As you may have heard, we are living in unprecedented times. Just kidding - I’m sure you’ve heard this 1,000 times. It’s mentioned at least five times during each press conference and at least twice during each news broadcast. These unprecedented times have us all scrambling and doing new things. I’ve tried at least 10 new recipes (several of which are winners). Kids are trying new home science and craft projects they didn’t have time to do before. Parents are realizing just how hard teachers work to educate their children.
Many of us are getting frustrated and antsy to get back to life while others navigate the phases of reopening. To some, staying home feels like a waste of time and every day begins to look like the day before it. Our days seem like anything but unprecedented. It’s all been done before. Sun goes up, the sun goes down. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. Our frustrations begin to sound like Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
How depressing! At the beginning of Ecclesiastes, Solomon sounds like he could sit and commiserate with Macbeth. I imagine them sitting languidly staring into a fire.
Macbeth: “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
Solomon: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
By the end of his pondering though, Solomon has moved on and left Macbeth behind. He concludes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man.”
So that is it. As followers of Christ we are not promised freedom from trouble. In fact, Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) You will have trouble - not great words to put on a recruitment poster, but praise God the promise doesn't end there. Christ overcame the world and through him we are more than conquerors. There is so much debate about masks, reopening, social distancing, etc. We must research, ask questions, seek out reputable sources for answers, and responsibly share with our people. Our first priority should be raidating Christ's message to the world so we should be very cautious about alienating people with charged political statements.
Fear God and keep his commandments. Not exactly the easiest conclusion to execute, but that's what we've been given. Even if the days are looking the same and things become monotonous God is there. God is good and His way is perfect.
"Let me go down the slide!"
The baby that I nanny for has reached an important stage of development that is both challenging and fun - he’s acting independently. As babies leave the newborn stage and grow they are carried around and interact with the environments they are provided with. Slowly they realize they can do things even if they know they are being told no. I will NEVER forget the moment Logan realized he could act independently of me. He was crawling across my in-laws’ family room floor and he reached for their DVD player. I said, “No. No touch.” He looked at me, looked back at the DVD, touched it, then looked back at me. I could see him reasoning out, “Mom says not to but I really want to touch it. Ha! That was so satisfying. Uh-oh, look cute! She’s looking upset.”
Today, Luke climbed to the top of our pool slide. I was right beside him the whole time. I know it’s good exercise and the view from the top is beautiful so I let him climb and protected him from any harm. Then came the trouble. He knows slides. He has a little slide in his playroom at home. Slides are exhilarating and there is ground at the bottom. He KNEW that slide would be so fun. He’s a slide expert. But here’s the problem. He was wrong. At the end of this slide was a pool with 52° water. It was only 45° outside. He was wearing a coat, hat, shoes, along with all his clothes. I knew that him going down that slide would end in misery and could keep him from enjoying the pool when it was warmer and much more enjoyable. So back down the ladder we went. He screamed at me. He was mad. I hugged him and told him, “No slide.” Logan came out and he ran to Logan babbling and pointing at me and the slide. I imagine he told Logan that I was crazy. I was ruining all the fun he could have had.
I was immediately struck with the thought that just a few minutes before I had been contemplating our current circumstances. I was thinking about fall school plans and friends who were saying that their schools are already preparing for online learning to continue. I was saying, “No, no, no! I can’t do this. This won’t work! Things are just not going to work like this.” I wasn’t trying to problem solve as much as fight the circumstances around me. I was like Luke sitting at the top of that slide. I know what needs to be done. I KNOW what is best. I have experience as a teacher. I have experience as a parent. God was trying to lead me in the way that is best for me and yet I was kicking and screaming, “I know better!!!”
So now I’m back on the ground, but what do I do now? Bury my head in the sand or say, “No worries! Noting to fret about here,” with a maniacal smile while I slowly lose my mind? Hardly. I should bring my concerns to God. Pray for ideas that will help me help my son and the others who need help through the storms ahead. This could be a wonderful opportunity for the church to share the gospel with lonely, hurting people.
I don’t know what the future holds, but right now, I’m going to rest in the knowledge that God knows what’s at the bottom of the slide even better than I do.
