What I Learned This Summer

August is winding down. I have mixed feelings about this month: Does it belong in summer or fall? No one seems sure. Here in Michigan, most schools don’t start until after Labor Day, so everyone is still enjoying vacations and pre-bedtime ice cream cones. In Florida, most schools are already back in session. Without school-aged kids who actually need to abide one of these schedules, I can’t decide which camp to fall in. Though I feel ready for a new season, I can’t get there quite yet. I want to claim all the summer I can, to hold the warmth and humidity of August tight in my grasp and declare, “Summer!” It also seems that late August must be the rainy reason in Grand Rapids, and my Floridian heart and mind still holds thunderstorms solidly in summer territory.

Emily Freeman hosted her “What We Learned This Summer” link-up a few weeks ago, but I’m a slow-processor, and I wasn’t ready to begin thinking about what summer had offered until I could say she was over. I think we each have certain events, days, and traditions that are what truly trigger the flipping of the calendar. For me, this year, it’s these: The Olympics have ended, Evan and Ian’s August birthdays have both passed, and college football starts next week.

I’m ready now. So, with no further ado, here’s what I learned this summer.

What I LearnedThis Summer

1. You can trick flies into thinking they see a spider web. I really wish I did NOT have to figure this out, but alas, just like last summer, our yard seems to attract flies! Gross. And annoying. Apparently, there are all sorts of ways you can trick flies into thinking they’ve seen a spider web and, therefore, staying away. You can hang CDs (remember those?) or Ziploc bags full of water from a tree. You can also fill a mason jar with some water and pennies, and leave it sitting upside down on a table or porch railing. So, tuck that bit of helpful info away for next summer. You’re welcome.

2. It’s hard to talk to toddlers about the realities of life, but even when you try, they may choose to remain ignorant. And in this case, ignorance truly is bliss. We found ourselves stranded in the house for a week in July, while we waited for the brakes on our car to be repaired. Desperate to find something for Ian to do one afternoon, I turned to my trusty sidekick–Netflix–and we watched the live-action version of Charlotte’s Web. (Did anyone else love the old, animated version of that as a kid?) Now, Ian thinks that a “smokehouse” is any house with a chimney. I TRIED to be honest with him about the reality of pigs being turned into ham and bacon (and truly, the kid loves bacon), but he didn’t totally understand. “No, Mama,” he laughed, “People don’t eat pigs!” And I decided that for now, it’s just fine if he blissfully believes that to be ridiculous.

3. Parenting requires untold levels of vulnerability. As we rounded the bend toward three years old, we also entered our hardest season of parenting so far. (Everyone talks about the terrible twos, but apparently it’s the threes that required warning labels.) I’m learning that in parenting, you don’t always see immediate results; you have to keep being consistent despite what feels like failure. At the end of many, many days lately, it feels like we are failing as parents. Enter vulnerability. Brené Brown says that vulnerability is “the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome.” Never have I felt more vulnerable than in my parenting, where the outcomes are so far from guaranteed that it practically sends me to the cardiac unit.

4. It’s really good for me to have projects I’m working on. This past week, my friend Rebekah and I launched The Drafting Desk: a monthly email newsletter for those of us trying to pursue freedom instead of perfectionism. We’ve been working on this for months, and the idea lived in my head for many more months before that. Along the way, working on the project was so life-giving for me! I recently told someone that I don’t like to have goals, specifically, because it becomes easy to feel like I’m failing at something. But I LOVE working on projects. I’m now wondering what other areas of life I should begin looking at as a project, rather than a to-do or a should-do. (Answer: parenting.)

5. Our bodies adapt to climate change pretty dang quickly. We don’t have air conditioning in our house. (In fact, while we were looking for a place, not a single rental we saw had air conditioning!) As lifelong Floridians, this seems crazy to us, but welcome to Michigan, I guess! At any rate, last summer, we hardly thought about the A/C. A summer in the mid-80s was glorious. This summer? Well, let’s just say that our bodies apparently adjusted to our new climate pretty quickly, and we were a bit sad to not have the A/C this time around. Window units to the rescue!

6. I love the Olympics because they are a reflection of the kingdom of God. I wrote more about this here. Truly, I just loved the Olympics this year. (Though, like practically everyone has said, I found NBC’s coverage a little underwhelming.) At the same time, I will admit that it feels nice to have my evenings back!

