Monday, October 22, 2012


1 a : a result of perceiving : observation

Three seemingly small and insignificant things happened yesterday at church: someone stopped me in the hall to say she's been enjoying my blog, another told my husband they appreciate my "calm presence" and when I complimented a friend on her cute outfit, she told me I inspired her to wear it.  Each of these things could have easily gone unnoticed.  But they didn't.  Why?  I think because I was listening with my heart as well as my ears. 

Do you do this?  Ear listening is the kind where I hear what the person is saying, respond and walk away, never to think of it again.  Heart listening is like an echo of the conversation that replays in my mind.  It's sort of like a quiet voice whispering, "Did you hear that? She reads your blog."  If I let it, the echo shows me what's important.  There's a reason I needed to hear each of these things - and not just hear them, but hear them with my heart.

The message for me in each of these interactions is that I am being seen and that my offerings have value.  I have a love/hate relationship with being seen.  Since you can't truly be known without being seen, I value authenticity and having someone "get me." I also fear being seen because one of the lessons I learned in childhood is that being seen can bring pain and shame.  I'm not sure whether this paradox of wanting to be seen and wanting to blend in is one I will have to live with for the rest of my life, but I do think God is calling my attention to it and trying to gently show me that people DO see me, whether I know it, like it or fear it.  In fact, I think that's what this whole year of radiance has been about. 

For the last three years, I've asked God for a word for the year.  In the late fall, I start praying and asking God what my word for the next year should be.  2010 was change, 2011 was unfurl, 2012 is radiant.  Radiant has been the hardest word for me.  Change I was able to embrace, because God had really been preparing my heart for that one for a long time.  Unfurl was also a bit scary - the idea of letting the real me fly about in the breeze was unsettling.  But radiant?  Yikes.  What am I to do with that?  Apparently, it's not something for me to do.  Because while the first two words are verbs, radiant is an adjective.  I don't think it's something I'm supposed to do (it's not radiATE), it's something I am.  That scares me more than just a little.  But when I can set aside my fear and listen and observe, I see God trying to gently remind me who I am

I chose the word "perception" for this post because I was thinking about how each of these three women at church helped me change my perception of myself.  But the definition made me realize a whole other side to this: that my job is to watch for God - to look for him at work, to listen to the echoes in my heart, to observe and perceive.  Not to make myself radiant, but to see who I already am.

As you read this, I don't know whether to encourage you to help others see who they are or encourage you to cultivate heart listening.  I doubt the interactions yesterday felt important to the people who offered me these gifts - it was the receiving that made them gifts.  But we never know what our words will do in someone's heart, so we should choose them wisely.  And if we are listening with our hearts as well as our ears, perhaps we'll offer words that God can use as gifts.  I want to offer my ordinary life and self to God and have his perception change them into extraordinary things.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


1 a : the act or words of one that blesses

Saturday we hosted our first small gathering in our new home.  There were fewer guests than at one of our typical parties and the focus was not to view a football game, celebrate a birthday or show off a new kitchen.  Instead, we gathered to bless our home, room by room.  The priest from our church came and brought with him an order of service that had us walk to each room, read a passage together, respond to a scripture and listen to a prayer of blessing.

Shortly before we moved, I started reading a book called To Bless The Space Between Us by John O'Donohue.  This book contains actual blessings, but also talks about how we each have the power to bless with the words we use.  This idea prompted me to write my own blessings for each of my daughters' rooms.  After our priest read the blessing for a child's room, he read the personal blessings for A, B and K.

Anna’s Room Blessing

May this room be a refuge,
a place where you do not need to do, but only to be.
As you cross the threshold,
may all the things you carry be left behind,
may all the selves you are fall away,
until you are left empty-handed, unburdened, just you.
May you rest well here,
laugh with friends,
and read great books.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
to inhabit every nook and cranny of both this room and your soul.

Bekah’s Room Blessing

May this room be a safe place
            to rest,
            to create,
            to learn,
to be.
May it give your soul room to
            expand, enlarge and find itself whole.
May it be a place will with presence and vitality,
            a place that lets you nestle in, rest, and ultimately grow.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
            to protect you here and elsewhere,
            giving your soul a place to be its best – vulnerable, tender and bold.

Kate’s Room Blessing

May this room be filled with laughter, joy and imagination.
May you entertain friends here,
            encounter new worlds
            and grow from a little girl
            to a young woman.
May this room be a place where your voice is heard.
May you find peace and rest here,
            safe and secure in the knowledge
            that you are loved by God and
            those who live with you.
Not for anything you do or don’t do, but simply for who you are.
I ask Father, Son and Holy Spirit
            to fill this room with sacred goodness
            and a sense that you can rest and let God be in charge.

