6/15/17

Why we left our comfortable church

Recently my husband and I made a difficult decision to leave the church we had been attending. We chose this church when we moved to our community two years ago  because it had excellent youth ministries, was close to our home, and it seemed to be growing. My husband and I took steps to get involved. Our kids were learning and forming relationships with adults who seemed to genuinely care for them. Of course, no church is perfect, but overall--we were comfortable in our church.

But...comfort was ultimately the problem.

Church services were carefully crafted with cool sets and timed with snappy videos. There was a light show and artificial smoke as a backdrop to pop-worship music. The church was recently renovated with a mixture of wood and steel giving the building a cool, industrial vibe. The pastor had catchy sermon titles with three predictable and mainstream points. There was a coffee shop outside the sanctuary.
Rock concert or evangelical worship set? 
It was all a very tidy, aesthetically pleasing, and comforting experience. There is nothing inherently wrong with aesthetics, and many people thrive in church settings like this one. However, for me, church began to reaffirm my white middle class existence and felt too much like American culture.

5/23/17

Silencing the inner critic

I tend to be rather critical of myself in pretty much all aspects: work, running, wife-ing, and mothering. I've always been my own worst enemy. At times, this quality is helpful as it pushes me to reflect and change and improve. But most times the critical voice inside my head is so damn annoying--like Janice's voice from Friends.

Sure you ran 11 miles, but you could've run a little faster. Did you hear that rude comment J said to K? You know he learned that from you, right? Don't bother applying for that job; you'll never get it. You're feeding your kids sandwiches again? When was the last time they ate something green? No, Skittles do NOT count. Your husband probably would be more happy with a more traditional, more feminine, and more stable woman. 

For me, this voice is loudest during moments of chaos--when the schedule gets busy and things begin to slip out of my control, and so, I fight and claw to regain that control. I do things like choose my kids' outfits when they're perfectly capable of choosing their own clothes. I reject all help from my husband. I run farther and faster. I snap at my kids when they drop crumbs on the table. As you can imagine, I am a very unpleasant person to be around when I let that Janice voice win out, and it happens more than I care to admit because it's so easy to focus on our flaws. It's easy to make a list of all we don't have, all we haven't accomplished, all of our mistakes and failures. Our culture lives with critique on the tips of our tongues because we are afraid of failing or being forgotten or messing up our kids.

Yesterday, J came home from school, and as he was unpacking his backpack, he asked me if he could tell me a sad story.

"Sure, bud. What's the story?"

5/3/17

Pulling up a seat in the smoking section


Parents are responsible for their kids. A kid's behaviors often reflect their home lives. The kid must've learned these behaviors at home. 

I've heard these claims spoken by daycare providers, teachers, parents, and (gasp) these are beliefs I once held. ...Then I became a parent to two kids who experienced physical and psychological trauma during pivotal developmental years.

Suddenly, these statements no longer felt true. Even though my kids have been adopted for three and almost two years, they still struggle (and will always struggle) with trauma. Often they still feel threatened in situations that an outsider would not perceive as threatening. Sometimes they still eat as if food may not grace our dinner table again. Many times they still melt down when they receive even the tiniest of consequences. Are these behaviors a reflection of our home lives? I don't think so. Our home is far from perfect, but generally speaking, my husband and I work hard to maintain a consistent and loving home where curiosity is encouraged, mistakes can be learned from, a home where our kids can be kids with room to play and explore. We try to help our kids identify big feelings, and we give them tools to help them work through these. But, as is the habit of trauma, sometimes our kids' pasts seep through the cracks in their lives that we have desperately tried to repair.

Yesterday, my phone rang at 10:30 AM; it was my kids' principal. She replayed an outburst my son had in his classroom; he was unable to be redirected and had to spend the rest of the morning in the principal's office. I hung up the phone feeling overwhelmed and mortified about my son's behaviors. In fact, my first response was to email J's teacher to apologize for his behaviors. I spent the rest of the day beneath a dark cloud of shame.
Not a real cloud of shame, but it's pretty damn close. 

My brain knows that J's outburst was likely from a perceived threat and not an act of defiance, but I couldn't convince my heart and gut to agree with my brain. I felt responsible for my son's behavior. I wasn't home enough, I yell too much, I don't hug him enough. I worried about what the teacher thought of our home life, what J's classmates would tell their parents about the scenario, and what those parents would think of us. I was in a downward spiral of shame when I finally texted one of my best friends who also is a foster-adoptive mama and is familiar with parenting kids from hard places. I asked her when I would stop feeling so ashamed for my kids' behaviors. My friend is wise and kind and calm. She talked to me about losing my reputation to reach others...she reminded me that my reputation is eternal, and directed me to a sermon she recently heard on Luke 15: Love Can Unbind Us from Pastor Myron Pierce. 

