Dusk brings a sense of comfort to our home. The light starts to fade, and a natural gold filters in through windows, showing glittering dust hanging lightly on air. I can feel my body start to relax. My bones know it is nearing the end of the day. Scratching my ankles, the dog looks up expectantly at me, knowing like clockwork it is time for her dinner. Our son paces in front of the basement door, waiting for his dad to come up the stairs. Hugs and babbles make up a joyful greeting. Eventually we hear giggles from his highchair as he involves all of his senses in dinner time. From the table, he commands, “Daddy, bath!” And our nightly routine continues on to bubble baths, storytime, songs, and the sweetest prayers together. He rolls into each new activity softly with anticipation.
As humans, we are wired for predictability. Our hearts long for natural transitions. The bodies that carry us know the signs of change. Rhythm brings us toward familiarity; it keeps us moving with a steady breath in our lungs. We are not stationary in a routine, but we move forward to a new phase like the setting sun each day, with ease and comfort.
In neuroscience, we call these rhythms neural networks, meaning that the habits of our lives solidify in patterns that are repeated internally over and over. There are over 100 billion neurons in the human brain, a mere 3 pound powerhouse that controls your spatial awareness, memory, emotions, ideas, movements, and much more. The brain uses neurons to send messages of communication to other parts of the brain and body. To help put this process into the perspective, I visualize the brain as a large forest with interlocking trees and plants, twisted and gnarled together. The density of the forests in Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings comes to mind. At times while wandering through, the characters could hardly see the light above them.
A neuron is like a single tree, with the branches and roots symbolizing synaptic terminals and dendrites. Like the trees in The Lord of the Rings, neurons are moving with a lifeforce. Electrical and chemical messages are sent back and forth to their neighbors along the branches. When those messages are repeated often, it is almost as though the limbs become intertwined with frequent use. This creates a neural network, built out of experience and repetition. The safety and security of relying on rhythms in our lives means that we can create space for new thoughts, new ideas, and new experiences. Neural networks and routine create automation, giving us room for a deeper meaning.
Our world is filled with rhythms. Your body knows the rhythms to follow throughout the day, the 24-hour circadian rhythm working consistently to help you sleep and explore when the time is right. In the modern world, we’ve changed our concept of time to make our working hours match the setting sunlight. Outside my window, in the late autumn sky, you’ll see hundreds of geese practicing their rhythm of migrating to warmer weather. Here on the ground, we know what happens when the leaves change from green to gold, auburn, and rust. A chill on the wind brings forth the winter solstice full of shorter days and longer nights. Rhythms create trust in the experiences we have known and allow for anticipation. The beauty of rhythm is that it lies in our marrow and the external world; these patterns are part of the living world. They move us forward and keep us steady.
I first learned the story of Ruby Bridges as a young child sitting on my grandmother’s lap, while she turned the pages of a picture book for me. She described a small girl with great courage, who had to stare down hate in the face at the age of six years old. As a child, I could hardly comprehend the fact that verbal death threats and physical violence were hurled towards a Kindergartener. Yet, my grandmother knew it was important for me to learn the history of racism in the United States at an early age. She was teaching me Black Lives Matter before it was a movement making headlines. Along with reading books like The Story of Ruby Bridges, my grandmother introduced me to conversations about diversity through her global travels to places like Brazil and China with the United Methodist Church. One moment that deeply impacted me was a visit to the town Nicodemus for a gospel choir concert. Nicodemus is a National Historic Site, a mere ten miles from my hometown, which was founded as one of the first African American communities west of the Mississippi during the Reconstruction Period. While I listened and learned from the stories, art, and music of BIPOC, I didn’t quite understand the path that was being laid before me. My grandmother understood that a commitment to diversity is a lifelong commitment. It is our responsibility to learn about the history that has brought us to where our country is today, for only then can we lead our country into an anti-racist future.
As an adult, I can reflect and lament my privilege, bias, and weakness. In my small community in rural America, our high school history class never learned about a period beyond WWII. Those formative years were lost to me, and it took pushing myself to learn about those missing milestones. With the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd running through my head — my heart felt heavy because I remembered. My personal history includes times of inflicting pain and racial hurt. Times of inaction in the face of blatant racism, feelings of superiority, and voting for bad policy continue to haunt me. Yet, I know it is important to be accountable, settle into these hard places, heavy with tension. Because when we remember, we can make space to listen. We can learn.
Our Saturday mornings have been slow and steady the past few weeks. We run a mile along a trail, marveling at tall trees and bursting flowers. Afterwards we pick up some coffee and breakfast, settling in for a picnic, and take time to breathe together. We’ve been watching our baby grow to a toddler, the to-do lists that continue to get longer, and the wildness of this world. My heart is burning to see our society heal. Something feels so right about just taking time to watch this boy walk barefoot in the green grass. Part of me just wants to stay in my little corner. These are the simple, pure moments that I want to cling on to.
But I need to keep growing. Keep learning. About justice, privilege, forgiveness, and grace. About seeking the face of God everywhere, in everyone. The fact that I would have the option to stay in my corner is because of my privilege as a white woman, and that is not okay. One day I know we will talk about this time together, all three of us. Because our family can go run together without the risk of being shot down. We can pick up coffee & breakfast without fear of a corrupt police officer targeting us. We can have a picnic on the grass without suspicious eyes watching. We can BREATHE. And it is astounding, frightening, and unfathomable that our country continues to steal humanity and life based on color. America does this with our bias, with our justice system, with our words, with our pocketbooks, and especially with our votes.
With all the expectations for change heavy in my mind, I want to make Black Lives Matter a lasting conversation. I listened to the podcast Unlocking Us by Brene Brown recently, and she featured author and activist Austin Channing Brown. Austin reminded us that these protests and conversations are not merely part of the news cycle. “[This is] a reminder that systematic racism is more than just headlines on the news. Is the work you are doing (on social media, in your home, in your community) just for self, or is it for others?” I write these words because I want this moment in 2020 to be a catalyst for sustainable change, not just a time for virtue signaling.
