Sunday, December 25, 2011


1 b : to learn from what one has seen or found in writing or printing

There are lots of things I'd like to write about tonight.  Each year, the last Christmas gift I give my daughters is a gift of words: words that describe who they have been over the last year.  I'm pondering the right 7 words for K, the perfect 10 for B and 11 fitting ones for A.  But my brain has not been firing on all cylinders over the last 14 days, so that last Christmas gift - and blog post - will be delivered a bit late.

Instead, what I've managed to do over the last hour or so of calm and quiet is look back on what I've read over the last year.  For Christmas, my family gave my mother two books - one nonfiction, one fiction.  The fiction one is People of the Book, a book I chose both because it's well-written and interesting and because I thought it was appropriate that our family give it, since we are people of books.

I have been so pleased in the last few months to see my extroverted K become not just a capable reader, but a voracious one.  I had wondered whether this little bundle of energy would ever find solace, entertainment and adventure between the pages of a book.  It seems like nothing less than a gift from my Creator to have three daughters who love to read.  So if you don't read much, here are my 2011 suggestions for places to start.

I don't read a lot of nonfiction (just six books this year, with a seventh in process), but there's a clear trend in the nonfiction books I do read.  I only read them if I think they're excellent.  And I don't just mean they have excellent ideas and content.  They must be well-written.  Both I Thought it Was Just Me by Brene Brown and The Art of Family by Gina Bria fit this bill.  I would recommend the former to any woman, so strong is the culture of shame in our world.  The latter is an inspiring, rather than instructional, take on parenting.

Historical Fiction
One of the best, if not the very best, books I read this year is a small, quiet book called Between Shades of Grey.  I love historical fiction for what it teaches me about our world and this book was an eye-opening and sometimes heartbreaking look at what it was like to be Lithuanian seventy years ago.

I think everyone in my family likes to find a good series of books.  For K, this was what ultimately got her hooked on reading.  A friend talked up the Magic Tree House books to her, she read a few and she's been sold ever since.  For me, a series is easy entertainment.  I've done the work of getting to know the characters through the first book or two, so if the author can keep surprising me, I'm happy to go along for the ride.  Two series have done this for me recently: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott and Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld.  I enjoy the Scott series in part because of its use of historical characters inserted into fictional plots.  The Leviathan trilogy has been my introduction to steampunk as a genre and they are fascinating alternate reality books.

Looking back at my reading trends over the last year, it's clear I like books that are otherworldly.  Sometimes the books that help you see our world best are the ones that aren't quite set in this world. A Discovery of Witches is a great book about accepting who you are and loving someone different than you.  Also worth a read was the lighter fare of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Just for Fun
A book that doesn't fit into my normal reading pattern is Ready Player One. This is a book about gamers competing in a virtual reality game - not standard fare for this girl who majored in art history and has never played games beyond casual Wii with the family.  But if you grew up in the 80s, this book has something to offer you.  It's entertainment, but well-written enough to not leave you feeling like you've just dined on cotton candy.

There you go.  A mere 8 books - not even 10% of what I read this year, but books I think will appeal to a wide range of people.  What have you read recently?  What do you want to read?  I'm always willing to add to my to-read list.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


2 : something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast

To my knowledge, this is the longest I've ever gone between blog posts.  There's good reason for that: I am grieving.  My Aunt Harriet, who was one of my favorite people in all of the world, passed away last week.  She was diagnosed with cancer in October and while we knew this day was coming, it is impossible to grieve beforehand.  I think your heart and mind simply refuses to let go of hope until there is absolutely no choice.  My aunt was a great encouragement and inspiration to me and I've been reeling a bit these last few days. 

Prior to my aunt's death, I had planned a cookie decorating party for Monday of this week.  I called a friend on Friday to discuss preparations for this party and she wisely advised me to cancel the party.  "Yes, you'll be back in town by then," she said, "but how will you feel?  I can't say for sure, but I think you'll be exhausted.  Grieving is tiring business."  I could not be more thankful for these words she offered with the utmost wisdom and kindness.  Thanks to her, we spent Monday watching TV, reading books and catching up on laundry.  I didn't cook a thing (unless you count frozen pizza for dinner as cooking - I don't.)

Tuesday I attempted to resume a somewhat normal schedule.  Grocery shopping simply could not be put off one day more, but as I walked the aisles with my list in hand, I was struck by how very difficult this was.  It was like I was walking through fog.  The haze in my mind would not clear, so I was careful to buy the items on my list and not much more.  Wednesday the girls and I were supposed to take Jason's car to the shop for an oil change and tune up.  When I called to schedule it, they told me to expect an hour and a half wait.  Hmmm.  An hour and a half with three daughters in a Midas waiting room?  That sounds difficult on a good day.  And I have not been having good days lately.

I googled the location.  The nearest library was a half-mile walk.  I'd never been to this branch and the forecast called for rain showers, but this was the best plan I could manage, especially with my limited brainpower.  I had the girls pack one bag each with library books to return, reminding them that they would need to carry their own books.  Thankfully, the weather cooperated and there was no rain to be found.  Our walk was a bit brisk, but we were in no hurry and we each had dressed for warmth.

The library branch, when we arrived, was the smallest I've ever seen.  The librarian even remarked to me that it's Nashville's smallest branch library.  I can believe it.  I helped the girls locate new-to-them books from the library's limited selection and we settled down around the library's sole table.  And we all read.  And read.  And read.

At one point, I put my book down and just looked around the table at them, one by one.  11 year old A has been an avid reader for more than half her life.  B's love of reading kicked in around first grade.  Extroverted K was the one I worried about.  Would the world of books - with the different type of interaction they offered - be enough for her?  Would she ever love books the way the rest of us do?  The short answer appears to be Yes.  Because of who I am, it feels like nothing less than a gift from God to have three daughters who willingly and gladly spent more than an hour huddled around a table the week of Christmas reading.

That tiny little library was an oasis for our family yesterday.  Had I been forced to spend the two hours that it took to work on J's car in that tiny waiting room, we would all have left exhausted and frustrated.  I would have had to answer K's innumerable questions about top stories on Fox News.  I would have had to remind B again and again that she couldn't go outside - there was nowhere to play.  And A would have been frustrated by her sister's inability to sit still around so much stimuli.

Wednesday didn't really go well because of me.  All I did was look for the nearest library and hope for the best.  But it felt like an early Christmas gift to end our morning by telling each other about our books as we walked back to Midas, instead of counting the second and minutes until we could get home.

In a month when I'm feeling like I'm lost in the desert, I'm thankful for the oasis we found yesterday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


1 : to make a present of

About this time last year, I read a blog post about what was - to me, at least - a radical idea: choosing to give to others instead of my family at Christmas.  Giving to those who really need it - not to my white, middle class children, who have everything they need and most of what they want.  It was challenging to me - this idea of doing Christmas differently.  But I'll confess two things that made me interested: 1) I'm not much into Things anyway and 2) a great big part of me really wants to be a radical - deep in my heart, I'm not much of a rule-follower.

J and I talked it over.  I wanted to know what he thought.  He's the more grounded of the two of us.  I get caught up in ideas with little thought of how to actually execute on them.  Our daughters have had more than a decade of receiving gifts at Christmas - how might they react?  Our culture tells them to want, want, want - could we buck that trend?  Was I crazy to even suggest we try?

