A Joyful Mystery

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Happy New Year!

2016.

A clean slate and a fresh start begins today!

We put so much pressure on ourselves to make resolutions and change our bad habits and lazy ways. Every January 1st, goals are set. Words of the year are declared. We push forward into the days ahead, feeling strong and motivated and positive. And then….the hard news. The diagnosis. The unexpected phone call. The world spins in ways we weren’t planning on. It feels impossible to hold tight to those intentions.

As I walk through moments of difficulty and sadness with my own boys, the world and its unpredictable ways often feel overwhelming. They struggle with grasping their own **little**worlds, their friendships, school challenges and family expectations, let alone stomaching what unfolds on the news and in our bigger communities and world.

So to see times of mystery as joy, feels counterintuitive.

To envision the unknown and challenging as worthy of gladness and praise, seems naïve.

How do we move forward amidst it all with joy? Gladness? And praise? We are working on this in our own lives and family these days. Trying to upend patterns of negativity and irritability and replace our knee jerk reactions with stillness, calm and an open heart. We are attempting to ask questions and seek more from each other, rather than assume.

When I heard Brené Brown speak this past fall, she challenged us with a question. “What is the story you are telling yourself?” How are we creating narratives for ourselves and for our closest loved ones that are fictional, inaccurate and made up in our own heads? Do we see the problems of our world and in our day-to-day lives as insurmountable obstacles, believing everyone is out to get us? How can we instead turn the questions back on ourselves and our children, seeking to see these problems differently?

“No one wants to play with me!”

“He hit me and said he’s not my friend…”

“You love HIM more than ME!”

“I don’t want to be in the family anymore! You’re a baby RAT, MOM!”

These are just a few of the many words uttered within our walls recently. I often don’t have advice to share with boys. Only rage bubbles up. But I am starting to hear Brené whispering in my ear these days, “What story are you telling yourself?” The root of these situations is often way different than I surmise and rather than thinking about these problems and challenges as a joyful mystery, I want to run and hide and ignore it.

As we walk into 2016, I am hoping for a year of joyful mystery mixed with a hefty does of contemplation. Time to sit with these questions. Opportunities to live with the pain and not run from it. Wherewithal to probe and ask for more from our boys, rather than escaping from the yelling. I hope we can all push ourselves to be on each other’s sides, leading with kindness rather than judgment or harshness. May we re-write the stories we tell ourselves with truth, remembering these words of Paul to the Romans:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—

your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life—

and place it before God as an offering.

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.

Instead, fix your attention of God.

You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God bring the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”      

~Romans 12:1-2, 9

{this is originally a post for the blog Practicing Families that I contribute to every so often…you can also find it there, along with lots of other pieces}

December Photo Project 2015

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One of my favorite projects each year is the December Photo Project.  It pushes me to look in the everyday to find joy, beauty, silliness and take notice.  Usually I post the pictures here daily or weekly, but this year…it’s in one fell swoop.  Lots of December 2015 through the eyes of my boys and my students, but they are a big part of life these days in the best of ways.  Hope you had time to stop and take note during December too!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 1st

And so it begins….LEGO Star Wars Advent calendar and the December Photo Project!!! Almost forgot and had to spring out of bed to hide the calendar and all the advent slips for the month, but finished in the nick of time! We’ll see how it goes with odd days for Drew and even days for Alex…

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 2nd
New Christmas PJs

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 3rd
Time to craft that letter! Love…”do you like the Grinch?” Alex has decided to get lost in Harry Potter #4 instead….

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 4th

Drew ‘s OT traced his body yesterday and he was so excited by it that he had me do another one at home today. And then he added all the body parts and labels. I can’t get over his detail and just love this. Especially the brain. Now I know my obsessive talking about mistakes growing our wrinkly brains and creating neurons is sticking. My poor students and family won’t hear the end of it.

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 5th
Tomorrow is St Nicholas Day so today we are reading a few books about St Nicholas, setting out shoes and watching the Veggie Tales movie about him. This is a newer tradition for us that we began about 5 years ago….but I love the focus on the joy of giving (and putting oranges and gold, chocolate coins in stinky boys’ rain boots!)

