Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Year of Showing Up


Ding. I looked down at my phone. A friend is hoping to visit her sister in the hospital - could I watch her two boys for the later part of the afternoon? My two kids are already well into nap time. It's the type of request that, years ago, perhaps even several months ago, I might have refused. The quiet of afternoon nap time is sacred space - time for processing and re-setting for the rest of the day. I guard it, I protect it. I cherish it. And, honestly, there's nothing wrong with that for young parents - it is one of the few breaks we get, and it's not always consistent.

But there's this voice that gently tugs at me too as I re-read the text: Show up. Show up.

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There are two times during a year, generally, when it feels most natural to set new rhythms, leave behind unhealthy habits and create some new ones: once at the beginning of January, and once again at the beginning of the academic calendar near August or September.

I've never been huge on resolutions or intentional creation of space for reflecting and starting with new habits. A "word for the year" hasn't ever really grabbed hold of me. But this past spring as I contemplated the rest that would be brought with summer and a certainty that I was not being called back to serve in a particular place where I had served for the past two years, another thought entered: showing up. Choosing to serve in places and with people who just required my showing up - no frills, no circus, very little to no preparation, but ready with hands and feet ready to receive marching orders.

Preparation is good. Or, it can be good. And for some folks, especially the perpetually prepared Type A friends that I know and love, preparation and consistent service allows the calm and lack of anxiety that they tend to prefer, I think, in order to move through their days well.

For me, however, I have begun to notice particularly in this season of young motherhood, that serving in places or being with people in ways that require much preparation actually causes more anxiety - it's just one more thing I haven't done on the perpetual list of things to do.

As I thought and listened and decided to be intentional about where to commit my time as fall picked up the pace, I realized there was this constant thread of wanting to be in places where all that was required of me (mostly) was my being there. This summer, it looked like offering to drive Afghan refugee women and their children from their homes to English classes at a local church, showing up with a van. A couple times, it's looked like being able to watch after the children of friends while they care for others who are facing crises, showing up with a house and toys to share. For some people (and sometimes this includes me), filling in for these last minute needs would be stressful. And it's not that they are without their own stresses. I don't want my kids to resent time spent in the car shuttling people back and forth, but I do want them to learn about people coming from other countries to our own country to seek better opportunities. I want them to know these new acquaintances of ours firsthand.

But for the most part, opportunities like this do not stress me out the way they did before. They usually come last minute, and therefore require little thinking ahead. It's just a "will you be there? Yes or no?". I have gotten better at saying no when I need to, but most of the time we just happen to have an open afternoon or other plans that have been canceled.

I know of many people who much prefer to serve and be in places where there is more preparation required, or something that involves a more consistent schedule, and if you are one of those people I so admire you and thank you. Thank goodness there is a diversity of people when it comes to serving in different ways - we need both (and anyone else who falls somewhere in between)! I think there is also quite a bit of fluidity here - in some seasons, I will need to prepare more to serve in some places. But right now, when so much of my energy is going into keeping kids alive, well fed and mostly happy, I need spaces where all I have to do is get there. Sometimes, this doesn't even require me leaving my own house.

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"Sure!" I text my friend back. "Bring them over, no problem."

I'm sure it helped that I happened to have popsicles in the freezer that day. And that my friend didn't mind that I let her boys watch television until my kids woke up. Or that the weather happened to be pleasant enough that we all played outside. Or that I already happened to have a plan for dinner that day (miracle of miracles!). What gifts!

This is my declaration: this is my year of simply showing up. Showing up with whatever I have and saying no (sometimes out loud) to anxiety and guilt for what I may not have. There's no shame in simply showing up with ready hands and feet.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Sharing The Load


This post is published in full at The Village Magazine blog. Thanks for reading!

