The Fringe Hours

17 02 2015

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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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Roughing It

8 08 2014

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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!….}





Margin

4 03 2014

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I had a lightbulb moment on Sunday morning.  And it happened over green eggs.  {do those gross you out as much as me?!?!?}  Year after year, March rolls closer, the promise of spring, and the celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  I love honoring the role Dr. Seuss has played in the world of beginning reading, creating story after story that inspires kids to get their nose in a book.

Each year, we celebrate with green eggs and ham, a “ceremonial” reading of a few Dr. Seuss books, maybe a Thing One/Thing Two t-shirt donning, and catching an episode of Cat in the Hat on PBS Kids.  On Sunday, Alex, my oldest got out the eggs.  He found the green food coloring, pulled out the fry pan and located the whisk.  I had forgotten that Sunday was Dr. Seuss’ actual birthday {maybe due to our boys’ unGODly wake-up hour?!?}, but Alex didn’t forget.  And he got right to work on making breakfast.  He cracked eggs, added food coloring (bleck!!!) and later read Green Eggs and Ham to his little brother.

And the lightbulb was this….after six years of doing this FOR Alex, he took the bull by the horn, and he created our Dr. Seuss breakfast for US.  I didn’t ingest any of these eggs.  The green just about does in my weak stomach.  But the intention of his actions made me sit up and take notice.

How long does our modelling and setting the scene, over and over, for our kids take effect?  And how quickly can we mess things up by teaching one thing and LIVING another??  I think about these questions almost daily when I enter the classroom.  Teaching the same skills day after day and wondering if the lightbulb will ever go on and better yet, STAY on.  Then one day you do a double take and see the student independently doing that very thing you practiced daily.

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How many days does it take to form a habit?  100?  21?  Is the key repetition?  Resiliency?  Stick-to-it-tive-ness?  A safe environment when kids feel safe and supported?  My dear class of students have weathered a lot of transition.  A painful amount of transition.  Last week included the resignation of one teacher and this week, a new team starts to build the foundation again.  Modelling.  Trying again when we don’t do it right.  Practicing.  Lots of loving reinforcement.  OVER and OVER.  And OVER again.

And through all these ups and downs…through all the mistakes and all the “do-overs”….each and every failing, I am grateful for the gift of grace.  Easter is at the crux of it all; the grace welling up in a Resurrection that changes everything.  A rebirth.  A new day.  A new reality.  A reminder that power is not found in top down management and fear, but in release.

However.  Something must come first.  A discipline of sorts.  This beautiful precursor found in the season of Lent.  A discipline of seeing our need.  Practicing letting go; practicing taking on.  It is happening in my classroom.  It is showing up at home.  If I slow down, allow enough margin to look, it’s there.  The habits and practices are deepening, allowing for change and resurrection, slowly but surely.  My friend Micha wrote of this Lenten phenomenon today on her blog–

Wherever you are in this, whatever your story, Lent is an invitation: to recognize the purple in us, those deep bruises, those reckless wounds we’ve received and handed out. Lent is the season for remembering how much we need Mystery: Christ on the cross, our sin exploding out across space and time and evaporating into the cosmos, collected by the One Who Collects Us.  We are invited to let Lent clean the wound so Easter can bring the healing.

We need mystery.  We need margin.  We need practice.  We need vulnerability.  We need to deep clean.  Lent is this season.  The season in which we are called to work.  To dig deep.  To keep at it, knowing that maybe one day, this healing, these habits, these changes become “second nature”.

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As we move into Lent tomorrow, I am excited to put a few practical ideas into our routine.  I love Nadia Bolz Weber‘s ideas for the 40 days preceding Lent (found here), goals that are even doable with kids.  For instance…

Day 1: Pray for your enemies

Day 2: Walk, carpool, bike or bus it.

Day 3: Don’t turn on the car radio

Day 4: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing

(Sunday)

Day 5: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon

Day 6: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before

My friend Mel Larson, from the Larson Lingo, also guest blogged last February about her 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge.  The idea is that during the 40 days of Lent, you rid your house of 40 bags of “stuff”.This “stuff” can be things you don’t use… junk, clothes you don’t need/wear, clutter, old toys, etc.  I love the practicality of this challenge and the freedom and “resurrection” that can happen when we free ourselves of the weight of “stuff”.

I know I will fail at doing either of these practices completely.  Or perfectly.  But, habit forming takes work.  This season of Lent can be an invitation to practicing.  Putting in the day-to-day work….leading up to that resurrection and new day.  The moment when it all of a sudden becomes clear that we are indeed growing, changing and maybe even cementing some new habits.