Rangers, Runs, and Reading
I'm currently reading a book called Oh, Ranger! It is a collection of stories and essays written by National Park Rangers. I was moved by an essay written by Shelton Johnson, an African-American National Park Service ranger. While looking through photographs at Yosemite's research library he found a photograph of 25 African-Amerian soldiers who had protected the land from ranchers who were grazing their animals on park land. Their names are not recorded but these soldiers protected Yosemite until they were relieved by another regiment who noted their excellent service. Often African-American men would choose to serve in the military because it was one of the few jobs that provided a pension available to them. That said, they still failed to receive proper respect. Ranger Johanson wrote them a letter thanking them for their service and for allowing himself to be caught up in their story. I found the ending particularly poignant:
"Thank you for clearing the trail that I followed 100 years later. You cannot imagine how your passage has made my journey infinitely easier, as I hope mine will be for those who follow."
My heart hurts when I read stories about violence against others because of how they look. These stories go back for hundreds of years and involve all sorts of people. They are sad, dark, and full of hate. Do you hate these stories too? Perhaps, like those soldiers who protected Yosemite, we can do some things to make the journey of those who follow us a bit easier.
If you ran yesterday and posted about in on social media, good for you. Now keep running. Keep moving. Call someone in an elected office. Create a petition. Volunteer to help others. Look each person you meet in the eyes and see them as a life created for a purpose.
One of my favorite preschool memories is Jay asking Maddie what color her new baby was going to be, brown or white. Maddie, whose mom was very pregnant, was the only fair-skinned child out of my 10 students. She looked around the room and said, “I don’t know, probably brown.” They honestly didn’t know why our skin looks the way it does. It appeared to be about statistics to them and asking about it was as casual as asking a friend to pass the playdough.
Aging robs us of the innocence of youth but it doesn’t have to rob us of our curiosity. Below I’ve provided a list of books that have helped me get into the lives and experiences of those whose heritage I do not share. True these are fiction, but the experiences of the characters are very real. I, like Ranger Johnson, thank those who have come before me. I come from a line of curious and compassionate people. My wish is that my life will pave the way for future generations to share God’s love with the world as I try, yet often fail, to do.
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1968 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick
Chains by Laurie Hase Anderson
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacquline Woodson
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Underground by Jean Ferris
Wonder Word Wednesday
Today's Word: Symbiotic
Four syllables. Pronounced [sim-bahy-ot-ik]. adjective. Defined on Dictionary.com as “living in symbiosis, or having an interdependent relationship.”
I’m currently reading a book called Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers, and Why They Matter. After telling some friends that I was reading this book they consoled me and offered some ideas about how to relieve my boredom. Undaunted, I told them I wasn’t bored. This is just the kind of book I find interesting.
Did you know that beavers could reduce wildfires and help stop the droughts that plague the west? I didn’t, but I do now. My family and friends know what’s coming when I’m pulling up photos to show them - “Look! Look here at Susie Creek. Notice the changes that have occurred since the introduction of beavers! Where are you going? This is fascinating!” They’ve grown accustomed to hearing about whatever book I’m reading at the time.
“Caffeine had a crazy impact on the French Revolution.”
“King Leopold . . . what a terrible human he was.”
“So people are wary of AI but what we really need to monitor are algorithms.”
From Eager, I learned about the symbiotic relationship between beavers, elk, wolves, and salmon. When humans alter one or more of the parts of an ecosystem, the system falls out of balance. Repairing that imbalance is usually possible, but often costly. For example, since 2006 bats have been combating diseases including White-Nose Syndrome. It is really easy to say, “Bats are gross. They freak me out. Who cares if they all die.” BUT Bats save farmers billions of dollars each year by eliminating pests. Farmers would spend significantly more on pesticides if bats were eliminated. (Not to mention the impact of increased pesticides on the food system.) Bats also feast on bugs which controls the insect population and act as pollinators. So why should you care about bats? Because they fix a problem (insects/pollination) that you didn’t know you needed fixing.