This weekend, we retreated down a wooded path for a new place to explore. Nature gave us life as we headed deeper into the forest. A wall of green grew up around us, towering above my head. If you’ve been on the prairie, you know that congregating trees are a rarity. While we continued the worn path, a bright flash of color caught my eye slightly off trail. I noticed a small path diverging, and I stepped off for a moment. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity, and I assured Jonathan I would catch up. As I made my way forward, I saw a tall structure that looked almost like a treehouse standing in the middle of an overgrown clearing. There was a ladder and space for someone to stand at the top. The colors grew brighter when I walked forward. A mural stared back at me with stains of graffiti from different moments in time — a collection of voices asking to be heard. It was a combination of urban and rural, city streets and lush forest, bright color and untamed nature.
My breath caught in my throat when I read the word “Love” scrawled under a person, with brown and gold lighting up their skin. And certainly, isn’t that what this journey is all about? The disparity and pain of inequality has been laid before us. And it is time to respond and make a commitment. We are called to move towards love. In moving down this path, I will remember, listen, and learn from voices other than my own. I will not be silent and I will teach my family. We will show love with our words, our actions, and our hearts.
While there are plenty of recommendations floating around the internet from individuals more qualified than myself, here are some things helping me learn lately. I hope you’ll commit to remembering, listening, and learning.
Happy Mother’s Day! I love that this holiday is celebrated uniquely by each family to honor the giving spirit of women in our lives. We are faced with an interesting time to rejoice as we are continuing more social distancing this week. Our family will be celebrating together at home, just the 3 of us. In the chaos the past couple of months, I have watched mothers, grandmothers, and friends step up and serve their community in beautiful ways. The art of nurturing isn’t limited to mothers, and I’m thankful to bear witness to the support and generosity provided by women over the course of my lifetime.
This year marks my second ever Mother’s Day. I’m also coming up on the 1st anniversary of my decision to become a stay-at-home mom. With this turn of the calendar year, I’ve taken some time to reflect on lessons learned that I hope can apply to friends in many seasons. I would be remiss to say that all mothers — working, stay-at-home, or working from home — are bright symbols of hope to me. I must also acknowledge the privilege of my life by saying that because of my religion, race, and economic situation I did have a choice about the next step in my career. Not every woman is afforded the opportunity of deciding her fate. Additionally, the fact that I had the chance to choose between work and home without judgement isn’t lost on me. I believe my generation is a unique one because being home is a choice, not an obligation or monetary exchange. My grandmother would have been crucified by her generation for seeking work outside of the home. My mother’s generation criticized those who did stay home for not exercising their feminist rights so recently earned. Yet, I live in a generation of women who empower others by lifting them up. In my friendships, family, and even the media I continue to see women’s choices for their careers respected. In a scene from Greta Gerwig’s most recent film rendition of Little Women, the director went off script and brought tears to my eyes. Before her marriage, Meg explains to her younger sister that her decision to marry for love and focus on creating a home are just as valuable as a career. “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.” That’s a rally cry that goes to my core, a message for every dreamer searching for value, big or small.
When I first decided to leave the working world and be home full-time with Noah, I was consulting my pal Google constantly. Not only did I have the “New Mom Jitters” (ie. fears of keeping a tiny human alive), I wanted a guiding light to provide hope in a foreign territory. I was braving the wilderness with a four-month old in my arms, and darn it, I was going to do a great job at it! My eyes would often ache from scrolling screens of schedules, tricks, and tools that promised to make a more organized and fulfilled life in spite of the fact that my main company was unable to communicate. Today, my perspective on leaving the workplace and being home is a lot different. I wish I could say that the schedules, the routines, and the advice worked perfectly for us. No matter my willpower, I had to eventually learn that the job of parenting was going to be different than any other I had experienced before. No training, education, hard work, or discipline could prepare me for it. I’m still learning to let go and lean into the discomfort starting something new.
Let Go of Expectations
In the beginning, I had a lot of ideas about what my days as a stay-at-home mom would look like. Some of them included fresh baked cookies, freshly folded laundry (put away instantly), art projects, infinite amount of time to read books, and lots of quality time with my child. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that quality time might be the only true thing on my list. Needless to say, I had expectations for myself and my journey as a stay-at-home mom. Being human means that expectation comes with the territory. These standards can provide a strong motivation. Yet, some of these ideals of perfection can translate to disappointment and heartache if expectations are not met.
I do battle with expectations and contentment on a regular basis. Part of me yearns to be a super-mom who can balance homekeeping, attend to the needs of her child, and keep us on the go with activities all the time. But I can only be stretched so thin. After a year, I’ve learned to identify my priorities. My focus is to provide unconditional love to Noah, care for our home, and find small ways to seek peace throughout the day. While I wish that meant we had a schedule we could use every day, that is unrealistic for my life. Sometimes it means that cleaning the house, cooking dinner, doing dishes, and the million other things on my “to do” list are put off for another day. While I would love to meet all my expectations as a stay-at-home mom, I’m learning to seek contentment each day. God has been watching my journey of motherhood, and I know I can rest in the fact that he knows I am doing the best I can.
Let Go of Control
My sisters have not so secretly labeled me a bit of a control freak in the past year. Just mention nap time schedules or throw off our nighttime routine and I am gritting my teeth. I have white-knuckled my way around sleep for the past year. Nothing causes my heart to race like a nap cut short or a middle of the night wake-up. While we are fortunate to have a good sleeper in Noah most of the time, I still find myself anxious and controlling about sleep as he continues to grow. In becoming a stay-at-home mom, I thought that I would have more control over Noah’s life. Surely I would be able to make sure he took long naps, ate great meals, and played educational games. I’m not quite sure where I developed this fantasy, but I was in for a rude awakening. This past year, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do is offer options and let go of control. I can hold him, rock him, and sing to him, there will be times when he just doesn’t want to give in to sleep. I can offer him healthy food and he can still choose to throw it on the floor. (Although he is a strange kid and actually loves broccoli and spinach… Weirdo.) I can try to set up a fun sensory bin I found on a toddler activity website, and he will still flip the tub upside down sending miniature pom-poms everywhere. Thankfully we haven’t tried a rice bin yet for this reason.