After many discussion with me trying to temper my enthusiasm and J trying to meet me halfway, we came up with an idea.  I can't remember now whether it was his idea or mine, but we decided a year ago to try something different this Christmas.  Instead of buying gifts for our daughters, we would give them money each week of Advent for them to give away.  They've had some experience with giving, thanks to J's willingness to let the girls spend the tithe of his annual bonus.  And they'll still get some gifts: they have chosen gifts for each other and will get a stocking and a gift from Santa (in addition to gifts to and from grandparents).  But the gifts from us?  That money will go elsewhere.

Advent weeks 1 and 2 ended up being lumped together for giving.  Despite my best intentions, I didn't make time to sit down with our girls the first week of Advent for their giving.  So we recently went through some catalogs and talked through their giving options.  K loved the idea of giving rabbits or chicks to someone via Heifer International, an organization my dear aunt introduced us to.  B initially said she wanted to give her money to our church.  I reminded her that we tithe there anyway, but after hearing last Sunday about a fourth quarter budget shortfall, she wants to give all of her Advent money there.  (I feel I should note how surprising it is to both J and I that B wants to give money to our church.  She complains about going nearly every Sunday - not because it's not a fabulous place, but because she would rather spend her time in other ways.  I'm encouraged that something good must be happening to her heart while there if she's choosing to give them her gift.) A is still on the fence: give money to her ballet school (which serves inner city youth) or her church?

You might be wondering what my girls' reactions were to the news they would give instead of getting this year.  I told A and B together.  A was pretty immediately agreeable to the idea.  She loves gift-giving, but I think she's a bit like me and doesn't thrill to gift-getting.  B was not happy.  She's 10.  She likes electronics.  She likes predictability and tradition - this was radically new.  She let me know exactly how she felt.  K was excited when I first explained it to her.  Then she listened more carefully and realized this was going to cut into her gifts.  Her excitement diminished considerably.  Interestingly enough, B was there when K realized what this meant and got upset.  B chose to be the peacemaker and started reminded K of the good things about doing Christmas this way.

My own reaction has been as varied as that of my daughters.  I really want this to work.  I have been amazed at how freeing it has been to not spend hours planning for gifts and shopping for gifts.  It's like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders.  Yet I am, by nature, someone who avoids conflict.  And I fear my daughters' disappointment on Christmas morning.  Will they feel shortchanged?  Is it possible to raise children who don't feel entitled to things when the culture screams at them that they deserve to fulfill their every wish and whim?  How will I feel if they're sad?

I've also been surprised to find I feel like we're not giving enough.  We've always had fairly modest Christmases around here.  We don't spend thousands on gifts.  So the money we've designated for them to give each week isn't a huge amount.  It's left me wondering whether I could do something different to give them more to give.  But yesterday as I was checking out of the grocery store, I realized something: our Advent giving isn't the only way we're giving this season.  We hosted a party for 60 ten days ago and next week we'll host a cookie decorating party.  Those parties?  They cost money.  I've never thought of them as ministry because they bring so much joy to our family.  But a friend who attended my birthday party commented that my children weren't territorial about having two dozen extra children in their space.  They shared their rooms, their toys, their friends.  And that's giving, isn't it?

I've been thinking these last few days about wanting to see more fully.  This can be a scary thing to pray for - seen things can't been unseen.  We're stuck with knowing how far this world is from God's kingdom.  But when we really see, we also get a glimpse of the ways God is at work that we missed before.  I've never realized that hosting a party is a gift to others, but it's no coincidence that we open our home to others more at this time of year than any other time.  We've been giving of ourselves all along.

I've been hesitant to write about our plans for Christmas giving.  I don't want you to read this and think we're super-spiritual or on the fast track to heaven.  I don't think people are wrong to celebrate Christmas by giving gifts.  I just want to see whether I can foster something different, unique and radical in the hearts of my children.  I want to see whether I can remove some of the stress of Christmas by putting our focus elsewhere.  Because that would be a gift to all of us.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


2 d : disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency

Thus far, Advent has not gone exactly as I imagined.

I've been planning for this season since July.  Back then, I talked A and B into doing math a few times each week so that we could suspend our regular studies in favor of Advent studies and activities for the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  No science, no history, no grammar - just baking cookies, studying the people and symbols of the season and doing things for others.  They (grudgingly) agreed and to my delight and relief we're nearly halfway through our math textbook with nearly five months still ahead of us to finish it.  We're still doing a bit of math each day, but we've cut back our textbook lessons to two per week and are doing a lesson or two on Khan Academy to keep skills fresh.  In addition to a bit of math each day, we're trying to Think, Read and Do something related to Advent.

What this means varies by day.  Yesterday, we talked about the difference between saints and Saints.  We discussed icons and looked at some examples.  We found that the saint could be framed by several different things: scenes from the saint's life were the most common, but other images show the saint surrounded by prophets or by images from sermons preached.  Then the girls were to create their own icon-inspired image.  Which they did... but not until today.  This was partly their fault - they knew the assignment and did not do it.  But it was also my fault.  I didn't follow up or follow through, so it slipped until today.

Quite frankly, this is largely because I am tired and my entire family is tired.  I opted for a long trip to the library yesterday instead of more time at the table.  This afternoon brought a trip to the Adventure Science Center instead of more school work.  These things weren't scheduled, but they were what we needed.  This week is crunch time for Nutcracker rehearsals.  Over the course of an 8 day period, A rehearses or performs for 7 of those 8 days.  The one extra evening was occupied by B's choir concert.  We're on day 5 with opening night tomorrow.  I think we're going to make it.  But only because I've left piles of laundry for a day when I can manage it.  Only because I've scrapped some of my Advent ideas in favor of reading books.  Only because I've given myself grace to let go of my grand plans for Advent and let the season unfold with a mixture of planning and mystery.

Tomorrow is a school day, but the girls in this house are taking a mental health day.  K is staying home from school.  A and B's Advent plan for the day can wait.  Instead, we'll sleep in, make pancakes for breakfast, watch Christmas movies, read Christmas books, and rest.  If Advent is about waiting and listening, then I think it's important to listen to what's going on with my children.  Tempers have been flaring and my girls are exhausted.  I can insist we push through and take advantage of all this season has to offer.  Or I can let my own grand plans slip through my fingers like sand from the beach.  That sounds a lot more like a grace-filled Advent to me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


1 a: the act or process of making preparation to meet a need

Over the last few days, I've made double batches of three soups (Tomato Florentine, Chicken Tortilla and Chorizo Black Bean Chili).  I've baked cowboy cookies, peanut brittle, lemon whippersnappers, chocolate sweet potato cupcakes and chocolate covered pretzels.  I've de-cluttered kitchen counters, dusted, swept, mopped and vacuumed.

My birthday is next Saturday, but tonight we hosted a party.  A lot of people came.  I've always loved having parties.  Even back in high school, I can remember hosting friends for a game night or a football game.  What I didn't realize (or think much about) until recently was my motivation for hosting parties.  As an Enneagram 9, I love filling my home with people from all of the different parts of my life.  I love school friends mixing with homeschool friends mixing with church friends.  It makes my heart happy and content to cook for them, host them and see them all together.