Generally, I thought of the word symbiotic in a scientific manner - organisms need each other to survive - but after spending over a month in quarantine I’ve realized that symbiotic is much more. As an introvert, I am perfectly happy to stay home and spend time alone. My biggest struggle at the beginning of quarantine wasn’t being apart from people. It was that Logan and Jason were both home and I couldn’t be more alone. Now we are settling into a pattern of me spending time reading while Jason and Logan connect with friends via technology. I stay connected with people via texts, emails, phone calls, and Zoom. Then we come back together for cooking and games. Something that has become painfully obvious to our household, as well as the rest of the world, is the symbiotic relationships we are part of that are currently missing from our lives. Logan worked out a lot of his angst at school while chasing friends, messing around in the halls, and moving around the school with his people. Walking alone outside during “forced outside time” doesn’t provide the same kind of effect. We’re seeing a similar breakdown of relationships causing fallout in the economic sector.
We have a symbiotic relationship with each other that so many of us, including me, took for granted. Until now. If you are sad and tired of being alone, that’s okay. It’s okay to be sad that you feel alone. In fact, being alone was the first thing that God said wasn’t good about His creation. Check out this passage from Genesis 2.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam, no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
As a child, I wondered how long it took for Adam to feel alone. I thought it must have been a very long time because he had all of Eden to explore, he named the animals, he talked to God, but then when I saw that God made Adam AND Eve on day six I realized that Adam had been lonely after less than ONE day. I’ll save any comments about men needing women and just point out that we weren’t supposed to be alone. When Adam is introduced to Eve he breaks out in verse and gives us the first lines of poetry ever spoken. If you are looking forward to celebrating with others when this is over that is exactly the way God created you to feel. Connected.
I hope that this time of quarantine has helped you focus more on those with whom you have a symbiotic relationship. I know I have realized how much I like sitting around people even if I don’t like being at loud parties. I’ve realized how much encouragement I get from seeing my kids laugh and talk together. I’ve realized the great pleasure I took in deep conversations over coffee or dinner with friends. This too shall pass but I hope the lessons I’ve learned don’t.
READING IS AWESOME!!
(Overdramatic title? I think not.)
How have you been spending your quarantine? My time is spent urging Logan to focus on his schoolwork and attending to the various and sundry things that need to be done. My time spent working in the kitchen has increased, which has been good. Despite all this activity, I’ve been struggling. I’ve realized that I use not having time as an excuse to do things that I just don’t want to do. I have laundry piled up, but it’s not getting done and that is no fault of not having time. My attitude fluctuates between “I love staying home!” to “Let’s just get through this,” to, “I’m going to throttle someone.” It’s hard to focus on anything with Jason working downstairs and Logan trying to work at his desk. The teachers have done an incredible job of creating online curriculum and hosting Zoom meetings to keep the kids connected. I’m trying to be a good mom by watching Logan, refocusing his attention when needed, and assisting him when it is necessary, yet at the end of the day I feel drained and I haven’t even done anything. I’m trying to have some creative outlets, like making YouTube videos and writing, but I feel like my thoughts are experiencing a traffic jam inside my head. I’m not much for talking on the phone rather, I love deep conversations shared over coffee or tea. Digital meetups are good, but they just aren’t the same. My INFP brain wants to be home alone and be in deep conversations and be teaching a class all at the same time. My heart also aches for all those struggling with sickness, loss of job or income, fear, and loneliness. I feel the burdens of others with such intensity it physically hurts. Then I look to God who is in control. I look to God who literally laid the burden of sin on His only Son to pay the debt for my sin. I look to Christ who has conquered death and offers me life in Him. Deep breath. One day at a time. One activity at a time.
When my brain starts to get wacky and my thoughts run off into the realm of “what ifs” I’ve learned the best thing I can do is investigate. A love of reading and a wealth of curiosity have made my life richer. When I lose my mind in frustration over my circumstances, I turn to God’s Word where I can find truth about who God is and what He asks of me. When I become concerned about the government I can research the law and take action by writing those who represent me. When I need a new recipe because I’ve cooked everything I know how to make twice, I turn to cookbooks and blogs with exciting new ideas that will satisfy our family. What do I need to make all this possible? Reading.