Unfortunately, I think letting go of control is part of the art of parenting in general. I know that as Noah continues to grow, there will be many more hand’s off moments ahead. Riding his first bike, jumping into a swimming pool, driving a car, going to college… (I’m tearing up. It’s fine.) But I know that the beauty of parenting is guiding your child into independence and watching them grow into being their own person. The same can be said for projects, careers, and relationships. If we are able to let go of control, the true joy and freedom comes in trusting the process.
Let Go of Achievement Banners
Achievement banners are something that I’ve really taken notice of in the past couple of weeks. We truly live in a culture that is obsessed with benchmarking “success”. It starts from when we are young children and follows us throughout the course of our lifetime. Grades, test scores, promotions are all milestones to be met. In parenthood, you place these markers on your children and brag about how quickly your child is walking, talking, or mastering a new skill. We have even boiled down accomplishment to tracking “likes” on social media, platforms that were meant for community and support. As a society, we are constantly searching for another finishline to cross, running a race that is endless and stretches a lifetime. Like expectations, achievement banners aren’t all bad. They provide incentive and responsibility. Yet, these markers for success shouldn’t be how we measure our lives.
When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I usually give the sheepish response “I’m just a stay-at-home mom.” This usually receives a variety of responses. From mature couples, I usually hear praises about making the “right” choice for my family. From younger generations, I’m usually met with a few blinks and a quick pivot of the conversation to something we could have in common. Most of the time, I wish people could give a neutral response. Because just like a career, being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t define me. Culture measures identity by productivity and potential. But I’m a lot more interested in the person I’m becoming instead of what I’m doing. In 2015, David Brooks wrote a book titled The Road to Character, in which he discussed his idea of “resume virtues” vs. “eulogy virtues”. As I was confessing my lack of achievement banners as a stay-at-home mom to my husband, he recommended spending some time reflecting on this topic. At times, I really find myself missing the challenges of work and the skills I built there. But when I’m at the end of my life, I hope my family can look past my bullet points on LinkedIn and instead focus on my growth as an individual. It’s much easier to measure the advancement of a company, the impact of a project, the progress of a new idea, the overall success of an event, or even a career trajectory. I’m not sure how you can measure soul work. I just hope in the end they can say that I loved well and learned along the way. And I’ll keep working towards that every day of my life.
In my year as a stay-at-home mom, I’ve learned to appreciate so many of the small moments every day. I’m learning from the babbling, the diaper changes, and the little tears. While not every moment is going to look picture perfect, I know it is refining me. I’m savoring this time at home, but I’m also open to my next chapter of motherhood. Letting go of expectations, control, and achievement banners is helping me embrace the person I’m becoming.
I’ve had a harder time focusing on hope this Spring compared to years in the past. Across the plains, I see green grass sprouting up which is a dramatic shift from the brown, lifeless ground that typically dots the Kansas horizon during the winter months. Every morning I see new flowers arriving — daffodils, iris, and peonies shooting up with life. The sun continues to warm the earth each day, and its trailing beams linger longer in the evenings. Usually these beautiful rhythms of nature bring me such joy and anticipation. But my heart feels like it is still in hibernation and dormant with the cold of winter.
If you asked me to describe myself before the pandemic of Coronavirus, I certainly wouldn’t have used the words anxious or worried. In our marriage, Jonathan refers to me as the positive one, always thinking on the sunny side and looking for the good. But during the past few weeks though, I’ve found my posture to be tight and weary. I’m anxious for family and friends, saddened by constant bad news, and worried about the future. Despite the “stay at home” orders lifting in multiple states, nothing about the nature of this virus will change. Without an impending “end date” on the calendar, the fear of the unknown is starting to catch up with me.
Recently with a few other women in my community, I’ve been reading the book Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen. In the first few chapters Allen provides the hard truth that we can’t truly understand our emotions and feelings unless we take the time to process them. So I sat down, with a blank piece of paper, and wrote for a solid 20 minutes every single line item that came up around my dominant feeling of the moment. That emotion was “worry”, and before CoVid-19 I don’t necessarily think I would have gravitated towards those thoughts. I believed my list would be filled with health concerns because of the pandemic. But after I was finished mapping out my thoughts and lists surrounding worry, I started to notice trails of worry throughout other areas of my life like community, family, and my future professional goals.
Writing these thoughts down, recognizing that they were there and existed (pandemic or not), and searching for patterns helped me understand that my emotional well-being was deeply impacted. These thoughts were running rampant, affecting my attitude about myself and others, and in turn also impacting my spirituality. Instead of focusing my time and energy on serving those around me and taking care of myself, I was letting thoughts of worry in all areas of my life drown me.
This is all to say that I don’t know how to “do” a pandemic. I wish this pandemic wasn’t leaving a mark on me emotionally. I wish I had answers and a way to move forward. Like the famous hero stories that are interwoven in our myths and culture, I wish I could find an expert or guide who could provide me with direction. You probably feel the same way — a little lost as these days of staying home turn into weeks, that might even turn into months. And while that’s scary, I’m finding ways to hope even when my head and heart don’t really feel like it. Here’s what’s helping me:
We are missing a key piece of technology on the first floor of our home. Our television hides out in our basement, used a few times a week for us to relax (and watch 30 Rock). This to say, we have stopped the constant news cycle that feeds our generation. The access to information at our fingertips daily (from print to social media to the radio waves that hit our ears) has a negative impact. Feeding your mind with constant notifications and the drone of endless news hurts your spirit. When we knew we were in this pandemic for the long haul, we stopped. We are telling the television, our phones, and the news that they are not the boss of our minds. While it is important to stay informed, we knew that things weren’t going to change in an hour. Stepping away gave us the chance to create stillness and to notice. By creating a boundary and quieting our minds, we found more hope in our home around us.