7. I’m a bit relieved to know we all have moments like this.

8. Anticipation can be a spiritual discipline. Recently, I told my friend Melissa that because the daily routines of being a stay-at-home mom can be a little mundane and definitely repetitive, it helps me to have things to look forward to. Whether it’s an event on the calendar or just an afternoon glass of iced coffee, I find there’s a little more pep in my step when I’m looking ahead with joyful anticipation. When I look at Scripture, I see messages like “joy comes with the morning” and “prepare the way” and fixing our eyes on the “joy set before us.” Sounds like anticipation to me! I’m also learning to look at spiritual disciplines not as items to be crossed off my to-do list every day, but as perspectives to take on; as ways of looking at the world; and as means of interacting with myself, God, and others.

I'm learning to look at spiritual disciplines not as items to be crossed off my list, but as ways of looking at the world. (1)

So, there we have it. That’s what I learned this summer. I always love making these lists. Just like anticipation helps me feel eager for the next season, reflecting like this helps me be at peace with the season that just passed. It’s a simple way to say, “Last season, though full of its own challenges, was full and meaningful and well worth it.”

I set a jar of sunflowers in the middle of my kitchen table, and last night before bed I added two decorative little pumpkins. I’m adding the ingredients for my favorite chili to my shopping list, and I’m putting an apple-picking day on the calendar. But the best thing of all is that a dear friend actually mailed me a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, and if that doesn’t signal the beginning of fall, I don’t know what does!

New Dreams

Like most small children, Ian goes through phases with books. He discovers a certain one, decides he loves it, and over the next several weeks we practically wear the thing away to dust with all the “Read dat again, Mama!” and “What dat page ’bout, Mama?” He moves on eventually. Sometimes he comes back around to visit, the words and illustrations as familiar as an old friend.

Just recently, he went through a phase with If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Pig a Pancake. (Only The Little Blue Truck have been able to usurp them.) It’s why, on recent grocery shopping trip, Ian kept shouting, “Where da muffin mix? We need muffin mix! We need maple syrup too, Mama?”

You know these books, right? If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll want some milk to go with it, and then a straw, and then a napkin, and on and on until you’ve practically given the mouse the keys to your house.

A few weeks ago, Ian and I were talking about a tree in our yard, and he said, “And we have tree house?”

Not understanding, I said, “Yes, we have trees outside our house.”

“No mama, we have tree house?! I want treehouse,” he responded, and we went back and forth about this a few times before I finally caught on.

In If You Give a Pig a Pancake, the pig notices a large tree in the girl’s backyard as they walk outside, and in the next scene (somewhere in-between the tap shoes and the wallpaper glue), he decides to build a treehouse. Bingo.

So far, toddlerhood is not my favorite stage of parenting. I’m eager for the days when we’ll talk about navigating friendships or how his soccer game went. I look forward to science projects and spelling words, cooking together and…well, anything that’s not answering “Why?” and “What for?” ten million times a day.

Toddlers make a lot of impossible demands, like “Fix broken cheese stick!” and “Green light right now!” Ian knows the phrases “Not yet,” and “Not right now” very well; I use them to redirect and postpone temper tantrums, while he uses them for thinly-veiled defiance. Sometimes I wonder if Ian’s days are just a constant stream of disappointments: the doors on this toy car don’t open, he can’t have another cookie, the green sippy cup is dirty, it’s raining again. Such is life as a two year old.

Meanwhile, I think of all the dreams my sisters and I had growing up. Many of them–Ivy League schools, professional theater careers, hot pink bedroom walls–didn’t pan out. My parents said no in some cases, while others were simply never meant to be. At the same time, many of my childhood dreams and desires did come to fruition: an N*Sync concert, drama classes, a trip to Europe, seeing a musical on Broadway, an amazing wedding. My parents gave their time, energy, and money to make those things happen. (In the case of the N*Sync Celebrity tour, they even endured hours of several thousand screaming preteens. I imagine that’s even more torturous than hours of driving Hot Wheels around.)

I guess that’s part of the joy of parenting: doing what you can to make this little person’s dreams come true.

That's part of the joy

I can’t build a treehouse for Ian. We don’t have a good tree, and even if we did, that’s not really the kind of investment you make in a rental home. Even so, I love this part of parenting: the hints of the boy and man he’ll one day be, the burgeoning interests and obsessions, the desires and dreams just beginning to take root.

He hasn’t mentioned the treehouse again, having already moved on to a new book, a new story, a new dream. But for now, I have tucked this treehouse idea into my pocket. I’ll consider the backyard trees of every future home, wondering if now’s the time to make that dream a reality.

Maybe one day, I’ll get to say, “Let’s build a treehouse, buddy.” And I won’t even mind if he asks for a tire swing to go with it.