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 6th
Tie Time!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 7th

Snowman poop! Bliss for Breakfast.

2015-12-08_1449611169December Photo Project 2015 :: December 8th
Sick Day…one stayed home with a fever. One got a migraine thanks to the Kenyan Drumming assembly. So, chicken with stars soup, saltines and Peanuts it is!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 9th
Youngest home sick again. Brotherly drama is kept at bay with books. Love hearing Drewsie read Llama Llama Holiday Drama. “Sometimes we should take a rest and hold the ones we love the best.” Meanwhile Alex, dressed as a 50 year old banker, is plowing through Harry Potter 5.

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 10th :: Worms!
Nothing quite like eldest bursting in the door and dumping out a huge pile of WORMS from his WATERBOTTLE into a Tupperware container. Science lover at heart.

 

December Photo Project 2015 :: December 11th

Love arriving home from my teaching day to an empty house but lots of evidence of a project. Matty must have been home baking! Love it!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 12th
“Ho, Ho Ho! What would you like for Christmas?!”
Me: “Well behaved children.”
“Santa”: “Well, we don’t have that…how about some makeup instead?! How about for you?”
Matt: “Peace and quiet.”
“Santa”: “Well, we don’t have any…”

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 13th

Woken up to the strains of, “Mom!!! It’s a Winter Wonderland!!!! We’re ice skating!!!” {aka…Netflix’s Winter Wonderland station, socked feet on wooden floor, Santa hats and lots of slipping}.

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 14th
Coloring and wrapping presents on another dreary afternoon. This one always brightens the gray days. He was just listening to “Santa Baby” and looked up and said, “So is this Mrs Claus singing to Santa?!?”

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 15th :: Reindeer Food!

Forgot to put something in the Advent Calendar for today so scribbled this on a scrap of paper at 2:30am when I was up to the bathroom with youngest. Love this idea from Kelle Hampton. simple project with random staples from your pantry. This year we only have stale tortilla chips and rock-hard dried blueberries. But it all works for reindeer food!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 16th

Let’s Go Warriors! Fun new sweatshirts from Macho Pop and LeiLei!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 17th
So immensely proud of these bunnies. Animal Reports DONE!!!! So much researching, writing, paragraphing, drawing & perseverance from these amazing 3rd graders!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 18th

Last day of school for the 2015 school year. My amazing job share partner made Room 15 checker boards and the kids were beside themselves. So so fun. Thankful we HAD school (since Corvallis was cancelled) and so grateful for the many volunteers who helped us host the Spirit of Giving. Each child left with 4 wrapped gifts for their family. Just amazing. Ready to rest and hopefully get my voice back. …if I survive my own boys!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 19th

Auntie Elena Visit and Game Day!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 20th
Lots of napping (by eldest and the furriest) and read all of Jennifer Weiner’s “Who Do You Love?”. The threat of library fines can work wonders! A book yesterday. Another today. Four more to go before Christmas! What Are you devouring these days?

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 21st :: reflection
“I am so excited. Only four more days Til Christmas, Mom!!!! I am going to be like Grandpa Jerry and buy myself a gift and write ‘To Drew From Santa’ and then I get exactly what I want. Did you know that I am reflected in all these ornaments?!? Today’s going to be a snow day. I know it.” Constant ramblings of a five year old.

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 22nd
Oh my goodness. This book will go down as one of my favorites. Some of the most stunning writing I have had the pleasure of reading.

 

December Photo Project 2015 :: December 23rd

Spreading out some Christmas presents …thus, 6am LEGO building. Thanks, Uncle James!!!!!

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 24th

Merry Christmas!

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DPP 2015 :: December 25 :: No words needed. Merry Christmas!

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DPP 2015 :: December 26 :: Christmas Dinner Take Two…my parents are on their way!

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DPP 2015 :: December 27 :: Grandparent Monopoly tournament to pass the gray, dreary day. 🎲

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DPP 2015 :: December 28 :: the whole family finally got to see it! And I loved it!

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DPP 2015 :: Dec 29th :: New Red Shoes are so cheery on a dreary weather day.