The first time he prepared my coffee was on the morning of our five year wedding anniversary. Our daughter was two, our son had just been born a few weeks earlier, it was nearing the end of the fall semester - one of the more overwhelming times on the academic calendar to which our family is beholden. We had no plans to celebrate until later that month, no gifts for each other, but his simple act of kindness was gift enough that morning for this sleep-deprived mother: a hot, steaming cup of creamy coffee perfection, waiting for me right at the table.

The best mornings now start when he gets my coffee ready. It's "my" coffee for several reasons, the most obvious being that he doesn't drink coffee - abhors the taste, hesitates to kiss me after I've had my cup. But he knows how much it's like a warm hug to me in the morning, to hold that cup in my hands as the day begins.

It was purely an act of love for him to learn the process: boil the water, grind the beans, measure it out, let it steep for no more than 5 minutes, pour, add cream. And it's an act of love each time he prepares it for me and there's a hot cup ready and waiting like a love note in the morning. It doesn't happen every morning, and I'm glad for that - I have a habit of taking things for granted. This isn’t one...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

5 Phrases To Help Avoid Toddler Meltdowns

This article is published in full at Parent.co. You can read it in its entirety here.

I’m not a huge fan of offering unsolicited parenting advice. I’ve received enough of it myself to be wary of people’s intentions when they do offer it.

Are they judging? Criticizing? Honestly trying to help?

My hope is that, if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re curious to learn what’s worked for other parents who were aiming to raise kind, thinking, strong, and flourishing people. The internet can get a bad rap as a really easy place to find bad advice, but I think sometimes it can almost feel safer than asking in person: those who are looking for advice can find it, those who are not looking for it don’t have to be subjected to the unsolicited version of it.

What I write here is offered only as a “this is what has worked for me,” and perhaps each phrase will only be used for a season. What works at three years old may not work at four or five. I think the best thing for parents to remember is that we usually know our kids better than any other adult on the planet. We know when things work, we know when they’ll fall apart.

There has never been a silver bullet for parenting, and there never will be. That’s what makes it so hard. It’s also what makes it so beautiful – we grow so much more when we are forced to dive deep into knowing our individual children well.

That said, here are the phrases that have helped us.

1 | “We are problem-solvers, not whiners.”
My husband is an engineer – a perpetual problem solver, if you will. As his spouse, it’s both a blessing and a curse; he loves to solve problems, but he also loves to solve problems. As one who loves to work through the process, sometimes I have to remind him that I’m not looking for a cut and dry solution right now. The strength? I can usually present him with the situation when I have a particular problem and expect that he won’t give up on it until it’s resolved.

As a dad, he’s found this phrase to also be helpful with our three-year-old, who is (I hope) at the peak of the whiny years. When we hear her voice creep ever so slightly into the whiny range, we remind her of our goal: “We are problem-solvers, not whiners.” Most of the time, this helps her re-orient to a frame of mind in which she’s focused on figuring out what the problem is that led her to want to whine. Then we can move on to fixing that problem, or working past it.

I’m waiting for the day when this phrase eventually backfires and she responds with, “I’m a whiner!” but for now it’s working...

You can read the rest of this article here at Parent.co

Friday, July 15, 2016

Things I Heard In A Sermon This Week That Bothered Me

The sermon to which I am referring was preached on the text of Acts 4, after the events of the week of July 4th, 2016.

"I wrote this message on Wednesday, before the world went to hell this week."

Alton Sterling's death happened Tuesday evening. Philando Castille was killed Wednesday evening. Five Dallas police officers were killed on Thursday. Unless we are favoring the lives of police officers over black men, the "world started going to hell" this week on Tuesday (and far, far before that for Americans of color). 

"America is the greatest country on earth. If you don't believe me, you haven't traveled."

In what respects? To whom is it the greatest country on earth? It was founded on the backs of slaves and mistreatment of indigenous people who were already living here, many whose communities were destroyed. I'm not sure what's so great about that. On a personal note, as a young mom, I'd much rather live in a country that offered paid parental leave, though that's a little off topic here. 