I know that many people see reading as a thing nerds do or as an exercise in academic drudgery. This. Breaks. My. Heart. If you are in the crowd that could leave reading for the educational elite or for the nerdy oddballs, let me argue that reading is so much more than boring stories and droll information. Reading also takes place using cookbooks, novels, non-fiction books, articles, trade publications, etc. In the classroom, whether it was my own or another teacher I was subbing for, I often heard the statement, “Why do we have to read? It’s so stupid!” I want to note that while it is important for students to read the textbooks assigned to them for online classes, textbooks are not what I am talking about when I talk about reading. Interesting books, that take the reader on an adventure throughout space and time, abound and offer insights that will give new depts of understanding not previously experienced. The more you read the better you become at reading. The better you are at reading and decoding information the better you will be at life. Okay. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but maybe not. Let me lay out three ways that reading will change your life and the lives of those in your care.
I hope this helped. Sometimes I get discouraged about writing and posting. I see so much amazing content out there and wonder if my voice is really needed, but I truly enjoy the challenge of posting and writing. Thank you for reading and learning with me.
Below I’ve posted a YouTube video I made about reading to children. In the first half, I read one of my favorite books and in the second half, I talk about some strategies that parents can use to boost reading comprehension when reading to children.
Although the origin is disputed, the phrase, “May you live in interesting times,” is a curse. Calm times are rarely written about in history books. Interesting times are those of war, sickness, and turmoil. We are now living through interesting times indeed. I’m not going to write about fear or how to calm your heart because I have read many other fantastic posts about that already. I know that I can trust God and that He is still here in the midst of the storm.
What I am currently struggling with is the floundering feeling. Schedules are the best. Get up, work out, eat breakfast, go to school, etc. I love regularity because it feels safe and comfortable. Sure spontaneity is good when I’ve planned some time for it. (Yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds.) I am perfectly happy eating the same thing for breakfast and lunch for weeks, even months on end. Adventures of the literary variety are good enough for my daily life, thank you very much.
In my last post, I wrote about going to the Grand Canyon. I was nervous and afraid. Yet, here I am back to tell the tale. IT. WAS. PHENOMENAL. The views were stunning, the companionship was revitalizing, and the experience was one I will never forget. It will be a long time before I forget the pain in my calves, though. I didn’t train as I should have for the walk DOWN and therefore suffered on Friday, but even that was worth it. Aside from resting with the awesome beauty of the canyon surrounding us, another relaxing aspect of the trip was the lack of technology. Down in the Canyon, there is no service. I used my phone to get several incredible photos and to read on my Kindle app but other than that it was useless. With all the excitement going on it was nice to get a true break.
But then we hiked out. Even though I saw other people on their phones near the top, I waited until we completed the trail to turn my phone back on. My niece and I were feeling good so we went ahead to ensure we could pick up our duffels from the mule barn. (Note: for a very reasonable fee, mules carried 60 pounds of gear out of the Canyon for us. Best decision ever.) After reaching the top we took a few photos and turned our phones back on. That’s when I started getting all the texts and emails. Virus spreading. School is closed for the next three weeks. Call me when you get out. So many notifications and so much to catch up on.
It was also much colder at the top than it was just below the surface. Even after putting on my jacket my hands still felt cold. We set aside the phones and jumped in the car to get our duffels but first, we needed directions so we went to the Backcountry Office for help. There I met a ranger who acted as though I was the first person he had contact with after months of quarantine. My family said he was flirting which if it were true would be very sad considering I didn’t exactly look or smell fresh. Anyway, after getting our duffels we headed back to the trailhead to pick up the rest of our group. That’s when it started.
My hands became cold. Really cold. Then they started to stiffen and curl up. I knew everything was not okay. My niece called a ranger and then 9-1-1. God provided for the calmest, kindest medical doctor to be passing by and she immediately offered to assist. Shortly after the ranger arrived the paramedics did as well. I was able to walk to the ambulance with help. There they put me on a stretcher and began to take my vitals. The chillest paramedic in the world calmly chatted with me about my condition. I have a bunch of weird medical conditions that are more annoyances than anything. One of them is Raynaud’s Syndrome. It is a condition that can cause fingers and toes to lose circulation. Normally, I deal with it by wearing gloves and warming my hands and toes when they get cold. The triggers to a Raynaud’s event are cold and stress.
