two waiting.

Has spring come to your part of the world? Do you take time for soul spring cleaning? (And are you an actual spring cleaner?)

Slowing Down to Enjoy the Journey

For my birthday, friends gave me a gift card to a local bookstore with instructions to enjoy an afternoon browsing – either online or in person. I thought about this invitation to simply look at books and so I invited my friend along. We both have young kids so time spent together in a bookstore seemed amazing.

We spent the morning wandering the store, talking about life, meandering in our conversation. There was no agenda and it was lovely getting to simply catch up. I even decided not to buy a book from my to-read pile and let a title jump out.

It was such a reminder of the need to be intentional with friends. This woman and I see each other fairly regularly, but rarely one-on-one. I was tempted to spend a morning alone but knew that I would rush through the store, buy something quickly, and return home to relieve Frank of errands. Having a friend with me helped me slow down and enjoy myself a bit more.

Last week we were in California visiting family. One evening, after the girls had gone to bed, my aunt was working on her Bible study and I was reading. She invited me over to talk through the lesson with her and we spent the next hour discussing and combing through a verse in Nehemiah I most likely would have skimmed over on my own. In the midst of reading about those involved in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, we talked about current events, our own views of qualification, and how God uses us in unexpected ways. My daily quiet time is alone, but this was a reminder of the importance of sitting side by side and talking.

img_3240I’ve been thinking about modeling a lot when it comes to my life and my girls. It’s faster and easier to do things without them. Dinner prep is way less frustrating and a lot safer without my two sous-chefs. Reading my morning devotional is a lot more pleasant when I can focus on the words. And yet, that’s not reality. So, I pull out extra carrots at dinner and let Bea chop them. I brush my teeth while reading Spurgeon and letting Elle climb around the bathroom. I include and model what my own day looks like.

Just now, I’ve struck a deal with Bea to help me clean the playroom. She originally suggested I do it while she was at school and in some ways, it would take a lot less time and be a lot less stressful if I did just do it myself. But it’s not my playroom or my mess. So we agreed that we’d do it together.

Time alone to rejuvenate is something that is essential to most of us, in varying degrees. But I’m reminded more and more that life is done together. It may not be easier but when we choose to sit side by side, the journey seems richer.

How do you intentionally slow down? What are some ways you stop to enjoy this journey?

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?

Taking the Wrong Path

When I was a novice mountain hiker, my dad and I took the wrong path up one of Colorado’s high peaks. Realizing we were out of our league, we depended on the help of a more experienced stranger to get us to the summit and back to the correct trail.

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At the time, it rattled me and made me contemplate mortality in a way I wasn’t expecting in my mid-twenties. Years later (and many retellings of our brush with death) we found that we were on an actual trail – others purposefully sought out this particular, more challenging way up the mountain.

It just wasn’t the right trail for us. For my ability level, it seemed out of the realm of possibility that anyone would want such a challenge!

Some things have come up lately and I’ve had to think about choices I’m making for our family. Nothing major, just reevaluations of our season and my involvement in certain commitments. The easy way out is two extremes: Keep on going, feeling resentful or just quit, without brainstorming different possibilities. A lot of me leans toward these extremes. It’s so much nicer taking the path of least resistance.

And sometimes, taking that path is absolutely the best choice. It makes sense and it’s the best for all concerned. Other times, it means messiness and hurt. The more difficult trail is sometimes the better trail.

What I’ve learned from our wayward hike is that for us, it was a wrong turn. For others, our wrong turn was the destination. And in life, I guess that’s how it goes, too. Sometimes a wrong turn can actually be the right path.

Have you ever taken a wrong turn that’s turned out to be the path you need to be on?

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

Beginning in the Middle

School started on Monday. Even though we’re still in August and September has the potential to be hot, the past week has been beautiful – low 80’s, nights into the 50’s. Windows open; Option of wearing jeans; Glimpses of autumn coming.

unnamed-1Our first day was a bit crazy. Lunches needed to be packed. I had to go to work. We started our Whole30 experiment. But in the midst of that morning frenzy, there was underlying excitement. New beginnings! New shoes! New year!

I just read in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Story of the Year that the sparrows think humans have it wrong: The new year should be in spring, not in the middle of winter. Every other plant and animal on this planet recognize that spring means new beginnings, not January.

And yet, autumn holds that same promise of fresh starts. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always operated on the school calendar: as a student, as a teacher, and even as a mom. And now with my own student, the next 20 years will be on this cycle: Beginnings at the end of summer.

While I agree with Andersen’s swallows, that spring makes the most sense, I like having a fresh start at the end of August. The year is over half finished. Perhaps the goals of January are still holding strong, but maybe not. Perhaps our hopes for the perfect summer were accomplished, but maybe not. Having a fresh start in this season – of long days getting shorter and weather that keeps me on my toes – is exactly when I need it. Right in the middle, right when it doesn’t make sense.

I’m learning that starting things on the first, whether it’s of the year or of the month can create more opportunity for failure. I attach a number to a project rather than looking at the project itself. I’m learning to start year-long tasks on March 19 rather than January 1. Who can remember March 19?!

