Abandoning Books

In January, I quickly put the book Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship of Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X on hold at the library. It’s one that I’m writing the discussion post for with the Red Couch Book Club and I was eager to get started. When the book came in, I dove in but quickly found myself floundering. I was having such trouble connecting the lives of Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali to the book club audience of primarily women who are social justice-minded.

IMG_3693I emailed the woman who was writing the introduction post, saying I was about 100 pages into the book and just not connecting with the direction. She wrote back saying she was at about the same place and would focus on her views of Palestine.

Wait. Palestine?!

I quickly went back to the archives of when we assigned the books and realized in my haste, I had reserved the incorrect copy of Blood Brothers. What I actually wanted was Elias Chacour’s memoir of being a Palestinian Christian. Completely different story.

The Muhammed Ali-Malcolm X book is still sitting on my desk. I’ve renewed it twice and only have 3 more weeks before I need to return it. I know that I’m not going to finish it, but I’m unable to abandon the idea that I could still read it and learn something new.

I’ve always had trouble leaving books, whether they’re just not my style or too dense or the completely wrong book. I like the idea of being able to find something anywhere to learn and expand my worldview.

But sometimes, it’s ok to stop, to return the book, and to recognize that I’m just not in a place to finish every single thing I start. And that’s ok.

Are you able to abandon books or projects? When do you realize it’s time to let something go?

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

Balancing Solitude with Engagement

When Frank and I were first married, we went on a weekend backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Never Summer Range. One of the most amazing things about this western side of the park is that there are far fewer tourists and hikers. During our entire excursion, we saw one other couple descending into the parking lot just as we started out on the trail.

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One of the scariest parts about this side of the park is that there are far fewer hikers. When we set up camp, we were extra cautious in placing our bear canister far from our campsite. The only noises we heard were those of our hidden forest neighbors.

I had been backpacking before, but always to locations where we were near other hikers. It was rare to step out of my tent without seeing another camper close by. Even after hiking miles into the mountains, I found comfort in knowing I had neighbors.

This time, I was thankful I had Frank and wondered at the appeal of spending time all alone in the wilderness. While I love solitude and appreciate those moments alone in nature, I also desire the safety of proximity to others. Frank, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend his time than being completely alone in the woods. Even hiking and camping with others pales to a solo trip. (Something he hasn’t had in years…)

This first week of Lent focuses on Jesus’s time in the wilderness, where he spent 40 days fasting and praying before he started teaching. His 40 days alone in the wilderness is mirrored in these 40 days of Lenten observation.

Forty days in the Middle Eastern wilderness looks a lot different than a weekend of camping in the Colorado Rockies. We know very little about what happened during that time. Of course, the biggest event is when, after Jesus has already been gone long enough to be quite hungry, the Devil tempts him to the point that Angels need to care for him in the aftermath (Matthew 4:1-11). But what happened after? When I read the text, it seems unclear when this temptation happened. Does Jesus go back alone and spend another 15 days in the wilderness?

What this reminds me of is that, while I need to be intentional about taking time for myself in quiet and solitude, I am stronger when I am with others. The accountability of reading the Bible, of a book club, of mothering groups and texts from friends remind me that no matter what activity I’m doing or phase of life I’m in, I need others to help me along the way.

I think about Jesus in his weakened state being tempted by Satan. I want to know more. How would this have looked different if he had support around him? Would he have been as prepared to start walking and teaching without this solitude? It is a reminder of this balancing act between taking time alone with God and depending on the community that God has given me.

As I continue with my own Lenten practice of praying through President Trump’s new cabinet, I’m reminded that, while I may be taking time to research and pray for these men and women alone, I need to engage my community with what I’m learning. What is the point of these 40 days of prayer if it is only for myself? As I work through this practice, I am keeping the So What? part of Lent at the forefront of my thoughts. Where will this lead? How will I engage?

How do you combine time in the wilderness with the necessity of community? How do you intentionally engage your quiet spiritual practices with something bigger?

Reflecting My Self to Others

When I first read the post back in October, offering a 4-meeting journey to write my mission statement, I hesitated. What does a person like me need a mission statement for? For the next few years, I’m in this staying home thing, raising these little girls before school starts.

img_3818But something tugged at me and I ended up signing up and joining 10 other amazing women as we met via video chat, from all corners. We talked each week, processed specific questions, learned from each other. We reframed the idea of a mission statement into a purpose statement, something that seemed much more applicable to this stage in my life.

At the end, during my one-on-one call with our leader, we were writing words and moving them around, seeing what worked and what just didn’t resonate. At one point, my statement seemed pretty good until my coach asked, Is this for you or for others?

We switched a couple words and suddenly, my purpose statement was for me. My coach said that if this statement was for others, it would falter. It needed to be at the core of my self. If I had a statement that reflected me, it would reflect to others naturally.