Why the Olympics Remind Me of the Kingdom of God

I was eight years old when the Magnificent 7 won gold in 1996. My friends and I spent the next several years playing gymnastics: pretending that the grout lines between kitchen tiles were balance beams, desperately wishing I could do a cartwheel but settling for somersaults, awarding each other perfect 10s for every wobbly pirouette on the back porch. (I should mention that I signed up for gymnastics lessons once. I was too afraid to ever flip over the uneven bars. That was the beginning and end of my actual gymnastics career.)

I still get goosebumps when I watch Kerri Strug stick that vault landing (which is more often than you might think), and I cry every time I see Bela Karolyi carry her to the podium. That moment is pure magic; the stuff Hollywood only dreams of, what we’d all say was too good to be true if we saw it on the big screen.

My Olympics obsession has been going strong ever since. I assure you that if I did not have 2 small children to care for, I would not have moved from my couch over the past week. Generally, I work hard to limit and control my sons’ screen time, but that’s all gone out the window right now. One of the first questions Ian asks each morning is “We going to watch the uh-mim-kicks today?”

This year, I feel particularly emotional and invested in what’s happening in Rio. This may be because I’m pregnant and exhausted from parenting a feisty toddler, which makes me more likely to cry at anything, let alone a near-perfect gymnastics routine or a Proctor & Gamble commercial.

But hormones and exhaustion aside, the world has been downright crazy lately. Every day, I’m afraid to check the news for fear of what I might find there. I’ve seen the jokes on Twitter; we’d all just like to cancel the rest of 2016 and skip ahead to January. I needed some joy, some excitement, and some pure goodness to balance out all the bad this year; I know I’m not alone in this. The Olympics are providing that reprieve.

And in the midst of all that (or perhaps because of it), the Olympics are reminding me of some eternal realities that are easy to forget in our hustling, striving, fearful, divisive culture. The Olympics remind me of the kingdom of God.

What the Olympicsteach me about thekingdom ofGod.-3

We are the image of God. Whether I’m watching gymnasts or long-jumpers, swimmers or sprinters, divers or soccer players, I see the best of what our physical bodies are capable of: grace, strength, flight, and speed; hugging, screaming, running, and jumping. I grew up in a Christian school of thought that taught that my body—flesh—was not to be trusted. I didn’t grow up learning to pay attention to the signals my body sends. (See also: a complete lack of athletic ability.) I’m grateful for the reminder that God created our bodies for good.

We are living in the now but not yet. While I didn’t think the opening ceremonies were the most exciting I’ve ever seen, they were perhaps the most meaningful for me. I loved how Brazil’s history was represented. Amidst the dancing and music and supermodels, they showed us slavery, deforestation, and colonialism. They celebrated the good of their culture while not glossing over the more unpleasant realities of it. Now, but not yet. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been harder for me to ignore the complicated realities of an event like this on the world stage: security concerns, questionable ethics of how a country’s poor citizens are treated throughout the preparation process, wondering if we’re implicit in a country’s less-than-savory policies by choosing them to host. But then I watched the joy on Flavia Saraiva’s face as she competed just down the road from her neighborhood, and I cried (shocker) as thousands stood to applaud for Team Refugee. The very presence of Team Refugee forces us to acknowledge that all is not right in the world, yet each of us deserves a seat at the table. Each of those individuals have endured the most devastating of heartbreak and trauma and yet accomplished so much, and they had the chance to participate in this celebration. Now, but not yet. 

Everything we do with our lives can be worship. At the end of the women’s gymnastics all-around final, I watched Aly and Simone complete their floor routines with tears in my eyes. Then, Simone Manuel unexpectedly won gold in her race, and the tears just picked up from there. There is something holy, sacred, and yes—worshipful—about watching people do the thing they were clearly CREATED to do, and do it better than anyone has before. (When it’s unexpected, even better!) When I watch these athletes, it’s so obvious that God created us all skillfully, carefully, and intentionally. I don’t imagine we’ll spend eternity sitting around playing harps; what I imagine is each of us working without toiling, excelling without competing, at the things that most connect us to the heart of God, the very things He had in mind when He thought of us. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think Michael Phelps will be swimming a perpetual IM for all of eternity, but somehow, I know that feeling will be reflected in the new, perfect, unbroken kingdom Jesus is building. If we tumble or build, if we sprint or push a stroller around the neighborhood, if we coach teams or write books, if we are the underdog or the favorite, if we are swimming laps or grading papers—it can all be worship.

I’m going to soak up each moment, each medal ceremony, each sweet victory and painful defeat. And I’m going to pray that God will help me carry these feelings—joy, pride, unity, and passion—into this next season. I don’t want to wait until PyeongChang or Tokyo to be reminded that despite appearances, there is good to be found in our world, and Jesus is always building His kingdom.