So, as we are at the height of this first week of school, my love for fresh starts in the middle of the year is rekindled and I’m looking forward to this new season.

What type of calendar do you operate on? Do you still view August/September as a season of beginnings?

Bike Gangs and Spare Grandparents

When we moved to a cul-de-sac in the suburbs, I had no idea how wonderful the cliche would be. On these lazy summer days, when I’m trying to pare back even our fun playdates, our neighbors keep us from being housebound without an event. (Something Bea loves!)

Regularly, kids are out biking and playing. We’ve got neighbors with a daughter Bea’s age as well as grandparents whose grandkids – also Bea’s age – visit regularly. We’ve laughed that we need to get t-shirts made for our neighborhood bike gang, they’re out so often.

IMG_1048I recently discovered that our monitor reaches out front, so while Elle takes her morning nap, Bea and I head outside for some bike riding. I’ll bring a book to read on the driveway while Bea peddles around. But usually, I don’t get much reading done. More often, we all gather outside. The kids help Judy water her flowers, or they’ll abandon their bikes and dig around Connie’s mailbox. They’ll race down the easement toward the empty lots behind the houses.

Adults will gather and we’ll laugh and watch the kids. Right now, we’re at about 50-50 young families-grandparents. At first, I’d apologize for Bea just biking over, barging in, “helping out.” But I’ve found that these neighbors love the young kids. They often talk about how the neighborhood has regained its vitality because of this little bike gang.

One of the things I love most about our neighbors is this diversity in age and life experience. Bea told one neighbor she could be her “spare nana.” She watches their house from her bedroom window and will yell out, I love you, Susie!!! if she emerges from the house. Susie’s grandkids and Bea are inseparable and even reserved Elle will give a smile.

It’s been a reminder for me, too, on the importance of cultivating friends of all ages. While I get so much support and encouragement from moms in the same phase as me and I love having friends who are in that next phase, who give me hope, these women are able to remind me that life is big and these years are quick.

They laugh about over-scheduling and date-nights. We talk tomatoes and gardening. They always know the gossip – both current and the history of our neighborhood. They watch their grandkids with an enthusiasm a mom couldn’t give. They engage with my kids when I’m tired and answer all the questions because they can. They have spare popsicles and toys and are generous with their flowers.

When we were looking at houses, we looked in neighborhoods that were mostly young families in our same phase; we looked at neighborhoods that seemed old and in need of revitalization; we looked at neighborhoods that didn’t have any chairs on the front porch. When we moved into our house, it was in December and front porch living was in hibernation.

Now, in our second summer here, I am thankful for this neighborhood where we landed. For the neighbors who are in our same place in parenting and for the ones who can give perspective and guidance on this journey.

What is your neighborhood like? Do your neighbors gather out front? Is there a diversity in ages or phases of life?

One Small Change

At the beginning of the year, I signed Bea up for Guppy swim lessons. Geared to 3-5 year olds, the goal by the end is to bob under water, float for 3 seconds without support, and feel confident in the water. I started her in January with lofty goals – we had enough time to repeat a level here or there but by summertime, she’d be in her second round of Minnow, perfecting her strokes and ready for this summer.

IMG_9618Last week was the last day of our third round of Guppy. Bea was so emotionally exhausted that she fell asleep in the bathtub after class. (Perhaps the most disconcerting experience I’ve had as a parent so far…)

My new goal for this summer? To regain a love of the pool and swimming. I don’t think it was really lost – we just spent a week in Moab where Bea used her noodle to kick all over the pool – but I want to refocus my own expectations. She’s three. We will always have adults around to watch her. She is water safe enough that I’m watchful but not worried. We’ll play this summer and we’ll keep trying next year.

I feel like if I have learned nothing else from motherhood, holding my expectations loosely is a recurring theme. My ideals and expectations are still high. I still strive to be as intentional as possible with our decisions. But, I’m learning that the specifics are often not how I originally envisioned.

The journey is ever-changing, ever-shifting and I’m finding that the scenery I hadn’t expected is often more beautiful. Or at least makes for a better story when perspective is gained and situations become funnier with retelling.

It’s not an easy small change that I’m learning to make. In fact, it goes against my view of an ordered, “happy” life. But, it’s a small change that makes me a better wife, a better mom, and a happier person all around.

And while small changes are often more attainable than lofty goals, they are also harder to stay consistent with. Sometimes small changes are easily reverted back because they are small and seemingly insignificant. I guess that’s the misnomer of small, easy changes. They are small and most likely easier than a major life-shift, but they still take intention, discipline and a willingness to work toward the big picture.

So even though my small change is simply having fun in the pool this summer, I hope I catch glimpses of something bigger – that I see life and parenting as less linear and more looping, circular, spiraling, spinning, and twirling. I hope that instead of viewing this as one step forward, two steps back I view it more as a dance.

We may not be able to easily see the lines clearly but the end product is something remarkable.

What’s one small change you would like to make this summer? How do you see life – in a line or like a dance?

Linked up with Alexandra Kuykendall as she asks us to consider the power of the small as we learn to love our actual lives. Head over to her place for more stories!