The-best-ones-this-Fall

Returning to full time work has slowed down my reading significantly, but I’ve still squished in a bit of time here and there! Enjoy some of the best articles I’ve read over the past few months…

the-ones-about-parenting

What’s a dad to do when his daughter wants to dress up as Hans Solo for Halloween by Tom M. Burns

But I think my big takeaway from all this will be — equality goes both ways. If I’m going to tell my daughter that she can do almost anything a man can do (excepting some very specific biological acts), then I need to show her that a man can do almost anything a woman can do, too…

Can hyper-involved parents learn to back off? by Brigid Schulte

“There’s such a status thing here: ‘I went Georgetown. I want my kid to go to Georgetown or better.’ It’s such a rat race,” says Bowers, who has lived in McLean for 24 years. “Nobody is taking a step back and asking, ‘Is going to Princeton going to make me happier in the long run? Is this even right for my child?’ Because there are real consequences to living this way.”

How cultures around the world think about parenting by Amy Choi

What can American parents learn from how other cultures look at parenting? A look at child-rearing ideas in Japan, Norway, Spain — and beyond.

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Judging America: Photographer challenges our prejudice by alternating between judgment and reality by Joel Pares

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Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not) by The Oatmeal

Why there should be no Columbus Day

Overrated: People aren’t projects by Eugene Cho

the-most-fascinating-statistics

Hans Rosling’s 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes

“Hans Rosling’s famous lectures combine enormous quantities of public data with a sport’s commentator’s style to reveal the story of the world’s past, present and future development. Now he explores stats in a way he has never done before – using augmented reality animation. In this spectacular section of ‘The Joy of Stats’ he tells the story of the world in 200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers – in just four minutes. Plotting life expectancy against income for every country since 1810, Hans shows how the world we live in is radically different from the world most of us imagine.”

the-ones-that-said-what-I-was-thinking

When a pastor resigns abruptly by John Ortberg

I was struck, too, by the language quoted in news reports yesterday to describe this situation. The pastor, the board said, had been guilty of arrogance—along with other attitudes and behaviors associated with arrogance. But had not been charged with “immorality.”

When did arrogance cease to be immoral?

Being Midwestern (a four year primer) by Amy L. Peterson.

If I were a graduate of four years in Hoosier Land, what were the required courses I’d taken? What had I learned?

the-ones-about-race

What does it mean to be white? by Robin DiAngelo

In the U.S., while individual whites might be against racism, they still benefit from their group’s control. Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them.

Tips for avoiding racial missteps from the makes of ‘Dear White People’

A great compilation of clips from the new Indie film.

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When what you thought would happen doesn’t

Holiness

One of the great joys of working with young people is hearing their dreams.

“I’m going to be an artist.”
“I’ll be a basketball star.”
“I want to travel the world.”
“I’ll be a famous musician.”

Youth can have such hope. The challenge for the older and wiser in their lives, however, is helping them develop the character to maintain their hope if their dreams don’t pan out. I’m forever grateful for the models in my own life who have helped me learn this lesson for it, too, has been a series of dreams, readjusted.

I went to the college of my dreams. I thought it would be the highlight of my life – four years rich with faith and fun in a thriving community. Instead, those years grew dark. Faith walked out the door and the “thriving community” felt a whole lot more like “brainless group-think” to my skeptical soul.

I married the man of my dreams. Deep down, I expected our marriage would be a candlelit-fairytale-just-like-the-movies. Instead, we stumbled over ourselves painfully in our early years of marriage.

We moved to the east coast when we got married. We thought we’d be there a year or two before heading overseas to live-and-save-the-world. Instead, those doors shut and we got a crash course in learning to save ourselves.

Dreams die hard, and even with doors clearly shut, we hoped and pursued overseas work again.  Instead, we landed in a Midwestern cornfield.

I planned to stay home with our young kids. My own mom had been home when we were young and it seemed like a path I would enjoy. Instead, I nearly lost my mind from diapers and tantrums and I found a job-outside-the-house just to maintain some measure of sanity.

I grew to love my-job-outside-the-house. It was life-giving and perfect for me. I thought I’d found a lifelong career path. Instead, our family needs grew more important than my career ones and I walked away.

I wish I could say that each one of these changes-in-plan came with a steady faith and assurance of God’s guidance in my life. That is not, however, the case. With every instead also came moments of confused and desperate questions like Where are you, God? and Why me?  As time passed, I began to see a bigger picture, but in the midst of the little-moments, I could see nothing but the very next step.

