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: