Environmental Print

Every Tuesday I volunteer in Bea’s class for Writer’s Workshop. It’s been so fun watching the kindergarteners progress in their confidence as readers and writers, even in these first few months of school. A couple weeks ago, the class learned about “environmental print,” or words they already know because they see them daily.

cereal-1444495_960_720Mrs. M pulled out boxes and bags with things like Froot Loops and Cap’n Crunch. Many of Bea’s classmates knew those words right away but Bea didn’t ever raise her hand. The more signs that were pulled out of the bin, the more I realized that the environmental print in our home doesn’t match the environmental print in the homes of her classmates. It’s not that I’m against many of the products used, it’s just that we happen to like other brands.

This exercise made me think about the environmental print in my own world. I’ve been trying to read books that reflect more diversity – authors of different backgrounds and points of view than my own. In the past years, I’ve added Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to my shelves; I’ve looked for authors from different countries and life experiences. I’ve read most of Roxane Gay’s works and am currently reading essays from the Palestinian Festival of Literature. These authors have expanded my world and challenged my point of view.

I was talking with a friend the other day about a book that helped me better understand the evolution of gun laws in America. It gave me reference points and a history of an issue I hadn’t much thought about until recent years. I told her that what I loved about The Second Amendment: A Biography is that it seemed so balanced and unbiased.

But, I was reflecting that if I really connected with it and found it unbiased, it probably wasn’t. I have strong opinions on this particular issue and so any book that I connect with most likely will, on some level, reflect my own worldview.

I realized that, while I’ve been diversifying my reading list culturally and racially, I haven’t been diversifying it politically. Now, there isn’t enough time in a lifetime of reading to read every single point of view from every single issue. I have to be selective and picky to a certain degree. But…. I also strive to be fair and balanced.

As I look through my bookshelves and at the environmental print around our home, it’s pretty clear what our family’s beliefs and values are. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing in itself but I’m challenged to be more open to truly different points of view. As this year winds down and I look back on what I’ve read and make new goals for next year, I’m wondering how to include books from people I don’t agree with. Maybe I need to diversify in different ways.

How do you keep your reading list balanced? In what ways do you seek out other opinions and points of view while recognizing limited time and resources?


Author Interviews

I’ve had the honor of conducting a couple of author interviews recently over at SheLoves Magazine. During Advent, I not only like to read specific devotions but also books that help me slow down, pause, and breathe during this season of anticipation. These two books fit that niche perfectly. They aren’t written specifically for Advent, but their cadence and message would be perfect companions during the next couple months.

red-couch-interviews-kaitlin-curtice3Glory Happening by Kaitlin Curtice
Glory Happening was one of my favorite books this fall and I was so excited for the opportunity to interview her! These short meditations helped me to enter into a spirit of pausing and waiting. You can read our conversation over at SheLoves.

Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow
Tanya is another author I had the honor of interviewing over at SheLoves. Tanya looks at four Biblical stories of waiting and what we can learn from them. Her book can be read at any point but is especially pertinent for this time of year. You can read our conversation over at SheLoves.

What are books that help you get into the spirit of Advent and Christmas that aren’t explicitly about Advent and Christmas?

How We Practice Advent

I’ve been practicing Advent in some form or another since I was first introduced to the church calendar in college. But it wasn’t until having kids that I really evaluated the traditions we wanted to instill as a family. A friend recently asked how to start practicing Advent so I thought I’d walk you through how our family does it. Each year is a bit different and one of the most important things I’ve learned is to find what works for you.

There are so many resources available and you could make Advent as complex or simple as you want. But the point is to pause and anticipate the birth of Jesus. The whole practice is about slowing down and remembering this huge part of our story. It has become one of my favorite seasons and I love instilling these practices in our girls’ spiritual journey. I hope you find this helpful!

Thankful Trees
IMG_7419We actually start our Advent season on November 1 with a Thankful Tree. (This has nothing to do with actual Advent but I still count it as preparation.) Since I’m not crafty, I bought a bulletin board tree at a teacher supply store and hang it in our dining room. I also buy premade leaves. If you like crafting, this would be a fairly simple project. Each night, we share one thing we’re thankful for – from family and friends to glow sticks and technology. We write it on a leaf and tape it to our tree trunk. By the end of November, the wall is filled with small and big things we’re thankful for. This month of thankfulness prepares us for our nightly Advent readings. I’ve come to view it as preparation for the preparation of Christmas. I like having a rhythm in place by the time Advent arrives.