During one of the more difficult insteads years ago, a soul-friend encouraged me to write a letter to God with my honest feelings, not the ones I thought I was supposed to have. After detailing the injustices I’d felt, I ended my letter with these words:

In Your mystery, You were gracious to me. At least, this is what I tell myself. But that’s not what I really feel. What I really feel is resentment toward you for what is happening. I’m angry that you didn’t lead me to a different way. I’m bitter that you let the water boil over to burn me, leaving my soul blistered and raw. I’m ashamed that I am not the perfect little child I’d chalked myself up to be. I’m grieving the life that I had so glorified and dreading the life that you are preparing for me.

I feel a little guilty that I don’t have the ‘right’ attitude about this. But I’ve spent far too long faking it, and can’t muster up even one more mask. I doubt it would do much good anyway. What I’m looking for now, father-god, is the real thing. I feel like I’ve been slowly shedding the fake stuff for years now, and am desperate for the real.

So here I am, my blistered, raw and aching soul ripped wide open.

Do with me as you will.

Through quiet tears, I read the letter aloud to my soul-friend. When I finished, she gave me words that I will carry in my heart forever, “I’ve just witnessed a holy moment.”

It was the breaking of the dam for me, the first moment when I saw that holiness is not merely doing-the-right-things but rather living-fully-into-what-is. I look back now and see that the insteads were deeply holy years, ripe with moments that stripped me of all notions of what I thought should be and gave me the gift of living into what actually is.

Truth is, the insteads will always be part of life. Whether dramatic-and-life-changing or small-and-seemingly-insignificant, my well-constructed plan may not always be the one that actually goes into effect.

The relationship will be hard.

The job will not go smoothly.

The dog will try to eat the tortoise.

The move will be lonely.

The children will make broken choices.

While these years don’t hold near the drama or angst of my twenties, I find them equally intense, filled to the brim with holy-and-breathtaking-moments that I don’t notice as often as I should. As life tumbles day after day into a series of completing to-do lists, pursuing long-term goals, navigating career choices, guiding little-souls and deepening friendships, the holy moments feel far more like holy days, holy weeks, holy years. And very few of those moments are happening exactly-how-I-thought-they-would, thank God. (Who knows where I’d be left entirely to my own devices?!?)

When what you thought would happen doesn’t, everything shifts. Questions surface. Anxieties bubble. Hope teeters. This is when the holy begins, for it is in the moments where our grip is loose enough for our fingers to actually let go that we begin to grasp the real meaning of faith. While the moments don’t feel particularly holy, they require a level of honesty, courage, hope, perseverance and wisdom that I had no idea how much I needed when I tearfully whispered those words that broke open the holy-moments, “Do with me as you will.”


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Posted in Belief, Spiritual Formation | 1 Comment

Jesus is not a band-aid: Making life-giving decisions when God feels silent

Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow;
you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
Proverbs 27:1 (The Message)
 

Sometimes I think life would be a whole lot easier if God were more of a cosmic puppeteer who made our choices for us rather than leaving us to all of this unpredictable and overwhelming freedom.

Of course, I’m happy to be in control of the little decisions in life like if to buy ice cream, when to go to bed or which lane to drive on the freeway. But the big decisions – like living with integrity, raising healthy children, thriving relationally, navigating career steps, managing money - they’re freakin’ hard. The answers for these questions don’t always fall clearly at my feet and it sure would be helpful if someone just showed up and said, “Here is the path for your life! Take it!”

Some days, I scour my Bible for the verse that reads:

Thou shalt take the job that is offered to you on August 1, 2014 at 9:03 a.m., live in the brown house with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on Main Street, buy a 20 gallon aquarium for your son with the next paycheck, and become best friends with the brown-haired lady in the polka-dot shirt who smiles at you in the hallway next week.
 

Instead, I find these words:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me besides still waters.
He restores my soul.   
 

Apparently, the Bible speaks more clearly to giving life than to dictating its specific terms. Not all decisions are clear-cut, and sometimes the only thing God promises is to walk with us through them, not to tell us which way to go. My struggle, however, with this promise has often been that I still have to make hard decisions. While God’s presence helps me put one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t tell me exactly what to do. It’s kind of like my dad used to tell me, “Jesus isn’t a band-aid* that we just slap on to fix every little problem.” 

Sometimes healing (and decision-making and life-skill building and relationships and parenting and professional expertise and personal awareness) takes time and energy to learn.  Sometimes we mess up and realize we don’t know that first thing about tomorrow or how to get there.

This is where wisdom and discernment enter the picture.  Years ago, I started a pile of 3×5 cards where I kept all sorts of pieces of life-giving wisdom that I discovered in the process of walking through life. Some came from Bible verses, others from books or quotes. On each card, I’d designate a topic that the words applied to in my life. Themes like courage, insecurity, risk-taking, judgmentalism, and hope began to appear that reflected my life situations. Here are a few examples:

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When I reach those moments where God’s presence feels far-away because I’m so overwhelmed by life’s details, I grab my Life-giver cards, find the topics pertinent to the day, and sneak to the back patio (followed invariably by the kids, the dog and the tortoise) to sit with wisdom compiled over the years. Occasionally the kids get too loud or the dog tries to eat the tortoise, but overall, the practice of sitting with wise words – even when chaos surrounds me – keeps me honest, recenters my perspective and calms my anxieties.

