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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

To Messier Houses in 2017


I think it was J.K. Rowling who, when asked how she managed to write those epic books while raising her young children as a single parent, responded that while she was writing her house was a disaster, her bathrooms unclean and the laundry left to pile up.  She said you can’t do it all, all the time.

When I first heard that truth I “Amen, sister”-ed and mentally high-fived a thousand angels.  And then I probably went back to cleaning my bathroom.

I’ve been home with my four kids full time for eighteen months, since just before the youngest was born.  I stepped down from a part-time role in youth ministry because frankly, having four kids in five years will break you a little.  That and no one wants to watch that many kids for free anymore (not even grandma). 

So I found myself home a lot more.  And suddenly every cabinet and closets and hidden nooks and crannies in my home began screaming for attention.  I noticed all the things I should be attending to that I’d previously been unable to pay attention to when I was working part-time outside of the home. My to-do list had monthly projects like cleaning out every closet and cabinet or finally getting around to organizing all those photo albums.  Once I started paying attention to these projects that could but did not need to be done my lists grew exponentially, multiplying like those proverbial rabbits.

And one day I realized that my house was regularly clean, the laundry was done and put away and the major monthly projects were slowly getting done, but my "career" was non-existent.  There is more order than I could possibly need in my home, but not enough fulfilling, creative work in my life.  And I was filled with more angst and less energy than I’d ever felt during my most chaotic days of being a “working mom.”

Over the past few months I've set about trying to reverse that.  I redesigned my weekly rhythms, building in time for creative work and writing when I am most mentally energized, in the mornings at the beginning of the week.  I reprioritized when and how I get things done.  I tackle my work first, the work that gives me energy and stretches my mental muscles.  I fit in workouts in different pockets than I had done before, in an effort to give my best time to the work.  And I leave cleaning for the end of the week, when I’m pretty mentally fried anyway.  (I’ve also taught my kids to dust and clean bathrooms which has changed my life in immeasurable ways.)  I’ve also reprioritized what needs to get done to keep our house afloat and keep me from going crazy and let go of what could get done but could also just as easily be ignored.  I stopped putting five big “organization/cleaning” projects on my monthly to do list.  I put one on there and don’t stress too much if I never get to it.  This means my photo albums are unfinished and my closets a bit chaotic.  But my soul is singing in a way that it wasn’t before.


I’m writing more and planning other projects.  I’ve engaged in activist work in a way that has connected me freshly to God.  I’m happier in my home because I don’t feel a slave to it, which in turn makes me better to my people who live in that home.  They were simple tweaks, inspired by the realization that all the order and organization in my home would never bring me the joy fulfilling and energizing creative work would.  And the reminder that J.K. Rowling didn’t write those beloved books while also keeping a spotless house.  It’s better for me and my family when our house is a little messier but mama feels a little more whole.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Few Good Books: January






















In an effort to continue the good reading habits I got into last year, I’m trying to regularly post with Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit linkups this year.  I’ll share all the books I read each month and talk a bit more in depth about the best two or three.  And so, without further ado-January in books:

What I read:
Hatching Twitter by Nick Bolton
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
Space at the Table by Brad and Drew Harper
A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny


The very best thing I read this month was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  It was on every best of book list last year and won a ton of awards and I understand why.  It imagines the underground railroad as an actual railroad system with conductors and station masters but that actually isn’t what the book is about.  It follows a slave on her escape from the deep south up north.  It was fascinating and eye opening and made me realize how much I don’t know about slavery.  We learn the sanitized version in elementary school and that’s usually it.  I want to find some more books on the topic this year.  Also, it was interesting to me to get a better understanding of just how hard it was to oppose slavery in the deep south.  I could write a whole separate post about this but it was sobering to realize that it wasn’t until they got further up north that I could recognize myself in the allies and abolitionists.  To be so in the deep south required more bravery than I may have possessed.  It’s easy to say I would have been the kind of person to help slaves to safety through the underground railroad, but this book opened my eyes to exactly what that kind of risk demanded.  It was harder than our elementary school teachers made it seem.  This will likely go on my list of lifetime required reading.