So there I was cold and stressed out laying in an ambulance near the rim of the Grand Canyon. I was given a warm pack and slowly feeling and movement returned to my hands. The paramedic said that based on my vitals I was having an anxiety attack. I had too much oxygen which explained my trouble breathing and the tension elsewhere in my body. As my hands warmed up and as we calmly talked my breathing became normal. After several minutes, I signed the form waving the ride to the hospital and we headed toward home.
Now, I’m back living in the weird world I returned to. As I look at all the up in the airs -- when will school resume, when will travel resume, when will this end -- I thought of a phrase I’ve heard at least a billion times - "Lord wiling." If you’ve spent much time in a church you’ve heard the phrase, “Lord willing” or “If God wills.” It refers to James 4:13-14 -
“Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'"
We say things like, “Lord willing, we will meet next week for prayer meeting,” or “The seniors, Lord willing, will be heading out on their trip next Thursday.” As I was floundering through my lost schedule I was struck by how often I’ve heard and said similar things, but was balking now that apparently the Lord is willing this twist-turn in scheduling. For the most part, the Lord has willed order and peace in my life, but now He isn’t. Yesterday, I was struck by how empty all those words in the past had been because clearly I was more interested in the Lord willing my expectations than His actual will.
Now we are all thrown into these interesting times together. Now is the time we can demonstrate to those around us that we truly believe James when we give our schedules, hopes, and dreams to God. This is not said flippantly or done easily. Churches are finding ways to bring the congregation together without actually being together. Parents are struggling to work and “homeschool” at the same time. High school seniors who spent years planning senior trips are now mourning the loss of that experience. Morn with them. Struggle with them. This is not wrong. Do NOT tell them, “It’s going to be okay,” because it’s not. It’s hard and frustrating and so incredibly disappointing. Instead, use this as a unique opportunity to bind together as God’s people and demonstrate what we mean when we trust the Lord’s will.
If you are struggling to feel content, look to Phillippians for answers. “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Resting in Christ isn't the secret to happiness or a surpless of wealth but it will provide contentment in any circumstances.
Seek God. Stay curious. Keep learning. (And train for downhill if you plan on doing any hiking.)
Ready for a Grand Adventure
This is it. Today I board a plane for Arizona. I will visit with family and explore Phoenix for a few days then my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and I will be heading to the Grand Canyon where we will hike down to the Colorado River, spend two nights, then hike out. I hope that sentence made me seem like a fearless adventurer who boldly takes on the challenges of nature and laughs in the face of danger. Lest you get that impression, let me correct you - I’m totally freaking out!
Okay, let’s calm down and do a flashback here. (Insert wavy image and flashback sound.) My experiences growing up included going to visit my sister and her family in Arizona. We saw the Grand Canyon, Old Tuscon, Suagoro Park, Sedona, and so much more. I loved our visits out there because the West was so different from my home in the Mid-West. It was wild and big. My parents began to subscribe to Arizona Highways magazine and learn more about the 48th state. Along with the magazine came a VHS documentary about experiencing the Grand Canyon. It covered mule riding, whitewater rafting down the Colorado, hiking, and camping in the canyon. I watched that tape so many times. A documentary about experiencing the canyon watched repeatedly at my own request. (Jaring noise - flashback over) Wait, what? You watched what over and over? Yes, yes, I know, but that’s who I am. It was a way for me to plan something for the future. I would tell my friends that someday I would ride a mule down the canyon. I would whitewater raft on the canyon. I would do something exciting and adventurous. Although I haven’t done any of those things (yet), I am grateful for the time I spent dreaming of adventures and imagining a life beyond what was typical.
Although I do consider myself adventurous, I’m far from being outdoorsy. In high school, I went on a yearly camping trip with my youth group and loved the experience of being with my friends, playing our group’s highly competitive version of capture the flag, and spending time by the campfire singing and talking about God. Those were yearly overnight trips that I enjoyed, but never desired to repeat by myself. Shortly after Jason and I got married we took a camping trip with friends and it was fun, but camping just seemed like a whole lot of work for what is supposed to be a vacation. Last year we went camping in a trailer with a bed and kitchen and that was marvelous. I was all about that. There was still work involved, but it felt more like staying in a moving hotel.