This is something I work on every, single day. Often, I find that it is a lot easier to mope into the idea that I am a victim of my circumstances. My son doesn’t take a nap? Woe is me. My husband has to sit on a work phone call late into the evening and can’t help with bedtime? Woe is me. About six months ago, I heard on a podcast featuring the author Bob Goff that he spends much of his daily energy to “focus on what I’m receiving, not what I’m lacking”. If we continue to look for the missing gaps, we will find giant craters that we have split open with our own minds. But if we focus on what is filling our lives, we will find an overwhelming abundance of goodness to be grateful for. During this time, I am shifting my perspective to focus on the gifts I am receiving. I’m noticing the connection my husband is making with our son, the generous help he provides to me, and the work he does for our family. I’m watching the service neighbors and friends are stepping up to provide for one another. I’m creating healthy rhythms for myself to find rest in a creative contemplation. All this goodness comes because I am open to receiving it.
I’m fairly addicted to anything surrounding Brene Brown, so when I found she was creating a podcast that arrived during Covid-19, I considered it a personal gift to myself and was overjoyed. In a recent episode with Alicia Keys, they were describing the stillness that came on with social distancing. By removing the hustle from our lives, we have each been forced to slow down. Brene said, “We stay busy enough so the truth of our lives can’t catch up to us.” That quote hit me like an arrow to a bull’s eye. If I don’t have to ask for help, I don’t have to slow down. I can carry the weight by myself and not rely on anyone else. Yet, that do-it-all mentality serves no one. It doesn’t provide others with a space to give and it doesn’t help my soul in the long run. I’m willing to stop and ask those around me for help when I need it. I’m taking time to be still and rest, and this has helped me tremendously.
Watercolor painting, writing snail mail, yoga, and baking have been filling up my soul lately. I don’t do all of them at once (wouldn’t that take true talent) or necessarily every single day. But I’ve given myself a mission to find something small to look forward to each day. It may not be the time in life to pick up a brand new hobby. I wish I could make a sourdough starter or learn to knit, but I know there are limitations on my time. Instead, I’m focusing on what feeds my soul and I am searching for ways to do something joyful (as small as that might be) every day.
While this season might seem empty or filled with worry, I pray that you will find hope in the small things. It is okay to let yourself feel the emotions of worry, anxiety, and fear. If we find paths to hope, those emotions can be held in the same space with peace.
My wedding day was overcast, grey skies and a major chill in the air that caused goosebumps to raise up onto my exposed arms. The lack of sunlight made me look paler still in my white lace gown. Despite the bright orange and red leaves dotting the fading November trees, the first words I thought of when I looked at the sky were “gloomy”. And given the weeks leading up to my wedding, the heavy weather wasn’t really a surprise.
About two weeks before my wedding, I took a phone call from my parents that I knew would bring bad news. My grandmother had been incredibly sick, a decline that started over a year before, which slid her memory and cognition into the cool deep depths of loss. We could see it a long time coming, and perhaps the saddest part is that she could feel and see it coming too. My last good visit with her was the Christmas before — we sat in the nursing home singing Christmas carols together. She sang the harmony while she tapped her fingers out on her legs like she was playing the piano. I smiled with delight to watch her returning to the habit she developed after playing the organ at our church for over 50 years. She took my hand and told me that she knew things weren’t quite right with her brain, showing me a tattered piece of paper she had taken to the doctor scribbled with pencil notes crossed out. The paper was full of reminders and crossed out notes, a jumble of words I could barely read.
On my 25th birthday, she had written 20.5 on the card because she couldn’t form the numbers in her head and put them to the paper. The dots were no longer connecting, and her light was slowly fading. A painful decline, multiple moves between health care facilities, and the diagnoses of a brain tumor rapidly occurred. It was difficult to watch, and I’m sad to say that sometimes I was tempted to stay away, not wanting to confront the pain of losing a friend I’d held dear my entire life.
During childhood, I had loved to spend time at her house, examining different treasures hoarded in her basement which held little value to the outside world. My sisters and I played tea party in her dining room, dressing up with beautiful scarves she collected from around the world. She loved to watch us perform and practice hospitality anywhere (the local nursing home was her favorite spot to do this), and it did help each of her grandchildren learn to stand up in front of a crowd. Lilacs bushes bloomed around her house and irises would always pop up in the early spring; she loved to have us trim fresh flowers for the table. Her steady hand on the piano was my constant companion after she pushed me to perform at church, competitions, or meetings. Eventually, I grew to love those times together because knew that even if my voice failed, she’d jump right in behind me, showing her best kept talent of knowing when to lead and when to follow. She taught me to bake an apple pie for our 4-H county fair in her kitchen, sifting sugar between her knotted hands, adding extra because there could never be too much.
As I grew older, I would take time to visit her during high school and college, sipping iced tea, and enjoying our quiet time together talking about what was on my heart. I remember the first time I talked about Jonathan with her, and she smiled after learning that he liked to read probably more than I did. When they were finally able to meet, she had one very good day. Her memory was sharp and she teased us all mercilessly, joking that she expected Jonathan to be more of an academic type and show up in a top hat. Together we all went up to a cafe together and she sipped Diet Dr. Pepper. After about two hours together, she declared that Jonathan looked just like Anderson Cooper which was certainly a high compliment in her book. Looking back, I’m incredibly thankful that I had the chance to share her with Jonathan that day because he was able to understand what a legacy she left on my family and my life.
My Grandma Jo passed away about a week before our wedding. Our goodbye was painful and beautiful, and I’m so thankful I had the chance to understand she would be finally heading to a place of peace. She managed to speak and I felt connected to her as she held my hand and called me “the most beautiful girl”. Even though the past two years had been incredibly difficult, I felt comforted knowing that the disease that impacted her brain function didn’t take away the memories I will cherish forever. While watching her, I sang “Over the Rainbow” gently while she closed her eyes, a song that was special to both of us not simply because of our Kansas ties but because we had performed it many times together.