These calm-in-the-storm moments are far more than a band-aid… They are a balm, handlebars for life on the days when I feel wildly out-of-control and uncertain about tomorrow. I love that they’re low-tech (no social media connections to distract me), consistent and portable. I love that they’re starting to yellow and show the years because each time I revisit them, I’m reminded of the many timeless truths that have given me so much life.

I’d love to hear from you… What are your handlebars when band-aids fail to heal? How do you walk through life’s big decisions and unknown outcomes with courage and hope?

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* As it turns out, my dad was kind of wrong. Jesus is actually a band-aid and you can buy him here…sigh.

** I’d like to also take the opportunity to give a shout-out to Jan Johnson, the author who should receive credit for the cards above referencing fear, community, and anger. If you haven’t read her books, you should.


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What I wish we’d remember a little louder on 9/11

I’m usually fairly quiet on 9/11 as it’s a day that holds a lot of memories. We lived 5 minutes from the Pentagon at the time and the plane crash shook the windows of our small apartment right along with my personal sense of stability. A family member worked in the WTC and we spent the entire morning awaiting his phone call. Thankfully, it came and we breathed deep sighs of relief.

Over the years, 9/11 has become a day where we honor the ones who ran toward rather than running away. When all of human instinct screams to protect itself, those brave souls did not. They were heroes in the truest sense of the world, and none of us will ever forget their sacrifice.  I hear a lot of references to this idea that Fred Rogers encapsulates so well:

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While so much of me resonates with these words and the value they place on so many who sacrificed that day, I also find myself feeling a lingering hole in the dialog about who matters when 9/11 rolls around.

“My dad says that all Muslims are bad,” a boy in my son’s third grade class shared this week. It’s become a norm – this alienating story of the West vs. the Middle East. Media stereotypes from both sides have flown for over a decade, and now, as I honor the heroes, I also mourn the victims that have been born from the political rubble of 9/11.

As a kid from the 80s, I saw the exact same story play out with the Russians. I remember distinctly thinking that Russians were evil, dangerous, and scary and that Nancy Reagan was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen (which of course meant that Reagan’s policies had to be right…).

Like so many today, I missed the critical reality that people are distinct from political agendas. In his song, Russians, Sting captures the hole I feel every 9/11:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too*

In my heart today, I hold all of those mothers on the other side – Russian, Iraqi, Saudi, Afghani – who love their children too, who hold them in their arms at night, tears brimming over what the world has come to. I picture the fathers tickling little ones, teaching them simplicities of daily life and the hope for a better world. I remember stories of widows like Susan Retik and Patty Quigley – women who lost their husbands that day and now fight for the plight of Afghan widows.

They are heroes, too, all the ones who love their children. May our remembrance of them honor the hope they offer to the world.

swirl *Listen to the whole song here:


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When practicing creativity doesn’t feel much like creating art

It is finally Saturday, and in the slow, I sit with these long-loved questions from Annie Dillard’s classic Holy the Firm:

What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the altar but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are? What can he light but the short string of his gut, and when that’s burnt out, any muck ready to hand?

I don’t feel much like an artist anymore – this quiet soul returning to the noise of the teenagers and desks and hallways and lunch periods. My feet feel like clay. My voice rasps. My back begs for relief.

Where is the art in the nitty-gritty day-to-day of the classroom? I wonder. The materials I’m working with are attitudes and hormones and distractedness and way-too-much-chatting. It feels reminiscent to the first time I threw clay on a wheel, feebly attempting to shape it into something useful. It had a mind of its own and my hands had no clue how to shape it. Returning to the adolescent classroom after a decade away feels much the same way.

I come back to sit again with Annie’s words:

[The artists’s] face is flame like a seraph’s, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt. He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned. So must the work be also, in touch with, in touch with, in touch with; spanning the gap, from here to eternity, home.

My life – it is aflame, I muse. It is certainly ‘up in the works’. This artist’s waxen and oh-so-flawed feet are on the move once again, stumbling over themselves as they learn a new way. I miss my kind and grateful immigrant-students. I do not yet understand these loud teenager-ones.

I breathe deep and slow, knowing that these steps, too, are holy and firm, spanning long gaps filled with depths of flawed, broken, but redeemed love. This, too, in all of its gritty mundane, is the kingdom of God, needing lit for the people to see. The raw material in this new phase is no less than any other path I have walked. It may, in fact, be even more given the nature of adolescents.