Space at the Table by father and son Brad and Drew Harper surprised and captivated me.  I heard it mentioned in passing on a podcast I was listening to while en route to the library.  On a whim I looked to see if they had it and they did, so I picked it up while I was there.  It is a conversation between a conservative Evangelical Christian father and his gay son.  They shared their story of Drew’s childhood, coming out and young adulthood, along the way humbly and vulnerably giving the reader a glimpse into the mistakes they made along the way as they grappled with what this truth about Drew and the ways it conflicted with some core Evangelical beliefs meant for their family.  I didn’t always agree with some of the beliefs the father, Brad, held, but I could not deny the deep love, respect and grace they had for and with each other.  They had found a beautiful peace with each other and themselves, and I very much appreciated the hard won truths they shared about a way forward.  It was honest and grace-filled and I was thankful to have picked it up on a whim

Hatching Twitter is the story of the creation of Twitter.  It was engrossing, eye-opening and entertaining.  I had no idea there was so much drama involved in the hatching of that little blue bird.  In The Very Good Gospel Harper rethinks how we define the Gospel and widens the scope to a Gospel that is good for everyone.  And A Fatal Grace is the second in the Inspector Gamache series which I’m slowly making my way through.  I placed an accurate bet on the murderer early on, but Penny still managed to surprise me by the end.


So that’s January in books.  I’m loving what I’ve read in February so far, so I’ll have some good stuff to share next month.  What’s the best thing you read last month??

Monday, February 13, 2017

Election and Redemption

I watched election night unfold that November 8, stress eating gummy bears and slowly sinking into despair as swing state after swing state went red.  I watched with one eye on the t.v. and one eye on twitter where the many people of color that I follow lamented the results.  I lamented with them.  

I know not all were lamenting.  I know that for many this was a victory, a win for the Republican party.  For me this was not about Republican and Democrats.  While I’ve voted for Democratic Presidential candidates, I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats in other positions.  My dad was an elected Republican official in our town.  Until this election I would have said I was an Independent who leaned left, or, a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Independent.  This election felt different.  Donald Trump felt different.

I won’t go into all the ways he made my stomach turn during the election.  The examples are well documented.  I will say that as a person who has cared an awful lot about social justice through out my adult life, Trump’s rhetoric and complete lack of self-awareness has felt dangerous and just down right wrong.

In the weeks immediately following the election I wandered around in a state of anxiety and fear.  The news reports of hate crimes committed in Trump’s name and Neo Nazi groups celebrations of his victory did nothing to assuage this.  

And then, through it all, there were Christian leaders joyously celebrating his victory, saying it was ordained by God.

This, of course, caused me to simultaneously throw things and deeply question my understanding of God.  The God I have known, the one that has made my heart worship, was on the side of justice for the oppressed, was against bigotry and prejudice, promoted goodness and kindness and humility.  That God was not found in Trump.  At least to me.

When swastikas were showing up across the country bearing the words “Trump’s America” alongside them, it felt hard to believe that God would ordain this.  When people of color were shoved and intimidated and told it was time to “go home!  This is Trump’s America now!” it was hard to believe that God would ordain that.  And when hundreds were detained at the airport, and refugees, the most vulnerable among us, were turned away, it was hard to believe that the God who very specifically says to welcome the refugee stranger would ordain that. 

But then something else started to happen.  There was a march, attended by millions all across the world.  People stepped up, who wanted to say, no, this is not ok and I’m standing on the side of justice.  There were reports of people stepping in, standing up when people of color were being targeted for hate crimes.
  


Signs started popping up all around my neighborhood.  Signs that said, “We are not afraid” in regard to refugees and signs in three different languages, Hispanic, Arabic and English that said, “No matter what language you speak, we’re glad to call you neighbor.”  Signs that gave me hope.

In our suburban town a refugee relief organization held an introductory meeting to people who wanted to get involved by helping refugee families transition to America.  I heard one report that over a thousand people showed up for the meeting.