3/27/17

Aging Happens

When it comes to outward appearance, I’m pretty low maintenance. I’ve never had my eyebrows done (I don’t even know what that means). I don’t know how to apply eye-shadow. Anything requiring wax on my body terrifies me to the core. I don’t even wear makeup most days.

An actual picture of all my cosmetics in a super fancy container. 
Nobody told me, though, that when I turned 30, I’d be entering a new era of face maintenance. Perhaps the most annoying body change I’ve seen in my thirties has been a development of dry flaky skin on my face that makes me feel like a snake awkwardly shedding its skin. Last week, after my seventh application of Vitamin E oil on the pesky unscathed dry patches, I remembered hearing about a face scrubbing device with a catchy name. The device was only $10 at Sephora and was cleverly named Cleaning Me Softly...a play on the classic Fugees song, “Killing Me Softly.”

We don’t have a Sephora where I live, but lucky for me, we were heading to a town with a Sephora that weekend so I could run a half-marathon. I had only walked through a Sephora once before a few years earlier. Honestly, I just hung on the outskirts examining the rhetoric of the advertisements on the wall while I waited for my friends to buy an assortment of makeup brushes.

So, before we returned home from our weekend away, I dragged my family to the mall. I left my husband and kids in the car promising to be swift. Malls always make me a little nervous; they’re filled with people, things, loud noises, and smells. They take me back to my middle school days when I begged my parents to drop me off at the mall so I could eat soft pretzels and flirt (unsuccessfully) with boys way too old for me at the Sunglass Hut.

3/8/17

Why I don't choose joy in tough situations

It's been a good while since I've written anything here. In my defense, I had a post due for another site that I procrastinated like a good writer does, and it left me zapped. Actually, winter has a way of dragging me down. It's dark and cold and keeps people indoors; it drives an active, outdoorsy person like me a bit bananas. On top of this, our dog died, our kitchen appliances went on strike, and my husband's work schedule feels relentless. I've found myself wallowing in the muck this winter, trying to climb out but slipping each time I get a strong footing.
What a sad sight. 
Currently, I'm reading Tish Harrison Warren's Liturgy of the Ordinary, and it's been so thought-provoking. Essentially, the book is about embracing the ordinary moments in our lives and finding God in something as mundane as brushing our teeth. Chapter four explores the everyday moments of chaos that we encounter and encourages readers to view these as opportunities to see how much grace we need. Harrison Warren writes about the conundrum of finding more peace while she lived in a conflict zone than while living in her safe, middle-class life in the States:
"I had a theology of suffering that allowed me to pay attention in crisis, to seek small flickers of mercy in profound darkness. But my theology was too big to touch a typical day in my life. I'd developed the habit of ignoring God in the midst of the daily grind" (55). 
I can relate. It's easy for me to see glimmers of God at work in big, chaotic situations--especially when they're not directly impacting me. But when my dog dies and all my appliances quit and it's cold and my husband is gone on the weekends---I don't see glimmers of God. Instead, I see endless chaos. This begs the question: how do we see God in the everyday chaos?

2/19/17

Prairies, vulnerability, and relationships

One of the paths at The Crane Trust

Out here in the open prairie, there's a sense of vulnerability. There are no trees, no buildings, no people to hem me in. I am exposed on all sides. My bright blue jacket is a stark contrast to the golds and browns and grays of the prairie waking up after a cold winter. I find myself walking slower out here, more cautiously, my head swinging from side to side searching for any signs of danger. My right hand clasps my runner's mace--just in case.

One mile into my wandering, though, I can feel a loosening in all my muscles as my body relaxes and my stride quickens. Now comfortable with my surroundings, the threat of danger has passed. I let my eyes focus on only what is right in front of me--a path through the tall wild grasses. I'm finally able to enjoy the solitude. There are not many places a person can go to get pure solitude without a hundred distractions.  
A bare cottonwood

I come to a lone cottonwood in the middle of the prairie. Her branches reach out tall and bare; her leaves--dried and gray crunch beneath my feet. There's a bleached white log next to the tree inviting me to sit awhile, to dig my notebook out from my satchel, and write. I am exposed from all sides in the open prairie, but still, I sit and write, spilling some of my deepest thoughts on this ivory Moleskine paper.

2/7/17

Book review: Jesus Feminist

It took me a month, but I finally finished Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. I should add that I'm a SLOW reader, especially when it comes to deeply philosophical texts, and this book was dense. To me, a good book does one of two things: advances my thinking or makes me forget where I am. Jesus Feminist didn't make me lose track of time and forget where I was, but my 'ole wheels were a-turning throughout the book. Specifically, I learned a lot in the areas of studying scripture and a woman's "role" in the church.