The week of my wedding, I felt sorrow as I sang “Over the Rainbow” at her funeral and experienced joy hearing it right before I walked into the wedding chapel with my husband. Even though she was physically missing from the most important day of my life, I know she was with me spiritually through every step I took. In spite of the grief hanging over my head, I felt my grandmother guiding my heart to happiness. While many think that sorrow and joy can be easily compartmentalized into tidy boxes, I have come to the realization that both emotions can be held in both hands, which makes us human to our core. Our stories are incomplete without the full experience of pain and happiness that life has to offer. Without knowing the depths of sorrow, we surely cannot understand the great joy that makes our hearts soar.
Today would have been her 89th birthday. I think it is incredibly fitting that today we celebrate Good Friday in the Christian tradition, in perhaps the most sorrowful time in the modern world. We are isolated from neighbors and community, in our homes alone and able to process the brevity of this moment in history. This is the day that we experience the darkness of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the grief that comes with the loss of him from earth. The pain our savior experienced as he cried to his Father, “My god, my god, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB). When I think of sorrow, I can think of nothing more powerful than Jesus painfully laying down his own life for my own. And yet, we know there are three more days left in the story. Without Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday. In rolling away the rock before the tomb, it is with great joy that we experience the resurrection of Jesus. The promise of the rainbow is always fulfilled, as Christians are taught so early in the story of Noah from Genesis who spent 40 days and nights in sorrow and darkness. Cling to both sorrow and joy because without one, we cannot understand the other. Good is coming, and there is a rainbow on the horizon.
If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home with a hug and a smile. A sweet baby boy would cackle with delight when he saw you coming up the walk, tugging on your pant legs as you come inside. The smell of coffee would fill your nose and I’d offer you a mug from our eclectic collection. I’d invite you to take a seat, make yourself cozy, and simply be. If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home because right now, I miss community.
It’s been a little over a week of time to ourselves, social distancing, quarantine, or whatever terms you might like to use to describe the current state of our world lately. With the news rapidly spreading about the Coronavirus and many cities around the United States essentially shutting down, Jonathan and I made the call to retreat into our home life. Despite missing out on fun activities and precious time with friends and family, I consider us to be fairly lucky. We are still employed. We still have a roof over our heads. We have food, comfort, and each other. As a team, we are finding a rhythm to our days.
Because we are so fortunate, I was beginning to feel like difficult emotions didn’t belong to me. I have friends who have had to post-pone weddings, are experiencing wage cuts or lay-offs, or are struggling to make ends meet because they had to decide if they wanted to put themselves in a harmful situation for an hourly job. With my thoughts spinning, I kept telling myself that I don’t deserve to feel difficult emotions right now. Here we are, surviving. And yet, in spite of our blessings, I still feel emotions like a stronghold over my heart:
Out of control
Last night I sat in on a small, virtual retreat with seven strangers. We were each asked to reflect on the overwhelm and disruptions this pandemic has brought to our daily lives. I listened as each woman expressed the same feelings that were building up inside of me. Each of us are in different life stages — some with children, some married, some single. We are from different corners of the world. I’m sure if we had time to dive deeper we would have disagreed on politics, religion, and values. And still, in our small gathering together, we came to realize we all share so much in this moment. Our generation has never been fully connected by emotions until now. We were not alone. And neither are you.
In the past, I would have fled these thoughts in anyway possible. Happy, optimistic, hopeful — any way to escape feeling pain. Over the course of my lifetime, I have numbed with food. I have numbed with wine. I have numbed by scrolling through social media. I have numbed by widening distance between myself and others. All to avoid settling into pain. Each of us find a way to escape reality for one reason or another. In cognitive psychology, they often call this the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. My typical response to emotional processing is flight. I don’t want to make space for difficult emotions in my narrative. Before social distancing, I could probably call myself a professional daydreamer because of the many ways I had found to escape my reality. Browsing Pinterest for changes to our home, from new furniture to new floors to new light fixtures. Spending hours researching part-time, working from home job opportunities to use my talents and skills. Fantasizing with my husband about a dream vacation in the United States. (Spoiler Alert: his idea was South Dakota… Apologies to all the Black Hills fans out there, but I was hoping for something like Hawaii.)
But one way or another, pain can be like a boiling pot. Even if you spend time fighting or running, those bubbles will build over time. Eventually, with the heat rising, they will collectively rise to the top.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a fun package of stationary which featured a card declaring “Find Joy in the Ordinary”. At first, I didn’t think much of the popular saying. It wasn’t until when my eyes caught the card after our time in isolation that I took it a step further. Find joy in the the uncertainty, the anxiety, and the grief. In the midst of trials and pain, find space for every emotion and let it be.
In this moment of history, I am choosing to hold on to those feelings and experience them. All I can control is the internal. My external world has forced me to pause, even though I wish I could grip my environment between my fingers and mold it like clay to my will. But I will create space for discomfort, just like I will create space for happiness, joy, and hopefulness. I refuse to retreat to a state of numbing or escapism. I know that my narrative is so much stronger than the difficult emotions during this time. This forced pause has helped me realize that I was craving something intentional and meaningful in my life, needing quiet time for my soul in the midst of motherhood, and seeking out solutions before taking time to understand the emotions I was truly experiencing. Now that it is quiet, I’m ready to listen.
We have watched the rain outside switch from a hazy drizzle to snowflakes all day long. I pulled on Noah’s jacket and wrestled him while he tried to stand up, sliding one sock and shoe on at a time, hoping they would last longer than the car ride. Today, I took Noah to a local nursing home to visit a family member. As we walked inside, I couldn’t help but fixate on the most recent posts on social media and news warning of colds, flu viruses, RSV, and other dangerous bugs floating around waiting to infect a small baby. A buzzer sounded as the code was punched in to the alarm system, protecting those inside from the outside. I held him tightly as he stared up at the florescent lights.