And then there was this report.  On a subway in Manhattan someone had graffitied Swastikas and other hateful messages on every advertisement and window.  People on the subway were uncomfortably aware of this and unsure of how to act.  Someone knew that alcohol erased permanent marker and soon an entire subway car full of New Yorkers were taking out their hand sanitizer and tissues and erasing the crap out of those hateful messages. 

Trump, it seems, has made activists of us all.  More and more people are asking themselves tough questions, paying attention to injustice and bigotry and standing up for the vulnerable, oppressed and marginalized.  

And it’s working.  I saw this on twitter and I hope very much that it is true.



Over the weekend, as I reflected on all the ways good people are standing up for truth and justice I wondered if maybe God was behind Trump’s win after all.  Not because Trump and his ideals embody what God wants for our broken world but because Trump and his ideals gave the rest of us something to fight against for our broken world.  It moved us to action in a way that his win would not have.  On the day of his inauguration in a text conversation with some friends I said, “If he hadn’t won we wouldn’t be marching tomorrow, but the things, the beliefs, the injustice that gave him so much popularity and put people in the position to overlook it all for a political party would still be there tomorrow.  Now we know where we stand and which side we want to stand on.  It was hard to fight the things we collectively, as a society, tried to pretend weren’t there at all.  You can’t fight the things you’re keeping hidden.  Now it’s out there and in some weird way I’m actually thankful for that.” 

And maybe that was what was ordained by God.  The stripping of the false security we all gave ourselves that we were a post racial society.  Or the sense that there wasn’t any work left to be done.  The calling of arms of people who may never considered themselves activists.  People all over the world are saying, not on my watch.


I don’t know if God ordained Trump’s victory.  I don’t know that I can go that far, or speak in that way by God.  But I do know that it is just like God to take brokenness and pain and use it for redemption.  I do know that what broke in our society on November 8, 2016, is being redeemed in a hundred thousand ways since then.  And I, for one, am excited to take part with God in this redeeming work.

Monday, February 6, 2017

March

On  a Saturday in January I, along with 250,000 new friends, took to the streets of Chicago to march.  We joined 600 other marches here in the U.S. and around the world.  The response was overwhelming.  In Chicago and a few other places, there were so many more people in attendance than anticipated that the actual march portion of the morning had to be cancelled; there were too many people to safely take to the streets.


It was an unbelievably beautiful day for a January in Chicago.  The sun shone for the first time in what felt like an eternity and there was a warmth in the air we hadn’t felt in a while.  As we waited in our suburban train station I was surprised at just how many people were also waiting.  I’d sort of assumed there would just be a few of us, mostly young women or hipster guys.  Instead there was a pretty large group of people already gathered, carrying signs, wearing pink, sharing stories about why they were standing there on a Saturday morning, ready to March.  And it wasn’t just young people.  I was surprised to see how many people my mom’s age were there too.

After our stop the train was deemed full and went express, another train coming behind us to pick up the rest.  As we blew through stop after stop I saw so many people patiently waiting, signs in hand, pink hats on.  This was going to be bigger than I thought.


My friend Charity and I met up with our friends in the city, watching as train after train arrived and people flooded into the station.  There was an energy and excitement in the air as the sheer number of people buoyed energy to one another.  We started making our way with the masses towards the place where the march was to gather.

On of our friends had brought her parents.  Her sweet father was so excited to be marching.  He kept saying, “We are all activists now.”  Indeed.

The signs ranged from hilarious (one of my favorites: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit”) to poignant (“‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for only together can we be truly human’ Hope Wanted”) and it each one reminded me why it mattered that I was there.


For me, and I think many others, this wasn’t sour grapes about an election that went to the other guy.  And I certainly wasn’t protesting the GOP or republicans (my beloved father was an elected republican and many people I love most dearly claim that party’s allegiance.  I cannot or will not hate republicans).  But after a year and a half of watching the very worst in humanity play out I needed to be with others who felt angry and inspired to action.  