Wreath & Candles
IMG_2389If you do nothing else, an Advent wreath and 4 candles would be significant enough. Each candle represents part of the journey toward Bethlehem, though depending on the tradition, they mean different things. The first candle is Prophecy or Hope, the second is Bethlehem or Preparation, the third is Shepherd or Joy, and the fourth is Angel or Love. In the middle is a Christ Candle. Each night we light a candle and read a devotion together. As the month progresses, our table gets brighter and brighter. We keep the Christ candle lit all day for Christmas and then I save it to use during Epiphany.

Here are some resources for the meanings behind the candles:
United Methodist Church
Catholic Education

I know some people make wreaths out of greenery. One year, I used a tin and short candles since Bea liked to grab things off the table. Last year, I found a gold wreath at Target that worked well for a reusable wreath. I know Amazon has some decorative ones, too. Again, find what works for you.

Daily Readings
I suppose you could simply light a candle and read a Bible verse to guide you through Advent. I like using a short devotional and there are plenty out there. Search for Advent books by your favorite authors for a start. Here are a few I’ve used:

In Joyful Hope: Meditations for Advent by Henri Nouwen
My parents sent this to me in college and I’ve read it every year and still haven’t tired of it. I love Nouwen’s gracious and simple way of sharing big ideas.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
Even though Ann Voskamp can be a bit wordy for my girls, her daily reflections are easy to compress for shorter attention spans. I also love all the resources that go along with this book. Sometimes I’ll print a full page coloring sheet for Bea to use while I read the story. Last year, we created our own little Jesse tree in the playroom with printed ornaments. It’s a good guide for families with younger kids.

The Beautiful Word for Christmas by Mary DeMuth
I read this book for review last month so haven’t yet used it during Advent, but am looking forward to incorporating it into my personal readings this year. (You can read my review here.)

Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro
I haven’t read this but Enuma Okoro is a favorite author and it is on my radar for when I need a refresh in my readings.

Praying in Anticipation
A few years ago, I hosted a series here on the blog for Advent. Each day featured a prayer or meditation from a different guest.

Celebrating the Feasts
I love celebrating the Feast Days of December. On December 6 Bea and Elle pick their favorite dinner and we put boots by the fireplace and read a book about St. Nicholas. In the morning, chocolate coins and Christmas pajamas are waiting. We make lentil and sausage soup on New Year’s Eve and buy a Galette des Rois on January 6 to celebrate the Magi. In each case, we read stories and talk about the significance of the food. This is something I’d like to research more and incorporate more intentionally into the month, but for now, we’ve picked a few that work for us.

IMG_3089For the 12 days after Christmas, we use lights to remember the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem. Even after we take down our decorations on New Year’s, we leave the lights on the tree and outside the house. We also continue to light the Christ Candle from our Advent wreath. On January 6, we buy a Galette des Rois and eat food “from the east.” (We use this loosely – anything east of Colorado counts.)

I’m no expert in Advent or the Church Calendar, but I have found great significance in incorporating these practices as a family. I love that we are intentionally anticipating Christmas and that the girls will know more about the holiday than Santa Claus and presents under the tree. Those are still part of what we do, but my hope is they remember much more. I’ve also left out a lot of the details, partly because it would make this too long and partly because this isn’t a how-to. It’s a starting point. Try a couple things and add to them as you feel works. There is no right or wrong way to anticipate the birth of Jesus.

Do you practice Advent? What are some of your favorite resources? How did you get started on this journey?

When Something is Better Than Nothing

I have an alarm set so that I can wake up before my kids in order to snatch a minute or two of quiet for myself. I have about a 50-50 chance of it working as planned. Sometimes, IMG_7282someone is up in the middle of the night and I need an extra 20 minutes of sleep. Often, someone wakes up early and we’re all downstairs, starting the day with the sunrise. Naptime is often a guaranteed time of quiet when the house calms down and I can breathe. 1:00 is not my most productive time of day, but I’m learning to use it.

Sometimes, when I’m gifted a silent morning, I don’t know what to do. The house is too quiet; my thoughts have trouble organizing themselves; I’m used to writing in the chaos. It’s not ideal but it’s become my practice.

It makes me wonder how many other things are being done in a less-than-ideal space. I have a hard time balancing this idea of fitting life in all the spaces and waiting until a season makes sense. Right now, my creative outlet of writing is firmly in the margins. I know I don’t have the capacity to work beyond a blog post and I wonder, what’s the point? The point, of course, is that if I didn’t write blog post after blog post, I wouldn’t be writing at all. It’s a small discipline but it’s a discipline, nonetheless.

For a time, I did a traditional “quiet time,” reading the Bible at a set time every day. Our schedules have changed and I haven’t found that perfect time again. I know it will return someday and in the meantime, I keep my Bible out and ready. If I didn’t snatch a bit here or there, nothing would happen.

