Five Things I Learned in July

It’s August, which means school starts in just a couple weeks and our routine will start again. I’m thankful for this month off – we had a busy July and it was such a relief to know that I could focus on the present, to not worry about self-imposed deadlines. But, for the necessity of rest and rejuvenation, I’m also glad to be back!

I thought I’d start back with a few things I learned during July:

1) Finding God on Vacation
IMG_5400Frank and I went to Hawaii for five days, just the two of us. My cousin was getting married and we planned this trip back in February. Between the beginning of the year and our departure, a lot of unexpected changes happened. Suddenly, we wondered if going on this trip at this time was the wisest choice. But, it was already paid for and planned. As the dust settled around some big decisions, we realized that it was actually perfect timing. The smallest of details worked out – Frank had a week off before our trip so when we left, he had already started to unwind a bit to the timing Vacation Bible School at Bea’s preschool being the same week. We biked and swam and had coffee in bed. We were able to have actual conversations and process the past six months.

I had read a blog post right before leaving about not only finding God on vacation – that we needed to be able to find God in our daily lives in our ugly towns, as well. While I totally agree with that, it was nice to be reminded that God is in the details of a tropical vacation, as well.

2) Practice Really Does Make Perfect
Even though this break was necessary, I didn’t write on my own as much as I thought I would. We were busy with zoo camp and playdates and swimming and vacation. As much as I thought I would take the time I usually spend blogging to write for myself, without the accountability of hitting publish, it just didn’t happen. While I thought I’d have loads of ideas and posts ready to go for August, I found my brain going into summer laziness. I have a feeling it’ll take a few weeks to get back into the rhythm. And that’s ok. It’s still so necessary to take time off but I was surprised that I needed something more than self-motivation.

3) Recognizing That Books Fit a Specific Season
I’ve been trying to read War and Peace for over a year now. While we were packing for Hawaii, my thought was to only bring that one book so I would be forced to read it. But then, Unfamiliar Fishes arrived at the library and my online book club was reading The Thorn Birds. I brought those as backups. I read Unfamiliar Fishes on the plane ride over, justifying that since it’s about the history of the impact of missionaries on Hawaii, I had to read it before landing. And then I only brought my e-version of War and Peace and didn’t want to bring that to the beach. So, there it sat. I was kind of disappointed that I only added about 100 pages to my dent. A friend reminded me that Tolstoy isn’t going anywhere and that this simply may not be the best season for this particular tome. I deleted it from my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf so that my failure wasn’t taunting me and I’ve felt a bit lighter since. I know there’s some sort of life metaphor in there, but for now, my new goal is to read it before I’m 75.

4) Removing Social Media in Order to Connect with Social Media
I-joined-the-tribePart of not blogging was also taking an intentional rest from social media. I deleted the apps on my phone and only checked in during nap time. By quieting the noise, I was able to focus on a few Facebook groups that I had wanted to participate in. One is The Dangerous Women Tribe, hosted by SheLoves Magazine. These fierce women are changing the world and the daily conversations and interactions are truly inspiring.

I’m also on three book launch teams and it was nice being able to participate more in the discussions. I’m almost done with two of the books and highly recommend them! Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha is available now and is an important look at the theology of adoption and how God uses the story of adoption to restore our relationships.

I’m almost done with Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel, which releases on September 16 (but you can preorder now and get some fun goodies!) Anne breaks down popular personality frameworks into useable, helpful information. The chapter on Highly Sensitive People was such a necessary and enlightening read for me! If you’re into personality frameworks at all, this is the book for you!

Up next: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore and Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – stay tuned for reviews and giveaways!

5) The Power of Routines in the Midst of Summer
I intentionally started our summer without many plans. I wanted us to rest, relax, have pajama days, and just enjoy the slowness of this season. Around the last week of June, Bea and I started really getting on each other’s nerves. No amount playdates or lazy days were helping. And then zoo camp started and she was engaged with a teacher every morning. She learned about habitats, pet animals, made new friends, and created her own habitat. And our relationship was restored! I still don’t believe in over scheduling summer, at least for our family in this stage, but it was a reminder that kids love structure and a kid like Bea loves outside stimulation. I think next summer, we’ll do zoo camp again and I’ll keep an eye on our rec center catalogue as well.

