The Fringe Hours

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Sometimes self care seems extremely selfish.  Making time to invest in oneself feels frivolous.  Often it seems like more effort to push through the barriers and prioritize the things that give life than just sitting on the couch, lapping up reality tv.

Monday morning gave me an unexpected moment to practice this potentially selfish and frivolous thing.  I was shocked to see a clear sky, yellows, pinks, oranges pushing the blue of night away.  I grabbed my coffee and ran out to cozy up on the deck and take in the sunrise.  The birds were singing.  It was so restorative.  Simple.  Free.  Only 15 minutes.  And yet, such a rich, almost indulgent way to start the day.  Truly doing things from the soul allowing me to feel that true river of joy as Rumi coined.

As a Type A girl through and through, known for strong tendencies to overcommit and spread myself thin, I jumped at the chance last November to be part of Jessica Turner’s launch team for her upcoming book, The Fringe Hours.  This book explores the ways the “must dos” of life push out the activities and balance we need to take care of ourselves and our passions.   To see how life giving and life changing it can be to embrace the activities that we love, that allow for self-care.

Women, in general, tend to swing towards guilt and comparison rather than perspective and community and rest.  Success is measured in to-do lists completed and the impossible balanced effortlessly without breaking a sweat or swear word.  Living well can be a very gray area.  Is living well about achievement at all costs or about finding balance?  My calendar might be neatly scheduled but if my family is overwhelmed with to many commitments there is no true balance.

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Finding the “fringe hours”, as Jessica writes, requires first looking at the places in ourselves of deeply rooted beliefs.  What pressures do we put on ourselves?  Where do we operate out of guilt and comparison?  When we work on identifying how to prioritize caring for ourselves, we have to first figure out what that even MEANS.  As we approach almost eight years of interrupted sleep in our household, I sometimes find it hard to pinpoint what is life giving anymore.  Sometimes the zoned out mind, comfortably settled on the couch after the boys are in bed feels like the most life-giving outlet I can fathom.

And yet…there is more there under the surface.  For me, reading the Fringe Hours helped me re-tap into these areas of passion.  Photography.  Cooking.  Reading.  Making memory books for my family with photographs.  Traveling. Enjoying a hike or walk with a friend. Sometimes these pursuits feel too decadent, though, and Jessica’s book was a deep reminder to me of the ways these passions can be prioritized and pursued in the time we have.  Standing in line at the post office can be enriched when I have a book in my purse.  Keeping a few notecards in my bag allows for a moment in the waiting room to be used to get a thank you note written.  Keeping my phone memory free to take pictures when beauty crops up unexpectedly allows me to remember my love for framing the world around me.  Planning a fun, unusual meal once a week after reading the latest copy of Bon Appetit.  Sitting down with my eldest and reading together over a cup of tea each night.  He gets in his 20 minutes of required reading and I do too.  Sitting down at the dining room table to actually eat and digest my lunch over that day’s Suduko puzzle. Enjoying a podcast from a favorite author or blogger on my way to work in the morning.  These are the fringe moments that might have passed me by before, but for which I am now keeping alert for.

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My Dad just sent me this picture to remind me that my love for photography started young…perfect timing.

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The Fringe Hours isn’t a book to allow maximum time efficiency and thus a perfect, productive life.  Jessica Turner’s goal is to help us see what passions truly make us tick as individuals.  To overcome the fears resulting in comparison and guilt and pursue taking care of ourselves.  The heart of her message is “finding underused pockets of time in [our] schedule and utilizing them for [ourselves].”  To say no to some things.  To prioritize other pursuits to allow for fuller, richer days.

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The chapter on “Finding Rest”, the spiritual practice of Sabbath, was the most meaningful for me.  Jessica reminded that if we don’t take time to be still and rest, that we will eventually suffer.  That in “relentless busyness….we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.”  (Wayne Muller)

She quotes Muller again, “Without rest, we respond from a survival mode, where everything we meet assumes a terrifying prominence….Sabbath time may be anything that preserves a visceral experience of life-giving nourishment and rest….the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing or true.”

Finding the fringe hours isn’t easy, but it is vital for a balanced, rich life.  For me, even reading this book meant finding time to make it happen–during bath time!  (aka:  parallel play at its finest).

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I hope you will consider getting your own copy of Jessica’s book, The Fringe Hours.  I was provided with a free copy of her words in exchange for sharing my thoughts here.  But, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.  You will be asked to do hard inward work, but it is the topic that I find at the forefront of almost all of my conversations these days—how to not loose our truest sense of self in the midst of day-to-day life.  Sometimes we really need the reminder to stop trying to be everything for everyone and start investing in who and what really matters.

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The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You

Order where books are sold, including:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and DaySpring

Learn more and access resources at www.FringeHours.com

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Just Let ME Do It!!!

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“MOOOOMMMMM!!!! Just let ME do it….PLEASE!”

 

I gripped my hands together, white knuckles blazing, praying to God while rolling my eyes and sighing deeply. I asked for patience. For a power outage. For a change of heart on his part. For a miracle & automatic proficiency. Nothing. Crickets. Just slow moving of the mouse. Whispering under his breath. And…improperly sized fonts and photo placement.