Strangers who were chair ridden stretched their arms out to him as we walked by, cooing and trying to connect with him. He flashed his best smile, flirting with the crowd like usual. They called him beautiful, handsome, and a perfect baby. As his mama, I couldn’t help but agree (and I was secretly thankful that he didn’t chose this time to pitch one of his toddler fits that have been starting to bubble on the surface). A woman asked to hold him, and I politely declined with a smile. I tried to kindly mention we didn’t want him to come down with any sickness, but she was welcome to wave to Noah and blow kisses to him. He juggled making friends and balancing while walking through the hallways, holding onto my fingers for support. His new-found mobility made it hard to keep him in my arms because he certainly prefers crawling and independently standing compared to cuddling these days.
We spent a little time chatting with family and catching up. Noah scoped out the colorful candy bowl and was captivated by the black and white movie playing in the background. I found myself reflecting on visiting the nursing home with my family when I was a child. Christmas carols were sang to cheer friends and family members up. Hard candy was always a staple, butterscotch candy being the ever popular bribery treat for sitting still. And the memories of that distinct smell of nursing homes, of age and idleness, a smell that lingers in every one of them probably.
Sitting in the small apartment style room and holding my sweet baby, I also spent some time thinking about my grandmother. She spent the last few days of her life in a nursing home with comfort care. I thought about holding her hand and singing to her as she slipped away from the world. Often times, when I think of these places and memories, I feel a sadness creep into my bones. I felt that today. I think of the loneliness and changing of life, how it can pass by so quickly and quietly for so many people.
As we made outside to head home, a woman stopped us in the entrance. Noah rubbed his eyes, and I held him closely as people continued to wave at him. He needed to make it home in time for his upcoming nap.
“Thank you for sharing him today,” she whispered.
Why is it that these days, I find it so much easier to share life with Noah from the quiet of my home instead of the commotion of public? That I would choose to share highlights of our life through social media instead of discussing them with friends in person? Why is it that I find it so much easier to seek connection through the internet instead of real life? For some reason, I chose the ease and comfort of sharing in the solitude of my screen, instead of being with out with strangers who need joy more than anyone else.
I could tell you that I was afraid to take Noah into a nursing home because of sickness, because we didn’t have time, or because there would be strangers all around. But the truth of the matter is, I was nervous to take him because of how hard it would be for those memories to come back to me. I was fearful to share my joy because I knew it would be difficult for me personally to go into a nursing home. And I knew it could be difficult for strangers there to see our joy, too.
We too often struggle to look those in the eyes, like people in nursing homes or the homeless or even our friends who are grieving, and share our joy authentically. We think maybe our happiness can increase their sadness. Or it may even cause us a little heartache too. The often overlooked truth that joy can be held right with sadness at the same time. Instead of being afraid to show up, in person, we need to love right where we are. In joy and sadness, connection and loneliness, happiness and heartache – it is in sharing that things get messy. It is in sharing that things get hard. But the beauty is that we all have the chance to do it together, and I would much rather share those moments in person than hide behind my screen any longer.
Sure, I’ll hold onto my baby in public closely. I’ll try my best to protect him from the world, people, and illness during this life. But I will happily share him today and every day with those who might need it most. Chris McCandless once wrote, “Happiness is only real when shared.” You might know him as the subject of the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a young man whose life ended in isolation after setting off on a solitary journey in the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless is someone who would certainly know about the consequences of detachment. If sharing joy in the world is the small thing I can do to make a small impact on my community, I plan to do so going forward. I hope you also can find tiny ways to be fearless and joyful in the days ahead.
“And if you share with your heart, you give with your heart. What you share with the world is what it keeps of you.”
This past week, I’ve had gratitude on my mind. It’s a theme that has continued following me since Valentine’s Day. The lyrics above are the last haunting words from the song Give a Little Love by Noah and the Whale. The advice deeply resonated with me in a week of candy hearts, fancy cards, and material gifts – when it’s easy to get caught up in the symbolism of Valentine’s Day instead of celebrating the love and generosity in our world.
J and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together as an official, hand-holding, mutual relationship couple (insert smitten, googly eyes here). Back in our college days (and the first time we dated, for those who don’t know our story), we were spring chickens you might say. We had been on a few coffee and dinner dates, but still shied away from jumping in headfirst to the cliché couple routine of Valentine’s Day. Today, I have a lot of gratitude that God allowed His plan to unfold for both of us, all in sweet time, making this first Valentine’s Day that much more special.
Growing up, February 14th was truly celebrated in my family. As children, my sisters and I made boxes for cards that we displayed at school. I always took serious care in selecting my cards to give classmates. I can remember waking up to special breakfasts of French toast, bacon, and fresh strawberries. Flowers would always decorate the table at home. Every year, my mom gave us small gifts and receiving them in college when I was homesick for my family made it such a treat. Every Valentine’s Day, I felt so loved. This national holiday wasn’t just for relationships full of love and passion. It was a day to celebrate all the relationships in your life – from the big to the small. Looking back, I’m so thankful my parents taught me the concept of gratitude during this time.
Cultivating relationships is difficult, especially as an adult. I made the decision to move away from Kansas nearly five months ago, and I miss my friends and my family every single day. I’m so appreciative of the channels of connection that exist in our modern world – from phone calls, snapchats, Face Time, and Skype. I know those I love are just a few minutes away. While learning how to do long-distance friendships, I have learned that gratitude is the heart of love. If love is a flower in bloom, gratitude is the soil that allows the roots to be nourished. Without appreciation and thankfulness, I would not be able to sustain the love that connects my friends and family.
As I sat in a restaurant Tuesday with J across from me, I was reminded why it is so important to show everyone you meet gratitude. We were at a local, downtown restaurant with the mountains in the backdrop. With delicious food and my favorite guy across from me, I was a happy camper all evening. In happenstance, we were seated very close to the front door and snugly between a few different couples. Together, one of our favorite things to do is to observe the room, catching snippets of conversation and discovering the stories of those around us. J and I couldn’t help but overhearing multiple fights between couples. We even listened as the couple next to us refused their food and were arguing with the waitstaff at the restaurant. As we left the building that evening (on our way to the best dessert a girl could ask for – Dairy Queen Blizzards), I linked arms with J and felt a deep sense of gratitude envelop me. My evening was so much more enjoyable because I chose to focus on everything and everyone I loved on Valentine’s Day.