One reason I wanted to have a house blessing is that I have struggled with this move.  I've felt responsible for keeping our family stable during a time of great inconstancy.  I've been stretched thin as I tried to keep everything normal when each day was atypical.  And I've wrestled with my own feelings of unworthiness - that I don't deserve a house this nice, this large, this lovely - alongside feelings of inadequacy as I pressure myself to keep our home in the pristine condition it was in when we took possession.

So as I wrote their blessings, I tried to imagine what I hope my daughters' spaces will be for them and offer those hopes and dreams to God, who is the only one capable of actually making these hopes and dreams reality.  Do I feel like a burden was lifted by handing the house over to God through our house blessing?  Yes and no.  I think it will be a process for me to stop feeling like a snail, carrying my home around on my shoulders.  But the first step towards moving from burden to blessing was in publicly offering this home up to God and asking Him to make this home into a place to keep us safe and send us forth to do His work.
Three hours after our house blessing started, our house filled up again.  This time, with girls.  It was time to host the first sleepover (of many) at our new house.  Each daughter was allowed to invite two friends.  That sounds reasonable enough, but a house full of nine girls is a tad exhausting, no matter how you handle it.  Yet I am thankful.  Thankful for the friends who helped celebrate our new house.  Thankful for the laughter and energy of girls.  Thankful for a house that will accommodate blessings, games, movies, popcorn and life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


3: the regular or customary condition or course of things

Yesterday was a perfectly ordinary day.   It started with a brief morning walk and included mundane tasks like laundry, grocery shopping and changing the sheets on beds.  But it also offered an unhurried span of time to teach and learn, to listen to classical music over lunch, to go for a walk and collect colorful autumn leaves.  The day left me grateful and reminded me why I like homeschooling.  It's been easy to forget the blessings of homeschooling while moving - there has been so much to do that teaching has felt like one more burden to bear.  It didn't feel that way yesterday: it felt like a gift.

In the church calendar we are in the thick of Ordinary Time - that space between Pentecost and Advent when we live out the lessons learned from Christ's birth, the light we see during Epiphany, the things we lose and gain during Lent and Easter.  For me, this is the most challenging time in the church calendar.  There's none of the waiting with bated breath for the birth of the Christ child, none of the daily reminders of Lent to remember my faith by doing or not doing something.  Apparently, I can live my faith life quite well in 40 day increments.  It's when I'm expected to carry on for several months uninterrupted that I long for something to pull me out of the ordinary and shake me up a bit.

Yet I believe our faith is best lived ordinarily.  What we do during our ordinary moments speaks volumes about who we are and what our hearts are tuned to.  When I look back on my life, I want the ebb and flow of my everyday actions to be what people remember - not a few peaks and valleys where I was at my best or worst.  I want my ordinary life to be a worthy offering, not an afterthought.

As we walked together yesterday afternoon gathering leaves, I told B and K what A shared with me two years ago when she took botany: when a leaf changes colors in the fall, it's not becoming that color for the first time.  The color we see is actually the color the leaf has been all along, it's just been masked by chlorophyll.  I told them I think our lives are like that, too.  That when we are dying (as the autumn leaves are), we get to see what we're really made of - what vibrant colors lie just beneath the surface.

The truth of it is that we are all, minute by minute, dying.  And these ordinary days do reveal something about the colors that compose us.  The way I buy bagels because they are A's favorite thing for breakfast? A color of who I am as a mom.  The blessings I've written for their bedrooms?  They show you my heart for my daughters and our home.  The sharp tone of voice I use with my children when I am mentally or physically exhausted?  Also telling you who I am, showing one of the veins running through this particular leaf.

I'd like to imagine that, unlike leaves, we don't have to wait until the very end to see the vibrancy of our beings.  If I'm willing to let go of who I think I am and embrace what I see revealed of myself through my heart and actions, I'll get glimpses of gold, bronze, magenta, russet.

I want to embrace the sacredness of the ordinary.  I think that means seeing all of the things I do - whether sweeping a floor, wiping down a counter or teaching how to write an equation - as both an offering from me to God and an opportunity for me to see myself more clearly.  I want to not resist the ordinary for its supposed dullness, but embrace it for the way it offers me opportunity to work out exactly who I am and what I am meant to be doing.