It’s the same for cleaning, for entertaining, for date nights and conversations. I’m learning that something is better than nothing, even in that most imperfect form. I was talking with a friend who reminded me that I won’t be snatching moments forever; that our lives and schedules will change soon enough. But I have to ask, what am I doing now in preparation for that time?

What are practices you must squeeze into the margins of life, when doing them imperfectly is just as important as having all the time in the world?

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

I Long for the New Earth

We often wish for a return to simpler times, when the world seemed easy to figure out and sort into categories. I wonder, though… When did those times ever exist? I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today reflecting on what it means to long for something with a relatively young worldview. Here’s an excerpt-I hope you’ll join the conversation over at SheLoves!

annie-rim-new-earth3“I’ve been painting since I was young,” my five-year-old recently told a friend. My friend and I laughed about Bea’s tendency to frame her life experiences as though she were an old woman, looking back over the years. She loves phrases like, back in the day and remember when to tell stories of her half-decade on this earth.

I’ve been reflecting about this attitude within our nation lately. Historically speaking, we haven’t been around all that long. Really, to be a nation for 240 years and a “world power” for less than a century isn’t all that long. Spain and Portugal ruled the “Age of Discovery” for 200 years. The sun didn’t set on the British Empire for 250 years after, longer than we’ve been a nation.

And yet we talk about historical preservation as though we are an old nation, looking back on a life well lived. We fail to realize that we are still actively living recent history. That in a hundred years, seemingly big events will be lumped together. I wonder if the Vietnam War will mark the beginning of American Colonialism, when history is reflected? I wonder if the Civil Rights Movement will stretch from the 1960’s into the 2020’s continuously when our great-grandchildren write of this time?

As a Christian in the modern United States, I sometimes see a call to “return to our roots,” to a simpler and more ordered time. We aren’t talking about our actual ancient roots; this is usually a call to return to life sixty years ago. In many ways, this is like a five-year-old reminiscing about all the accomplishments in her young life. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest!

How do you view history and our place as a nation in it? Do you think it’s fair to reminisce about “the good old days” when you’re young?

Review: A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson + Giveaway

One thing I hear over and over when grappling with how to live out justice in my everyday motions is to start small. Find what I can get behind and do that. For some, they have the energy and passion to call their representatives every day or to attend town hall meetings. For others, writing postcards or op ed articles is the best use of their time and resources. Some find inspiration through book clubs or small groups. But still, doing justice every day can be overwhelming.

51k3ZY2-VcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of writing about doing justice in my daily life, I received a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson. She understands the challenge of staring at the thousands of avenues of spreading hope so she breaks down Bible verses, encouragement, and practical ideas into daily “seeds.” The idea is that when we start with a small seed, life grows.

With a background in social work, Johnson knows first-hand best practices for helping those in our neighborhoods, as well as across the world. Because of her experience, the advice and suggestions given come from a place of expertise.

What I appreciate about A Pocketful of Seeds is that each day is truly a small nugget. They’re an easy couple paragraphs to incorporate into my routines – whether first thing in the morning or during those first few minutes of nap time. Johnson also gives incredibly practical suggestions for how to begin, from ideas for how to help local food pantries to what joyful giving looks like for you and your family.

If you’re looking for a practical way to explore what doing justice can be for you, I’d recommend this daily devotional.

How do you incorporate justice into your daily life? What are some small seeds that have worked for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds. Leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, November 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Beautiful Word for Christmas by Mary DeMuth

Advent starts in exactly one month. In some ways, I feel fairly prepared this year. We’ve been doing this as a family for a few years now, so I have an idea of what works with young kids. We’ll light the candles, maybe move the Nativity, and color some pages. We’ll read the same stories from the same book because repetition is comforting.

_240_360_Book.2375.coverSometimes, in the midst of creating a beautiful memory for my kids, I forget to feed my own spirit during this season. I often rely on familiar texts, which are comforting but rote. So, when I saw that Mary DeMuth had written an Advent devotional, I was thrilled!

The Beautiful Word for Christmas is stunning with gorgeous calligraphy and watercolor illustrations on each page. The first fifty pages tell the story from Luke, about a young virgin’s visitation from an angel to the declaration of who this child will be to the shepherds visit on that first night in the manger.

I love that the book starts with scripture for easy reference throughout this season. While devotions are powerful, remembering the Biblical story is at the core of this book.

And the devotions are wonderful. Each day includes a scripture, a story that links to an applicable lesson or thought, a prayer, and an activity. Themes include receiving, contentment, worry, and stillness. They are short enough to read in the morning but will stick with you throughout the day.

If you’re looking for an Advent devotional that is beautiful enough for display and profound enough for a meaningful guide through this season, I’d recommend The Beautiful Word for Christmas.

What are some of your favorite Advent devotions?

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