 

A few weeks back, on a Sunday afternoon (the same day as the NFC Championship Game to be exact) my seven year old decided it was time to produce and direct the creation of this year’s valentines. If you watched or heard anything about that game, you know the last half of the fourth quarter was pretty insane. Being pulled away to set up photo shoots and guide LEGO placement was not my top priority. I am a fair weather sports fan, but seeing the Seahawks in the Super Bowl for another year is pretty exciting for this former Washington State native. And thus, I was a little bit distracted.

 

Each year, we create photo Valentines as they can be a bit more personal and individualized. I have had many parent acquaintances comment that seeing the actual face of their child’s classmate is also helpful with connecting names with identity. Sometimes we’ll doctor up a photo we already took earlier in the past year. For the past two years, however, my eldest has wanted to create a brand new photo narrative all his own.

 

After ruling out “regular LEGOS” (clearly, SO 2014…), he went with a LEGO Movie theme. We cruised Pinterest for snarky, creative sayings that were the perfect marriage of the LEGO Movie with Valentine’s Day. Next, he set about collecting his Mini Figures and building a backdrop, planning each scene of his storyboard, deciding which characters would go with each phrases/themes.

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This process sounds serene. Creative. Calm. But….no. It wasn’t. There was shrill yelling. Sighs and Groans. Frustration over uncooperative LEGOS. Annoyance when Wyld Style was nowhere to be found. I kept rushing back to the TV to rewind and see Russell Wilson’s latest intercepted pass or the insane progression that led to the Seahawks win in Overtime. “Mom…aren’t you going to come help me?!? Don’t you CARE?!?!?”

 

It is a delicate balance. Helping. Offering/forcing independence, knowing full well that moments later they will be demanding for US to be hands off, allowing them to “DO IT MYSELF.”

 

“PLEASE, HELP ME.”

 

“MOM! Don’t do it for me! I can DO IT!”

 

Verbal whiplash….over Valentines. Over LEGOS.

 

The holiday focused on demonstrating love and affection through sentimental words—peppered with yelling and cries for independence.

 

Ironic. Don’t you think?!

 

After getting all the shots we hoped for, the game had finally concluded and my blood pressure could lower itself a bit. We trooped upstairs to sit down with the photos and start editing and designing on Picasa. Realizing we needed word bubbles and new fonts, we started researching, with Mom at the helm.

 

Quickly, though, I realized I needed to move to the stool and let him take the reins. I am an elementary school teacher and after fourteen classes of students, you’d think I would apply my pedagogy to my own parenting. Growth, learning and progress are never made by doing the work for the students. My current job share partner has perfected and modeled the phrase for me, “The only way the work goes away is if you do the work.” It would seem so much easier to just do it for them—say the word they are painstakingly sounding out, tell them the answer to multiplication fact they can’t recall, help make their paragraph flow with some choice words or ideas. But we all know that that won’t lead to independence. Rather, it is a delicate balance of guidance, support, silence, and presence that will get us there in the end.

 

So I sat on my hands. I tried to use calm words as I directed him through the steps. And over an hour later, he’d finished. And we both survived, mostly unscathed, even if my face resembled Angry Unikitty behind his back.

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Are there spiritual implications for these moments with our children? The daily practice of letting them learn and grow in independence? The hourly opportunities to bite our tongues and let our kids even fail, knowing growth may be on the horizon? I can only imagine the uncountable moments that God doles out patience, supporting us as we slog through the unknown. Watching our decisions when we find ourselves in the frustrating moments when we can choose to grow or stay fixed in our mindset. I’m guessing God doesn’t sit on hands or roll eyes to cope, rather sees the potential in the rocky road ahead.

 

I am grateful for the promise of a companion as I navigate these parenting moments, failing at many turns. An “in person” partner in my spouse, but also another Presence too, the Holy Spirit. Our Comforter. Our Counselor. Our Helper. Our Advocate. Our Strengthener. One who intercedes for us when we don’t have words. (John 14:26)

 

The Holy Spirit shows us the way we should be walking in too…serving as an advocate for our children. A counselor and helper. A strengthener. Not always dishing out words, advice and “let Mommy just do it for you”….but standing with them, guiding, often as a silent presence.

 

This approach to my role as Mom feels impossible to me on most days as I use words, LOUD words, to “guide”, as I am forced to sit on my hands or take a break in my own room behind a locked door to keep myself in check. But as we seek to have this mindset, the mindset the Holy Spirit graciously takes with us, we will realize the reality that we aren’t sent out to do this work alone. We are given this same Comforter, Advocate, Strengthener and Counselor to help us and walk alongside us, even when our own words and actions scream, “Just let ME do it!”.

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

Daily “Yes” & A Winner

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What is your “Daily Yes”?  What are the things you say “yes” to each and every day?  Getting up?  Squeezing in a workout?  Coffee?  Work?  Mascara?  Toys from the dollar bins at Target?  Just {{ONE}} more volunteer commitment?  Sitting down with the paper?  Skipping breakfast?  Watching reality tv in the evening?  Putting off bedtime to accomplish one more task?

I am a constant list writer, finding paper lists as one of my daily yeses.  It may house basic mundane tasks, but somedays, without it written down, it just doesn’t get done.  Today’s list included 8 cards I need to finish up and mail.  But…I sat down to lunch first.  Made a hot cup of PG tips tea.  Read the morning paper and did the Suduko.  Put Drew in front of a DVD from the church library.