But this year felt a bit different to me.  For the past six years, we've done a roughly bi-annual birthday party for me.  There was no birthday bash last year, but we did host an open house the day after Christmas.  I was on the fence about whether to have a party this year because A is in the Nutcracker, which makes for a very busy December.  As I was still pondering what I wanted to do, K took matters into her own hands.  Before a date was even set, she started inviting people.  I took that (strong) hint and decided to go for it.  Deciding not to be bound by tradition, I picked a date exactly one week before my birthday - the Saturday before Nutcracker starts.

We set the date for the party and invited people several weeks ago.  And then the week of the party arrived and I struggled.  My extended family is going through some very difficult times and my body's response to processing all of these emotions is exhaustion.  This is not a great stress reaction to have when you're about to host several dozen people for a party.  I have a friend who can be found scrubbing her floors while processing emotions.  That's a stress reaction I could have used.  Alas, it wasn't to be.

On Saturday morning, I lay in bed with J and told him that all I really wanted to do was curl up into a ball and be alone.  He said he could tell that's how I felt, but that I'd love it once the party arrived.  I just had to finish the cooking and the preparations.  It would all be worth it.

Even on the day of a party, regular life doesn't stop.  A and K had ballet in the morning.  B had basketball.  Then A and B had a youth group party to attend in the afternoon.  (Mercifully, a friend was driving them to and from this party.  They would otherwise not have been able to go.)  About 30 minutes before K was due to get home from ballet, a friend called.  "Do you have a minute?" she asked.  "Sure," I replied, "I'm just heading out to buy brown sugar because of course I've run out of it six hours before a party."  My friend was calling to see if K could come over and play after ballet.  What a gift this was - a few more hours alone in the kitchen to finish the last batch of cookies.

Earlier that day another friend had called.  "I'm in Goodwill. They have tons of Christmas mugs on sale.  Did you say you needed a few more for tonight's party?"  She bought me ten, washed them and brought them to the party, thereby ensuring every adult had a Christmas mug to hold their soup.

At about 4 yesterday afternoon, I headed upstairs for a quick bath before the party.  I took a few minutes to read the daily office in Celtic Daily Prayer and realized as I prayed that the timing of this party was God's provision.  Had I not seen K's desire for a party and responded, I likely would have spent the day curled into a metaphorical ball.  I would have read a book, taken a nap and tried to numb the pain.  Instead, I cooked, cleaned and prepared my house for guests.

A friend at the party surveyed all of the food and said to me, "So for your birthday you cooked all of this and invited us all over?"  When I replied affirmatively he said, "That's funny.  I much prefer letting someone else do all of that on my birthday."  But even as I've had a difficult week and had a hard time getting motivated to be ready for this party, I've know and realized that hosting parties is one way I love others.  Let me not give the impression that my house was spotless for this event, nor that the food was entirely homemade.  Publix and Trader Joe's provided most of the appetizers so that I could concentrate on soups and desserts.  But everything I cooked was made with gratitude for friends who were willing to spend a Saturday night with us.

As I chatted with a friend at the party, I told her how I thought God knew even better than I did what I needed on this day.  And he provided it in a big way: through friends who helped with children and party supplies and through a party that I wasn't sure I could muster the energy to host.  The energy arrived when I needed it - and not a moment before.  And the party provided a reminder that sadness has its place, but that I should not forget all of the people in my life who love me.

Looking back on this party, I'm amazed at how well it went.  I'm amazed at how many people came.  When I host a party, I am terrible at limiting the guest list.  Since part of my motivation for having a party is to bring together all of the parts of my life, I want to invite everyone.  I can't stand the idea of someone feeling left out.  So I tend to over invite and trust that it will work out.  Perhaps I over invited this time.  By my best count, there were sixty-one people here last night.  But it definitely all worked out.  There was enough food, a lovely and mild December evening for the children to run around in the backyard and God's spectacular early birthday gift of giving me eyes to see his provision for me.

Monday, November 28, 2011


: to release from a furled (wrapped or rolled close to or around something) state

It was roughly a year ago that I chose the word unfurl for 2011.  Perhaps its misleading to even say I chose the word.  I prayed for several days about what my word for 2011 might be and I heard "unfurl" as a very distinct response.  I was puzzled at first, then accepting.  Until early January when it hit me that this unfurling was a process that was likely to leave me very vulnerable.  I had a very clear mental image of an unfurled flag being whipped around in gale force winds.  Not a comforting concept to kick off the year.

Tonight as I contemplate the word - and my year - I see it a bit differently.  Tonight, I'm struck by the fact that an unfurled flag does not do much on its own.  When there's little or no wind, even an unfurled flag is calm, unlikely to be noticed.  Yet when the wind picks up - when the time is right - an unfurled flag billows, blows and points the way.  (I started to type "calls attention to itself," but I can't quite take the metaphor there if that might mean I actually need to call attention to myself sometimes.  I'll go with "points the way" instead.)

I've been very aware lately of how much God's timing is at play in my life.  I am spending nine months doing an Ignatian Prayer Cycle.  The idea is to spend a bit of time every day reading specified scriptures.  The reality is that I'm 8 or 9 days behind.  Yet yesterday's sermon and my own  verse tied together beautifully and made me thankful I've fallen behind.  I loved having my own quiet time reinforce the words I'd heard earlier that same day.  An unfurled flag waits for the wind's timing.  It doesn't - can't - do its job by itself.

But that same flag isn't always idle.  For the first time yesterday I served as a lay reader at church.  This means I read the first lesson for the day to the congregation.  It's an oddity (I think) that an introvert like me is good at public speaking.  But I am.  I had to read the entire first chapter of Jonah yesterday and I was nervous.  But instead of letting my nerves hurry me along, they made me slow down and read the passage better.  I went back to my seat feeling like I'd used a part of me that was meant to be used.  This is growth for me - to be active and participatory instead of deferring and accommodating.  This is unfurling - to accept that I have something to offer and offer it.  When the wind blows and God points me in a direction, I don't want to stay curled up and resisting.  I want to be unfurled and open to going where I'm sent and enjoying the moments when the wind is still.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


2: bold, steady

This time of year heralds my favorite season.  I love cooking for Thanksgiving: from buying the right sized turkey, to cooking the cranberries for the dressing to starting the sweet potato casserole a few days ahead of time.  It all makes me happy and content.  Over the course of our fifteen year marriage, we've done the holidays many different ways.  Our first Thanksgiving and Christmas were spent alone - just the two of us in Columbus, Ohio.  For several years thereafter, we rotated between our families, spending Thanksgiving at home and Christmas on the road to either Alabama or Wisconsin.  Then three or four years ago, A and B began asking when they would get to have Christmas at their house.  This coincided with A performing in Nashville Ballet's Nutcracker for the first time, so it was a blessing to not have to load up and leave town the day she finished performing.  When we made that switch, we traveled at Thanksgiving and spent Christmas at home.  Until this year.

J's new job requires that we be in town Thanksgiving weekend.  So we traveled over fall break and will celebrate the holidays here at home.  With fall break's travels behind us, I was looking forward to being home, settled in and cooking all our favorites.  That is, until K began expressing - loudly and frequently - that she was not happy to be home for Thanksgiving, that it was not fun to have just the five of us together, that it was not recent enough to have visited family last month.  This was hard for me.  I like to be content and I want others around me content.