So how did I end up here? Well, my sister said she wanted to hike the canyon and I told her that I wanted to go along too. She and my brother-in-law planned all the details, reserved the campground and transportation, etc. They have graciously arranged everything so that all I have to do is show up. At the time showing up seemed totally doable and I was excited to have said yes. For months I’ve been training on my treadmill using steep incline, doing squats and lunges, and accumulating the necessary gear. I’ve watched the YouTube videos and done all the prep work that I can. My bags are packed and my plane takes off for Phoenix this afternoon. My current mental state? I’m fluctuating between the first and the third stages of pre-activity anxiety. I’m anticipating our adventure after all that training and supply gathering but I’m also freaking out. What if I didn’t train as aggressively as I should have? What if I forget something important? What if I get down there and can’t sleep? What if . . . ? What if . . . ? What if . . . ?
So that’s where I am this morning. Slightly anxious, but trusting my training and my family’s planning. I want to prove to myself that I can do something daunting and come out the other side. I want to explore God’s beautiful creation from a unique perspective. I want to show Logan and the kids I get to spend time with that they don’t have to be seasoned explorers to take grand adventurers. I hope to inspire others to follow and try something that requires courage and determination in the face of nerves and anxiety.
I’ll be posting updates on Instagram and Facebook if you want to follow along. I’d appreciate prayers for courage, reduced anxiety, and a mind open to learning what God has to teach me through this. Thank you, friends!
Who gets your glory?
Several years ago while scrolling through Pinterest, I saw the quote “Stop the glorification of busy,” and I liked it, but I never let it sink into my life. Growing up in a Christian home I heard the word glorify often in my church and Christian school. I knew what it meant when it applied to God, but recently I’ve unpacked it more thoroughly.
Today's Word: Glorification
Five syllables. Pronounced [glawr-uh-fi-key-shuh n]. noun. Defined on Dictionary.com as the act of glorifying or the state of being glorified. The Bible talks extensively about giving glory to God. We are told that whether we are eating, drinking, or whatever we are doing it should all be to God’s glory. Glory is defined by Dictionary.com as to give adoring praise to something. Glorification is the act of giving glory.
So how do you feel about busy? Try this experiment. Tell someone you have a busy weekend and see what they say back. People love comparing busy. Tell them you’re going to sporting events for each of your three children, attending an event at the library, and going to your grandma’s birthday and they’ll tell you about the six sporting events, two birthday parties, and the cooking class they have squeezed into the weekend. I’ve decided to stop playing this game. This doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot going on. There are seasons and days where there are many things to do. During Christmas, I want to do ALL THE THINGS! See the lights, visit family, catch up with friends, decorate, the list goes on and on! There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with being busy, but when we glorify it we are putting our focus on the wrong thing.
When we give our praise and adoration - How do you do it all? - to "busy" we are focusing on the person. Rather than “God has given me the energy, health, and resources to accomplish this,” we focus on, “I have to do these things to fit in or to be a good parent or to make my kid succeed.” (I really struggle with this last one. God is slowly and painfully teaching me that I can’t in any way MAKE Logan succeed. Only he can do that.) Busy also makes me look at others and how they manage their lives instead of looking to Christ. So often I’ve asked other moms, “How do you do it all?” but what I’m really doing is comparing my failures to do “all the things” and seeking to find success in a way that God hasn’t planned for me. This self-focus drives me inward instead of driving my thoughts upward.
For the last several months I’ve been working as a nanny for very dear friends of ours. The baby is absolutely adorable and so incredibly good. Despite the relative ease of this situation, I’ve been unhappy at times. I see other people doing things I love such as teaching and I want to be there so badly. They are running around going, going, going and I’m not in that place. Staying home can very challenging because I feel like I don’t accomplish anything. I do laundry, wash dishes, clean up spilled toys, then the next day I have to do it all over again. I realized that I was longing for busy. Our culture values the production of something which leaves stay-at-home moms (and nannies) feeling like we aren’t contributing to the world.