Lately, as with many new year’s in the recent past, there is a new influx of requests and commitments.  Classes to sign up for.  Events to add to the calendar and plan.  Getting back into the swing of school and work.  And the pressure to do it all.  The conundrum of the urgent vs. the important.

The holidays took a toll on my students and it is palpable.  Divorces are being finalized.  Terminal Illness worsens.  Transiency has lead to some eminent moves.  And as we reflected back on 2014 and are working to set goals for 2015, it has felt a little raw and painful in my classroom.  Change is hard.  Seeing ourselves for who we really are isn’t always full of sparkles and glitter and confetti.

I keep bumping my own head up against the wall of “shoulds”.  I SHOULD say yes to this-or-that commitment.  I SHOULD wash and put away the dishes vs. sitting down and reading the paper.  I SHOULD be planning weeks in advance for school and writing detailed lesson goals.  I SHOULD be doing something…..ANYTHING…but sitting and watching tv.  SHOULD.  SHOULD.  SHOULD.

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But this week, I sunk into my book that was coming due at the library and found I have a lot more time in my schedule for reading than I seem to think.  My eldest needs to read each day for homework and we have settled into a rhythm of doing that together, side-by-side on the couch while youngest fights bedtime elsewhere.

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Last weekend, on our anniversary, nonetheless, we decided to embrace the crazy plan of heading to Portland to the Oregon Zoo for Zoo Lights on Saturday, our 11th anniversary.  We had plans in Bend but those were cancelled due to illness. Then booked dinner for a fancy place in Albany. We cancelled those in order to take advantage of the last weekend of Zoo Lights. Drove all the way to Portland and “marked time” at Powell’s Books and had a fun dinner at Tilt. New book purchases made our dining a bit more calm and manageable as the kids were occupied. And then the fated drive over to the zoo. Evidently all of Portland had the same idea. Scratch that, all of Oregon. Finally after 45 minutes of stop and go, parking lot mayhem, we decided just to get out of dodge and go home. I was fuming inside. Feeling angry with myself for not knowing what would unfold there ahead of time. For not planning better. Drove home in silence while the kids watched Lion King for the millionth time. About 10 min from home our eldest piped up that it was so much better to be almost home vs almost into zoo lights at 7pm.

I laughed at the resiliency of kids knowing standing in long lines is not their strong suit. That being home was much better. Got the kids to bed and watched a riveting episode of Railroad Alaska (slightly snarky tone) and went to bed exhausted at 9:15. And that was anniversary #11. But this quote from DREW’s book tied it all up in my mind. So so true….”adventure is best enjoyed together.” I am sure we will look back in this and laugh at the “11th Anniversary Adventure.” 

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Sometimes the SHOULDS (Zoo Lights) really are too much.  The SHOULDS should be left alone.

The book I’m currently reading (pictured at the top), The Best Yes, focuses not just on saying “yes” or “no”, but thinking about the BEST “yes”.  And really, most of the time, the best yes involves people.  Saying yes to what puts people first, not commitments and events and shoulds.

Luckily the night after the Portland debacle, we still had a wonderful, kid-free night out for dinner.  And saying no to dishes, laundry, the to-do list for a few minutes has been allowing me to recharge.  I am not sure if it’s the foggy layer that has socked in the Willamette Valley this week, but for me?  I am feeling this same need to focus in and stay put and present.  My best yes has been staying more in the moment at hand and not allowing guilt to take over.

Today this mentality allowed me to watch one of my lowest readers light up when he realized he could read an Elephant and Piggie book by the amazing Mo Willems.  As a 3rd grader, reading 10 words per minute, it can be a very painful reality to have so much text thrown at you and feel unable to understand it.  But he GOT Elephant and Piggie and was breakdancing (literally) after reading it cover to cover with expression.

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So today’s yes is pushing me to let the moments at hand take precedence.  To take in the red and yellow ninjas, read that extra chapter, struggle through the suduko, play a few extra minutes at the park and let the “shoulds” go.

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Back on the 30th, I posted a little giveaway for a copy of Kathi Lipp’s new book, Clutter Free.  And the winner has been chosen via “True Random Number Generator”.  Whitney Hillestad?  Your book will be on it’s way soon…and in the meantime, PURGE PURGE PURGE!

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Promises

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Last week my youngest son did the unthinkable. Well…maybe “unthinkable” to the mind of a 40 year old. But, it was “artistic expression” to a three year old. After taking a quick trip to the bathroom, I came out to our living room. And it was way too quiet. My expected fears led me to look at our new couch in apprehension.

Sure enough as I squinted and looked more closely, a fine yet very distinguishable brown line came into view. It wove its way up the back of the couch. It meandered along the top of the L-shaped sectional. The brown line ran down the arm rest and came to rest in a dark back-and-forth pattern along the front leg. Our brand new couch. Our not even 1 month old NEW couch. The lava volcano inside me came to life and words unrepeatable here started coming out of my mouth in rapid succession. Two choice words over and over. In a very tidy A-B-A-B-A-B pattern. Maybe 50 times.