As J and I sat up late one night discussing my fear that K's discontent would wreak havoc with not just Thanksgiving, but Christmas, he encouraged me to be resolute.  K's attitude had made me feel like I was being selfish and lazy. Selfish to want time together just our family.  Lazy to not want to spend 20 hours in the car at the end of a very busy month.  J reminded me that I didn't make these decisions alone - we decided together.  Then he asked an insightful question: "What is it you like so much about Christmas?"  His theory is that by focusing on the things I like, I'll be better equipped to withstand K's storms.  In short, my joy will make me resolute.

My immediate answer was that what I love about Christmas is the anticipation.  I love waiting for the 25th to arrive.  I love the way my house looks different during December than any other time of the year.  (Christmas decorating is the only thing that ever makes cleaning enjoyable.)  I love the foods we eat only this time of year.  I love remembering baking cookies with my grandmother and dreaming about baking with my own grandchildren someday.  I love that Christmas is different from any other time of the year.

Given all of this, I decided Advent's anticipation couldn't start too soon around here.  Yesterday we decorated the mantle.  Today we put the Christmas tree up.  That's right - the day before Thanksgiving.  If Christmas is what lightens my heart, the Christmas season is what we're going to usher in around here.

Even a morning of Christmas tree decorating followed by a movie has led to some grumbling from K.  I wasn't moving fast enough this morning.  (Imagine me wanting to drink coffee before retrieving ornaments from the basement?  The nerve!) I tried to be steady and remember that all of our decorating doesn't have to be done in one day.  I tried to remember that K's dissatisfaction doesn't have to lead to discouragement on my part.  I'm trying to be resolute in my pursuit of an Advent that's not perfect, but meaningful.  One that's not spent anticipating gifts, but gift giving.  I want to spend this Advent with an anticipatory heart that's resolute in making this Advent one of worship, thoughtfulness and service.

Friday, November 18, 2011


1 : upset, overthrown

I think I'm the type of person easily overwhelmed and this week has thrown more than its fair share of obstacles my way.  In the last 3 days alone, I have attended the funeral of a friend's 14 year old son, found out about a friend's cancer diagnosis, heard about a family member who lost her job and received word that another friend had emergency surgery.  Last night when J got home, we were talking about another sad situation involving a teenager who is wrapped up in a world she's constructed - one that bears little resemblance to reality.  We talked for a while and then I said, "I  can't talk about this anymore.  It's just too much for me right now."

In this midst of all of this, I read yesterday a prayer of Hild of Whitby.  This seventh century woman founded a double monastery that was home to both men and women.  Can you imagine being a woman of that time and holding that kind of influential position?  I mentally shrink from the idea.  Yet when I read this prayer in Celtic Daily Prayer, it resonated with me:

Take me often from the tumult of things
into Thy presence.
There show me what I am,
and what Thou hast purposed me to be.
Then hide me from Thy tears.

O King and Saviour,
what is Thy gift to me?
And do I use it to Thy pleasing?

The prayer goes on for several more stanzas, but I think these two questions are enough to ponder for now.  What is God's gift to me?  Do I use it to his pleasing?  I also love the idea of imploring God to remove me from the tumult of thing into his presence.  Surely this is the key to not being so overwhelmed.

What does that look like from a practical standpoint?  There are still children to be taught, a family to be fed, laundry to be washing and myriad other tasks to be completed.  I can't simply check out of my life.  This week, I've tried to take care of the essentials and let the other things go.  That means the laundry is washed, but the bathroom floors aren't mopped.  Math was done today, but not Latin.  Dinner tonight will be pasta with bottled sauce, not one from scratch.

Fighting being overwhelmed with the tool of contemplation also means there is a pot filled with orange peels and cinnamon simmering on my stove, filling the house with a fragrant aroma - one that reminds me that even in the midst of so much pain, so much brokenness, there is good in this life.  It means leaving my daughters to finish their history while I retreat upstairs to read in Luke.  It means turning on Christmas music while I work (even if it is 6 days before Thanksgiving - I know what my soul needs and it needs Christmas music!).

Near the end of Hild's prayer, it says:

May I be equal to Your hope of me.
If I am weak,
I ask that You send only what I can bear.
If I am strong,
may I shrink from no testing
that shall yield increase of strength
or win security for my spirit.

I have been asking God to send me only what I can bear, for I feel weak indeed.  I can't fix the things that are broken in the lives of those I love.  I can only hope to not be too upset, to not be thrown off the task of loving my family well and seeking the Lord in the midst of it all.

Monday, November 14, 2011


: the act or process of making or carrying out plans

I love planning.  It makes me feel motivated, accountable and ready.  In fact, I probably enjoy the act of planning even more than executing the plan.  That's not necessarily a good trait to have, but that's the truth of who I am.

When I started homeschooling sixteen months ago, I eschewed written plans.  I did this partly because I wanted to keep my inner perfectionist at bay and partly because I know that I have a tendency to love a plan and lose sight of the bigger picture in pursuit of sticking to the plan.  I also thought A needed to loosen up a bit and that more freedom in schooling would be good for both of us.  This lasted for approximately three months of our homeschool experience. 

This time last year, A and I tried our first unit study.  We spent the month of November studying Thanksgiving in more depth, both as a way to prepare our hearts for the holiday and to shake up our schedule a bit - taking a break from our regular history and science to do the unit study.  A loved doing a unit study, so we decided to do one for Advent as well.  The catch?  I couldn't find a unit study that I liked.  I found two that were candidates - one had great hands on activities, the other was a fairly comprehensive look at Christmas symbols - but neither one was challenging enough or detailed enough to fulfill our academics for the entire month.  My solution?  I combined the two studies and created an Excel spreadsheet with each day's plan.  A loved it.  Not just the study - the plan.

When January arrived and I attempted to go back to our original method of deciding together what subject to do next, A asked for a written plan again.  After some thought and honest assessment, I realized using a plan was working. If A did better with a plan in place, it didn't make sense for me to not use a written plan just for the sake of "freedom."  After all, freedom is much more about knowing when to say yes and when to say no.  Saying no to something that worked wasn't freedom - it was being a slave to what I thought we needed.

I've refined our plan and its look a few times, but the basics are the same.  One spreadsheet contains all of A's (and now B's) work for the week.  They can see at a glance which days have heavier loads and which days allow time for field trips, time with friends, etc.

Like last year, I'm creating a different type of plan for Advent.  We'll still do math, although a lighter load - interspersing our Saxon lessons with Khan Academy practice.  Once math is out of the way, we'll Think, Read and Do.  We'll Think about either a church saint or an aspect of Advent each day.  We'll Read about our topic - mainly via books, but with some online help for certain topics.  Finally, we'll Do something to tie together what we've learned.  I'm excited about all of this, but I'm most excited about Doing.

As I said above, I love planning.  I'll gladly spend time researching several options, selecting the best books to read and diving into ideas.  It's the doing where I fall down.  I lose energy partway through the execution of a plan.  This is (I think) partly the result of being a Nine.  I love plans because they help me see underlying connections.  I love reading about Saint Lucia and connecting her name to the Latin word for light, then coming up with an activity to help us think about the importance of light not just during Advent, but throughout our journey of faith. 

But the doing?  I find it difficult.  I can get lost in ideas and forget to actually do these great things I envision.

The beauty of my Advent plan for this year is that it will hold me accountable.  Writing down that we will have Saint Lucia bread on December 13th means two very disappointed girls if I don't deliver.  (That's one good thing about having an Eight as a daughter - she will push me to Do and not just plan.)

