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?

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The World’s Best Helper

I’m wondering if Elle’s love language is “Acts of Service.” Of our two girls, when it’s time to clean up, Elle is the one singing the song, putting away legos, being intentional about where things go. (Well, as much as a two-year-old can be intentional about tidiness.) Whenever I fold the laundry, she gets the greatest joy out of putting her clothes away herself.

IMG_8191The first time she tried to help, I wanted to distract her with books or games. She finally wailed, I just want to help you!! This declaration stopped me and I started looking for ways she could help. I give her one pair of pants at a time to run down the hall to her dresser but she loves this.

The other day, when it snowed, she insisted on using her little shovel to help move the icy chunks off the driveway. It takes longer and it’s hard not to redo her assistance but I’m remembering that we learn by doing.

I’ve been leading a discussion about Original Blessing by Danielle Shroyer. Her premise is that we are born out of blessing, not sin. That God’s ultimate intention for us is to bless us, not to curse us. It has been an incredible book. Shroyer digs into the first three chapters of Genesis – chapters describing how good the Earth is and God’s love for creation. The actions in the Garden of Eden are framed through curiosity rather than disobedience. As a result, the human journey is filled with the potential for perfection.

I am reminded of this as I try to fold laundry or tidy our house. I see a lot of potential but because people live here it will not be perfect. Even when the girls are grown up and Frank and I have the house to ourselves, I have a feeling that I’ll still be striving for this unattainable perfection.

I wonder how God sees us as we learn and fumble? Is God hoping for us to slowly get toward perfection? Is that what the restoration of the earth means?

Or is the point the potential for perfection? Did God create an imperfect world on purpose so that we always see the potential?

I kind of like the image of God, creating humans to help shovel snow like two-year-olds. The work isn’t really getting done, but we’re learning. I’m wondering if that’s the point – that we are learning and fumbling? That we won’t get it right and that’s ok. That having faith like a child means embracing the desire to help enthusiastically, even as we’re kind of creating more work.

I can get overwhelmed when I look at how far this world feels from restoration. We have such a long way to go. And yet, maybe this is the point. It’s not that we stop trying and just wait for heaven to come. It’s that we keep on trying enthusiastically, imagining that we really are doing a fantastic job of helping.

I’m learning to embrace the enthusiasm. In her own mind, Elle is the world’s best and most efficient helper. I hope she keeps this image of her worth and gifts. I hope that her enthusiasm doesn’t wane as she grows older. And I hope that my own is rekindled as we fold laundry and shovel snow together.

How do you make space for potential over perfection? What tasks do you find yourself most connected to God’s patience?

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Dwelling in the Mysteries of This Journey

We’re in a season of neediness. Bea needs me to walk her to school, to pick her up, to sit beside her as she does homework. Elle needs me to read with her, to get her dressed, to make her lunch, to put her to bed.

IMG_5757These are needy times and it’s easy to imagine life when they can make their own lunches and do their own homework. (Does that ever happen?) But even in the midst of this intense time, the patronizing voice of moms farther along can be grating: Just hang in there. It gets better! Don’t worry moms of littles, this terrible season doesn’t last!

While I’m eagerly anticipating independence, I don’t think this is a terrible season. I know I’ll miss the days of neediness. Of snuggling on the couch and holding hands as we walk home from school. I’ll miss the ease in which secrets are shared and words of comfort are accepted.

I was reading Jan L. Richardson’s In the Sanctuary of Women this morning and she offers this blessing:

That you may have
the wisdom to know the story
to which God calls you,
the power to pursue it,
the courage to abide in its mysteries,
and love in every step.

This blessing can be applied to so much of my life right now, but today I’m choosing to frame it in this season of motherhood. That I may be wise to this story of raising small humans and that I may remember to love every step of this mysterious journey.

How does this blessing speak to your particular season? How are you learning to dwell in the mysteries and love every step of this journey?

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

Saying Yes to Jammies and Self-Care

Today is looking different than planned. We’re home, rather than on a last road trip and I was planning on laundry, cleaning, maybe a park, but definitely a quiet day. Bea woke up looking tired and complaining of a hurting tummy. I tried all the tricks – eating breakfast, drinking water, did she go to the bathroom?

IMG_6064And then I remembered the power of a mental health day. Maybe Bea really is feeling off. Maybe she’s just tired. Kindergarten has been one huge transition for us and day after day of routine can be too much for a five-year-old.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged mental health days, though I was too much of a “perfect student” to feel comfortable taking one. I knew I wanted to listen to my kids when they needed time off, to encourage rest and rejuvenation. How else do we model self-care and Sabbath-living?