Why I’m Craving Rhythm & Routine

Despite my self-proclaimed and well-documented Type-A personality, I’ve always been terrible at establishing consistent habits and routines. (Except for a daily iced coffee. I’m good at that one.) I think my perfectionism has something to do with this; once I’ve fallen off the wagon for a day or two, I write off the whole effort as a failure. I guess you might assume that perfectionists have a lot of self-discipline, and I’m sure some of us do, but I’m not one of them. Unless my reputation or someone else’s opinion of me is on the line, I rarely follow through.

Lately, I’m thinking a lot about rhythms and routines. Just as I’m not good at establishing personal habits, we don’t have many consistent habits established as a family. Of course, with two little ones (and another on the way!), and Evan’s long/unpredictable work hours, this isn’t totally unreasonable. I don’t have delusions of our days running on a carefully-timed schedule or my kiddos marching around like the VonTrapps.

We have Friday night pizza nights, and we are (almost) always at church on Sunday mornings. In the fall, we turn on College Gameday every Saturday morning. Still, even with meals planned and outfits decluttered, even with toys contained and calendars cleared, I’m a little overwhelmed with decision fatigue. Maybe I am trying to compensate for some of the chaos of our current stage of life, but I’m craving a little more rhythm and a little more routine.

I’m daydreaming about Saturday morning breakfasts at the same cafe and lacing up our sneakers for a daily evening walk. I’m wondering what it would look like if Ian knew to expect a little outside time right after lunch, or if he knew to get dressed right after breakfast each morning.

Since moving, I have learned a lot about not to put my value in a full calendar, but I still find that I like to know what to expect from our days. Nothing makes me feel more anxious than when Evan says, “What are you and the boys up to tomorrow?” and I have to respond, “I don’t know.”

The lack of routine and rhythm in our schedules and our hours is making me feel a little out of sync in my heart and soul as well.

So, I’d love to know! What rhythms, routines, and habits are working in your homes these days? Any tips for forming habits, for the typically habit-adverse among us?

Dark is his path

Every Wednesday, Ian and I go to the library for storytime. As you can imagine, sharing is a hot-button issue among the 5-and-under crowd, and the library is not neutral territory. A few weeks ago, a little girl came up to the train table where Ian was playing and snatched a little blue locomotive right out of his hand. He immediately burst into angry, fitful tears. “That mine!” he yelled, and then looked right at me, as if he was waiting for me to come to his defense. He was waiting for me to step in and make it right.

I really love Jesus–the feet washing, scribbling in the sand, bread-breaking Jesus. I struggle with the guy who overthrew the tables in the temple, who talked about a brood of vipers, who cursed a fig tree. (Seriously, though. What’s up with the fig tree?)

My pastor once said that there is a continuum between grace and truth, and we all find ourselves somewhere along the continuum. Each of us tends to gravitate toward one end of the other. I am a grace person, through and through. Because I’ve wrestled so hard with self-imposed perfectionism and impossible standards, I just want to cut us all some slack, you know?

I stood in church the other day and we sang these words:

“O tell of His might, O sing of His grace
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space
His chariots of wrath, the deep thunderclouds form
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.”

It’s so beautiful and poetic, but this hymn has been hard for me to stomach since I first heard it a few years ago. I don’t like to think about might and wrath, thunderclouds and darkness. No, I don’t like it one bit. I much prefer the childhood nursery version of Noah’s Ark: cute fuzzy animals and bright rainbows, please and thank you.

I can’t even read or watch the news most days lately. I feel like an irresponsible citizen of the world, but once I’ve read about Syrian refugees or sex trafficking or Donald Trump, I walk around in a heartsick funk the rest of the day. I can’t always shake the cloud of bad news, and I can’t always find the helpers in the stories. And just like that, I find myself wishing for a little less slack and a little more resolution, a little more redemption, a little more justice. Now, please, Jesus, if you don’t mind.

Then, I stand in church on Sunday and those lyrics flash up on the projection screen above my head. I realize that the author of the hymn–hundreds of years ago–found it right and good to talk about God’s grace and might in the very same line.

And when it came time to sing the last line of that verse, I couldn’t help but lift my hands and sing it a bit louder this time: dark is His path on the wings of the storm. I found myself not afraid, but comforted.

The Jesus who overturned tables is, after all, the same who asked the men to put down their stones. His grace means more to me knowing it’s backed by justice. I am less afraid, knowing He is my protector as well as my friend. Truthfully, I don’t want God to turn his back to the pride in my own heart, because I don’t want Him to turn his back to the pride in a presidential candidate. I don’t want to worship a God who doesn’t do something about child labor or slavery or genocide. I want a God who sweeps in, who rescues. Indeed, I want a God whose path is sometimes very, very dark.