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DPP 2015 :: December 30 :: A Joyful Mystery {and in other news…clear, blue skies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!}

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December Photo Project 2015 :: December 31st
Writing thank you notes today and continuing to be overwhelmed by the generosity of our loved ones. A good way to end the year…practicing gratitude. Alex just said, “There are just so many gifts that I think I will write an organized list, grouping the items. Clothing. Entertainment. And finally, Etc.”

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For more information about the December Photo Project, be sure to click on the picture below.  Already looking forward to 2016!

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Merry Christmas from the Goughs

It is hard to believe that we have already hit the much-anticipated CHRISTMAS EVE…I am sure that many of you (or your progeny!) are filled with expectations for the 24 hours ahead.  Taking a brief moment to share our 2015 Christmas card and letter for today’s December Photo Project entry.  This picture isn’t as polished as last years, due to our self-posed and taken shot vs the mad skills of Blue Lily and Wendy’s talents.  But….it is so much more spontaneous and us, down to Drew’s bandaided cheek and Alex’s bunny ears.

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May the words of Joseph Campbell challenge you in 2016 as they have challenged us…

and…a little Mad Lib fun for you.

Merry Christmas!

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Reads of 2015

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It has been an on again, off again year for me when it comes to reading.  Overdoing it and reading voraciously.  Then taking long and extended vacations, figuring there is NO way reading is doable.  Excuses are always present, but I am finding I am a much happier mama when I’m regularly finding my nose in a book.  One thing I don’t take lightly is the gift of many in person opportunities to see authors speak about their books.  That is simply the best!

Besides a few, these have all been wonderful reads.  Deep, rich writing.  Some are fluffy, fruity romance. Others have gotten my brain churning and attempted to uproot my engrained patterns of thinking.  I have put an ** by my faves (equally weighted is a silly British romance and a Pulitzer Prize winner, but oh, well.)

Without further adieu, here’s my list of reads from 2015.  Please comment with your favorites and what you are looking forward to tackling in 2016!

On “Simple Living” & Creativity:

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas by Kathi Lipp

**Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (and LOVED Elizabeth’s podcast, Big Magic, that precluded this book.  Fantastic!!!!)

Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair

Fiction:

**All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simison (didn’t grab me like the first Rosie book…)

**The Paris Wife by by Paula McLain

After You by JoJo Moyes

**Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (slight obsession with Rainbow Rowell this year!)

**The Royal We  by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Theology/Spirituality/Faith:

**For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Small Victories by Anne Lamott

Scary Close by Donald Miller (and got to hear him live in March at Powells!)

Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey (a 2015-2016 read)

Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman (Matt and I had the gift of getting to hear Emily in March when she was the Keynote speaker for Faith & Culture Writers Conference)

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Savor by Shauna Niequist

**Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst

Parenting/Self-Help:

Peaceful Parent, Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew

Do Over by Jon Acuff

The Zimzum of Love by Rob Bell

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin (disappointing for me)

**Rising Strong by Brene Brown (amazing Seattle road trip to hear her speak in September of 2015…major highlight of the year!)

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Overwhelmed:  Work, Love & Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte

Some of the “Kid” Read Aloud Favorites:

Harry Potter 1-5 by J.K.Rowling

ANYTHING by Roald Dahl (a repeat favorite from 2014!)

Monsters on the Run: Yeti Files #2 by Kevin Sherry

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet (and many more from the series) by Tom Anglburger

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier

Case of the Gasping Garbage (and all the other books in the Doyle & Fossey Series!) by Michele Torey

Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems (still  Drew’s favorite in 2015!!!)

**Brave Girl by Michelle Markel

Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds

On Earth by G. Brian Karas

**Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Jedi Academy:  Return of the Padawan by Jeffery Brown

Alexander, Who’s Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Every and Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst

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Biography/Autobiography/Memoir/Poetry:

Nobody’s Cuter Than You by Melanie Shankle

**I’m Proud of You:  My Friendship with Fred Rogers by Tim Madigan

**Dear Jeff by my very own father-in-law, Kerry Gough! (So thought provoking and a beautiful insight into way more than just my family…❤️)

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed (and getting to hear her speak in person at OSU in January 2015 was AMAZING…loved it even more than the book)

Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda (every year, a must read!)