After picking up the culprit and putting him safely out of my reach in a very long time out, I went to take a closer look. My eldest found the pen and of course it was one of the recent 99 cent “Back-to-School” deals I’d scored at Target. And thus, the marker didn’t have the magic words “washable” stamped on the side.

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I promptly grabbed the phone and called my father-in-law. He truly is THE stain master with uncanny abilities to help deal with the impossible. After a few minutes of heated words from me, I started calming down enough to allow the smoke to stop pouring out of my ears. We chatted about orphanages being part of the official “couch warranty” program and then I hung up.

I was greeted at the door by my 7 year old, holding a wet paper towel, having attempted to start removing the marker. This same eldest son also held up a contract for me. In neatly written, mistakenly spelled letters, he wrote, “I, Mommy, promise NEVER to use naughty words again!”, with a line and place to put my signature, along with the date.

We are working a LOT on expected vs. unexpected behaviors in our household lately, and yet I don’t think I was prepared to have it thrown back in my own face. My kids are the ones with UNEXPECTED behaviors for their ages. And c’mon??!?! HE WROTE ON THE COUCH WITH MARKER!!!! But unmoved, my eldest stood there with a clipboard, pen and the promise for me to agree to.

Was my mouthful of patterned expletives called for? Was it “expected” behavior for a 40 year old mom? And even if it might have been “expected” in such a situation, was it fair for my eldest son to call me on it?!

Either way I answered those questions, I knew one thing. I couldn’t sign that form. My best intention is that I will hold my anger and express my frustration appropriately. But signing in permanent pen, promising to never again swear or use naughty words, felt like a conundrum.

While I HOPE I won’t react quite so severely again, I know I’m human. I have seen myself break promise after promise, despite best laid plans, and felt the reminder that a human-made-promise seems almost MADE to be broken.

We promise to love, honor and cherish another in marriage, uttering those words for many to see and witness. We promise to take care of our children, to feed and clothe them, and to surround them with love. We promise to show up on time and do our jobs to the best of our abilities when we sign a contract. But it seems like a futile act, when we KNOW we are bound to mess it all up. Over and over. Time and time again.

How do we help our children and even ourselves, understand the infallible nature of God’s promises when they see the exact opposite from those they love and trust? God promised to never wipe out creation again after the flood. God promised God’s very presence to be with us through the Holy Spirit. God promises a never-ending, always and forever love to surround us.

As I attempt to hold these two realities in tandem for my boys it feels impossible to reconcile it all. As a human, as a mom, as a teacher, I break promises over and over. How do we help those in our care understand our best intentions, our false starts, our missteps, our “re-dos” are part of our own sanctification? How do we remind them that unlike us, we are held by a God who doesn’t need a re-do. A God who doesn’t neglect to follow through or keep a promise?

For me, it comes down to conversation. Open, true, honest, often hard conversation. Sharing space and words together. Talking through mistakes. Admitting the places we failed and fell short. Predicting the times we will, no doubt, mess up in the future. These connecting points give important “lines in the sand” for us to come back to. Moments to reconnect and remember our best intentions. Our goals. And the importance of reconciliation after mistakes.

While I might have chosen not to sign that specific contract my oldest son drafted, I have promised a few things. One, I will do my best to deal with my anger in a less foul way. Secondly, that we will keep circling the wagons. Gathering. Talking. Sharing. Restarting. Trying it again….in hopes we too can keep the promises that really matter. And turn to the God who loves us so deeply when we fail. And finally? Only washable markers will now be available for the kids.

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

So Far…

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Like many of you, no doubt, summer feels like a hot bed of opportunity.  Sometimes fall feels that way too.  School starting.  New clothes.  New backpacks.  New school supplies.  Or Winter?  It’s the new year.  Resolutions are made.  We can begin a new chapter.  Spring?  Everything comes back to life after hibernating.  Flowers pop through the ground.  In the classroom, it is non-failingly the time when everyone seems to kick into gear and really grow in their learning, cemented as a community.

But summer?  I have visions of relaxing in a hammock.  Roasting marshmallows.  Taking hikes.  Reading books.  Taking family trips and adventures.  Rejuvenating.

And while many of those things HAVE happened, it has also felt quite different this year.  Almost like holding onto a strong, metal support for dear life as a hurricane raged around me.  There have been many teacher trainings and days devoted to my new job come September.  Camps and preschool for the boys.  Two trips for us as a family.  Lots of visiting friends and family.  It has all been {{{good}}}, but that island living, relaxed and mellow vibe I envision each June?!  Not so much.

There have been some hard “Come to Jesus” moments lately as expectation has met reality head on—-with reality taking the cake.  Gulping down what I envisioned my life to look like, and realizing that things are actually different.  Mostly in the area of parenting.  For years, as a teacher, I have lived in judgement of parents, students and circumstances only to find myself becoming THAT parent, in charge of THAT kid. Humility can be a hard pill to swallow.