2/6/17

A poem: Palm up in offering

Note: I've been rather quiet on this space lately. I'm still struggling to figure out how to process recent events, especially the recent executive order banning refugees from seven countries. So, to help me process, I wrote a poem. It's not polished or even share-worthy, but it is honest. Maybe you're also reeling during these difficult times; if so, take good care of yourself. Try reading or writing poetry or take a walk or eat a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies or cook a meal for a friend. Do all the self-care things, so you can take care of others. Also: Thanks to my fellow writer, Lisa Leshaw, for the title suggestion for this poem!

Palm up in offering

One week after President Trump's 
executive order on immigration, 
I let fear propel me to action and sent an email to a
refugee resettlement office checking in on the families
set to arrive in my town this spring.
My family was hoping to welcome a family from Somalia.
I had been looking forward to doing my part.

I imagined sharing a meal with this new family--
cambuulo and tacos, shushumow and apple pie
dotting the new farmhouse table my dad made for me--
the table that I prayed would be used as a bridge
during these difficult and divided times.
Our kids, naive to cultural differences,
would play together
even though they don’t share the same language.

Within minutes, I received a response: 
Due to the recent executive order,
we are halting all resettlements.
Thank you for your willingness to help.

I set out for a run in the freshly fallen snow
and turned on a podcast, thinking
of the families who were turned away.
Sara Kate Levey, an American Jew living in Los Angeles
spoke about her connection to the Holocaust:

Her father in-law was a teenager.
The tattoo of his number still remains
on his arm.
A living testimony to the last time
our country turned away refugees.
Our government stuck out its hand,
not a hand outstretched--
but an open palm in halt formation.
Fearing Nazi spies would surely slip in
among these 900 Jewish refugees,
our government pointed the boat back home.
Upon their arrival home,
they were not welcomed with parades and balloons
and children waving those patriotic mini flags.
No.
The last time we turned refugees away,
more than 250 of these 900 were slaughtered.

Levey, an American Jew, said: 
We feel the fear Muslim-Americans feel right now.
It’s in our bones.
Fear is in my bones, now, too.
It’s in the bones of many Americans,
pulsing through our bodies,
breathed out in different ways.

A friend told me the other night to let go of that fear.
I don’t think I want to because
this isn’t a paralyzing fear--the kind that catches me
unaware at two in the morning,
breathless and rigid.
This is a holy fear.
The kind that shows us what the world is capable of, and
I want this fear to move me forward,
to spur me on towards love
Instead of holding me back from love.
I want this fear to move me forward
to open my home,
to open my hand,
palm up in offering.


1/23/17

Just another women's march post

I didn't attend a women's march this last weekend, but I wanted to.

I spent the day with a dear friend who has encountered some rough patches in her life over the last six months. We spent the day hunkered inside talking and eating cookies while our kids played. We ate tacos together, and our kids asked (again) if we were all related. I wasn't at a march because a friend needed someone to sit with her, and even though the day was tinted with a bit of sadness as we acknowledged all she has so bravely endured, it was a good day, one of healing.

But if I had gone to a march, I would've waved signs, held hands with my friends, and shouted loudly.

I wanted to march as a way to protest the hateful rhetoric--particularly towards women--that fueled our new president's campaign.

I wanted to march because sexual assault is as common as white bread on grocery store shelves. I wanted to march for Kelsey, a woman I went to high school with, who was beaten and then murdered by her husband a few years ago. I wanted to march for the Hispanic woman who showed up at a shelter I volunteered at, her hands shaking, her kids crying, her face red and streaked with tears. I wanted to march for that one time back in 9th grade when I said no to a boy, but he did not respect my no. I wanted to march to show support for the millions of women in our country whose no is not respected.

1/18/17

Winter rhythms

Today, the people of Nebraska are emerging from their homes after an ice storm halted daily commutes in the majority of our state. Due to the weather, I've been confined to the treadmill for too long. I was finally able to run outside this morning, but it was a slow and slick five miles.

I had to watch my step more than normal and kick the pace down to one minute slower per mile. This kind of running can be a bit torturing for someone like me who likes to just zone out and fall into an 8:30/mile pace. It was good for me, though, to slow down.

I could feel the cold air sting my lungs while the sun provided a welcome warmth on my face. To help slow my pace this morning, I downloaded an acoustic playlist on Spotify. It was slow and deliberate music. The kind of music one listens to while drifting off to sleep. Throughout the five miles, I noticed things like the way the ice glimmered like diamonds on the sidewalk--like that old Tom Waits song, "Diamonds on my windshield...tears from heaven." I noticed the birds and their warbles overhead. It seemed like ages since I last heard the birds. I noticed the way the grass bent in submission to the ice, a sort of bowing to its power. I noticed how quiet my neighborhood is after the morning rush. I noticed the crisp smell of winter giving way to the damp of thawing--the earthy smell of wet dirt.