Let me be clear that I don't expect all of this planning and even accountability to change who I am.  If I'm going to bake cookies several times weekly, run deliveries to different friends and oversee the creation of dozens of Christmas gifts, I'm going to require some down time.  I'm going to have to feed my soul if I want to help my children see Christmas as more than a time to receive.  How?  Partly by keeping it simple.  Instead of trying to make a gingerbread house, Christmas cards and homemade marshmallows in the same day, we'll do that on three different days. That's the beauty of Think, Read and Do.  Pretty simple.  The less our plan outlines specifically for the day, the more freedom we have to keep Reading, go on Thinking or Do something else.

I'm also going to try something that worked during Lent: I'm going to adopt a spiritual practice of creating every day.  This time around, it might not be collage.  I've spent less time blogging in recent weeks, so maybe part of my spiritual practice will be to journal - here or in my Advent Journal.  I just know it fills my emotional tank to have space in my day for quiet creating.  So no matter what the plan says, I'll do that to take care of my soul. 

What will you do?  For Advent?  For your soul care?  For celebrating?  If you'd like to know details of our Advent plan, I'll be posting weekly on my other blog about Advent activities you can do with your children.  And since we can't be fully present for our children without taking care of ourselves, I'll include some suggestions for that as well.

Here's hoping all of this planning leads me to one place: the cross by way of the manger.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


2 a : the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed; also : point of view

It's so nice to have an in-house art teacher.  I was trying to draw cowboy boots today and couldn't figure out how to draw the feet.  The body was full frontal, so should the boots be to the side?  To the same or different sides?  I called B over and she quickly showed me how to do it.  When I asked whether to point the toes of the other foot in the same direction, she said, "If you want to look Egyptian!"  She then posed for me, demonstrating how awkward it is to stand with your body forward and your feet going the same way.  I got her point.  It's really all about perspective, isn't it?

A friend was recently talking about a mutual acquaintance.  She was sharing how this person's family is so authentic, so genuine, so real.  She talked about how they show their faith through their lives and how they've been such a blessing to her during her time in Nashville.  My perspective is entirely different.  The mom and dad in this family have both been judgmental, artificial and critical of my family.  From my perspective, they aren't any of the things my friend said.  So who's right?  I think we both are.

I have many mutual friends who find this family completely delightful and servant-hearted.  But I am not going to deny my own experiences and invalidate them.  This family makes me feel judged and hurt.  I don't admire them, respect them or even like them.  Is that wrong?  Or is it just the result of trying to hold in tension my own truth and the truth of others' experiences?

Someone might meet me and later describe me as a great listener, as someone who didn't say the right thing, but just listened and made them feel really heard.  Another friend of yours might tell you I'm standoffish, that I don't go out of my way to speak to them and sometimes even intentionally don't come over to chat when I could.  Who's right?  Both would be.  Depending on the day, my mood, how I feel and how well I know you, I might not initiate conversation.  This doesn't mean I don't like you.  It doesn't even mean I don't want to talk to you.  The vast majority of the time, my perspective is that if you want to talk to me, you'll start talking to me.  I start from the baseline assumption that people have better things to do than talk to me.

I have a deep desire to give people, including my children, the opportunity to have a different perspective than my own.  I think we each bring a unique viewpoint to every person, situation and circumstance we encounter.  Given this, clearly we all have different perspectives.  And I think these different views and ways of approaching life reflect God beautifully.  I think he's far more diverse than any one individual, so the myriad perspectives we bring collectively reflect him far better than any one of us does.  The challenge is how to honor our own perspective and the perspectives of others.  This is easier for me with some people than others.  I think overall I'm a very accepting person,but there have been a handful of people that I've encountered in my life who have taken a nearly instant dislike to me.  Without exception, I've always been hurt by this.  For some bizarre reason, I expect people to, if not like me, then not react with such strong dislike.  I'll be honest and say that my hurt in these instances has kept me from even attempting to see, much less value, their perspectives.  I'm not saying this is right or good of me.  It's just the truth of who I am.

I'll keep working on developing a willingness to let others see the world their way.  And in the meantime, I'll direct any technical perspective questions to my astute 10 year old.

Monday, November 7, 2011


1 : to affect or alter by indirect or intangible means
2 : to have an effect on the condition or development of

Who and what do you let influence your thinking, your life, your actions?  Do you take time to stop and evaluate which aspects of your life are altered by an influence you might not choose?  I'm asking these questions not just of you, but of myself.

I've been thinking about this partly in relation to my children.  What influences exist in their lives?  Are they positive or negative?  Which influences do I fear most for my children?  We live in an urban neighborhood, but I don't fear many of the influences they encounter here.  A friend of my has talked about the influence of poverty versus the influence of affluence. I fear the latter much more for my children.  I think it's unlikely they will face the harsh realities of poverty in their lifetime.  But affluence?  That they might encounter and I do fear it for them - and for me. 

I think affluence is a huge stumbling block to any sort of true faith.  It's hard to believe you need God when you can provide not only for your needs, but every want, every whim.  I think many people in our country clutch two identical idols in their hands - the idol of wealth and the idol of success.  I don't want this for my children.  I'm not saying I hope they live paycheck to paycheck and know what it's like to truly be hungry.  I am saying I want them to know there are people in those circumstances all around them - children who might look just like them, but don't go home to a healthy snack, don't have a hearty dinner to look forward to and love school days because they are sure to get breakfast and lunch.

Affluence influences all of us. It's pushed at us every day through countless commercials, billboards, web ads and more.  When I really stop to think about what our culture tells our children - want more, earn more, buy more - it scares me.  Our very economy is built on consumption.  I've quizzed my husband on this and tried to get a better grasp on why it's so very necessary for us always to be buying more as a country.  I was able to understand a bit, but, frankly, stopped asking questions because it was too disheartening.  The system is simply too big to be stopped and I'm doubtful it will be significantly altered in my lifetime.  So what can I do when faced with a world that tells my children one thing and a fierce desire to teach them something else as truth?

Yesterday's sermon was on saints.  The image that has stuck with me the most was one that our priest shared of a child who described saints as "the ones the light shine through" (referencing the stained glass windows).  After the sermon, I spent a bit of time alone in prayer pondering a verse that started "The Lord is my light."  Much to my own surprise, I realized I have a certain degree of fear of light.  I don't like to think about light shining on me.  I can remember walking into my childhood home and walking all the way through the house to my bedroom without ever turning on a light.  I felt safe that way.  But light shining on me?  That gives me an image of being singled out and noticed - two things I don't much enjoy.  This truth really hit home this morning when I got up at my normal time to run and it was full daylight instead of the time just before sunrise.  It was a terrible run.  I felt so exposed, so insecure, almost nervous.  I didn't like it at all.  I'd much rather run in the dark.

"What does this have to do with influence?" you might ask.  That's a valid question.  The connection for me is that I shy away from being an influence.  I don't want the light on me.  I don't want to be seen.  I'd rather listen to you than talk to you because what if I say something that you don't want to hear?  I can't (and don't) take that approach with my children, but I think God is trying to talk to me about my willingness to trust him to bring a light that's not harsh and glaring like a fluorescent light at the grocery store, but gentle and forgiving like candlelight.