When I think of the summer of 2010, I remember last weeks in our job at summer camp.  I was waddling around 8 months pregnant, waiting on the baby to come and a move to be made a few months later.  In 2013 we were packing, saying goodbyes, road-tripping north and starting a new adventure.  In 2003 I was newly engaged, enjoying 3 weeks in Europe, planning a wedding, on cloud 9.  Summers all have different memories attached.  And this one?  Well, some days I want to reframe it.  Rename it.  Recreate it into something a little more perfect.  In reality, it has been a tougher nut to crack.  I wish I could say I was entering a new school year, relaxed as if from a spa treatment, ready for whatever lies ahead.  Nope.  It’s more of a “hanging on for dear life”, diving into the next adventure.

One thing that remains, however, is my choice on how to look at the days and weeks to come.  I will be in a new school district come September.  Even though the needs of our students—on paper—are daunting, I see so much commitment, joy and determination in the companions that share classrooms around me.  There is a strong belief that every child can be educated, but more than that….inspired.  I can, and DO, look at my soon-to-be students’ reading scores, and get nervous, filled with fear that I won’t be able to help them grow and learn.  But, truly?  It comes down to what, in my core, I believe to be possible.  A paradigm shift to be had in my heart.  Some days this summer, my heart has felt rather hopeless or on an unpredictable, out-of-control roller coaster.  I am guessing that it comes down to re-framing things, not with Pollyanna, unrealistic memory-recreating.  Rather, with an open heart, accepting the days behind and ahead, believing that growth and inspiration waits to be found.  And when I look back at the pictures and images below, I see the inspiration that can be found, the growth & adventures  that were had and find myself grateful for the summer of 2014.

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We watched the Ted Talk video found below at my teacher training today and it really says it all…the Myth of Average by Todd Rose.  Challenging.  Inspiring.  Paradigm Shifter for sure.  Worth each of the 18 minutes to watch.  And be sure to read Shauna Niequist’s latest post about her own paradigm shift (click here).  As she says:

I want to shift the math. I want to be deeply, wholly responsible for myself, my little family, my very close tribe. And I want to stop being, in the words of my favorite writer Anne Lamott, “the flight attendant for the planet.” I want to be entirely less responsible for a whole bunch of people and expectations and roles, and way more deeply, richly connected to a tiny circle of people who really do need me, in appropriate ways.

Roughing It

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With barely a square inch to breathe or move, we pulled out of our driveway for a week of camping on the Oregon Coast.  Ever the planner, I had lists in hand.  Lists for packing.  Lists of “must see and do” activities and eateries.  Lists of campsite details and driving directions.  Lists of menus.  The kids were buckled into the car almost a half an hour before we actually departed, ready to go.  Or maybe just ready to view the long-awaited “movie in the car”, Star Wars?  For me, I knew that once we were on the road, I could exhale.  We would be off on the adventure!  Memories were about to be made.  We would bond while “roughing it”.

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But were we really “roughing it”?!?  French Press, extra-long, extendable marshmallow roasting sticks, wine, Ipads,  Legos and  down comforter were packed.  Or so we thought.  We had everything we needed to experience God’s beautiful creation—-in comfort.   And yet despite the thorough lists, and even double checking each item two times, we still forgot bedding for my husband and myself.  I say “we”, but really, it was me.  I somehow missed a crucial item.  When it hits the mid-50s at night and you are in a tent, blankets or sleeping bags are not really negotiable.  Was God trying to help me really “rough it”?  To test my worth and see what I was made of?

The non-negotiable elements of our faith journey can become lists used to plan out our daily lives.  Sunday?  Head to church.  6:00am?  Time to be up having a quiet reflective time.  Panhandler asking for spare change?  Empty your purse, smile, be on your way.  But are the non-negotiable elements of faith we so desperately want to impart to our children or be seen to possess in our own lives, truly LISTS?  I wonder if we begin to see each aspect as something to attain.  To get.  To pack.  To check off.  To do.  To possess….when God is raising the “red flag” on the sidelines trying to get a word in edgewise.  “Hey, Guys?!?  Over here!!  Did you forget?  What you need is already within you.  Don’t add it to your shopping list, just pay attention.”

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Like our own children, prematurely buckled into the car, antsy to GET ON WITH IT.  Like myself, smug with Type A satisfaction that I had made my list and checked it twice.  Like so many of us, toting around our figured out understandings about who God is and how God works…we often need a reminder that knowing and pursuing God and modeling that journey to our children is different than we anticipated.  It isn’t something to figure out or even plan for.  God’s Spirit doesn’t follow our rules,  plans or agendas.

To follow after God requires a paradigm shift.  Letting go of the lists.  Releasing expectations.  “Roughing it” by removing our perceived comforts and necessary must haves, seeing what God has already placed within us.  God’s love.  God’s joy.  God’s peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness. Gentleness and Self-Control.  The fruit of God’s very Spirit that is part of our selves from the moment we are created.  Rather than packing all of these qualities, demanding them of our children, trying to rough it on our own, it is a call to listen, pay attention and make space.

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Our parish associate preached on gentleness last Sunday and she reminded that gentleness is really about creating room for others to share their story.  It was a light bulb moment for me, ever the “always on the go”, list-maker, doer, God was trying to speak to my heart.  A reminder that making space for others, unlike our jam-packed car , allows for growth, breathing room and the chance to exhale.  Our children deserve this too.  How often do my boys feel like they are just part of my list of things pack?  To finish?  Rather than creating space for their story, to enter into their narrative and listen.  Often that feels rough.  And difficult.  And unnecessary.  But, lucky for us, God has already placed what essentials we need in us.  May we do the hard work to tap into these “fruits” instead of focusing on all we think we need to pack for the journey.  To realize that “roughing it” might look quite different than we planned and change us in ways we weren’t expecting.