This is a good God, one who protects, rescues, and redeems. As the hymn says, He is our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend. He is the one who steps in time and time again to make it right.

Summer spills over

The other day, I switched my desktop wallpaper from pastels to something bright and bold; my eyes needed something different look at. Because the world feels heavy, I find myself wanting to withdraw. I want to curl up in my bed, pull the covers over my head, and not come out until the chaos has passed. I want some quiet, some stillness, some answers, some certainty. I don’t even find that I want rest; I just want less discomfort in the world around me and in my own heart. I want lightness and joy.

Summer, while certainly a time for slower schedules and longer days, is not necessarily a time for retreat. In this season, retreat and withdrawal aren’t giving me what my soul needs most. They may feel like comfort, but they aren’t care. Right now, I need to throw back the covers, to step outside, to feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.

I want my flip flops kicked off to the side of the pool, my feet dangling in the water. Hydrangeas so heavy with blooms they could tip over. The pizza crusts brown and bubbly, the cheese gooey and stretching. A melting popsicle dripping down onto my fingers, the sun’s heat more than I can keep up with. Strawberries and watermelon so juicy, the juice dribbles down my toddler’s chin. The condensation on my glass of icy lemonade leaving rings on the table. The summer sun refusing to set, blurring the lines between day and night.

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I can’t keep up with the flipping calendar pages, but I don’t want to live as though they are slipping through my fingers.  I am asking summer to show up in abundance, believing that if it’s true in the kitchen and the backyard, it can be true in my soul as well. I want this season to spill over into every corner and crevice. There will be a time for retreat, for staring at the cold and dark outside the window. But now is not that time.

Summer is spilling over.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activityunder theheavens.

Obsessions (May…and June 2016)

Whoops. Usually I publish these lists on the 20th, but I missed May 20th entirely. It went by without even a blip on my radar. (I’m not sure how that’s possible, but here we are.) Better late than never, right? Here’s some of the best stuff I read on-line over the past 2 months.

faith_family

  1. “Learning to Let Go” by Becky Tountas. “What strikes me most about the days with my daughter is their level of intimacy. I dress her in the morning, change her diapers, cook her food, put her to sleep, wash her hands and brush her teeth…I cherish our closeness, the way that no one knows her the same way that I do.”
  2. “The embarrassing quandary of asking for help” by Anna France-Williams. “I want to model real relationships to my children. I want to model the joy of giving and receiving. I want them to know that they can always ask for help if they need it. That it’s not a sign of weakness. So I’ve got to lead the way.”
  3. “How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life” by Nicole Cliffe. “No one could have in a billion years of their gripping testimony or by showing me a radiant life of good deeds or through song or even the most beautiful of books brought me to Christ. I had to be tapped on the shoulder.”

learning_creativity

  1. “Oh, girl, you’re graduating? Read these!” by Sarah Bessey. “Here are the books I would give to a young woman heading out into her adulthood. It’s the stuff I wish I had known back when I was ordering $5 large cheese pizzas at midnight without a thought to my metabolism, bless.”
  2. “Eight Unstoppable Women Writers Balancing Work and Family” by Nicole Slaughter-Graham. This list includes J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, and Cheryl Strayed. SO there’s that.
  3. “Why We Want to Return to Stars Hollow” by Rebecca Rene Jones. “…days after watching the series finale, and bidding Rory her rainy farewell, I actually felt a little bit homesick. I missed Stars Hollow itself. Apparently I’m not the only one.”
  4. “22 things every woman needs in her life” by Katie Clemons. “The irony is that people who strive to live more simplistic lives seldom feel like we’re doing without. In fact, we often feel more joy and gratitude because we learn to recognize the liberating difference between too much and just right.”

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  1. “No Filter Friendship” by Bethany Suckrow. “Naming our feelings, even the petty ones, sets us free of the power they hold over us.”
  2. “Off Brand” by Sarah Bessey. “Sometimes the story we tell ourselves about our own lives can become a prison, it can keep us from the real life that is waiting for us.”
  3. “For When You’re Struggling Through an Imperfect Life” by Lisa Whittle. “We are beautiful people and difficult people, all at the same time, none who will ever be perfect.”
  4. “How to Survive Summer with a Million Kids” by Kendra Adachi. “Keep your intentions simple, your expectations reasonable, your checklists to a minimum, and your chocolate within easy reach at all times.” 

Happy reading, friends!