If I’m being honest my heart has always been drawn towards the fight for justice; my very favorite books growing up were the ones that centered on this theme. Maybe it started in third grade with my teacher Mrs. Gibson, who captivated me with her stories of marching with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Or maybe that was just how I was created: to care deeply for the marginalized and oppressed.  Years ago, in college, I took women’s studies and African American studies courses where my eyes were opened wide to the depth racism, sexism, prejudice, oppression and injustice that still existed in the world. I have been drawn to understanding and fighting this ever since.

There was something I learned during those African American courses in college that I was reminded of again and again during the course of 2016.  When you start to pay attention to racism, sexism, prejudice, and oppression, you start to see it everywhere, sometimes in the most unlikely places.  It’s scary and ugly and quite frankly can make a person a little overwhelmed and despondent.  As a person who comes from a place of privilege (and we need to be honest here when we say that all white people in the United States hold some level of privilege that is not afforded to everyone) there will come a point during this period of discovery that you will want to stop looking.  It will be so hard, you will feel so terrible and guilty and bad about yourself as a person whose race had and continues to perpetuate so much injustice, that you will just want to stick your head in the sand and return to what is comfortable.  

It is at this point, as a person of privilege that you will be afforded a choice.  You can ignore what you’ve seen and quite easily return to life as status quo or you can stand up and choose a side on which to fight.  (It is here where I would argue that by choosing to ignore and return to a comfortable life pretending the injustice doesn’t exist you are actually choosing a side on which to fight; your passivity contributes to and supports injustice, but that is another conversation for another day.)

And so on that Saturday in January I marched because I wanted to physically stand against oppression and prejudice.  Because I wanted to speak truth to power.  And also because I’ve come to believe, deep in my bones the truth of that protest sign: “my humanity is tied up in yours, for only together can we truly be human.”

But I also marched for hope and love and redemption because I’ve found that when you go looking for those things, you can find them everywhere too, often in the most unlikely places.


Now of course, the work has just begun.  I marched on that Saturday morning but I continue to march each day.  I’m paying attention.  I’m calling people in power.  I’m looking for ways to lend my resources and time to fight injustice.  The march was the call to action.  Now it’s time to move.  














Monday, January 9, 2017

How I Read More in 2016

As I mentioned in my favorite books of 2016 post, I read more this year than I probably have in any other given year of my adult life.  There were a few lessons I learned this year that contributed to this bump in reading.  I thought they might be worth sharing…

Keep a list of books to read…
This year, in the back of my planner I used one of those precious few pages for notes to keep a list of books that I want to read.  Anytime I heard someone mention a book that sounded interesting, or I stumbled across a “best books” list I’d add to the list.  And when I finished something from the list I crossed it off.  Previously I’d had random notes on my phone or in my email with books that I might want to read, but I’ve never had them in one concise place.  My planner goes with my pretty much everywhere so whenever I was at a bookstore or the library I always knew what I might be looking for.

Keep a list of books that I did read…
Next to my list of books to read I also kept track of what I’d finished.  There was something so satisfying about seeing that list grow and I think it kept me reading.  In 2017 I want to include the dates of when I finished the book because I think that would be interesting to track.

Utilize the library and its book reserve system…
I started using the library more this year.  I think because I had that ever growing list of books to read at my fingertips, each trip to the library for kids books also included a trip upstairs to get some books for me.  And for the first time ever I found myself putting books on hold that were currently unavailable (rather than just trying again another time).  This meant I was constantly getting emails about books that were waiting for me.  And in a lot of ways it motivated me to read them more quickly, partly because a book with holds on it can’t be renewed, and partly because I knew that there were other people waiting and I felt bad taking my sweet time.  As a result I would fly through books.  There were times I had to let go of books I was dying to read because all the books I’d put on hold came up at once, but they’re still on my “To Read” list so I’ll get back to them eventually.

Audiobooks for the win…
I’ve always been a fan of audiobooks but have fallen out of it in recent years because they’re expensive to buy and a pain to try and take out from the library.  This year only 7 or 8 of my read titles were audiobooks, but interestingly, I found that audiobooks are really great for titles that I may have a hard time getting into, but ultimately really enjoyed reading.  If I could listen while I washed dishes or worked out, I was less likely to put the book down and before I knew it I was into it.  This was how I managed to read the 800 pages of “A Little Life” and how I discovered that I loved the Robert Galbraith series.