One of the reasons why I love the Midwest so much is because of the seasons. There are, for the most part, four distinct seasons here. We have crisp autumns, frigid winters, rainy springs, and fiery hot summers. We Midwesterners have developed activities and rhythms for each season. During the winter, houses are shut up, curtains are pulled closed, and we all break out our favorite sweaters. We pour big cups of tea and stir pots of hearty soup. In the Midwest, winter produces a kind of slowing down.

1/16/17

I Have a Dream, 54 years later

Today is MLK Jr. day, and thanks to the ice storm, everyone in my house had a day off from school. (Side bar: I'm disenchanted with our town's main school district that serves 9,000 diverse students and my community college system that doesn't honor MLK Jr. day as a federal holiday.) So, we listened to Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech as a family. I've listened to the speech and read and taught Dr. King's writings many times, but today the speech came alive for me in a way it hadn't before. There were a few sections in particular that really jumped out at me, so for my daily writing, I decided to pull these from the speech and then write about them:
"I have a dream that [...] one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today."
My family looks like a picture of racial progress: two white parents, a brown son, and a black daughter. This fact is not lost on me. While we listened to a part of the speech today, my daughter stood by my side, holding my hand. Her dark brown hand rested comfortably in my white hand, and my eyes filled with tears. The fact that my family can even exist comfortably is evidence of progress, but as Dr. King said in 1963, there is still work to be done.

"This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism."

1/14/17

Saying goodbye to Sam

We had to say goodbye to our family dog, Sampson, yesterday. He was 10 years old, and his death caught us all off guard. Just a few weeks before he passed, he was tearing around the backyard with the kids. But at the start of this week, I could tell something was up with him.
Sam--lounging around last week on the arm of the couch
He laid around more than usual; he was slow to get up; and his food dish sat full and untouched. On Wednesday, I came home after my morning run expecting Sam to greet me at the door, tail wagging like he normally does. I opened my back door, and there was no dog to greet me. I hollered his name and listened for the jingle of the tags on his collar, but still...nothing. One of his favorite spots to go when we're gone is in the basement to lay snuggled on the bed, burrowed in my grandma's quilt. That's where he was, but when I called for him again from the doorway of the spare room in the basement, he only looked at me and then rested his head on his paws. I sat next to him, softly stroking his head. "What's wrong, bud?" I whispered. "Do you want a treat?"

1/11/17

Book chats with Danielle: Present Over Perfect

I just finished the book, Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist. Shauna was a guest on a podcast I listened to a while back, and listening to her talk about this book was compelling because I've suffered from a habit of hustle for most of my adult life.
The subtitle of the book really gives the story away--it essentially narrates her journey from a frantic way of living to a more sustainable, joy-filled life. At the end, Niequest writes,
"[...] I was on a dangerous track, where I was giving the best of myself to people and things 'out there,' while the tender inner core of my life and home were increasingly stretched, pressurized, brittle. And now they're not. Now the most beautiful, well-tended, truly nurtured and nourished parts of my life are the innermost ones, not the flashy public ones. That's just as it should be" (228-229).
This quote really is the heart of the book--how and why we must nurture ourselves.


I think this book likely speaks to many women since the expectation of women in our society is to do all and be all for all. For me, this book came five years too late. In my mid-twenties, I battled with these same pressures and eventually traded my frantic pace of life for a slower one when my husband and I welcomed our second child into our home.


There are ideas from the book that I'll be exploring in the days to come: Which emotional resources of mine have been depleted? How did they become so? Who did God create me to be? How do I fully embrace this? What am I attempting to outrun?


For the most part, though, it was a chore to even finish the book.

1/6/17

Technology: Setting boundaries to avoid gluttony

It's Friday, which means a long run day for me. About a year ago, I added The Sorta Awesome Show podcast to my listening line-up on long runs. Today's episode was all about technology and the ways it helps and hurts us--a topic I've thought of often. While I fall into the digital native label because of my millennial status, my family wasn't quick to adopt all the technologies.

I vividly remember when my parents got their first mobile phone: a car phone in a bag sometime in the mid to late 90s. I was mystified that my mom could make a call FROM HER CAR.

We even had a computer during my elementary school days, but I don't think we had internet at home until I was in junior high. My small Catholic elementary school got a tiny computer lab when I was somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, and it was a big deal. We played Oregon Trail and learned basic keyboarding skills, but I don't ever remember doing anything on the internet until junior high.

The technology I really loved, though, was my stereo complete with a fancy cassette deck. Music has always been my thing. I know the pain of rewinding and pushing play at just the right time to listen to a song over again. When I became interested in song lyrics, I often would listen to a 10-second snippet of a song, pause it, and then scribble down what I thought were the lyrics. Anybody else do this?!? Those were the good old days of technology.