Coming Clean by Seth Haines (amazing gift to meet Seth–and so many amazing others—at the Faith and Culture Writers Conferences in the Spring of 2015).  No picture with Seth, but one with Nish Weiseth!

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Cooking/Memoir:

**My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (can’t wait to see her in person in Corvallis in February 2016!)

Homemade Decadence:  Joy the Baker by Joy Wilson

and….lots of magazines!…especially the last issues of Anthology!

 

Hoping to read a LOT in 2016.

Looking forward to:

(yes…still some holdovers from last years–and 2014’s–list!)

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Out of the House of Bread by Preston Yancey in January 2016

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist in August 2016

Wild in the Hollow by Amber Haines

11/22/63 by Stephen King

The Heir & the Spare by Emily Albright in January 2016

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Falling Free:  Rescused from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin in September 2016

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Grit by Angela Duckworth in May 2016

Looking for Lovely:  Collecting Moments that Matter by Annie Downs

and new books on the way from Nish Weiseth, Tsh Oxenreider

 

 

 

Get Yourself Organized for Christmas

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Yes, I was the crazy person. Sitting on the beach at the Oregon Coast, watching a late August sunset, reading about….Christmas. And worse yet? Getting ORGANIZED for Christmas. Who wants to spend the fleeting hours of their summer, planning for December?!  It turns out I do…and hopefully you will too.

Last year, I had the gift of being part of Kathi Lipp’s launch team for her book Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your Space Many of you took on the challenge with me to get rid of 2000 items in 2015. Kathi’s latest book applies this same principal to the approaching Christmas season. In her new book Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, Kathi shares easy-to-follow steps to reduce the stress and increase the joy of the holiday season.

Last November, Kathi began to post daily projects & simple steps to help focus on what you really value and want for the holiday season.   By being purposeful, it is possible to be present and to experience the depth of Advent and Christmas vs. checklists, commitments & overwhelming decisions. To have a “Christmas that is clutter free—free of emotional, physical and relational clutter”—is possible.

The first step Kathi suggests is spending time thinking about what is truly important to you…and to your family. I am often the one who is planning event after event, setting up art projects, baking plans and Pinterest ventures to keep the month of December meaningful and memorable. When I finally stopped and began to take a closer look at the holidays and what is really important (and fun!), the need for a picture perfect holiday began to feel hollow.

I asked our boys what they love the best about our traditions. Everyone voiced a love for driving around to look at Christmas lights, for making gingerbread houses and watching Elf. The long list I am a slave to was barely mentioned or touched upon. So…once again, I am editing and trying to pare things down. Simplifying.

Each of the projects Kathi proposes are smaller, allowing you to take on the planning in manageable chunks. After working on Project One, Creating a Holiday Mission Statement, I felt much more focused when making hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. If an activity or event began to feel more like an obligation or if it didn’t line up with our Mission Statement, it was crossed off the list. And by mission statement, it needs to be more than “To SURVIVE”.

Kathi encourages you to think through words that resonate with your hopes for the season…each year’s statement having the potential to be a little bit different. {some words to think through: time, energy, spiritual, celebrate, family, tradition, creating, friends, church, community, gift gifting, love, reflect, patience, solitude, connect, serve, peace, joy, activities, care, gift giving, restore, food, etc}.

Next, the second project had me at…BINDER. I loved Kathi’s idea to create a Christmas Binder which held a calendar for the month of December, recipes, menus, gift ideas, receipts, a budget, the to-do list, a list of present hiding places, Christmas card addresses and other tidbits in one, easy-to-locate place.  Rather than trying to track down items you “tucked away” or trying to locate a receipt for the present you sent that isn’t the right size, everything is in one place, easy to find.  Here is a link for some free resources to start getting your binder together.