So, we’re here, in our jammies, with no plans. Maybe a movie? Definitely the grocery store. Our deal was naptime so that I could get a few minutes of rest, too.

School is important and valued in our home but I want my girls to know that they are valued and important, as well. That we all need days off and I’m here to support them in all their popcorn and movie day needs.

How do you deal with mental health days and school? Any tricks to knowing for sure what an “upset tummy” is? And more importantly, how do you recognize a need for a mental health day for yourself?

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

Finding My Place at Home

This summer passed by in a flash. Before we knew it, school started and we were thrown into a routine. Part of me was so ready to get into this rhythm of schedules and the security of knowing what happens on Tuesday. But part of me mourned the fact that we were out of time for one more camping trip; one last swim at the pool; one more lazy day.

IMG_5895I suppose this is what the changing seasons is – an excitement in the new mingled with disappointment of what is lost.

We had a trip to Yellowstone planned for this weekend. Just one more adventure before the weather turned cold. We’d stay in a little cowboy cabin, head down to Jenny Lake one day and up to Lake Hotel and the Geyser Loop the next. Until we saw the forecast for snow. As much as we love northern Wyoming, I didn’t want to be in a cabin without heat or electricity in the snow and rain.

In so many ways, this is probably a good thing. We just got back from a weekend in Ocean City (where it rained!) and are still settling into a good routine. A laid-back weekend is never a bad thing.

Frank grew up going to Ocean City – it’s part of his family history and it was fun watching the girls create a new generation of memories there. All of the cousins go regularly and love it and it was magical watching our landlocked kids chase the waves, dig in the sand, and eat ice cream right before a greasy dinner. Ask any of Frank’s family for a memory of childhood and most likely Ocean City will play a large part of the story.

In a lot of ways, we want Yellowstone to be similar for our kids. Already, Bea remembers hikes we’ve done and geysers we’ve seen. We want this park to be a place of good family memories, the stuff that starts most of our stories.

Last year, I listened to part of a podcast and the phrase, theology of place was used. I don’t remember the exact point or where the conversation went from there, but that idea stuck with me. It’s the theology of tangible moments; of creating a gritty story that you can run through your fingers. It’s finding God in the routines outside of home; in the stories we tell as a family to our children. It’s this idea that our place matters. The locations in which we choose to spend our time matter.

I love the intentionality behind this theology. That our routines matter and that kids have something to look forward to in their vacations. And yet, life gets busy or things happen and that place may look different.

When I reflect on our weekend in Ocean City, our girls loved the physicality of being next to the ocean, yes. But the loved hanging out with their cousins, playing games, reenacting Moana, waking up together, eating every meal together so much more. I need to remember the point behind the place.

I’m learning to look around right now, in our own home. What are we doing to establish a theology of place routine? I remember that for many, an escape to the mountains or the beach is simply not possible. And yet, this family rhythm is still important. What park do we always visit? What pancakes mark rest and vacation? What simple things do we do to remember our place in this world?

I’m not sure if this is exactly what that podcast meant but for me, theology of place is grounding me home and reminding me that our everyday rhythms are as significant as the vacation routines we’ve established, as well.

Where do you find your rhythms? When you think about theology of place, do you think of your home or a destination?

Actively Loving My Neighbors

We sat around two tables, ten women, a teacher, and me. Five women wore a hijab or some sort of covering. Four women were from Mexico. Two women relied on their friends for translation. We sat in a mobile classroom with a broken air conditioner, though during the morning class the heat wasn’t all that noticeable. We played a few name games, I helped a woman fill out a registration form, and after the coffee break we practiced leaving a voice message to let the teacher know if there was an absence or tardy.

school-375976_960_720Earlier this year, after the travel ban was enacted, I looked for ways to tangibly show my immigrant neighbors that they were welcome and a necessary part of our community. I reached out to a few different organizations but they were flooded with volunteers and yet had a lack of refugees who needed help. An acquaintance advised me to wait – that school would provide a more organic opportunity to help.

When I saw the poster at the Welcome Open House for Family Literacy, I immediately put my name down as a tutor. As a teacher, it was so hard to watch parents whose primary language wasn’t English try to decipher homework, forms, and school expectations. I knew that helping in the classroom was important, but if I could help parents help in their kids classrooms, that seemed exponentially more important.

Part of this program is English acquisition – practicing daily conversations and situations. Part of it is school specific – filling out forms, doing homework, understanding the new math curriculum. Part of it is teaching the parents how to volunteer in the classroom and give back to the school. It’s teaching them the cultural expectations and norms of American public education.