I want my one ordinary life to be extraordinary not because of what I do, but because of the way I inhabit it, the way I see it and claim it for what it is.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


1: correspondence in form, manner, or character : agreement
3: action in accordance with some specified standard or authority

A few weeks ago, B wore a Beatles t-shirt to her Tuesday tutorial.  When she put it on, I warned her that I thought it was technically against the dress code.  I knew it said something about no band t-shirts or shirts with shock value, but surely a t-shirt for a fifty year old band couldn't offend anyone, right?  Wrong.  She was asked to zip up her hoodie and she went the rest of the day with Paul, John, Georg and Ringo hidden behind her black camp hoodie.  I understand they were requiring B to follow the letter of the law they have created for their tutorial.  But I wonder what message it sends my daughters.

This Monday, we got an e-mail with a reminder of the dress code policy.  In addition to quoting a portion of the handbook, the administrator said something along the lines of, "While you may not agree with our stance on modesty, we ask that you abide by the rules [while at our tutorial]."  And this is the heart of the issue for me: the creators and enforcers of this policy do not claim their policies minimize offense between students, decrease distractions or create an environment focused on learning.  Instead, they say it is about modesty.  I disagree.  It's not about modesty.  It's about conformity.

I could agree with and support many guidelines designed to create an atmosphere of modesty.  Do I think girls should wear skirts longer than fingertip length?  Sure.  Should underwear for male and female students not be on display?  Absolutely.  These are modesty issues.  My daughter's t-shirt for a band with geriatric members was not immodest.  It simply did not conform.  But because this organization is a Christian one, they spiritualize their reasons for banning certain items.  I think this is dangerous because if you disagree with them, you're not offering a difference of opinion, you're assaulting their entire belief system.  I do not believe conformity equals belief. 

Concurrent with (and in part due to) these happenings, I have been looking for a new tutorial for my daughters for next year.  I'd like to find a tutorial stronger in its science offerings and with a less restrictive dress code.  (In addition to the t-shirt issue, our current tutorial won't allow certain hairstyles.  Both A and B have asked for a hairstyle that wouldn't allow them to attend.  I'd like to be able to allow them to express themselves in this way.)

I heard about another tutorial and checked it out online.  At first it was encouraging.  They place a great deal of emphasis on academic rigor.  They are conveniently located.  They meet on a day of the week I would find easy to accommodate.  Then I found the part of their website that says, "Students who insist on their rights and privileges as a first order of business will not be happy in our group. We do not want to deal with students for whom respect for authority is an issue."  Hmmm.

I needed to stop there for a moment.  "We do not want to deal with students for whom respect for authority is an issue."  I don't think any of my daughters have a problem with authority, but I do have a daughter who thinks for herself and often questions rules before simply obeying.  I don't see this as a problem.  In fact, I think it's a highly valuable skill that will serve her well.  But I want her to be happy at a tutorial and this group seems to indicate she might not be - and that they would even prefer she not be happy unless she conforms.

Here's the thing: I think Jesus had a problem with authority.  He questioned the religious systems of the day because while they were going through the motions, their hearts were far from him.  B doesn't go through the motions of anything.  If she disagrees, she will let you know.  But when she agrees, you'll know it - and God does, too.  Her praise is nothing if not sincere when it comes.  A, on the other hand, conforms a bit too easily.  She dislikes being apart from the group and often doesn't stop to question whether she is conforming to her own beliefs or the expectations of those around her.  For both of them, I think a culture of conformity is poisonous.  A doesn't need to be encouraged to conform.  And B doesn't need to go through life thinking God doesn't love her because she wants to dress differently than your typical 11 year old Christian girl.

I've been really wrestling with these questions over the last few days: Why do we equate conformity with belief?  Why do Christian schools/tutorials/places of worship emphasize some traits over others, especially with young children?  Do we have to spend a portion of our adult lives unlearning what we've learned about God in order to actually see who he is? 

I've talked to my husband and another friend about some of these issues.  One of them said that perhaps all places of faith require some level of conformity - and as adults we just choose the places that emphasize conforming on the issues we match up on.  The other suggested I examine why I feel it's acceptable for me to undercut the tutorial's stance on band t-shirts when I don't do the same thing about a school rule on flip-flops, for example.

These are really hard questions.  Where am I willing to conform in my faith?  Where do I refuse to?  Am I judging people who set different boundaries for themselves and their families?  How do I find a way to walk the path we are on with this current tutorial, yet still communicate to my daughters that I don't think Jesus objects to The Beatles?