The projects unfold from there…

  • buying Christmas card stamps
  • choosing a photo for your Christmas card (if you are sending them)
  • planning for purchasing, wrapping and sending gifts to out of town friends and family
  • compiling the MUST make, family-favorite recipes
  • ordering Christmas books or movies from the Library
  • setting a budget for gift buying

There are 21 Projects to help you prepare for the holidays and I have to say that last year felt so much more manageable. And now a year later? I can’t even tell you the gift it is to have already attacked the ever-illusive spreadsheet of addresses for cards or planning for some simple, daily advent activities.  All the work I put in last year is “paying off” in less stress this year.

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If you are feeling overwhelmed about the holidays as Thanksgiving approaches, I would love to invite you to join me as we enter into this season to be more intentional and calm. To break up projects that typically make you want to run and hide and instead be more purposeful, focused and stress-free. Be sure to check out Kathi’s new book and also connect via Facebook where she posts the daily projects as well.  Here is the link for her blog, another great place to get the current scoop.  If you want to take the challenge, click here!  Please share about your progress if you decide to take on the challenge.  I will be doing it again this year and love having a friend or two to keep me accountable!

 

The Treasure Within the Putty

{this post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families…finally getting around to posting it here…}christine

Almost every Thursday, I pick my youngest son up from Pre-K class and trek out to his Occupational Therapy appointment. Many days it is a struggle to extract him from his friends and class but Thursdays, I don’t need the promise of any “carrots.”  All I need to say is, “We get to go see Kecia today!” and he drops whatever he is working on like a hot potato and jets for the door.  If only I drew such excitement and motivation.

Each week during our appointments, the activities change and vary but one activity stays the same and is a favorite—Putty Time. Theraputty provides a fun and engaging way for finger and hand strengthening as well as improvement of muscle coordination.  Kecia’s Theraputty isn’t just putty, though….she has hidden treats inside.  A Lite Bright bulb, a nautilus shell, an eraser, a LEGO, a plastic gecko, a marble, a plastic, pink jewel.  Depends on the week, but usually Drew pulls and tugs and digs and searches for about eight items within the putty.

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As he extracts each item it is an EVENT. Each item is announced with great enthusiasm, piled neatly, and then he goes back in for more.  There is also a lot of “UUUUUUUGGHHHH”s and dramatic stretching and pulling sounds, but he puts in the hard work.  Putty time on the schedule means challenge, but reward.  Some pain and persistence, but a pay off.

So much of parenting is made up of these cause and effect moments. The lessons we want to have embedded on their hearts relate to “not giving up.”  Teaching our children the value of grit and perseverance can feel never-ending.  And in reality?!  It is an ongoing life lesson.  To build strength, we must pull and stretch our minds and bodies.  We need to put ourselves in places of discomfort.  There will be times we are digging and digging for some unknown something, with seemingly no clues, just the instruction, “Keep looking.  Keep searching.”  To get our desired effect, there is a directly related cause.  Hard Work.

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The lessons we so desire to impart are often the same ones we ourselves need. So, I challenge you to keep looking.  Keep searching.  Keep pulling and pushing.  Press on when it seems like the plastic jewel will never be unearthed.  That Lite Bright bulb might be within the next section, and your children are no doubt watching you to see what you might find.  But even more so, if you stick with the task when it gets gray and fuzzy and overwhelming, you will grow.

With this in mind, I have been clinging to a prayer I read in Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.  It was written by Sarum Primer in 1527.  Almost 500 years ago.  But his words ring true today.

“God be in my head

and in my understanding.

God be in my mouth

And in my speaking.

God be in my heart

And in my thinking.

God be at mine end

And my departing.”

 

May God be in our words, our hearts, our thoughts and our steps as we parent, encourage, model and push our children. Our words are being listened to.  Our heart and affect matters.  Our thoughts matter.  God is in each push and pull and moment of grit.

What Are You Going to Make at the Free Art Table?

Last Sunday our church kicked off the new Sunday School year. Public Schools began as well and the fall routines jump-started us all back to “reality.” Packing lunches. Afternoons of homework, reading logs and math facts. One day it’s ninety-five degrees and the kids are sweating like they were attending a Bikrum yoga class, not Third Grade. The next day, they are running around at soccer practice in the rain, mud caking their cleats and splattering on shin guards.