This process helped me reframe this idea of self-care, of purpose. It can be so easy to make life about others – how am I best serving the girls? How does our home best create hospitality for others? How can I best love and serve this world?

But, when I take all those core values – of serving and hospitality and love – and internalize them first, it seems easier to go out with energy to give what I have to others. It’s a reminder that self-care often means including myself in the things I’m already doing.

How do you make sure you are included in your purpose or mission? How do you reflect yourself onto those around you?

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

Books to See the Other

I was reflecting on books that have helped me to understand those we have labeled as The Other. Whether from a different socioeconomic background, a different culture, or a different political viewpoint, I think it’s important to read books that challenge our own worldview.

img_3774I’ve referenced many of these books already, but in case you’re looking for something new to read during this season, these are five nonfiction books that have helped me understand a different point of view a little better.

Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah
Working through the Old Testament book of Lamentations, Dr. Rah reminds prosperous countries that, without the recognition and practice of lament, we cannot truly experience joy. Without going into a doomsday prophecy, Rah links similarities between prosperous Jerusalem and prosperous America. How can we practice a destruction of ideology and how we read the Bible? (Another good essay about this is by Tanya Marlow for SheLoves Magazine: Blessed are the Overdramatic.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
I read this memoir at the end of last year and appreciated Mayfield’s commitment to learning from rather than about refugees. She and her family have chosen to live side-by-side these families and her compassion and empathy have helped me see this “Immigration Issue” as far more complex and meaningful.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
This is a memoir of a Palestinian Melkite Christian. What I appreciate about this books is that Chacour shifted my view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from one of Jews-Muslims to one of deeper, wider spreading origins. I gained new insights into this conflict that took it far from the black and white point of view I had been raised with. (Also, this is our Red Couch book club discussion for March. I hope you’ll join in if interested!)

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
This is my winner for Books that Have Changed My Life. These stories are hard but necessary. It’s so important for us in comfortable homes with some sort of access to healthcare and assistance to remember what most of the rest of the world is experiencing. It’s also a reminder of why women’s issues here in America are so important to address.

Subversive Jesus by Craig Greenfield
This is a timely book for anyone looking to go beyond helping the poor institutionally. How do we actually  live out the idea of opening our homes and learning to love our neighbors? Greenfield describes the highs and lows of living out this messy theology.

These are just a small handful of powerful books. I’d also suggest reading an author who looks different from you or who comes from a different background. A friend and I were talking about the need to read and know more about Native Americans. I’d recommend starting with Richard Twiss for a Christian perspective or Louise Erdrich for powerful novels.

What are some books that have helped you shift your worldview? 

Why Bother With Lent?

On Wednesday, we leave the Epiphany and Ordinary Time in the church calendar and move into Lent, that period that prepares us for Easter. Lent is a 40 day practice (excluding Sundays) that encourages fasting, preparation, and mindfulness as Christians consider the celebration and importance of Easter.

img_3829I’ve come to look forward to this time of the year. Not so much because it gives me structure for removing myself from distractions, but because it really has helped me to pause and understand the joyful celebration of Easter. In the past, I’ve written notes to women, taken social media off my phone, and given up something in order to use those resources to give to something else. All those were good and (surprisingly) sustaining practices. But does Jesus really care if I give up wine in order to give a Kiva loan? Does it make Easter any more meaningful when I don’t scroll through Instagram for the weeks leading up to that Sunday?

Honestly, not really. And, shouldn’t I practicing these better ways of living regardless of the season? Twitter isn’t exactly life-giving in June, either. I can send a note to a friend regardless of the season.

For me, the reason Lent has become a season to anticipate is that I know I need structure. I need guidelines and a timeframe to create good habits. Just like I knew that processed food isn’t great for my body, I needed the structure and timeframe of Whole30 to help me reset to habits I knew were good but lacked the self-discipline to simply change on my own.

Similarly, I look toward Lent as a time to reflect on ways in which I could better reflect Jesus and his mission. What are areas in which I could live out this radical message better? How can I use this structure and timeframe to help me better understand and form habits that reflect my values?

I’ve found that I need to not only fast from something but I need to add to something in its place. When Frank & I gave up wine, we added donations to Kiva. When I gave up social media, I added the Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals to my day. Without the addition of something valuable, I think giving up loses some of its power.

This year, I’ve again taken social media off my phone. I debated this decision because it is a way I get my news and information and I don’t want to be uninformed. But, on my phone, it’s easy to get lost to the world of rabbit trails. So, I’m committing to checking the news daily from my computer, to staying informed, but also staying present in my real life activities.

I’m adding a prayer list. I’ve written down President Trump’s cabinet and appointments – both those already confirmed and those up for nomination. I’ve committed to learning more about each of the members of this new cabinet. I want to know their background and policies. And then, I’m going to pray for them. Not that they’ll conform to my own ideology (after all, I’m not the one nominated for these positions) but that they’ll take this job seriously. That they’ll seek wisdom and guidance from a variety of sources and backgrounds. That they’ll consider what is best for all of the population, not just a group of constituents.