My husband pointed out last night that I'm not exactly an anarchist.  I am perfectly willing to require my daughters to conform on some points.  Dishes must go in the sink after meals.  The dishwasher must be unloaded on your assigned day.  The school work must be completed before the field trip can begin.  You get the idea.

I think one difference for me lies in two of the definitions of conformity.  If our actions are in agreement with our beliefs (i.e. that hard work earns you play time), this is a conformity that feels right to my soul.  But if the conformity results from complying with a standard of authority that is illegitimate or couches their authority as something other than what it is (i.e. it is ungodly to dye your hair blue), my soul feels pained and bruised at going along.

How do I teach my children to think for themselves and pursue God from where they are?  It's hard and I fear it will only get harder as they get older and are faced with much bigger dilemmas than what to wear on Tuesday morning.  All I know to do is encourage them to pray the wisest prayers I know: "Who are you, God?  Who am I?"  Because if they know who God is and who they are, they'll know a lie when they hear one and see a false line in the sand when they see it. 

May they learn to conform to what the Holy Spirit places on their hearts - nothing more, nothing less.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


2: to underestimate intentionally : play down, soft-pedal

My family was invited to a wedding that took place last weekend.  The invitation came in the throes of selling our house, packing up and moving.  In the midst of all of that, I lost the invitation.  When the bride checked in with me on our RSVP, I told her we wouldn't be able to make it.  I briefly explained that ballet five days/week and baseball three days/week are getting to us and filling our Saturdays.  While true, the more honest explanation was that I was afraid to go.

The bride was a teacher at my daughters' former school and I was afraid of answering questions from other guests about our decision to homeschool.  Not necessarily from the teachers who would have been there, but from other families who might be there.  As I made the decision for our family not to attend, I felt OK about it.  Things were busy.  I didn't want to risk being uncomfortable.  There would surely be tons of other students there.  We wouldn't be missed.

But as the wedding approached, I began to feel differently.  Sad that we were going to miss her special day.  Regretful that I let fear keep us home.  Frustrated with myself that I am so quick to minimize my own worth.  Because this was certainly a case of me underestimating myself intentionally.  I wondered why she would want us there.  "There's nothing special about our family," I thought to myself.  I played down the impact our absence would have.  I chose to not see that this bride had invited our family for a reason.  I chose to not remember this bride walking over to my van just a few weeks after my daughters started at her school and telling me how great my daughter B was doing in her class.

Last month I met with a few women to talk about the Enneagram.  As a part of our discussion, I mentioned how much the Enneagram has helped me see my sin more clearly.  Actions that would not look like sin to an outsider, I know to be sin because I know my own heart.  Only I know the promptings from the Holy Spirit that I hear and choose to listen to or ignore.  Only I know that I declined that invitation not because of a full schedule, but because of my fear.

I'm not exactly saying it was a sin to miss that wedding.  I will tell you my heart has both swelled and ached as I've seen pictures from the wedding posted online.  The aching tells me that I was wrong and weak to be so afraid of what others might say.  The aching tells me that I really wanted to be there and I once again did not choose to follow my own heart.  The ache reminds me that there is something inside me that wanted to be there to see and celebrate this union.  And I blew it.

I am pretty good at knowing what other people want from me - at discerning what they need and even how to provide it.  This can make me an easy friend to have - and it can be exhausting.  It also means that I am so busy listening to what other people need from me that I don't hear my own soul's cries for help.  I ignore a nudge to reach out to a friend.  I pretend to not see that chair I could sit in to read and rest for a few minutes.  I push down my urge to be and insist on doing.

A few weeks ago I read a series of devotions that recommended a simple, yet profound prayer: "Who are you, God?  Who am I?"  I think if I could pray this prayer consistently, it would change my life.  If I truly knew who God is and who I am, I would no longer minimize my value, my desires, my very self.  I would instead be compelled to shed my insecurities and hesitancies and be the radiant person God thinks I am.

This is big, hard work for me.  Shedding layers of who we think we are is not easy.  But it is necessary.  People do not only want to be around me because I listen well.  They sometimes actually want to hear what I have to say.  Some lessons I learn quickly, others more slowly.  Maybe you don't struggle with minimizing yourself.  Maybe you wrestle with allowing others to see the real you.  Or with admitting you are wrong and imperfect.  Whatever the case, I hope you'll find a path to let the real you shine through the layers of accumulated selfhood.  Because you are radiant underneath it all.