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It’s a liminal time and space, despite the new beginning of the school year. The weather has a foot in the torrid weeks of summer but simultaneously is pushing to shorter days, chilly mornings and leaves on fire with the colors of autumn.

My students and my own children seem to feel this same liminality. The in between. The middle. Even at the start of something new, we look back to what was. We remember the way our classrooms felt as the previous year ended. Relational bonds felt strong, routines and procedures were engrained, the rhythm was second-nature, teachers were more than a Mr. or Mrs.–they were like another parent.

Looking ahead each September, there is opportunity, possibility and newness. Perfection seems attainable and even plausible. We set goals, review and practice rules, get new backpacks and lunch boxes. But underneath it all, there is a sense of disequilibrium, unsureness. If we are honest, we have a foot in two places. It’s the in between and nothing feels quite “right”.

In my youngest son’s Pre-K class, I heard about something that gave me some grounding in the midst of the newness. At our Back-to-School night, his teacher shared about their Free Art table. A place of potential, opportunity and creativity, but without a lot of rules and perfected, teacher-driven projects.  The students won’t be forced to create a bat during Halloween week or a turkey made of their handprint. Rather, the Free Art table is a place to explore and innovate. There is a bulletin board to put their creations or they can take them home when they finish. There is freedom, options and few teacher-directed objectives other than creative expression.

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When we are in the liminal space or embarking on a new beginning we crave order, rules, boundaries and a perfect model of what we should make or how to act. But sometimes, the way to move into the newness, out of the in between, is through freedom. During the unscripted moments, we force ourselves and our kids to dig deep and grow, discover and even develop new community.

If we hold too tightly to the past it is impossible to embrace the “next thing.”  By it’s very nature, the in between times, the transitions, are fairly permeable. Malleable. Boundary-less.   Just think of what can be created in those times though…. our own little moments to envision something new at our “Free Art Table.”  Pick up the scissors, grab a googly eye or some glitter and get to work.

I walk by my former students in their new 4th grade classroom everyday and long to have them fill our desks again. To hear their reflections, read their words and watch them work through math problems. But then, the new faces of this year’s students grace our walls, their portraits smiling down under the banner “Class of 2025.”  So many moments to share lie ahead. There will be stories to tell, connections to be made.   We’ve already buried “I Can’t” and held its funeral. We wrote about our summers & set reading goals for the year ahead. We have high-fived and hand-shaked our way home each day and already shed tears and a lot of laughs together. And we are only nine days in….

I look at my own two boys and marvel at the ways they—along with kids in general—jump into newness, adapt and adjust to new classrooms and teachers, hoping I can try to do the same. Make my own creation at the Free Art table. Let go of the past a bit. Dream into the future knowing that the underlying grounding is a Creator that delights in seeing us embrace Freedom, wants us to get messy with extravagant Grace & explore the possibilities ahead. God is an innovator and yet stands with us in the in between too. May we seek to be the same for our children. Cheerleaders of their imperfect creations, celebrators of their new connection and generous dispensers of grace as they get messy and busy at the Free Art Table of growing up.

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Simply Tuesday

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It’s 1:40pm on a Wednesday. Early release day. It’s “hump” day and we have 1st Grade Buddy Reading. After lunch, it’s time for Read Aloud and then sending the kids out for P.E. Erasing the schedule off the white board, I slowly craft the Thursday plan in alternating colors in preparation for tomorrow. Unused papers and recycled from the day and pre-copied activities for the next day are carefully laid out, all with the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights off. The portable door is open and waves of students laughing, yelling & bouncing four square balls filter through. I sharpen a pencil, grab my lesson plan book and my water bottle, look frantically for my keys and then head out for our weekly Staff Meeting.

The agenda looms. Upcoming events to discuss. Union issues to be ironed out. Scheduling of assemblies, special events, loose ends to tie up before the upcoming field trip. Implications of the new standards to work through.   And my head?! Ready to burst. I had just walked out of my classroom, calm, remembering some of the day’s light bulb moments, or the struggles walked through together, the conversations had to work out playground issues. Basically our little Room 18 bubble was a lab. Not every “experiment” went flawlessly. Rarely were we able to “replicate” the exact same results. But it was still a living, breathing organism. I truly loved that space. It wasn’t big, especially by late spring with 30 sweaty, growing 4th grade bodies, but it was ours. A place of community—whether easy or hard. A place to learn and grow. A place of acceptance balanced with challenge.