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

Life is Your Art

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Last December I found myself sitting at the table with an interview team, sharing my thoughts about Literacy and reading with 2nd graders.  I was applying for a position which would change many things in our family’s life and also put me out of my comfort zone a bit.  Like so many times previously, I was feeling nervous.  If I got the job, how would I balance parenting and working?  Making lunches and grocery shopping with lesson planning and grading?  Having enough space in my heart and energy to meet the needs of my own children in addition to the 29 kids in the class?

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During our interview, a display of bar graphs were referenced—a visual representation of how the students were doing in the area of reading and literacy.  We talked about what methods and plans I would draw upon for meeting their individual needs and helping to move the students towards progress and growth.

This type of discussion is nothing new in the field of education, but I do get nostalgic for the days gone by… when teaching felt more like an art and less like science.  Instead of being calm and calculated, some days I just seize up in fear.  I see bars of green, blue, yellow and red.  Everything blurs and I think to myself, “Why even try?  Why would YOU know what to do?!   The world of education is spinning at a speed too fast for you….no point trying to keep up…

The lists of standards and expectations feel impossible to reach and I find myself comparing myself with others, feeling inadequate to even step up to the plate, let alone swing the bat or make a dash for home plate.

As a parent, I find these same types of questions tumble around in my brain.  Judgments.  Fears.  The desire to be perfect.  I look at the green, blue, yellow and red bar graphs for my own self.  For my kids.  For my marriage.  For our finances.  For my parenting.  The red bars are flashing “URGENT INTERVENTION” and it seems impossible to “move to the next column”.  As we argue about cleaning up toys, I feel fear rising, “What does this mean for the teenage years?!?!  He can’t even pick up his puzzles and LEGOS?!?!  He’ll never get a job.”  Or as the voices raise and arguments swell, fear pushes up to the surface, “How will we ever survive age 16 someday??  I know he’ll just slam the door in my face and shut down, not communicating with his ‘annoying’ parents.

URGENT.  URGENT.  URGENT intervention.  Red.

ON WATCH.  Blue.

Fears turn to bright and bold bars on a graph.

And yet… despite the benchmarks, even in the midst of the expectations we all place on ourselves, fears aside, there is the gentle reminder that something more lies out there as we parent.

It bubbled up on Tuesday after Memorial Day for me.  As we prepared to move into our last literacy unit, focusing on Caldecott winners, my mind was spinning on the gifts of the artists of our world.  I found a little wisdom from Mr. Ansel Adams, renowned photographer.  He wisely reflected, “Life is your art.

LIFE is your ART.”

Art is meant to be appreciated.  Fearless.  Creative.  Evocative.  Unique.  Expressive.  Reflective.

And as the moments of fear fight for our loyalty and attention, as pressures to perform perfectly hold fast, we are called to something bigger.  To live our lives as art.  Our parenting as art.  Our conversations lived as art.  Our work and professional life unfolding as art.  Our friendships, a vehicle for our art.  Each and every aspect is an opportunity to live our lives as art, not as a revelation of fear.
Little did I truly comprehend last December, though, that these three women who were interviewing me that day weren’t asking the questions in an attempt to make me feel inadequate or filled with fear.  Their deeper goal was to find a person to fill the position who would have these areas at the forefront of their teaching and planning, while seeking to provide an environment of love, challenge and support for students.  And going it alone?!?  No way, no how.  The last five months have been filled with more support for myself as an educator than I could have ever predicted.  Colleagues that provide inspiration as they let their art unfold, becoming friends and confidants in the process.

God promises us the same.  God says,   “I will make a pool of water…springs of water….fountains, rivers….”  God hems us in, already waiting on the canvas before we start to paint.  God is hovering over the artwork, after the piece has been signed and the last brushstroke completed. God gives us companions, not critics, to help us along the way.  God reminds us that we can turn to one another and encourage.  To say to our own students, children, spouses, “It is good.”  To exhort, “Take courage!”

Rather than live in fear, to be limited, may we be freed to see our life as art.  An offering in the small mundane, everyday moments to change the wilderness and dry land to new life and refreshment.

 

I, the Lord, am first,
   and will be with the last. 
5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid,
   the ends of the earth tremble;
   they have drawn near and come. 
6 Each one helps the other,
   saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’ 
7 The artisan encourages the goldsmith,
   and the one who smoothes with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’;
   and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

13  I, the Lord your God,
   hold your right hand;
it is I who says to you, ‘Do not fear,
   I will help you.’ 

When the poor and needy seek water,
   and there is none,
   and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
   I the God of Israel will not forsake them. 
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
   and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
   and the dry land springs of water. 

~Isaiah 41: 4-7,13,17-18

 

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

 

 

Found

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Yesterday was the first day of spring.  I can almost hear the angels singing and the weary, storm-ravaged parents rejoicing.  It has been a long winter for many.  Snow storms on top of snow storms.   Flooding.  Or conversely, drought in some areas.   When the calendar rolls over to March, the inherent hope of spring makes all things seem a bit lighter.