One encouraging thing to me about these intertwined ideas of light and influence is that light is something seen, not heard.  Maybe where I live, how I live and who I love does more to help me live like a stained glass window than anything I could ever say.

Friday, November 4, 2011


2 a : to take possession of

Fall is slipping through my fingers and today I decided to seize the day instead of just letting it wash over me.  Our fall break was a world tour (according to my 10 year old) that took us from Nashville to Milwaukee to Nashville to Memphis to southern Alabama and back to Nashville.  I had my oil changed the day before our trip started and in ten days' time we had driven nearly 3,000 miles.  This travel brought many fun, enlightening and loving moments, but it left us (especially me) tired.  We returned home two weeks ago today and I feel like I'm still recovering.

My approach to recovery last week was to try to take it slow.  I crafted a lighter week of school work for A and B, both to help them readjust and to give me a bit more time to catch up on laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning.

That worked fairly well, but I simply was not able to do all that I wanted during October.  I wrote very little.  We missed Cheekwood's scarecrows altogether (which nearly broke my heart).  And we didn't take a single long, aimless fall walk to collect leaves, acorns and memories.

Today was a grey day.  It rained all day yesterday and the sun waited until noon to make a significant appearance.  I did not let that stop us.  We did one math lesson this morning and headed out for a walk at a state park about 30 minutes from our home.  It was just what we needed.

A friend and her daughters joined us.  While we chatted about compromise in marriage, how to rest in the midst of a full life and supper clubs, our daughters scampered over trees, waded into mud, dashed, dawdled and strolled.

I can't go back and change our October into a month that went according to my plan.  And I can't guarantee that November will bring less surprises.  What I can do is seize the days I'm given, make the effort to be fully present within those days and hold each moment loosely in my hands, grateful for what stays and only briefly grieving what slips away.

More than ever before, I am longing for Advent's arrival here in our home, in our lives.  Last year was the first time I grasped that we don't just wait for Christmas during Advent.  We wait for Christ.  We await his return.  By that definition of Advent, I'm already assuming the posture of that season.  I'm trying to find time to listen, time to sit quietly, time to still my soul.  I'm inconsistent in these pursuits, but they help me settle myself into my life and seize the opportunities I'm given.

Pictures from today's walk, courtesy of 10 year old photographer B:

Friday, October 28, 2011


2 a : deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

Someone I love very much is dying and I am sad to see her go.  She was diagnosed with cancer a mere two weeks ago and the girls and I visited last week.  I got a call last night to tell me the bad news - that the cancer is taking over - and as I stood in the kitchen, on the phone and crying, B and K came over, stood beside me and just hugged me.  They didn't know why I was crying.  They only knew their mom was upset, so they offered what they could.  I hung up the phone, explained through tears and accepted more hugs.

A bit later, we sat down at the table for dinner.  As our soup sat cooling, I asked K to pray.  She bowed her head, started to pray and after a few sentences burst into tears.  "I'm just too sad to pray," she sobbed, doubled over with grief.  I knew just what she meant.  Sometimes there are no words.  In the Anglican church, there is a breath prayer that I sometimes use at times like this.  As you inhale, you pray, "Lord, have mercy" and on exhale, "Christ, have mercy."  Even that prayer is hard when your breath comes in gasps from crying.  Like K, I find I am just too sad to pray.

My mind is foggy, unclear.  I've wandered through today in a daze, doing laundry because it seems to be a task I can somewhat manage.  But my heart is heavy.  I keep thinking of the person I love - of her house, her dishes, the things she likes to drink and eat.  My daughters have found me crying more than once and I've just explained that I'm still sad.

I told K last night as she cried that it was good for her to cry.  Her crying meant she loved and was sad.  This is worth our tears, but that doesn't make it any easier to bear.  We live hours away and can't drop by the hospital with a book, a card, flowers.  I am so thankful for our visit last week, for the gift that was to us.  All we can really do now is remember and grieve. 

And somehow that just doesn't seem like enough.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


2 a : to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business

I had lunch today with some girlfriends.  This is a rare occurrence for me.  Homeschooling 10 and 11 year old girls doesn't leave me with much free time.  But when the opportunity arose today (and the aforementioned girls were at their tutorial), I decided to go.  I went even though a part of me longed to go straight home and climb into bed for a long nap before picking K up from school.  I went even though it was the opposite direction from home.  I went because even though my first impulse is often to be antisocial, I need community.  In fact, I probably need it more than I realize.

As you would expect, we chatted while we snacked on chips, salsa and guacamole.  We talked over  salad, soup and quesadillas.  We mused as we finished off sopapillas.  At some point, the talk turned to girls.  One mom shared that she expects her daughter to hit puberty soon.  We agreed on the importance of marking big transitions for our daughters and then started talking about just how to do that.

I'll often write a blog post to commemorate an event I don't want to forget (like A getting her first pair of pointe shoes).  This is partly because I'm not a scrapbook keeper nor a memory box aficionado nor one to jot notes of this type in my journal.  It's also because writing it down helps me cement my own thoughts and feelings about what happened.  But there are some things that are hard to talk about on my blog.  A family member's illness?  A friend's dying child?  Balancing a desire to pray for those who are sick and hurting with a desire to pretend the world isn't as painful as this?  I don't/can't/won't process these things on my blog.  Which has meant fewer posts of late because those around me are walking through some very hard times.

I am doing my best to walk alongside them.  To not abandon them while I read a book and pretend everything is OK.  To listen to their hurts.  To pray for them in quiet.  To simply imagine lifting them up to God when I don't even have the words to pray.

It was good to sit with friends today and not feel the burdens of the world quite so heavily for a few moments.  It was good to think about how to honor our girls as they move from being little girls to young women.  I'm not quite ready to fully imagine my daughters as full grown women, but I see them changing before my very eyes.  They are young, but they are making the transition from prepubescent to pubescent.  They are alternately working, struggling, fighting and embracing the job of figuring out exactly who they are.  I want to meet them where they are and encourage them as they take steps towards becoming more self-sufficient, more adult, more of who they are meant to be.  But this happens in fits and starts, not in a consistently plot line.  It's one thing to write about my daughters milestones, but what do I do to celebrate them?  What action am I taking? They are working at growing up.  How am I working to help them do it?

Tonight I asked A and B to make four salads for us while I put the rice and black beans into bowls.  They started unhappy.  Unhappy escalated to exasperation for A, who quickly told me she wasn't capable of making a salad.  Unhappy escalated to anger for B when she realized she was to make salads for others, not just herself.  Should helping make dinner (especially when it's something as easy as a salad) be a part of growing up?  Certainly.  Do my daughters long for this part of maturity as much as they are counting down the days to riding in the front seat of the van?  Not on your life. 

One action I have to take - and take more consistently - is teaching, encouraging and even forcing my daughters to be more self-sufficient.  Each daughter has a set of chores, but I'll be honest and say that housekeeping is not a huge priority for me, so I'm a bit inconsistent in my administration of chore time.  I'm also a 9 who needs (or should I say longs?) to avoid conflict.  So I do the dishes myself rather than listen to A complain.  I wash the laundry myself rather than fight with B about how old one should have to be to do laundry.  I need to grow in this area.  I need to be willing to fight the small battles in order to prepare my daughters for life when they leave my home.  I'm just confessing that's a hard part of parenting for me.