Notes from a Blue Bike

7 02 2014

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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.





Practicing Presence

8 01 2014

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Back in October or November, I started feeling the presence of Advent and its weight on the calendar despite the fall leaves hanging on trees and handprint turkeys coming home from school. Even though Halloween costumes were still the priority and meal planning for Thanksgiving was first and foremost, Advent was on my mind. What would it look like this year? Which daily activities would work best? Which version of the Jesse Tree should we try this year? Should I buy two of every activity knowing my youngest, now three, could participate?

So, I planned. I scheduled. I researched. I blogged about it. And December 1st hit, the perfect beginning to a new month, to Advent and the march towards Christmas. We had the promise of family and friends coming through town. Crafts to do. Menus to plan and food to buy. Church services to attend. Presents to buy and wrap. The to-do lists were full but ready for the roller coaster until December 25th.

Then December 6th came. A storm was predicted. It was on the “agenda”. It was planned and maybe even expected. We enjoyed a wonderful day on the 5th visiting a winery and the Willamette Valley with a visiting friend. Little did we really know what was around the corner. When we moved to Oregon in July, we, as “newbies”, were told we might get a day or two of snow, but nothing serious. Well, indeed it was only one day of snow. But the difference? For six days FOLLOWING the snow storm, school would be cancelled. Church would be cancelled. Christmas parties cancelled. Life pretty much ground to a halt. All the party food I had purchased at Costco? It became our daily meals—brie, crackers, mini quiches, sliced meats, cheese platters. No lunches to pack or homework to finish up. Just sledding. Movie watching. Hot chocolate drinking. And…..MULTIPLE Advent activities unfolded. Cookie baking. Cookie decorating. Gingerbread men. Gingerbread houses. Santa’s Village Shrinky Dinks. Snowflake cutting. Friends slid over too, if they had specially equipped vehicles.

Life changed during that week of being housebound. We fell into a rhythm. We settled into our little cocoon and slowed down. It felt like the Advent we were supposed to have. Not weeks of rushing from one activity to the next, glossing over the people and relationships that matter most. Not worrying about the pressures to do everything with a perfect veneer. Balanced, planned meals were let go for finding sustenance in what we randomly had in the pantry. We spent a lot of time together as a family unit. That was the only option and oddly enough, many of the sibling struggles dissipated. We weren’t rushing from prescribed activity to the overwhelming commitments. We were together in our imperfection, just present.

Two years ago, Shauna Niequist shared a wonderful post a week prior to Christmas. It was a wake-up call for me—a reminder that presence is much more important than perfection. It encapsulated the pull we all feel to do it all, at the expense of experiencing anything in a meaningful way. I had picked up some new chalkboard markers the day before the storm hit and took some time to transcribe Shauna’s words to the wall in our kitchen.

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I wish I could have remembered the truth of these words back in October and November when pushing to plan and be manic over the holiday to-dos. Maybe it took an insane snow storm to force God’s still small voice into my rushing and self-induced pressure? But now, as I begin a new season, re-entering the education field working as part time 2nd grade teacher, I am trying to learn from my December snow school. The storm that God used to teach me some much needed lessons. Lessons of meaning, presence, quality, relationship and people over perfection, quantity, rushing, pressure or mania. As much as I may plan for my own kids to be cared for, brought to school, for lessons to be taught to my students….life happens. God lives and breathes and moves in us. It can’t always be mapped out and planned. It can be unpredictable and yet, rich. Flexibility leading to trust and faith.

(Please click here to read the rest of this post at Practicing Families…)





Is Advent Just Smoke & Mirrors?

15 11 2013

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When I find my blood pumping, heart racing & anxiety creeping in, I usually know I need to check myself.  I have calendars spread out, a rainbow assortment of Sharpie pens at the ready, books and resources dog-eared and post-it noted & notebooks of lists lined up.  Next, I usually panic and send out a few emails to trusting, wise folks looking for the answer to squelch my nervous fears.  My need to perform, be a perfectionist with polish gets the upper hand in my subconscious.  Reason is shoved out the window.

If we step back in these moments (I am saying “we” here in hopes that I am not alone!), get some perspective and take things down to the bare bones , something lies forgotten.  There was a point, one of good intentions and God-discerned truth, where we once placed our feet in the starting blocks, ready to run the race.  Clear on our intentions, goals and having trained, we were ready to pace ourselves and finish strong & focused.