“You’re better than this,” I say to the boy-too-cool-for-school quietly in the hall. “I see so much more than what you let on. You’re a leader, talented and overflowing with potential. Don’t hide it just to impress others. That’s no way to live.”

I know he hears me. I don’t know if it will change him for today, but I can only hope it sinks in by tomorrow. I realize as I speak to him that he’s not the only raw material I’m working with.

The creativity needed to span the gap of my own flaws shows up far more than I’d like in times of transition. It calls me to be an artist with my own self, to bring my thin and desolate places to the altar and lay them down, trusting that even in the gaps, there is a holy and firm place to stand.


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Must read books for 2014

I quit going to Christian bookstores years ago because the one-sided, narrowly defined perspectives represented on their shelves were more than I could handle.  Surely the Christian faith was larger than the American religious right!  Fortunately, some of my faith in the Christian publishing market has been restored by the voice that the internet has provided to authors who might not have ever made it into the narrow box of Christian bookstores. This post features two of these voices.

As I’ve followed the writing market, one important piece I’ve learned about the industry is the importance of early sales when a book is released. While I don’t always like the realities of the current publishing market, they are what they are. One practice I’ve started as a result of learning more about these realities is purchasing books of writer-voices I value as soon as they are released because it encourages their overall promotion, distribution and sales in a wider market.

Today it’s Eugene Cho’s new book, Overrated.

My husband and I have followed Cho for years, and have grown to deeply appreciate his voice of growing humility, justice, honesty, and grace. His insight has been tremendously helpful to us and offers a unique and much needed voice in the Christian sphere today.  Based on his blog writing alone, I highly recommend this book – it’s message is one we all need to grapple with.

Check it out at http://areyouoverrated.com/.

While I’m at it, I also have to re-recommend Christena Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart. I’m halfway through it and finding its content incredibly convicting and formational. It’s a message I’ve needed to contemplate for a long time.  Throw it in on your order with Cho’s book – you won’t be disappointed!

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A new season

Every so often in life, I run across these lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets:

And the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot

Since I’ve lived through a lot of ‘new’, the sentiment always catches me off guard when it proves itself true and I find myself in a familiar place that I’m rediscovering all over again. Such is this next season of life for me.

I started my career teaching in an urban middle school, then a suburban high school and finally a rural elementary school before settling in higher education as a teacher trainer. After a decade of working in higher education, however, I’ve recently rejoined the K-12 system. Working in the academic world was delightful for its intellectual stimulation and scheduling flexibility, but when I was ready to pursue full time work again, its limitations exasperated me and I realized it might be time for a change.

So this week, I found myself once again standing before well over 150 adolescents, donning both my intimidating-but-warm-teacher-face and the-comfiest-shoes-I-own, watching them bumble over themselves as they explore who they are for the first time. While it was nowhere near the quiet-office and peaceful-space the contemplative in me hoped for, it was not at all unknown to me. In fact, it was a little like coming home.

It will most-certainly be a shift for me. I will be teaching Spanish at an arts-based charter school in a town known more for its rough edges than its shiny ones. Yet after only a few days with these students, I am reminded afresh than even in broken places, there is often softness hiding between the cracks. I see it in the passion of teachers serving as role models for growing minds. I see it in the quiet boy in the corner, both unsure and eager at the same time. I see it in the eager chatterbox-of-a-girl, testing limits, exploring options, expressing curiosities. I hope for it when I glimpse hardness in the eyes of a young man whose softness seems to have been buried long ago. I see it in the presence of parents as they wait alongside their nervous new students.

As I watched the events of Ferguson unfold this past week, I realized with great sorrow that once again, these stories will reflect ‘my kids’ – faces so often portrayed and perceived inaccurately in the public sphere. Tears brimmed over the realities that young black men face as I remembered the faces of so many former students who broke the stereotypes society created, and it made me grateful for the opportunity to relearn these lessons all over again.

While I know parts of me will long for the quieter corner of the academic world (and an occasional place to sit down!), I am exceedingly grateful that this job allows me to live out my life-purposes of caring for the tenderhearted, welcoming the stranger, and listening to the unheard through this next season. I also see a theme arising in my life of smoothing rough places that I’m looking forward to exploring more.

As a result, I’ve also determined my season of speaking is shifting to one of listening which will likely mean that this blog will fall largely silent. While I love the time I’ve had to write here this year, my time and energy will more likely be spent focused more intensely on leaning into new realities. It has indeed been a pleasure to interact with so many of you in this virtual sphere, but for now I’ll be spending most of my time in the place where my career first began that taught me so much about living between worlds in the first place.

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If you’re new here and would like to read more, feel free to explore some of my more popular posts on race relations, culture, faith, and family.

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