A and B have reacted to life differently from the outset.  By the time B was fifteen months old, I knew I needed a different set of discipline techniques than those I used with her older sister.  They don't like the same things, participate in the same activities or wear the same clothes.  Predictably, they have treated discussions of impending puberty with completely different reactions.  A had an uneasy anticipation.  B's stance is best described as dread.  I've tried to mitigate this with the reward of pierced ears accompanying the first period, along with a personalized bag containing pads, tampons, Coca-cola (the cure to all ills) and chocolate (who doesn't crave chocolate?).

These practical steps are really just a way of trying to honor my daughters.  A set of earrings and a cool bag are just vehicles to trying to make my daughters understand that they are valuable, precious and worthy.  They're also an attempt to acknowledge that some of the best things in life are both good and hard.  Do many of us wish there was a path to fertility that didn't include monthly cramps, headaches and bleeding?  Yes.  But that's our path, nonetheless.  Does the good outweigh the bad?  Yes.  Does the good make the hard disappear?  No.  And that's one lesson I want them to learn: that the hard things in life are worth it as much as the good things.

I want to be a family that celebrates the good and bad, hard and joyous part of life.  All of it.  Because that's what life is about.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


5 b : capacity to observe dispassionately

We are currently in Wisconsin visiting family.  Our drive here is a long one.  Google maps will tell you it takes 10 hours.  The reality is that it's nearly impossible to make it in 10 hours.  I think in my 20 years of marriage and courtship, J and I have made the drive in under 10 hours only once - and that drive concluded in the wee hours of the morning, taking us through Chicago around 2 AM.  That's just about the only way to get through Chicago quickly - do it when everyone else is asleep.

My children are champion travelers and for this trip I spent some serious prep time doing my best to ensure a stress free drive time.  Each girl got a box packed with markers, pens, colored pencils, a new journal, stickers and a pencil sharpener.  They also got a bag with more sugar than they are normally allowed in a week's time.  Additional travel tools? Library books, Playaways, a few math worksheets, two Pillow Pets and one Snuggie.

One advantage of such a long trip is that there's time to think.  Plenty of it, in fact.  On the drive north on Thursday, I was looking at some of Southern Illinois' fall foliage.  (I know it was Southern Illinois because there aren't (m)any trees in Central or Northern Illinois.)  I saw a gorgeous line of trees from a distance and kept my eye trained on one tree as we got closer.  I noticed something.  The beauty of fall trees is a cumulative thing.  One fall leaf, even one fall tree, is not all that beautiful.  You might find the occasional exception, but fall's beauty is really seen best from a distance.  As I noticed this, I got a flash of a truth much bigger.  I think God sees our lives the way I see the fall trees.

The bible talks about God's ways not being our ways and his thoughts not our thoughts.  I've often fallen back on that when I go through a difficult time or when I see others walk through difficulty, but I've never grasped the concept in such a graphic way.  Those ugly leaves on the tree of my life?  They aren't ugly when seen alongside hundreds of other leaves and the trees representing the lives of others around me.  Or maybe they are still ugly - nothing will change that - but their individual disfigurement ends up being less important when seen alongside everything else.

This was a comfort.  Everywhere I turn lately, I seen pain.  I have friends, family members and acquaintances who are variously watching family members die, walking with those they love through illness, struggling through the loss of a job, recovering from surgery and receiving cancer diagnoses.  Not one of these circumstances is OK with me.  Each and every one hurts my heart.  I long for a day when mothers do not outlive their children, a day when there is no pain that needs management, a day when we all know - not just rationally, but with our whole being - that we are loved not for what we do but for who we are.  I long for a day when we are not faced with saying good-bye to those we love.

I'll be honest: I want to be able to see the beauty now.  I want a distance that I will never have in this lifetime.  I don't know why people I know and love are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  I don't know why and I don't know how to comfort or console them.  I have no words of wisdom to offer, no scripture references that explain it all away.  Because the truth is that there is pain and there is hurt and there is ugliness in this world of ours.  I don't know why.  I'll probably never know why.  And a glimpse of an idea that momentary troubles (that don't feel momentary at all) are leaves that manage to make something beautiful isn't much to cling to right now.  But it's all that I have, so I'm offering it humbly to you, just in case you're walking through your own valley right now.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


:a quality of life that enables you to more clearly hear God's voice.  Also, the quality surrounding my weekend retreat.

Interested?  I highly recommend it.  If you live in Nashville and want more information, check out Dovehouse Ministries.  You'll be amazed at how much a little silence will change your attitude, your outlook, your life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


1 a : the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity

I'm not a music person.  I'm especially not a classical music person.  I've always seen music as primarily a vehicle for delivering lyrics.  There are some artists whose voices I particularly like, but far more often I like a song based on whether I like what it says and how it says it.  There's a reason this blog is called Word Girl.  I'm really all about the words.  Or maybe I should say it used to be all about the words because my daughter B is ushering in a whole new world for me.  A world where I don't just tolerate music, I actually enjoy it.

B started taking piano lessons in December of last year.  She immediately took to it.  Her first lesson was right before Christmas, so she went three weeks between her first and second lesson.  In that span of time, she learned the entire book her teacher had given her.  That was a harbinger of things to come.  For years, we've tried to help B find something she loves.  She's good at sports - she just doesn't care about playing them, especially on teams.  But piano?  She plays all the time.  We never have to remind her to practice - although I might have to remind her to play what the teacher actually requested.  I've never timed it, but my best guess is that she plays for at least an hour daily.  She'll walk over, play a song through a few times and wander away.  She does this all day long.  So much so that I hardly notice it anymore.

As a part of our homeschool, I thought it would be fun for B to get to learn about a few composers.  She chose Bach and asked piano her teacher if she could learn a Bach song to go along with it.  She's been learning Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  So strong is B's musical influence in our home that J is whistling this song as I write this blog post.  Jesu is the song that always makes J cry at weddings.  (In his defense, it's hard to not cry at weddings when you have three daughters.  That whole giving them away thing? Yikes.  I'm not sure I'll ever be ready to just give them away.  What horrid language.)  He's joked with B that her learning this song is a blessing because by the end of her mastery of it, he'll be immune to the song's beauty and emotional content.  I'm not so sure.

B's been having trouble sleeping of late.  I blame this partly on Dr. Who, partly on hormones and partly on B's strong will - if she believes something she can will it into being.  So if she thinks she can't sleep, she definitely can't sleep.  In college, J listened to Eric Clapton's Timepieces and he jokes that he never heard the third song because of his Pavlovian response to the music.  A few bars and he was out cold.  I thought I'd see if I could work the same magic for B.

I downloaded a copy of Jesu and a few George Winston songs and burned a CD.  After a few nights, I decided five tracks weren't enough.  So I did some research, listened to countless songs on Freegal and made another, longer CD (12 tracks, nearly an hour long).  I didn't really think much about it at the time.  J was out of town, so I didn't really have anything better to do.  It was only when he commented on how odd it was for me to be researching and selecting classical music that I realized he was right.  It's pretty out of character for me.

This realization delighted me, in part because it made me realize how B has changed music for me.  I enjoyed making her CD and have even listened to the playlist a few times since creating it.  That may not sound like much to you, but for me, it's proof that I'm learning from this daughter of mine:  learning to appreciate an art form that doesn't immediately resonate with me, learning to love something because my child loves it.