After moving this past summer, we have endured our first “hard” winter and now that the sun is beginning to peek out again, we are walking to and from school.  This daily walk has been a true gift.  Flowers and blossoms are bursting forth and it feels like the world is waking up.  Almost like the Artist, our Creator, came out of a gray, winter slump, bought a new set of paints and set to work.

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There is value in the gray.  Growth comes from the times of hibernation and long, dark nights.  But the colors, sounds and opportunity of spring seems to push us towards new life and hope.  My friend, Micha Boyett, known as Mama Monk in the blogging world, has a book coming out in a week called Found:  A  Story of Questions, Grace and Everyday Prayer.  Micha shares about her journey during the second and third years of her oldest son’s life.  After “losing” her Spirit life during her son’s first year, the book chronicles her journey to find meaning and connection with God in new ways.  Micha openly talks about these darker days, filled with the chaos and unpredictability of parenting.  The moments we often feel lost.  Lost dreams.  Lost vision.  Lost direction.  Lost hope.  And the opportunity God gives us to be “found” again, even in the midst of parenting and life changing before our eyes.

She shares, “…In the same way you can’t understand spring without the winter suffering, the warm thaw of Easter cannot be celebrated without first sinking into the cold, dark murk of Good Friday.  That’s why I need liturgy in my life.  That’s why I need a church calendar to guide me….

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As parents seeking to explore these same realities with our children, how do we help them engage in the realities of Easter, of seasons of darkness & light, with authenticity and hope?  The light, joy and promise of Palm Sunday, the fear of Maundy Thursday, the darkness of Good Friday and the new life found just three days later on Easter.  How can this mystery be explained, when we ourselves struggle with the dichotomies and truths of one week in the life of Christ?

I was surprised this week that walking to and from school with my boys helped me answer this question in an unexpected way.  Is there such thing as a spiritual practice of the daily walk to school?  The conversations to be had?  The observations to be made?  The quiet and the rushed steps?  They ALL work towards seeing God moving and changing, building and growing, being present in our daily, mundane lives….as liturgy of the natural world.  The bright, vibrancy of the daffodils,  tulips and hyacinths from the dormant ground seem like a message to us each day, traipsing down our street….God saying, “Hey!  I make all things new!  Out of that snow covered, icy ground….there is new life brewing.  The gray skies won’t stay forever and behind the clouds?!  There is always blue.

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My boys and I didn’t have these “revelations” or hear God in the formality of the church sanctuary or in the confines of a Sunday School classroom (although they happen there too!).  But, it was found in the mundane, everyday moments of life, chaotic and unpredictable as they may be.  Walking home from school.  Playing on the playground.  Making pizza with fresh vegetables.  Doing homework.  Odd as it might sound, sometimes life, newness and hope breaks through in the most unpredictable of times.  In the most unexpected places and ways.  Spring reminding us that new life waits under the Earth.  Resurrection is happening.  Even in the dark, hopeless gray, color is below the surface or behind the clouds all along.

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Micha Boyett’s book, Found, officially releases on April 1st.  Worthy Publishing reflects that Found is a “story of discovering divine kindness and affection in the most mundane moments of life.  With brilliant and moving prose, Micha invites us on a journey to discover the richness in the everyday—and it changes everything.”  It is a thought-provoking and yet, practical book written with honesty.  Micha always makes me feel that I am not alone in my questions about faith and mothering and helps me think more deeply about the implications of  Benedictine spirituality for “the rest of us”.  If you want to read more of Micha’s writing (which you SHOULD!), hop on over to her blog which moved to a new location today, March 21st, at www.michaboyett.com.

{this post is part of regular posting at Practicing Families…you are welcome to hop over there and read there too!}

Notes from a Blue Bike

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Two months to the day from the last storm, we have Snowmageddon, the Reprise.  This was our view out the front window about 6 inches into a 12 hour, constant-flow snow storm yesterday.  We have a little reprieve this morning and then reports say it plans to start again in earnest this afternoon.

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A quick dusting at 5:45am became a steady dumping…..

and the boys were “striking”, begging their mean mom (notice the sign, “Mom’s Mine!”) to let them outside at 6:30am after school was cancelled.

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Finally let them out after breakfast and morning cartoons.

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….which lasted for all of 10 minutes when they barreled inside and stripped off all the layers.

Snow days are all about peace, calm, slowness and coziness, right?!??!

It became the perfect day to set aside my grading, lesson planning, schedule stressing and school concerns.

And pick up Tsh Oxenreider’s new book, Notes from a Blue Bike:  The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World.

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I have followed Tsh’s website The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) for a long time, often referring back to her wisdom or ideas here on the blog.

When she began to share about her current book project, now in finished form, Notes from a Blue Bike, the theme resonated with me before I read a word of the text.

Living intentionally in the midst of chaos.

Making intentional choices.

Leaving margin for doing nothing.

Making choices, even hard ones, to live the life we truly seek.

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Back in 2008, we made a very difficult decision to leave our current jobs, house and close proximity to family.  A smaller town beckoned and a job that promised (in our minds) a slower, more intentional framework for our lives.  It was a sweet season for our family.  Our first born was nine months old.  We had a chance to work together in ministry.  Our house was surrounded by Redwoods, we had a creek mere feet from our back deck and the ocean only 20 minutes away.  Within 1/2 an hour we had more wineries than you could ever visit in a life time.  It was a perfect recipe for a slower life.