I fear, though, that something has been lost along the way.  The anxiety is a sign to me as the little planner that resides in my head starts salivating at the plan making and expectation setting.  One part feels anticipatory and the other experiences dread before I have even begun.

The season of Advent, one of waiting, expectation & preparation, is also one of darkness, unknowns and fear.  We are waiting in the “in between time“, the moment of liminality where we know we are headed somewhere, but not quite finding even footing in the known or the not yet.  Mary knew she would birth a baby, even felt the weight of the promise of God, and yet, Jesus was “incubating”.  Even God’s own arrival here on Earth was marked with a wait.  On the other side of things, resurrection followed in the same footsteps.  Three days in the tomb and then, restoration and triumph.

As Advent approaches, I wonder how to sit with this concept of anticipation and waiting myself, let alone with my own children.  We almost need a shock collar to keep our boys at the dinner table after they have finished eating.  So looking at Advent, waiting on an inanimate concept (celebrating Jesus’ birth), is tough.  My six year old is able to recite many of the stories that lead up to Christ’s birth, but when does the deeper understanding come?  My fear lies in my own need to plan and perfect everything.  By spinning off on activities, plans and “must dos”, the deeper understandings I so long for get buried.  It can be so easy for Advent to become a guise for something else, smoke and mirrors for busyness, a never-ending list of activities and self-created expectations.

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One book that has reminded me of this true underlying desire to bring Advent back to its “proper place” has been Jerusalem Greer’s “A Homemade Year:  The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting and Coming Together“.  She writes:

It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation for the entire season and instead to revel in the mystery; to give myself permission to hold both sadness and joy, sorrow and hope, disappointment and peace in the same heart and to wait for the night when the world will, and does, begin again, revealing the wondrous, glorious morn.

While her book has activities, crafts and cooking projects, they are all grounded in the understanding that Advent is not about the never-ending treadmill of unrealistic plans & expectations.  We are called to create a space to be present, to take note, to even sit in places that feel full of disappointment and heartbreak.  And….to balance it all in the Light of Hope.  To cling to the promise of what comes on the other side.  While we know the promise of God With Us, Emmanuel, came after those nine months and was birthed, the road there and after wasn’t easy.  But the story, while long, bump-filled and tough, has cracks where the Light shines through, eventually in resurrection.  As Sally Lloyd-Jones brilliantly put it in the Jesus Storybook Bible:

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby.  Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

Next week I hope to share a few plans I am ironing out for this year’s Advent Season, but for myself, if no one else, I needed to start first in this place.  To spend time thinking about how I’ve gotten pulled into the smoke & mirrors myself and to scale back, reorient and start again.

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Luckily, the whole process of faith is about the cyclical nature of grace.  We try our best & have fairly good intentions.  Later we get off track.  We admit it & get back on the bandwagon and give it a go again.  God washes this process in love and understanding, encouraging us to get back up.

We want to make this time holy and be made whole.  And it is not easy…We recognize that the search for the Holy is so urgent and real that we are vulnerable to the lure that the commercial world offers in its promise to fill in the gaps that we so painfully feel.  Materialism has contaminated the truth that ‘things’ indeed can be carrier of the Divine.  We do not want to fall for the ruse or Christmas becomes just another expensive disappointment.  During Advent, we are invited to be vulnerable to our long and open to our hope.” ~from To Dance with God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson

I plan to be back on Monday with a few thoughts on this year’s Advent season, but in the meantime, how are you approaching the upcoming weeks?  The lead up to Christmas?  Are you scaling back this year?  Ramping up?  Vacationing and trying to leave all the hooplah behind?  What do you long for during the season of Advent?  What traditions are not to be missed or forgotten in your family?  Where do you find time for stillness and waiting in the midst of materialism and unrealistic expectations?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

IMG_3393(are scarf clad, Santa hat wearing flamingos on your to do list this year?)





Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions….