"The police of the day, the people in power of the day, the Sadduccees have them arrested. See what believers do - they submit to authority. We need to submit to authority even when they get it wrong..."

So, even if authorities take us down for no other reason than that we are wearing clothing traditional to our country and speaking our native tongue on a cell phone - even then we should submit? I suppose that makes sense if we don't want to take the risk of being killed, but sometimes even when you submit to authorities, you end up dead. This bothers me most especially, however, in that not even Peter and John were submissive to the authorities of their day (in the text that was used for this sermon), who commanded them (v. 18) not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Their response? "As for us, we cannot help but speaking about what we have seen and heard." Basically, a big "#sorrynotsorry - what God commands is far more important."

"What you can do is witness a video where a black person is killed, the same video, we're all looking at it and we're seeing it from different perspectives. You're seeing it from your truth and I'm seeing it from my truth. And let me tell you something - God doesn't have a problem with us seeing things from different perspectives..."

He may not have a problem with us seeing things from different perspectives initially, but He always tells us to look for the truth. I may be seeing something from my perspective, but if the lens that I am looking through is faulty, I am not seeing the truth. In the end, it's not my perspective that matters, it's the *truth* that matters. The *truth* will set me free, not my perspective.

"The church doesn't protest, the church doesn't march - what do they do? They pray."

What does this mean about the many marches, demonstrations and protests led by Dr. King during the Civil Rights movement? God's people pray and protest. We civilly disobey, we afflict the comfortable. We preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, we use words.

"The world is watching how the church responds, and they will not forget."

Yes. Keeping in mind that the majority of the world is made up of people of color, when our first response to the death of people who have a history of oppression in our world is to question the circumstances under which they died instead of immediately lamenting and mourning the fact that we have lost yet another image-bearer of God (something which should be part of the response of every single member of the church), something is wrong.

"My favorite song, the first song I remember singing in the church is Jesus loves the [little children of the] world: red, yellow, black and white, they are all precious in His sight. Yes, Jesus loves the children of the world."

This song is straight up racist. Both "red" and "yellow" have been used as derogatory ways to refer to people of Native American and Asian descent. The sentiment and intent behind the song is good - but it's well past the point to stop using that verse. This is why pastors and preachers need to be surrounded by diverse people groups, and read books, essays and publications from diverse authors and thought leaders. Otherwise, you end up using a racist song as a way to end your sermon.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Recipe: Blackberry Bacon Swiss Grilled Cheese

Summer where I live in California can come with some pretty intense heat. So hot that if you haven't gotten the kids to the park and off the slides before 9am, forget about it. Hot enough that I'm learning I have to cover my tomatoes so they don't burn before they are ripe enough to pick. And hot enough that the last thing I want to be doing is preparing a meal over a hot stove, oven or even a grill. Even a crock pot can heat up our little kitchen a bit too much.
All the ingredients for one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I've ever had.
To that end, I was delighted when I saw some ideas for summer sandwiches - easy, delicious and best of all: no heat required. Well - only very small amounts of heat, and that's only if you want the cheese melted. I like this particular sandwich heated up just a bit in the microwave, but I'm guessing it would taste just fine cold, too. If you're daring enough to actually use a griddle on a hot summer day, you can get the nice browned outsides too. This recips is a twist on one I saw from Lemon Tree Dwelling that sounds delicious, but since my family cannot do jalapenos (I personally love a little kick, but maybe not quite as much as you could get in a jalapeno), I improvised.

This is the part where I apologize for the fact that I am neither a food blogger nor a photographer. But I promise I do know when something tastes too good to not be shared!
I am a sucker for salty/sweet combinations, and one of the great things about this sandwich is that it's easy to substitute what you have for what you don't. No goat cheese? Cream cheese will do. No bacon? Sliced ham or lunchmeat will work in a pinch. No blackberry jam? Use whatever flavor you have on hand. A friend even thought an apricot or mango chutney might work well. The possibilities are honestly quite endless.