And finally, reading begets reading…
That old adage we throw around when our kids are babies, sleep begets sleep, also applies to reading, I’ve found.  When I’m in the practice of reading books I read more.  I realized this about a month ago when I wasn’t reading.  I’d run out of books coming through from my hold list, there wasn’t anything screaming to be read on my “To Read” list and I realized it had been a week or two since I’d picked up a book.  I was in a reading rut.  On a library run for my kids I took a tour of the new fiction section and grabbed three books that I’d heard nothing about but based on my knowledge of the authors, or, frankly, the covers, I figured I might like.  These were easy books, the reality t.v. of literature, but they were quick reads and entertaining stories and within a week or so they had helped break my rut and I was moving on to other literary endeavors.  The more you read, the more you read.

So those are my tips.  Or at least what helped me be a better reader in 2016.  I’ve got my lists going for 2017 and a goal to read 50 books this year.  I’m also going to try and finally figure out my library’s digital selection and try to check out books directly to my kindle or phone.  I don’t always love reading on the kindle, but for certain books it works, and if I can figure out the library audiobook app that could be pretty awesome.


Happy Reading in 2017!

Friday, January 6, 2017

My Best Books of 2016

I read forty-five books this year, which is probably the most I’ve read in a given year since I was ten and tearing through a Baby-Sitters Club book every other day.  I thought I’d share my favorites from the list.

The Best Books I read in 2016:

The Colors of Goodbye by September Vaudrey
I read this book on my i-phone in about 36 hours.  I am not exaggerating when I said I couldn’t put it down.  Vaudrey shares her family’s story of the unexpected death of her nineteen year old daughter Katie and the traumatic aftermath.  It is beautiful, hopeful, honest, raw, vulnerable and everything else you would hope a book about grief would be.  It is the book I now give to people in the midst of painful grief and it is one I will probably return to again.  

Columbine by Dave Cullen
There was so much I didn’t realize that I didn’t know about the Columbine shootings and Cullen’s detailed and researched account sheds so much light on what happened and how it was reported at the time.  It is incredible well written and eye-opening and I learned so much, particularly about the media and the ways stories can take on a life of their own, regardless of the truth.  It also gave me a tremendous amount of compassion for the families of the shooters.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
I wasn’t prepared to be so struck by this book, but man did it land with me.  This is one that may become an annual read for me; the encouragement and motivation it gave me was so great.  It’s about the year Rhimes decides to say yes to everything that scares her.  The writing is delightful and entertaining, but the story is riveting.  I was a big fan.

A Little Life by Tanya Yanagihara
Content wise this was the most difficult book I’ve ever read.  This book reveals the very ugliest of humanity.  But I haven’t been that invested in a group of characters in a long time.  I found myself thinking about them when I wasn’t reading, wondering if they were ok.  It is a book that is made for discussion, so I was thankful to find a book group meeting about it at my local book store.  It is a book I recommend with hesitation, not because it’s a bad book, but because its content is not for everyone.   But man, is it a beautifully written story.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This should be required reading for the 21st century.  Stevenson writes about his work for the Equal Justice Initiative which is concerned about inequality and injustice in the criminal justice system particularly against the poor and minorities.  The book goes back and forth between a particularly moving case Stevenson worked on in his career and other cases/issues he continues to work on today.  It is an eye-opening and powerful read and I just found out it’s going to be a movie (starring my favorite, Michael B Jordan!).  More of us need to be talking about what’s really going on in our prison systems and how we can change it.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
This is not my typical read, science fiction/thriller, but it had been recommended by more than one person as just that, a science fiction/thriller for people who don’t usually read them.  It was kind of mind trippy and I couldn’t think to much about the science behind some of it or I’d get way too confused, but it was an incredibly interesting story that left me thinking about the choices we make and the lives that those choices lead to.  It was really good.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and JK Rowling
This is a play that went up in West London sometime in the last year, I think.  It’s set where the very end of the last Harry Potter book leaves off, with Harry and his crew grown adults who have children attending Hogwarts.  It was a little weird reading a play and I couldn’t wrap my brain around how they did this live with the magic and what not, but all in all it felt like a few hours with some old friends and that was lovely.