I’m also praying that, as I learn about these cabinet members, I’ll learn through a lens of grace and sympathy. That I’ll look for the best, not the worst. And that my perspective will shift. I may not agree with them at the end of these 40 days, but I want a new perspective. Not one of frustration or fear but one of empowerment and resolve. And that this practice creates a new way in how I pray for our government and our leaders.

Do you observe Lent? How do you find it most helpful?

Enjoying Two Cups of Coffee

When I was teaching and single, I never drank coffee. There wasn’t much time in the morning and I preferred a cup mid-afternoon to combat that slump. When Frank and I got married, I started drinking a cup because it was already made. Though, really it was just about half a cup before I’d dash out the door. I have vivid memories of one of my elementary teachers having coffee breath and I did not want to be remembered for that attribute, so once I brushed my teeth and left the house, that was it for the day.

img_3739Now, staying home with the girls, I enjoy 2 cups each morning. No matter the chaos of bright-eyed girls running around, I’m usually able to enjoy those two cups in relative calm – not needing to gulp them down or scald my mouth.

The other day I wanted to get just One Thing Done before breakfast. It needed my attention and would have taken less than 10 minutes, uninterrupted. Of course, the moment the thought crossed my mind, my two interruptions swarmed and I had to put the project aside.

It’s easy to get frustrated with lack of alone time and even more frustrating when the things I need to do aren’t for me, but for commitments I’ve promised to others. I envision a quiet house, a slow rise and cup of coffee, and breakfast before the day begins.

And then I think, In what world?! My job right now is the girls. And when I had an “actual” job that morning only existed on the weekends. I guess I have this vision of being retired mid-thirties, enjoying the luxury of time I haven’t worked for.

So today, I’m grateful for preschool that starts at 9:00 and is only 5 minutes from our house. For time to enjoy 2 cups of coffee, even if the environment around me is swirling. And the reminder that I can slow down in the midst of chaos.

What is your morning ritual? Do you ease in or get up and go? Are you a coffee drinker?

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

When Getting Up Early Fails

I was talking with a new friend the other day about finding time to write. One of her kids gets up at 5:15 everyday, on the dot and has since he was a baby. I asked if she had gotten the alarm clock that turns green and I clearly struck a nerve. Yes, they had. No, it did not work.

img_3740We’re in a fairly good sleep pattern these days, with bedtimes going smoothly and the girls sleeping through the night. Bea does use that alarm clock, meaning I know exactly when she’ll be jumping down the stairs. Elle is still on that blissful 12-hour-a-night cycle, and I’m enjoying it.

The other day, I thought I’d set my alarm about 45 minutes before Elle usually woke up. Other moms manage to have quiet moments in the morning and when I read about those early morning hours, a cup of coffee and a journal or book in hand, it sounds idyllic. I wanted that, too!

The moment that alarm was set, Elle knew it and decided to wake 45 minutes earlier for about a week. I turned that thing off and went back to waking up and hoping for the best. Some days, I’ll get up and read or write. Others, I lie in bed until I hear stirrings from her room.

Books and blogs have been written about the importance of finding time for ourselves. That we can’t let these little years take away our identity and sense of self.

I totally agree with this. I look back at these early years of motherhood already and see ways in which I’ve been able to pursue interests and passions that I didn’t have the time or energy for while I was working full-time.

And yet, in my enthusiasm to find this Me Time and really take care of myself, I’m reminded that I walk a fine line doing that. My full-time job right now is motherhood. While I’m lucky enough to have a support system in place that gives me moments and hours and even a day occasionally to myself (thanks, mom!!) I’m mostly here, writing in the margins and with my helpers nearby.

This friend recently wrote her own blog post about the magical 22 minutes of a kids show, and how so much can get done in that time. For a while, I relied on those 22 minutes, getting so much done during one Daniel Tiger episode. Until we had a kid who is just uninterested in screen time. No matter how I try, Elle just does’t engage with TV. Which is a good thing. But those 22 minutes? I long for them, some days.

In the meantime, I’m assessing my goals and visions. It’s not like I want to write a book or blog everyday… right now. I’m actually very much content to tap away at this little blog when inspiration strikes and keep it strictly in the hobby realm.

Because right now, I’m getting ready for kindergarten roundup and a year with just Elle by my side and the reality is that these tiring, intense, nonstop years really do pass so quickly. I’m learning to savor every moment and remember that my Me Time is simultaneously kid time.

(Also? A year ago, I wrote about this same thing. Clearly it’s a recurring theme!)

When and where do you find time for yourself? Moms, did elementary school change things? When does “me time” become easier? (Or is that a myth?)