Every single person you meet has a history, a good and a bad one. You might not know their story, but it does deserve to be told. Despite struggle, despite imperfections, and despite fear of the unknown, every single person you encounter is worthy of love. I’m so thankful that from an early age, I was taught that relationships matter. The respect and gratitude you give others, those who are your best friends and those you encounter in a single event, says so much about you.
“You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown
My hope for the rest of your February is that you find time to give a little love to those around you. Give it in big ways. Give it in small ways. This year, I worked hard to hand-write personal notes to send to those I love. A little, old-fashioned snail mail was my way of reminding those around me that they mattered and I have a deep sense of gratitude each time I think of them in my life. Even in small encounters, at coffeeshops or restaurants, I have learned that you can make someone’s day be being appreciative. If you allow your daily mindset to focus on gratitude and the joys of a thankful heart, imagine all the people you can impact (and all the evenings you could really enjoy).
I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting this time of year. As the old year begins to turn to new, I’ve taken time to watch my friends and family and notice just how taxing this past year has been. Our 2016 was a banner year for anxiety, stress, and all-around burnout. It’s no surprise to me that many want to see the sun set on this past year and just forget about it. The elections, the harsh lens of the media, the wars, and hateful mindsets caused a great deal of heartache this year. Throughout the year, I started a nasty habit of running. (No, I don’t mean the “nasty” habit of being healthy by physically running. I’m honestly expressing this essence inside of me to run away from conflict, internal and external.) This year, I found myself turning away from hard conversations instead of leaning in, in order to save what I thought was my own sanity. The more I think about my past year, the more it is plain to see that I should have been turning in, not turning away, appreciating the gifts in my life and precious time I had been given.
But, despite my own personal struggles, I think 2016 gained a bit of a faulty reputation. With all the hardships, good did come from this year. It was a year of learning, growing, and changing. The beginning of January always makes me think of the start of a new day—a sun rising up over a pale, blue horizon, shifting a world of darkness to one of golden light, and brightly illuminating the path ahead. My birthday falls only 3 days into January, and with the ending of a year of my life, I always think of the beginning of one ahead. This year, I’m entering my quarter-century mark. 25. On my birthday, I didn’t feel a slight bit of panic when thinking of the laugh-lines I recently discovered on my face or the fact that I can barely start a morning without coffee. Instead, I felt relaxed and took a little time to turn inward, thinking more importantly about the changes of my own past year. Reflecting on former experiences is necessary to have progress in the future.
My 2016 was a whirlwind. Even at the first of the year, it became apparent that this was the year for changes. I committed to leave a job that I was passionate about without plans for the future. Throughout the year, I felt frantic while trying to balance my career, my friendships, and my personal life. More space in my heart was taken up by a boy who lived over 500 miles away, which felt like a world of distance at the time. Suddenly, in a flash of time, summer came and I was in a relationship head first, leaving a job, and traveling to Europe without any upcoming career plans in the span of two months.
And then Autumn came. Just like the leaves change, I made changes too. I made a move and settled into a life I wanted to savor. I was fortunate to find a position that captured my interest and let me dive deeper into my strengths. My setting shifted and I headed west for the Rocky Mountains, which I am fortunate to see every day. As time passed, I began to establish roots by connecting to my church, exploring and hiking, and making more friends. Not to mentioned I began life-lessons in budgeting, paying bills, and “adulting”. But I learned that changes can strike even when you least expect it. I lost a dear friend to me, one whom I didn’t have time to say goodbye to or remind him of how much I respected him.
I met Kyle at the beginning of 2015, and though I didn’t know him long, he left a legacy on my soul. While meeting him, I knew I wasn’t at my best. My heart was overwrought, and I often felt off-balance and overwhelmed. I spent more time on myself instead of being a good friend to others. But in spite of all of this, Kyle was my friend. He invested in me simply by including me and listening to what was on my mind. In the two short years I knew him, Kyle was a blessing. He was truly one of the first Godly men I had ever encountered. His fierce love for Christ, passion for civic engagement, and genuine laughter impacted so many. He simply radiated enthusiasm when sharing about his love for Christ, from spending time in China on a missionary trip to being at the center of a college campus. In addition to all of this, what truly made Kyle unique, was his genuine ability to just be. His laughter lit up a room and he always gave you his full attention. During any task for work at K-State’s Department of New Student Services, be it welcoming new students on to campus or fixing a schedule for day, he was fully engaged. I admire Kyle so much because in every moment I watched him soaking up his precious gifts of life and time, cultivating an atmosphere that glorified Christ. He knew what God had intended for his life and he utilized every moment to be a reflection of that plan. A few months before he died, Kyle marked his earthly body with a tattoo as a reminder of God’s hopes for him. The word GO painted his side was for Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In his time and his life, you knew Kyle’s call to action was for Christ, and I know he was welcomed back with opened arms the day he returned to Heaven.
After saying goodbye to my friend Kyle, I’m not ready to let go of the legacy he left behind. I want to live a life more like Kyle. While 2016 was full of changes, I’m ready for this new beginning to take place in my heart. Here’s my 2017 and 25th year manifesto:
I want to be braver. I want to handle the messes with grace instead of panic. I want to learn that it’s okay to lean on others, have the hard conversations, and grow closer. I want to savor time and open my life to change.
This year, I’ve learned that life and time are precious gifts. They aren’t always wrapped up in beautiful layers for you to unfold, tied up with a neat ribbon, organized in a precious pile that’s Instagram-worthy. Sometimes they can appear ugly. Maybe they look like time you don’t really have, money you can’t spend, or resources that feel wasteful. Recycled wrapping paper, crumpled bags, or simple brown paper packages tied up with string. But let me just declare this – I can’t wait to unwrap these presents. I will make them my favorites, carry them in my pockets, pull them out every single day and look upon in wonder. Life and Time are to be savored.