Honorable Mentions:  Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Very Married by Katherine Willis Pershey, The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, The Girls by Emma Cline and Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Three authors I got into this year.

I discovered a few new authors this year and went deep into the rabbit hole of their books and/or series, all of which were so good, it felt redundant to add them to my best of list.  I found Rainbow Rowell and read five of her books this year (Fan Girl, Carry On, Eleanor and Park, Attachments and Landline).  I started and finished the Robert Galbraith (which is actually just J.K. Rowling writing under a pen name) Cormoran Strike series which was excellent.  (Those three books are A Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil)  And while I discovered Liane Moriarty last year, my deep dive of her stuff continued into 2016.  I’ve read everything she’s written and thoroughly enjoyed all of it, but my favorites would probably include The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Big Little Lies and What Alice Forgot.


I read a lot of really great stuff this year and so while this list may just be my very favorite, there were a bunch of others that I would enthusiastically recommend as well.  In fact, of my list of 45 books there were maybe only two or three that I didn’t like.  I just finished my first book of 2017, Hatching Twitter by Nick Bolton, a super fascinating look at the birth and growth of Twitter.


What are you reading??

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy New Year


A terribly cute/terrible toddler with some current sleep issues kept Tommy and I from ringing in the New Year together this year.  He took the big three kids to the Farm while I stayed home with the youngest.  My NYE consisted of sushi with my mom, and binge watching New Girl alone in bed, all of which had me asleep well before midnight.  NYE looks a little different these days and that is fine by me.

As a result, however, nothing about the last few days felt like any sort of “holiday” and I kind of forgot that there was any real significance to the day, other than the fact that I got to bust out my brand new Paper Source Art Grid calendar.  Instagram reminded me quickly though and I watched as many people posted their joy that the dumpster fire of a year that was 2016 was finally put to bed.

2016 was a crazy making year and unfortunately much of what made me crazy will be coming with us into the new year.  For me, when I look at our country and our world, the things that produced anxiety and hopelessness in me this past year are still very much in play.  And I don’t really know what to do with that as I look ahead to 2017.  The scary things feel too much outside of my control and out of my ability to produce any kind of change.

I really haven’t written much since the election.  I haven’t known how to start or finish anything.  When I write I’m looking for grace and hope and redemption and, well, that’s been harder for me to find.

But it’s a new year and I want to get back to old practices. I want to look at life a bit more like a camera lens this year.  My resolve in 2017 is to zoom that lens in and out this year.  I want to remember to zoom out, to look at the big picture and to care about what’s going on in the whole world.  For me this will look like paying attention, getting involved in whatever is resisting bigotry and hatred and injustice, and using whatever cards I have to speak up when necessary.  I’m going to read and listen and learn.  I’m going to be extra aware of what’s going on when I zoom that lens out and see the big picture.

But, that big picture can be overwhelming at times and I can seem powerless.  There is a lot I can’t fix or do.  And so I’m going to remember to zoom that lens in real close too and pay attention to my people, my kids and my husband, my family and the friends that have become family.  I’m going to focus the lens on them and their needs and how I can be of service.  I will make my world very small and settle into it, because this is where I can do the most good, this is where my actions produce the strongest ripples.

There will be a time for zooming the lens out and pulling it back in close and I need to do both.  My job this year is to pay attention and respond accordingly.  I can’t forget that there is a greater world out there that is hurting, that there are real injustices and abuses of power that need attention and resistance.  And I must remember that first and foremost I am called to the people in my home and in my community.  That making dinner, or reading stories or listening with full, undivided attention to my four-year-old as she rambles on about a weird dream she had last night about a unicorn, wonder woman and her best friend is often my most important ministry for the moment.

So this year I’m attempting to zoom in and out with my lens, to remember both views and forget neither.  


Happy 2017, friends.