But…..despite our remote location and ingredients for a calmer pace, it didn’t end up looking that different that our days in the Bay Area.  The pull to work hard while balancing life with a toddler and later, another baby, took its toll.  It wasn’t a BAD life, it was just busier than we had expected and more hectic than we imagined possible “out in the boondocks”.   As Tsh reminds in the opening pages,

Life is chaotic. But we can choose to live it differently. 

It doesn’t always feel like it, but we do have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions.

Notes from a Blue Bike hits on six main areas of intentional living—food, work, education, travel, entertainment, and revival, with an added appendix on finances and budgeting.  Her style is part travel memoir, with a heavy dose of inspiration and application.  Through her example, I found myself reflecting on our family, the choices we have made, the moves we have endured.

Just as yesterday’s “BIGGER THAN PREDICTED” snow storm halted plans and schedules, we can do the same.  Living intentionally and slowly in our fast-paced world doesn’t just happen.  It requires staying true to our selves and to choices our family has made even when other expectations and voices and internal pressures feel VERY hard to ignore.

In the food vignettes, Tsh emphasizes the importance of slow food, time around the table, menu planning, being intentional with what we buy and valuing the community & connection that can be formed over a meal.

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As I have recently re-entered the working world, her words about work and education rang so true.  As parents and educators, today’s push for each child to learn in the same type of fast-driven environment may not be best.  As adults, deep down, we want more freedom to learn, to be creative and grow.  She writes,

“We are hardwired to learn, and creativity is in our DNA; we’re made in the likeness of an ultimate Creator.”

So often, creativity, time and space to experiment and explore is squelched.  As a teacher, I have a lesson plan book with detailed, daily plans.  I have larger range goals for each subject area, tied to the core standards, to ensure the students are getting a well rounded education.  Despite so much controversy over Common Core Standards and the various “swings” we are taking on the education pedagogy pendulum, I find their intention to be sound.  Deep down, it is about depth of knowledge, critique, analyzing, explaining thinking and sharing learning.  Every theory and educational approach has its “issues”, but truly, if we are encouraging our students, children and ourselves to be lifelong, intentional learners, we are on the right track.  Tsh shared CS Lewis’ thoughts,

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”

My heart sung when I heard these words.  As my friend commented, it is about being proactive and not destructive.  To offer refreshment, challenge, tools for growth and learning.  As parents, we can provide a wide range of books, out in our living spaces, ready to be cracked open, read and enjoyed.  WE can read more too, modelling an inclination to learn.  Ironically, Tsh’s book was electronic for me as it was an advance reader copy, but typically, I am very intentional about reading paper style, from the library.  I want the boys to see me reading and know that I’m not engrossed in work email, texting with a friend or researching this or that.  Encouraging creativity can mean having toys out that lead to free, self-directed, unrestricted play—LEGOs, trains, art supplies, cars.  And even in the midst of a snow storm (gulp!), pushing the kids, and myself, to be outside, exploring, getting messy and having free time to explore.

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After too much time on the tv yesterday, we said “no” this morning.  Of course, the boys kissed our feet and thanked us profusely for setting this boundary for this {uh, no…..}.  After getting over the initial, painful hurdle, they have settled into playing and creating huge train villages and LEGO communities.  In Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh shared about the general malaise she noticed in her kids, the lack of productivity and propensity to snap at one another that began when they started their mornings out with tv.  It seems so much EASIER in the moment, but in the long run, it bites us in the rear.

Boredom is a new concept for many of us.  “Lack of stimulation and the accompanying feelings” are almost painful.  My eldest’s grandiose ideas and plans often leave me crying for a trip to the spa for some peace and quiet….  Fostering his creativity has dividends I even can’t imagine, though.  So, within reason, I am working to see his cardboard box creations, never-ending self-authored & illustrated books, hand-drawn game boards and Taj Mahal forts with a different eye.  Intentionally seeing this creativity as learning blocks for who he is becoming.

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As the snow continues to blanket our little neck of the woods, I have turned to dreams of travel and sun to cope.  Tsh’s chapters on travel inspired me to step out into the fears of the unknown and plan some adventure.  To “love the world and drink it in deeply.”  To remember that road trips {despite hours in a small vehicle with young, cranky children} can lead to memories formed and family bonds strengthened.  As we plan for summer ourselves, I am trying to hold true to the stage our family is in.  To lower expectations a bit, think about places that allow for space to explore and room to breathe vs. a fast paced, jam-packed schedule.

Tsh has written a book that leaves me excited to make some tough choices and decisions.  It is not “simple” to make these changes.  It is “easy”.  But it is “good”.

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I would love to hear how you are choosing to live with intention.  What is one change that you are making or would like to impliment?  Leave a comment below, and head to http://notesfromabluebike.com/ to find Tsh’s book.

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Notes From a Blue Bike is written by Tsh Oxenreider, founder and main voice of The Art of Simple. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we DO have the freedom to creatively change the everyday little things in our lives so that our path better aligns with our values and passions. Grab your copy here.