Staff Meetings, though? Woowee, felt like a virtual earthquake for me almost every time. The realities of “the world out there” filled my head with worry. Was I doing enough for my students? How would we fit in all the standards? What methods would help me teach curriculum effectively and meaningfully to our new students struggling with learning English? And on and on.

My worries and concerns had nothing to do with those around me. Our staff was my family. Our administrator was the strongest ally and cheerleader. My grade level team consisted of some of my closest friends. It was more the magnitude of looking beyond the walls of my classroom—when I locked the portable door, leaving behind my little space, I often let the worries, concerns, to do’s of our school and beyond lead me into a downward spiral of stress & worry. Overwhelmed with the what-ifs and problems out of my control, I often lost sight of my role inside those classroom walls.

Reading Emily P. Freeman’s new book, Simply Tuesday, has taken me back to those Wednesday staff meetings. It has brought to light the gift and curse of my to do list mentality. I have had to sit with the truth that my desire for faster, more efficient, my need for productivity and bustle is already taking a toll on my relationships, and even more? On my soul.

Maybe you can relate? “The pull to comparison and competition, the feeling that the work I do is never quite enough…the pain of inefficiency, the addiction of ambition, the longing to build something important, and the disappointment that comes when the outcome looks different than I thought.” Throughout Emily’s book, she reminds that Tuesdays, the most ordinary day of the week, can be a model for how to live EVERY day of the week. The ordinary, the small moments we overlook or run past, can actually hold our true life work and purpose. Rather than living in a place of fear, longing, disappointment, pain and addiction, God is calling us to see His presence in the small, seemingly insignificant moments. To “see smallness is not a punishment but a gift.

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Looking back on my former classroom, I now realize that its smallness, the simple truth of sharing 180 school days with my students, can be seen as a blessing and not a source of angst. My inner need to construct, shape and fill each and every moment might be leading me to miss a connected life. Just yesterday, I was rushing to get our family out the door to church, overdue library books in hand, Redbox movie to be returned, comforting stuffed animals tucked into my purse all while lugging the food & supplies I needed to bring for the church BBQ. I was barking out orders to the boys to get their shoes on and grab their things, to turn off the tv and pick up the living room. My eldest looked at me and said, “Mom, I know we are running late and you are stressed, but yelling at us doesn’t help. It just stresses us out!”

My fast movements. My inner need for speed and hustle. My mental lists and expectations. These often smother the gift of connection. The lessons to be found in small moment, everyday, ordinary living are the ones I need to pay attention to.

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As Emily wrote, “People need our with-ness. They don’t need for us to impress them with how spiritual we are. They need to know they aren’t alone. People need us to embrace a relational smallness, accepting we are not the star, the counselor, the convincer, or the fixer. Instead, we are a companion, willing to keep company with the soul of another. We need not compete, we need only to connect.”

Whether it be in your job, your family life, your marriage, your friendships, your morning routine, or your conversations—I pray that Emily’s words will inspire you to connect instead of compete. To mark your days and time with with-ness. To be ok with small spheres of influence and simple agendas. “We were made for presence.” I know for me, as I start the school year in a few weeks, as I parent my boys and seek to strengthen my 11-year marriage, Simply Tuesday has been a much-needed reminder about what really matters.

“God can do anything, you know—

far more than you could every imagine or guess

or request in your wildest dreams.

He does it not by pushing us around

But by working within us,

His Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

Ephesians 3:20, The Message

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Pick up your copy of Simply Tuesday wherever books are sold in the US:  AmazonBarnes and NobleCBDDaySpring, or anywhere else you can find it.

Sign up here today for a free, four-video series where Emily will share practical ways to help you create space for your soul to breathe, even in the midst of your busy life.