I’m a big fan of Halloween. That’s putting it lightly, and any of my friends and family reading this will know the truth. From my childhood trick-or-treating years to current days of binge-watching Hocus Pocus, I absolutely adore this holiday – the costumes, the candy, the pumpkins—all of it. In preschool, I was able to pick out my costume for the very first time. Being the indecisive Disney-loving girl that I am, I choose a unique combo of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Even after I passed age 3, I obsessed over potential outfit ideas when October 31st rolled around. A 50’s girl costume, a Karate Kid, and a homemade Glinda the Good Witch costume courtesy of my Grandma Jo (my all-time favorite, by the way) – so many options! Would the kids in my class like it? Should I have a backup plan in case things didn’t turn out right? What if someone else had the same idea?
Of course, with the passing of Halloween, another large event in the United States loomed on the dim, autumn horizon. This year brought around an election year, and a big one. Mere days after a joyful celebration and countless smiling children, Americans made the very serious decisions on the future leaders of this country. And as I watched countless debates leading up to November 8th, I couldn’t help but notice the scary similarities between Halloween and Election Day. No, I’m not talking about a pants-suit costume or frightening foreign policy. I’m talking about masks. They were everywhere this year. And I find this more haunting than any horror movie, zombie costume, or terrifying corn maze. I know I’m not alone in this observation. This year, the country lacked authentic, genuine candidates to stand behind on the national level. With the attack ads playing over the television on an hourly basis, values and character were brought into question constantly. Malicious words were exchanged. Vicious rumors were spread from all angles. In an election when we should have been celebrating two huge milestones on both sides—the first female presidential candidate and the first presidential candidate without a career in politics – the entire country was tearing each other apart. It was in the media and it was at your dinner table. People were obsessed with the identity of the two party nominees. And here’s the core of it all – did we truly even know who they were? With the chaos surrounding the election, did we learn anything truly real about their characters? All I saw were masks, left and right, hiding the truth from a country that deserves better. My heart hurts just thinking about the mess.
I promise this post will not get political. You don’t need to know who I voted for or what I thought about the results. What you do need to know, and what I think you already know, is that this country is in desperate need of authentic leaders. People who are willing to show up and be seen for who they truly are. People who are trustworthy, kind, and generous souls. People who are willing to admit when they have made a mistake, instead of pointing fingers. People who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic. People who are ready to get rid of the mask. I know they exist because I see them every day. They are my friends and my neighbors. They are my family members and my co-workers. They are the men and women next to me in church. They are the people I saw walking out of the polls, smiling because they made an impact in the democratic process and they had hope. I see you. I know you are there. Thank you. My prayer is that you will continue these good deeds whole-heartedly in the future.
Last year, I had a close friend recommend a book to me about taking off the masks. Scary Close by Donald Miller is a book that touched me deep down in my core. By reading this book, I learned to show up and be seen for who I truly am. I learned to drop my mask to the floor and let the curtain close on my act that I’ve been holding tight, using as a defense mechanism for nearly my entire life. I’ve passed this book onto others numerous times because it needs to be shared. It’s one of those change your life books. And I couldn’t think of a better time to encourage people to live authentically than the day after such a disturbing election. Miller opens his book with an Author’s Note and words that resonate and haunt me today. “Somebody once told me we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us” (xv).
While his writing unfolded, I discovered that although Donald Miller’s memoir is focused on his life-long struggle with empathy and fear, he has a message that truly resonates with every reader.
Your story is worth telling.
It may be easier to hide who you are, cloak yourself in a costume, or put on a mask every day. But I believe that each of us, by the grace of God, is loved and can be loved authentically. The very idea that Christ could redeem us speaks to the fact that you have a right to show up and be truly known. Of course, like two hands locked in prayer, that vulnerability brings shame and fear. Shame is probably one of the scariest words in the English language. It’s the reason I wear a mask or put on an act. In Chapter 3 of his story, Miller opens up about his own shame and the true root of where it began. Reading his words titled, “Everybody’s Got a Story and It’s Not the One They’re Telling”, I felt emotions begin to pour out of me when I remembered instances of shame and fear from my own childhood. It’s despairing to think about, that at a pivotal point in our lives, we were conditioned to believe that something about us was so inherently wrong that we needed to over-compensate.
Miller pushes this idea even further in the very next chapter, “Why Some Animals Make Themselves Look Bigger Than They Are”, by recognizing that when each of us put on a mask, we are believing in shame. Deep down, something whispers, you are not good enough. As human beings, we have a reflex to distract others from who we are at our core. It’s like seeing a bear while you’re out hiking on a trail in the mountains. (Thankfully, I’ve never actually experienced this. However, one can imagine the scenario and bone-chilling fear.) The silence in is deafening. Even though you are thinking, oh my god I’m going to die today, you are supposed to puff out your chest like a big rooster. Double your size. Make that gigantic bear, or any antagonist for that matter, forget who you really are. We put on a mask because we think that is what makes us worth loving. Maybe then people won’t see that we aren’t good enough. Maybe then people won’t know who we are at the core. If someone hears about our job, our big move, our new car, our upcoming vacation, they won’t be able to find this inherently wrong thing that we carry. We use this theory like a social crutch and I often hear myself making the same mistakes. Validation is intoxicating, and it will always be easier to talk about success than failure, fear, or shame.
Hope still sustains me, though. As I think more about the chapters in Scary Close, the more they truly highlight be pain all around our world today. Just look at the two chapter titles I referenced above. They immediately bring to mind the national election that was so publicly broadcasted and paraded before us the entire year of 2016. But I’ve seen the work this book has done for others. I know I’ve witnesses the change this book has brought out in me. By taking a chance and recognizing the shame that I carry in my life, I’ve opened myself to a beautiful idea. If Christ could love me enough as I truly am, for my authentic and genuine and shameful self, the world might be able to do that, too. For revolutionary change, we need others to recognize this idea. In the future, I know that I am looking for leaders who will take off the masks, and I am praying that this day comes soon.
“I began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed” (35).