Tomorrow I leave for a weekend silent retreat.  I have a three hour drive each way.  I normally drive a good portion of the ride with no music at all - letting the silence begin to seep into me before the retreat officially begins.  But I think this time, I might bring along a bit of musical accompaniment in the form of a copy of B's CD.  And I have a niggling suspicion I'll miss the bits of piano music I have grown accustomed to hearing throughout the day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


: the season between summer and winter comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of September, October, and November or as reckoned astronomically extending from the September equinox to the December solstice

There are many things I love about autumn:  cooler temperatures, football, wearing boots, making soups, drinking hot tea, pumpkins, apples.  I also love what it heralds:  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas.  While Halloween doesn't particularly excite me, Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are some of my favorite times of year.  I love the way thankfulness and looking back on a year of things to give thanks for ushers in the hushed anticipation of Advent, the waiting to celebrate our savior's birth and the waiting for his return.

Our lives have a rhythm to them, but each year our family continues to evolve.  I'd love nothing more than for fall Saturdays to be about pumpkin pancakes, raking leaves, reading books, watching football and smelling chili simmering on the stove.

Instead, our Saturdays are packed full with ballet classes, art classes and Nutcracker rehearsals.  I had somehow forgotten in the two years since A last danced in The Nutcracker just how time consuming it is.  Starting in October, she essentially dances all day on Saturdays, with an hour or two lunch break.  Mornings are for instructional classes at her regular studio near our home and afternoons are spent learning how to be a Native American Soldier (her role in this year's performance) at a studio across town.

I'm thankful A has the opportunity to participate in a ballet performed by professionals and run by a professional organization.  She has learned a great deal from previous participation and she will gladly sacrifice whatever time necessary to do it again.  Truth be told, she does not even see it as a sacrifice.

Yet I choose the word sacrifice intentionally.  The things I give up seem petty to list: time to curl up with a book on Saturday afternoons, weekend days spent at home rather than in the car, lazy days.  But I am learning a lot about myself through the Enneagram study and I recently heard Richard Rohr (on the CDs we listen to) talk about how people of my type are the most frequently occurring type in undeveloped countries.  He said when you visit Africa, you're struck by the fact that almost everyone is a 9.  Sadly, I do not live in one of those countries.  I don't live in a culture that encourages - or allows - moving at your own pace.

A friend in this study keeps reminding our group that the point of the Enneagram is to learn compassion - on ourselves and others.  So I am trying to accept that part of what is wearying about this fall is simply that I live in a world that is not set up for someone like me.  Frankly, that's a good reminder no matter your Enneagram type.  None of us are made for this world.  None of us are permanent residents here.  It is good and right that we should long for autumn to be a season that ushers in the ultimate Advent of God's kingdom come.

But how to live in the here and now?  The solution is not to give up on living our lives here - whether our lives be in their own spring, summer, fall or winter.  I think the answer lies - seemingly simply - in living in the present.  I don't mean that glibly.  I mean being fully present and not wishing away October Saturdays for January Saturdays that are colder, but less cluttered with activities.  I mean not dreaming wistfully about the good old days before Saturday ballet even existed for our family.

Tonight's dinner provided a good opportunity to practice the discipline of staying present.  J called 5ish to tell me he was heading south (away from home) for an afterwork meeting.  While he indicated he would likely be home at a normal time, I was doubtful.  I proceeded to cook our dinner of apple and pear pork tenderloin, carrot souffle, brown rice and edamame.  When everything was ready, the four of us (minus J) sat down to eat.  It felt like a lovely fall meal.  The girls were delightful.  This was their first encounter with edamame, so I'd given them very small portions.  A & B both went back for seconds.  Their willingness to try the food I put before them made the effort of cooking their dinner feel more than worth it.

Here's the thing: I could have been upset that J missed dinner with us.  He had a work event last night.  I have a contemplative prayer group tomorrow night.  But I didn't let disappointment rob me of the now.  I rested in the moment of dinner at the table with my daughters happily gathered around me.

I do love that autumn points us to what comes next.  But I want to learn to savor what it offers in and of itself.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


: repose, sleep; specifically : a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities

For the first time in the seven years that we've been a family of five, our entire family caught the same virus, one after the other.  The sickness started two weeks ago and first made its way to J.  K came next and missed two days of school with a fever.  Before long, A had a sore throat and I wasn't far behind.  I had hoped B would escape unscathed, but it was not to be.  Even strong-willed, strong-bodied B came down with it.  

Here's what I've learned: rest when you need to rest.

On Saturday, A danced (sore throat and all) in her ballet school's fundraiser.  I was there as a table host, hoping that adrenaline would get us both through the morning.  It did.  We then ate soup for lunch and crawled into bed with books.  Sunday found us much the same: we were napping by mid-morning while the rest of our family went to church and hung out with nephews.  By Sunday evening, we were on the mend, but B wasn't feeling well.  She ended up sleeping 14 hours and didn't awake until after 10 Monday morning.

Given that A and I were mostly feeling better by the end of day Sunday, I could have pushed through and had school (at least with A) on Monday.  Instead, I called it a sick day and we all three took the day off.  Healthy K was carted to school and then we rested.  We read.  We watched one documentary on Egypt and then I napped while they watched two more tv shows for fun.  (What's a sick day without a few tv shows?!)

It has taken me a while to learn that illness is your body's way of telling you to slow down and take a breath.  Perhaps this seems obvious to many of you.  If so, be thankful you've learned this lesson.  Years ago, I would push through at work, taking over the counter cold medicines and not missing so much as an hour of work.  I saw sickness - and my body itself - as something to endure, something that should be put into submission.  It took a while, but I finally learned that was no way to heal.  If I keep going like I'm not sick, I stay sick far longer.  Likewise, treating my body like something that is merely worth tolerating is not the solution.  As I've learned to listen to my body, I've found it is often wiser than my mind.  My body knows when I need to rest, when I can push and when to do what needs to be done.

I grew up with great ambivalence about my body.  Looking back, I think two main things conspired to make this the case: I went through puberty fairly early and my body rounded out before it lengthened out, resulting in a pudgy 4th and 5th grader.  I also didn't play any sports in middle school or high school.  I'm not a natural athlete and I let my insecurity about my body (a holdover from late elementary school) dictate what I would and wouldn't do.  Rather than persevere and learn a sport - any sport - I opted out.  It's only been in my 30s that I've learned my body can do some things.  I'm still woefully uncoordinated, but my recent morning runs have reminded me that I like to run.  I don't run fast.  I don't run with other people.  I don't ever hope to compete.  But the act of climbing out of bed, pulling on clothes and heading out the door to a sleeping world is the most pleasant way to wake up.  I love the time alone, the quiet of watching my neighborhood wake up around me and the feeling that my body is more than something I lug around to get my soul from place to place.  My body is worth being thankful for.

Both the return of outdoor running to my routine and my recent cold have reminded me that my body and soul need rest.  I've been trying to be open to change - trying to let go of behavior patterns that are ingrained, but not helpful.  I've discovered that change is hard work.  And hard work means rest should follow.  I need rest.  I suspect we all need rest, but I'm perhaps just more attuned to this need.  So the next time I get a cold, I'll take the Zicam in hopes of avoiding the full blown yuck of it.  If that doesn't work, I'm grabbing a cup of hot tea, finding a good book and taking a sick day. Rest is good for me - body and soul.