Join us every Tuesday on Instagram and share a simple moment from your regular life. Hashtag it using #itssimplytuesday so we can see your moment and celebrate our smallness together.

Packing It In

IMG_3766A few weeks ago, we loaded up and hopped on a plane to the Bay Area. It had been two years, to the day, that we moved to Oregon from California, and our boys, now 4 and 8, had yet to return for a visit. Our eldest would be jetting off the following morning to Disneyland with Grandma and youngest would be occupied by Grandpa’s plans to keep his mind off of NOT being in Disneyland. Our bags were packed and our itinerary was full of coffee dates, early morning walks, restaurants to enjoy, parks to visit, the zoo to explore, a wonderful family wedding to attend and even a San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s game.

Fun to be had. People to see. Memories to be made. Adventures to be lived. And yet, I was filled with anxiety. Would the upended routines and schedules throw the boys off? Would we over-extend ourselves financially eating & touring our way through the Bay? Would the flights be on time? Would we encounter nasty traffic? Would the boys have sibling moments leading me to utter embarrassment? Would I pack enough snacks and the proper clothes? Question after question after question. Anxiety growing and magnifying before my eyes.

The funny thing is, 99% of my concerns and worries never came to fruition. And if they did, it wasn’t something we couldn’t handle. But like those bags smashed and packed into our little rental car, full of promise of the week ahead, I didn’t realize something was amiss. Looks can be deceiving.

After getting the boys settled in the car, the bags smashed in the backseat and our phones out and on to navigate to the in-laws, we heard a rap on the window and saw the guy from Budget waving us down. We’d gotten into the wrong car. We were CLOSE to the right car. Just a bit off. Luckily they caught us before we left. But all the same? We were in the wrong car.

In the anxiety and the tiredness I find these moments happen all too often. Either focusing so much on the details that the big picture gets lost. Or so overwhelmed by the situation that I forget to pay attention to the details. Maybe you, like me, have lost your sunglasses only to realize they were on your head all along? Or were so wrapped up in hosting a dinner party that you swapped sugar for salt in a recipe?

I do this over and over and never seem to learn. As a parent, I fail my own good intentions daily. After stepping on one too many LEGO, not being able to navigate through our playroom, I lost it the other day. And rather than driving off in the wrong car, my body took care of the situation instead, landing me straight on the couch for the next 24 hours having thrown out my back. Tension had been mounting and instead of taking a breather, talking to God, regaining my equilibrium? I got angry. And my body snapped and told me, “Anxiety and stress or not, you need to take a moment.”

The stars aligned and all the boys slept the next morning until 7:25am. Anyone who knows our sleep woes understands that this is truly a miracle. My back was seizing too badly to hobble out and get the paper so I managed to get over to the kitchen and shuffle back with a cup of coffee. I sat down with Shauna Niequist’s new devotional, Savor. I read and read, page after page. Backwards. I started in August and worked my way back to April. The words spoke to my heart, as did the quiet.

PFpic0807152Zephaniah 3:17 leapt off the page, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but rejoice over you with singing.” No more rebuke. Only singing and delight. My go-to is rebuke. In the classroom much of my day teaching involves discipline. I am constantly refereeing between my own two boys. I am putting myself down for failing to do everything on the to do list. And in this case, for having my back go out, rendering me slow and helpless. Those words spoke to my heart, though. God delights. God is with me. God saves me. Mightily. God loves. God rejoices, not just with words, but with singing.

The rebukes that I dole out or speak to my own heart can be covered with singing. Erased and replaced with delight. When my parenting is overtaken by lists and anxieties and fears, God speaks love. As I make mistake after mistake, and come close but am still not on target (hello, parking mishaps!), God still is with me. Not rebuking, but singing. Reminding me to slow down and breathe.

Packing it all in, trying to control every move of our kids and ourselves, only leads to failure. And luckily, in the case of our rental car mistake, some laughs at our own expense. May we choose the way of love, of UN-packing it all, not trying to fill our days with too many to do’s, rebukes or anxieties. And to see the place we are meant to be, which might just be in the parking space right next to where we’re standing.

{This post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families, published there earlier this month.  Feel free to hop over there too!….}