Confession: for photos, I did use cream cheese, not goat cheese. A good substitute!
I make a lazy "pesto": lots of basil, a small handful of kale & a couple tomatoes. It really doesn't even count as pesto. I like going a little heavy on the basil.
Lazy Man's Pesto. 

Blackberry Bacon Swiss Grilled Cheese
An easily modifiable twist on an old classic.
Ingredients
  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 1-3 TB blackberry jam
  • 1 TB goat cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2-4 slices bacon (I use pre-cooked bacon bought at Costco)
  • 2 slices swiss cheese
  • large handful basil
  • small handful kale
  • 1 small tomato
  • 1-2 TB butter (optional)
Instructions
Toast both slices of bread. Spread butter on outsides of slices if desired. On inside of one slice, spread blackberry jam. On the other, goat cheese (or cream cheese substitute). Layer bacon and swiss on one of the slices. In food processor, combine kale, basil & tomatoes until they form a loose pesto-like consistency. Spread portion of mixture to taste on sandwich. If desired, heat sandwich in microwave just enough to heat and melt Swiss cheese (about 45 seconds). Enjoy!
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 sandwich

I'd love to hear about how you'd modify this recipe with what you have. I think sticking with the salty/sweet combo is key, but the rest can be played with. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

To Three or Not to Three: A Two-Kid Family Dilemma

This post was originally published on Parent.co. You can read the entire post here.


“I just realized­ this is the first summer I will not be either pregnant or breastfeeding since 2011!” I text my friends.

I don’t remember what made me think of it, but it’s a groundbreaking revelation for me. Every one of the past four summers I have been growing a baby inside or outside my body, with my body. My daughter is now three-and-a-half, my son is eighteen months. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s been four years of this, but it’s been four years of this. An amazing four years, a beautiful four years, a privileged four years. But four freakin’ years.

This is the first summer, in other words, where I will actually not be sharing my body with a tiny person for the purpose of nourishing their physical bodies.

I tell my husband about this revelation as he eats breakfast.

“Oh, we can fix that,” he quips. I laugh and give him a “deer ­in­ the ­headlights” look. Not what I was getting at, but we’ve been in negotiations about this recently...

You can read the rest of this post here. Thanks!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Squeaky Clean: How I Got My Toddler to Brush Her Teeth

This post was originally published on Parent.co. You can read the post in full here


With her pajamas finally on, I reach my hand up above my daughter’s belly, widen my eyes, and grin at her; she stills and begins to giggle in the middle of the long pause as she anticipates another round of tickle wrestling.

I growl playfully and plunge the tips of my fingers onto her belly, underarms, legs. The squeal of tickled laughter fills the tiny bedroom. This is my favorite part of the exhausting process that is the bedtime routine.

And then I remember. Dang it. It can wait until morning, right?
But tonight, Elmo toothpaste has apparently lost its appeal.

“Zoe, we forgot to brush your teeth,” I say, wishing I could have blocked that other part of me that whispered something about having to build consistent dental hygiene habits.

“Uh oh!” she replies smiling, the tickles still miraculously working their happy effect.

“I know, silly mama forgot. Let’s go to the bathroom, kiddo.”

We trudge down the hall and flip on the lights. I sigh as I lift her up to sit on the bathroom counter so she can only move so far. I pull out her generic caterpillar toothbrush and the Elmo toothpaste. In this house, Elmo wins everything, and so far, Elmo toothpaste has helped us with the teethbrushing routine. Thanks, Elmo.

“Please, Zoe, open your mouth. We need to brush your teeth!”

I am met with pursed lips. I don’t have the energy for pursed lips.

“Come on, Zoe, we can get it done really fast and then go rock and snuggle!”

Toddler bedtime ranks right up there with doing your taxes and driving the freeway during rush hour in the way that it can suck the life out of you...

You can read the rest of this story here. And if you like it, please consider sharing!