11 03 2013

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Yesterday I had the horrifying honor of speaking in church before the sermon…a little testimony about consumption.  Horrifying in that I get nervous speaking in front of big groups, unless everyone is 10 years old.  And an honor because it is a sacred gift to be asked to share your journey and story with others.  Steve, our Senior Pastor, talked about consumption, and used two passages.  One was in Luke 12 and the other was in Genesis 3 (vs. 1-7).  Without repeating his sermon, the Luke passage (vs. 12:15-23) was a parable Jesus told his followers:

And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

I love that verse where he reassures his own soul….”Soul, you have ample goods….relax!!!”  He stores up, uses a storage unit of the day, to ensure he has enough for any disaster, forgetting that the “treasures” we store up don’t really matter in the end.  And as the passage above reminds, “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  While that is true in theory, we often live in a completely opposite way.  We attempt over and over to fill the voids and fears in our lives with just that…..possessions and “stuff”.   And ultimately, it JUST.  DOESN’T.  SATISFY.  Those possessions will not fill us, as much as society and culture and capitalism banks on that claim.  Steve suggested calling out that very phrase {“Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions….“} everytime an ad comes on the tv or catalog comes in the mail or pop up appears as we work on the computer.  Love that!  Sometimes when we repeat words over and over, we actually begin to believe it.

Anyhow, if you are a regular reader here, my talk will be old news and more of the same…but wanted to post it nonetheless.   A little marker to remind myself that I was brave yesterday and despite shaking legs and dry mouth and pounding heart (for reals, folks….), I did it.  I shared TWICE.  And survived.

Happy Monday!!

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Back in January, I began seeing a reoccurring theme on a few of the blogs I follow.  Folks pursuing something that scared the living daylights out of me—-a spending fast.  Last year I had read a book by Jen Hatmaker called Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Jen’s husband is the pastor at New Church in Austin, Texas, a congregation that avidly lives out the call to learn about and then LIVE like Jesus, no matter how scary.  In her hard-hitting book, Jen and her family take seven months to work on seven areas, from Media to Clothes to Food to Money, focusing on letting go of greed, materialism and indulgence.  Her insights brought up some hard truths for me and it was much easier to READ and STUDY the book rather than commit to trying many of the ideas.  This would mean LIVING THE BIBLE vs. just studying it.  I hesitated to attempt a spending fast, fearing that I would miss the convenience and camaraderie of consumption. The fact that for me, buying is often directly tied to connecting & community—the truth that we often link hospitality with the expediency consumerism allows.

As a Christian, I began to see another piece to this puzzle of consumerism.  Something shifted in me and despite anxiety over what a spending fast might look and feel like, I began to desire to connect my faith to my day-to-day spending & consumption.  It can be easy to assume a connection between our lives & God when overtly serving—-teaching Sunday School or helping with a homeless meal.  But, where and how does God call us to engage our faith in the seemingly rote, mundane moments we walk through each day?!

God poured himself into creation, seeing the beginning of creation as an act of love and intention, God’s way of expressing who he is.  And then there is MY response to that act of love….buying, buying, buying, consuming, consuming, consuming—a feeble attempt to fill voids and empty, fearful spaces in my life.  This perspective change for me involved seeing that we are called into a loving relationship with creation because creation is a revelation of who God is.  This shift has given me a more lasting motivation to work on spending and consumerism, based on LOVE not just fear.

We began this process back in February and recently have pushed ourselves to go on through Lent.  It is not easy and has been a learning process for the whole family.  From our 2 year old, Drew, yelling, “GO BACK!! FRENCH FRIES!” as we passed In and Out, unable to go in for a meal during our fast.  Or our five year old, Alex, wanting another LEGO set or Star Wars sticker book.  I have been spending a LOT more time in the kitchen preparing meals, instead of meeting friends for coffee or enjoying a meal out.  It has meant inviting folks into our home and sitting around the table or centering play dates on free activities.  Frankly, it has led us to be more creative and intentional.

I won’t say that there is a heavenly light coming into our house, a turn around change that has allowed our faith to grow by leaps and bounds.  It is rather a daily, moment-by-moment practice.  A fasting from saying “yes” to the easy route and “no” to things that are convenient and habitual.  Sometimes, though, it has also meant feasting on saying “yes”—-yes to cooking together in the kitchen, yes to movie/picnic nights on the floor of the living room, yes to s’mores in the backyard, yes to trips to the library and yes to walks and bike rides.

It is my understanding that God desires our obedience in all areas of our lives.  Even the parts that seem “human” and not “Godly”….our money, finances, spending & giving.  If you are anything like me, you clamor for more, more, more.  It is our nature.  We hardly know what moderation is and what it feels like.  And yet God calls us to live differently.  To make daily decisions away from what we think we deserve and contemplate instead about what drives us—-the “NEEDS” we believe are the pathway to happiness.  For me, during this season of lent, it can be a time to make intentional decisions to feast on something more, not found from the riches of our wallets and flashy pages of the catalogs filling our mailboxes, but through giving up and fasting from consumption.








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