In the past few months, as I’ve been unpacking this concept of savoring life and avoiding busy, I’ve learned that life isn’t about accomplishing things on a to-do list. God has brought this little guy into my life and he is a precious soul that I get to spend time with on a regular basis. So what if “play hide and seek” isn’t a product that I can showcase or sell? He is learning object permanence and having a marvelous time doing it. I accomplish nothing for myself when I sit with Logan and his homework, but I am teaching him perseverance and demonstrating my love for him. Yesterday he even identified adverbs and adjectives with ease which felt like something worthy of great celebration. When I stop glorifying busy and start glorifying God with my life I find great joy and peace.
This doesn’t mean I can sit back and hit the snooze button on life though. I no longer feel the need to justify my schedule to others, but instead, I try to see it as God sees it. When my calendar is run through that filter, things line up differently; to be honest it is quite daunting. Who am I helping? Why am I going there? Which of the calendar activities is best? But I rest in knowing that I am prayerfully doing my best and that is the best I can do.
How is your schedule? Do you feel worn down? A friend passed on a quote to me the other day and I absolutely loved it. “If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.” Isn’t that great? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." These verses always bring me peace because Jesus didn’t say, “Pull yourself together and grab a cup of coffee. Go do the things.” Instead, he said that He will give us rest. As you finish this likely hectic week, I’ll be praying that you find rest in Christ and that you don’t let "busy" steal your joy.
Learning to Savor Life
In late November our family traveled to Italy. Our trip actually started last summer when out of the blue Jason asked, “Do you want to go to Italy?” I thought about it for 1.5 seconds and gave a resounding, “YES!” I knew the trip would make Christmas all the more hectic because we would “lose” days for activities and shopping, but I also knew how our family needed time to grow and bond.
One of my favorite parts of any trip is the anticipation of adventure. I knew that we were flying into Milan and that we would visit a few cities in the surrounding area. Other than that I was leaving everthing up to my travel expert of a husband who had worked out the details. He arranged our lodging and purchased our entry into the Ferrari museum in Modena. I looked up some museums and cultural activities but didn’t book anything specific. When we talked about what we were most excited about, we always agreed that it would be eating.
We left Detroit on Thanksgiving Day and after arriving in Milan we set out for Verona. Yes, THAT Verona - the one where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is set. Despite being exhausted, we explored for a few hours then we grabbed some lunch. Logan picked out a thick piece of pizza and Jason and I chose a pizza to share. I was excited, but at the same time wondering if this heavy meal would leave my stomach overstuffed and add to my exhaustion. I could not have been more wrong. Logan’s thick slice of pizza crust was light and flaky. Ours wasn’t quite as light, but still much lighter than any pizza dough I had ever tasted. We sat in the shop to eat and complimented the chef on our way out.
Every meal was absoulutly delectable, but it wasn’t only the food that left us wanting more. It was the way they eat. Meals are slow. Guests are welcomed into the restaurant and offered a table knowing there is no rush or crowd of hungry diners waiting behind them. Nothing is rushed. Drinks and chips are brought out right away then you choose what to order. We shared appetizers as we sat and looked at the menu options. With food like Parma ham and parmesean cheese you must savor the deleciate flavors. Both are aged and contian all kinds of interesting notes that must be savored to truly appreciate. We chatted with our servers about recommendations and sometimes they had questions about where we lived. The portions were smaller than typical American restaurants but they were far from small. Most of the food is made in house. At The Enzo in Modena we visited a mom and pop restaurant that was literally run by mom and pop. (See photos.) Much of this experience is similar to high-end American restaurants, but we observed (and were occasionally frustrated by) one glaring difference. Cafes and restaurants only took in a certain number of diners then closed. Once a restaurant is full they refuse anyone else. The guests who have been seated can eat and talk the rest of the night.
It didn’t take long to notice something else; they have very little food, if any, that is sub-par. American food stores, particularly convenience stores, offer a great deal of food that is meant to be consumed on the go. Most of this food, if we really consider it, is not that great. When is the last time you truly savored the delicate flavors of a fast food meal? Maybe it’s just me, but I usually eat fast food when I’m unable due to time to prepare a meal or we are traveling and it’s the only option. I LIKE what I eat, but when I’m done I rarely feel pleased with how my body feels after a heavy combo meal.