The summer is certainly flying by – Bea starts kindergarten in just a couple weeks and then I know I’ll be looking back at these unstructured days nostalgically. But I also know that she is so ready for the challenge and excitement of elementary school and I’m looking forward to seeing what this new season holds for us.

What are some things you’ve learned over the summer? What’s your favorite summer – lazy days, loose rhythms, or scheduled routines?

Threading My Prayer Rug Discussion

I’m honored to be over at SheLoves Magazine, discussing one of my favorite books from the summer. Threading My Prayer Rug has made me think about my own faith through a new lens. I hope you’ll go over and join the discussion! And, check out the end of the post – there’s a fun announcement! Here’s an excerpt:

Red-Couch-Threading-My-Prayer-Rug-DiscussionAfter graduating from college, I traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal to experience a new culture while seeing if teaching was a good fit for my future. I spent my mornings teaching English to Nepali middle school students and my afternoons and evenings exploring the city with my team, which consisted of mostly non-religious folks. In fact, I was the only seriously practicing Christian.

Partway into my three months, I started really missing church and Christian community, so I ventured into the suburbs, through unmarked winding streets, until I finally found a Catholic church. The service was in Nepali, there were no pews, just cushions on the floor, and the iconography was distinctly Nepali. I went with my Catholic roommate who could interpret the liturgy and rhythm of the service. I only went once or twice but it was a much-needed reminder that worship is both culturally unique and spiritually common. While I didn’t know the language, I did know the intention and it was enough to sustain me during that time without church.

In Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim, Sabeeha Rehman grapples with a similar realization. Raised in Muslim-majority Pakistan, faith and culture were seamlessly intertwined. Calls to prayer rang through the city; Ramadan fasts were supported and expected; interpretations of Qur’anic laws and guidelines were seen through a Pakistani lens.

After moving to New York City in the early-1970’s as a new bride, Rehman is hit with the realization that much of her faith was experienced culturally, rather than personally. Once immersed in a non-Muslim society, she began making choices—what would her faith really look like? How would she practice Islam and embrace her new country? It’s a process that became more imperative after she had children and realized they will be raised without the cultural support she experienced in Pakistan. Becoming what she phrases, a “born-again Muslim,” Rehman and her husband gather community, build the first Mosque on Staten Island, create a vibrant Muslim community, and grapple with the reality of living out their faith as minorities. Head over to SheLoves to read the rest and join the discussion!

Have you ever lived in a minority culture to your faith? How has that impacted your spiritual practice?

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/.

Remembering My Kids are Different

I’m over at the Kindred Mom blog today, writing about our family’s culture. It’s still a work in progress and I’m learning that what works today may not work in a month. But, this is where we’re at right now. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll go over to Kindred Mom to join the conversation!

annie_postA couple years ago, this same daughter and I were in the midst of the classic “threenager” drama. I remember sitting on our upstairs landing one day after yet another power struggle—in tears—wondering why on earth I had been chosen to be the mother of this strong, opinionated, passionate girl. I felt incompetent; like such a failure.

Suddenly, a book flashed through my mind. When we were first married, a friend lent us The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I knew he had written one about children and that evening I picked up a copy. As I read about how our children respond to love and discipline, I saw how I could improve our family culture.

After reading the descriptors, it was clear that my daughter is a classic “physical touch” kid. When she’s frustrated or upset, she stamps her feet and throws toys. When she feels unsafe or tired, she snuggles in and needs to be held. When she’s content and wants to talk about her day, she does it sitting in my lap. When she snuggles, every single part of her body has to touch my body.

This is not at all how I’m programed. My love language is “quality time,” in which I don’t need the close proximity that my daughter loves. With this insight, I set about to rewrite our interactions. I looked for small, natural ways to incorporate her need for physical touch before she became desperate.

Of course, nothing is magical and we still experience our share of misunderstandings and power struggles, but when I can start our day with a snuggle and a book rather than rushing around, it sets the tone for a better morning. Read the rest over at Kindred Mom!

Do you have any parenting books that have shifted your perspective? Any tricks that have stood the test of time?

Review: The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag + Giveaway

It’s not news that church attendance is in decline. There are a myriad of reasons for this – from being abused and hurt to simply being done with the business of spirituality. As an early millennial, I completely connect with the experience of growing up Evangelical, burning out, and re-finding my faith in a liturgical setting. It seems to be a common theme with Christians in my age-bracket.