Our little class has just started meeting and already I’m excited for this year ahead. I look forward to the opportunity to get to know these other moms, not as student-teacher but as fellow moms at the school. I’m here to help with English but my goal is also to listen to their stories and to simply walk alongside them as we all navigate this world of elementary school together.

It’s such a small thing, this once a week commitment but it has already changed the way I read the news and world events. While I’m not out protesting or calling my representative’s office, and while we don’t have political signs in our front yard, I am making a political statement of welcome with my presence. I am actively loving my neighbor and our little circle of women gives me hope.

What are small ways you respond to world events? How do you actively love your neighbors?

Creating Safe Spaces

I had the honor of sharing these thoughts about transitioning from full-time work to part-time work to truly staying at home over at the MOPS blog a couple weeks ago.

creating-safe-spaces-1002x539When I quit my teaching job right before having our first daughter, my principal told me he fully supported my choice to stay home. But he didn’t think it would last long. I thought that was an interesting thing to say. I was committed to raising our kids and being completely content focusing on them full time, at least through the beginning of elementary school.

Just five weeks into being a new mom, a position at a new museum opened up and I decided to apply. This seemed like such an incredible opportunity: A job that combined my undergraduate degree in art history – a notoriously difficult field to find work in, my master’s degree in teaching, a brand new program committed to best practices and the flexibility of part time.

Partway through the interview, all of my postpartum feelings surfaced and I found myself faltering, wondering why on earth I had squeezed into a dress that had fit just last year, left my baby with my dad and driven across town for a job I didn’t want. I think my future boss felt the emotional shift, too. As kindly and HR-correctly as she could, she wondered if this was a good fit for me at this time? It seemed as though I needed to focus on being a mom for now.

I went home and focused on those whirlwind first six months with Bea. We settled into a good routine. I started going to MOPS, we made friends and even ventured on a play date or two. In January, I got an email from the museum: Would I be interested in applying for the role of Gallery Teacher? They would love it if I’d consider putting in my application.

This time, during the interview, I felt confident and ready for a new adventure.

My old principal was right – I didn’t stay home long, not really. Work at the museum definitely had its challenges but overall, the hours weren’t too demanding and the work was exactly what I loved: Teaching in front of priceless paintings, guiding kids in new ways of looking and thinking, and then going home without the grading and stresses of classroom teaching.

When I got pregnant with our second daughter, we were in a really good rhythm. On paper, life looked pretty amazing. I was balancing it all! I was play dating and teaching and figuring out self-care!

Until … I started feeling like I wasn’t doing a good job at anything. I was resenting my time commitment at the museum; I was too tired to be as engaging of a mom as the girls needed.

My ever-supportive husband gave the most unhelpful advice: Do what makes you happiest; what makes you the best mom. I’m behind you! What I really wanted was for him to just make a tough decision for me. Ultimately, I knew what I needed to do.

I talked with my boss and told her I loved the job and I loved working for her, but it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. After that last conversation, I felt a sense of relief. With Bea starting kindergarten next year, we’ll have a lot of changes as a family. It’ll be the only year Elle and I have, just the two of us, before she starts preschool. I want to be mindful and intentional about this coming year.

My last day was bittersweet as I said goodbye to colleagues I had worked with for over three years. My boss told me that I had a job there anytime. I left knowing I had given my best and yet, there was a sense of peace and closure.

I recently wrote my purpose statement with a life coach: “I claim creativity and curate safe spaces for discovery.” After we crafted this statement, I was talking with her about my decision to quit my job. She laughed and said, “It sounds like you’re already creating safe spaces for yourself.”

I guess that’s my takeaway so far on this journey of motherhood. I am creating a safe space. Sometimes this is in the form of working in a field that invigorates me and excites my passions. Sometimes it means letting our playroom get messy and seeing this physical space as a place for the girls to create. Sometimes it means carving out time to write and pursue other unpaid passions.

What I do know is that I’m learning to hold these moments as sacred. I don’t take lightly that I had the opportunity to work at a world-renowned institution – a job many would dream of. I equally don’t take lightly the privilege and opportunity to stay at home during these precious, formative years.

One concern I had when I decided to quit was what I would say at a social gathering. Stay-at-home mom doesn’t keep the conversation moving nearly as well as gallery teacher. I worried about this new loss of identity. I was talking with an older friend the other day about these feelings and she reminded me that my identity, no matter what I’m doing, is in Christ.

And that’s so true. Regardless of working or staying home or some hybrid of the two, I’m remembering to place my identity in him, above all.

How has your identity changed over the years? What are ways you are creating safe spaces for yourself? 

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/creating-safe-spaces/.