Look at the photo above. This is the breakfast display at a rest area along the highway. This is not a fancy cafe. This is a rest area. Notice anything? On one side there are sandwiches made with fresh bread with cured meats, fresh lettuce tomatoes, and onions. On the other there are pastries and these are not previously frozen. (I always opted for the croissant filled with Nutella.) Behind the counter is the coffee bar where the baristas were busy at work making espressos and cappuccinos. After ordering you would receive your food and coffee, but the coffee does not in our accustomed “to-go” packaging. Throughout the small rest area, people crowded around counter-height tables and drank their coffee while talking. They looked at each other in the eye and looked at the food they were eating.
This may seem like a slight difference, but according to medical journals, distracted eating can causes us to find less satisfaction in our food and to eat more than necessary later in the day. What we saw while in Italy was a focus on food that by simple content is deemed "unhealthy" by American standards, but the time we spent eating, the focus we gave to our food, and the miles we walked around before and after eating all made a significant impact on our bodies digestion of the food. Stress - including the stress of "EAT! We have to get yoru work done!" - increases cortisol levels which can cause weight gain among other major health concerns. Trying to remove distractions from eating is harder than it sounds. So much of our eating is done while on our way to other activities or while in front of a screen that as I'm trying to break this habbit in my own life I am really having trouble. It's hardest when it's just Logan and I. Sometimes we play a game to allow us to interact in a special way that sets our dinner time together apart from the rest of the time we are together. This is still a distraction, but not in the same way as more of our brains are activated.
The contrast of our relaxing time with the ridiculously hectic Christmas season was glaring. I did my best to keep up without becoming overwhelmed. Ever since returning home we've been cutting back on activiteis that keep us feeling "busy." I like being active and am always on the go, but I don't like the feeling of busy. Busy feels like just doing a lot of things because that is what is expected. Active feels like doing many things because we are in an active season of life. Part of living an intentional life is removing activities that we do “just because.” I don’t care if everyone else is doing it or if we’ve always done it that way. I want to look at all our activities and ensure they are absolutely necessary. I refuse to accept that God’s plan for me or my family is to feel busy, exhausted, and unhealthy. If our life requires us to regularly eat fast food in the car to keep up with everything we are doing we will be reevaluating our choices and dropping a few things.
Now, I need to admit an obvious bias and I don’t want to sound as though I am hating on America or others who live a fast paced lifestyle. First, the obvious bias during our Italy trip was that we were on vacation. We didn’t have homework to rush through and we didn’t have to get to work. Our mindset was more relaxed and we were exploring something completely new. Also, the busy American lifestyle has made America a leader among the nations. We take up engineering and technological challenges and succeed where others have not. Unfortunately, that tireless work is exhausting us and leaving us with crippling health problems. My interest in rethinking the pace of our lives is not to stop us from achieving success, but rather to allow us time to rest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Carving out healthy time is no easy task, but it is very much worth the effort.
Are you frustrated by busyness or are you happy with your pace of life? What are your tips for savoring your food as well as savoring the time spent with family and friends?
Still Living Digital
Last January I wrote about my commitment to utilizing digital apps and living what I called a “digital life.” I promised to set aside my beautiful bullet journal and use my phone and computer to organize things. I know that you’ve been waiting with bated breath to hear how my experiment concluded. (Humor me here.) Well, after a year of going digital I can decisively say that I am not going back to analog living. Some of the same issues I experienced while bullet journaling followed me into my digital life. Things like failing to immediately put things onto my calendar then finding myself double-booked or making a task list then failing to consult it. The only up-side to these failures is that I wasn’t spending time creating the calendars and lists then failing to use them. Occastionally, I was intimidated by new technology, but after a year of experimentation here are the pros and cons I noticed.
Last year I defined intentional living as following Ephesians 5:8-10 "Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord." It is making deliberate choices rather than being swept along with a crowd and doing what it takes to survive a day. It requires a great deal of self-knowledge and knowledge about the One you are lining up your life to follow. I don’t want to survive life. I want to live and live to fulfill the mission God created me to complete.
What about you? What are your tips and tricks for productivity and accomplishing tasks? Do you live your life with intentionality and purpose or have you settled for mere survival? Do you have any favorite apps to help you function and grow? Comment below and share!
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."
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