_140_245_Book.2316.coverWhich is why The Light is Winning by Zach Hoag is a worthwhile read. Growing up fundamentalist and finding a faith-shift in his discovery of the teachings of John Calvin, Hoag walks the reader through his spiritual journey. From Calvin to John Wesley and more progressive Christianity to settling in the Methodist church, Hoag wrestled with the mix of reconciling the faith he’d experienced in his childhood with the faith he found as an adult.

Hoag is clearly working through his faith journey still. Toward the end of the book, he acknowledges that the very act of writing this memoir has helped him sort through a lot of his experiences – and you can tell. The emotions and hurt are still very much real and at the front of this writing.

But there is a lot of hope woven in, as well. Hoag’s experience is one that likely represents a lot of church-questioners – those who are disillusioned but not quite ready to join the ranks of the dones.

For this reason, I’d recommend The Light is Winning, especially if you’re officially connected with a church. You may not agree with every single reason Hoag struggled with the church but this is his story and his journey and it is worth paying attention to. If you’re wondering why people under 40 are leaving the church, this book would be a good place to start.

How has attending a different denomination revitalized your faith journey? Have you ever felt done with institutional religion?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of The Light is Winning. Leave a comment about your experience finding a church home and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, July 14, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

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

Enjoying the Noisiness of Summer

Different seasons have different volumes, don’t they? Winter is quiet, hibernating. We are in a set routine and getting out of the house feels more necessary in some ways. october 25, 2018party starts at 7pmSummer is loud, active. Even on days we don’t get in the car, we’re outside biking and climbing and getting wet.

In those quiet winter months, I appreciate the connection of places like Instagram, Facebook, and routine blogging. We’re already in a rhythm with school and regular activities and these fit naturally into place.

In summer, these same good things feel like more noise. Space feels harder to carve out and I don’t have the same amount of time or energy to devote to thoughtful planning and writing. I don’t think that’s a bad thing – summer is about making memories, no matter how small and I want to focus on those moments.

So, I’m intentionally taking the month of July “off” from blogging and regular social media check-ins. We’ll play and maybe I’ll post something randomly on Instagram but, really, I just want to stay focused and present without any feeling of deadlines.

I have a couple book reviews and a discussion post over at SheLoves for the Red Couch club. (We’re reading Threading My Prayer Rug by Sabeeha Rehman – join us? We have discussions going over at our Facebook group.)

I also want to take time to plan out my goals and vision for this space. How can I make it better? How can I (re)find my voice? Otherwise, things will be quiet around here and I focus on the noisiness of of our actual lives.

I hope your summer is filled with all the good noises, too! What are ways you focus on your actual life?

The Power of Storytelling

I’ve been thinking about the stories we tell and how we can best listen to the stories of others. It’s made me think about my own experiences and how my story has been shaped over the years. I have the honor of sharing these thoughts over at SheLoves Magazine. Here’s an excerpt – I hope you’ll head over to join the conversation!

Annie-Rim-The-Power-of-Storytelling3I’m learning to stop and listen more. I’m learning that by including these words “tell me more,” I’m recognizing that we all have more than what appears on the surface. What if, when visiting our friends who are better at decorating or cooking or meal planning, we included, “Tell me more.” What was their journey to finding this particular creative outlet?

If I were to tell more about my birth story now, I’d recognize that from the second we stepped into the hospital, things changed from our perfect birth plan. I’ve learned that this is parenthood: Change from the plan. Rarely do my days go the way I’ve planned; rarely do the ideals I had formed before becoming a mom play the way I’d imagined. And I’m learning that this is good. My takeaway is that I hold my ideals loosely and am ready to reevaluate.

The power of storytelling is world changing. “Tell me more” isn’t yet a natural habit, but I’m hoping that by remembering to incorporate it more and more into my conversations, it will become second nature. And that as I hear those deeper stories, the ones that go beyond a blog post or a quick conversation, my worldview is shifted. I feel far fewer comparisons and am finding quite a lot of commonality.

The more I listen, the more naturally stories resonate and I see myself in those around me. Read the rest over at SheLoves and join the conversation there!

How has active listening changed your perspective?