Never A Failure

Never a Failure (1)

I began my career as a high school English teacher with an unapologetically idealistic attitude about the difference I could make in my student’s lives and in Chicago’s far South Side community as a whole. After all, when you’re young and energetic and still on an academic high from all of what you’ve learned as a recent college graduate, there is literally no passion you cannot chase successfully.

I think I envisioned myself as one of those young, inexperienced, yet unexpectedly inspiring and successful teachers you always see in the movies. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to achieve, but I also had no idea how hard it would be.

After three years of teaching in Chicago Public Schools and living in the Roseland community, that passion I had clung to so dearly dwindled from a raging fire to barely a smoking ember. What I believed to be God’s calling for my life now felt far away – lost, even.

I was tired; I was bogged down with paperwork; I had too many classes; I had over-crowded classrooms; I had a steep cultural learning curve that I was barely getting over the hump with, and on top of that, being a recent hire made my job security slim to none. Some students consistently skipped my class; I struggled immensely with getting certain kids to listen, or to even pick up a pencil; many of the tests I gave came back with dismal results; I was constantly sleep-deprived and over-stressed, and I got sick more times in a single year than I had in the past four combined – in short, I felt like a complete failure.

So, when I left the teaching profession at age 25, I felt disillusioned and disheartened about passion as a whole. I thought that if I couldn’t live out my perfect dreams of being an inner city educator, then how could I hope to live them out in any other area of my life?

But mostly, I was just afraid – afraid that because I had quit, that meant I would forever be labeled a quitter – afraid that because I had given up on a past hope, then all hope was lost for me – afraid that because I hadn’t achieved this dream, I would never achieve anything of value.

But more than anything, I was afraid that all of this meant I was a failure.

Two years later, when I found out I was pregnant, those fears resurfaced. I was afraid to have any expectation of motherhood at all, or of my child, for that matter. I didn’t want my passions to be killed yet again.

And I didn’t want to fail.

But how could I hold a new life inside of my own body and not have wild and courageous dreams for her? How could I not hope for so much in this tiny person’s future? How could I not cling to the promises that God had made to this little baby, and also to me?

 After quitting teaching, and especially after becoming a mother, I was pitched into a new season of life where my motivation was very different than it was when I was fresh out of college. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t bad.

We would never say that the little girl who dreamed of being a ballerina at age 5 failed because she ended up becoming a doctor at age 27.

In the same way, God showed me that I wasn’t a failure simply because my dreams in college changed into different dreams even just a few years later.

My passion for teaching impoverished urban kids has grown into a passion for raising my own kids to befriend them and advocate for their rights and for their futures. My passion for living in the Roseland community of Chicago has grown into a passion for pushing myself to see things from other’s perspectives, and learning to love all people where they are, not where I think they should be.

It would take more pages than I can count to recall all of what my former students have taught me, and all of what I am still learning from my Chicago neighbors and South Side friends. But I know that God has used these experiences to mature me and help me see that his perfect plan for me is never just one thing.

My daughter is toddling around now, and a new life is growing inside of my belly, along with new passions and new hopes. I know not all of those fleeting and idealistic dreams will come to fruition in this lifetime, but some of them will, at least to some extent. The rest can wait for heaven.

Passion, in the form of tentative hope, peeks forth from already-fertilized soil. Dreams have grown and died and been stripped away to make room for a new and freshly pruned crop. It’s the way things grow, and it’s the way we grow. And I know now that it is never a failure.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog

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Learning to Say “No” Without an Explanation

No is a complete sentence

I had this section in my Bullet Journal that I absolutely love. It’s about three and a half pages of graph paper with Washi-tape sectioned off squares and rectangles—it’s my quote page. In the tiniest of squares is one of my favorite quotes that I keep having to go back to time and time again, especially during seasons when I get caught up in the people-pleasing hamster wheel.  The quote reads:

“No.’ is a complete sentence.”

I’m not sure who first said this, but many have taken this concept to heart, and I am one of them.

For a long time I struggled with feeling like I always had to explain myself.

Many times these explanations came off as lame excuses. “I’m so sorry I’m late to lecture; I my roommate locked me out of my dorm this morning when I got back from my run.” 

Many times these explanations actually included very helpful information. “I won’t be able to make it to your baby shower because my father-in-law’s funeral is that same day. I wish I could be in two places at once.”

But sometimes these explanations were unnecessary and were born out of a desire to tell people what they wanted to hear when I couldn’t give them what they really wanted. 

If they wanted time, money, or really anything else from me, but, for whatever reason, I could not give it to them, I felt like I needed to explain why. If my choices went against what someone else would have chosen for their life, I felt like I needed to justify my decision. If I even got a whiff of disapproval from pretty much anyone, I felt like I needed to go into all the details so that maybe–just maybe– they would understand and not be disappointed in me.

All in all, these tugs to explain myself were coming from a place of not believing in who I was or what I was doing with my life. I needed validation from others to feel like I was worthwhile or that my decisions were “good” ones.

But I have come to realize that “no” truly is a complete sentence. And while sometimes further words are needed for the sake of sensitivity and comprehension, the idea behind this quote, for me, is that I am allowed to do what’s best for myself and my family and my life without needing everyone else to approve or even understand.

We all desperately want a fulfilling life. Yet the more we fill it with things—items, busyness, worry, unnecessary commitments, debt, pressure, stress, people-pleasing–the more cluttered and unfocused and empty it becomes. We have to say “no” to these things.

Explaining myself was one of those things that was emptying me. It left me feeling like I could never please the people in my life. It left me feeling unsure about my choice to say “no”. It left me comparing myself to other people’s schedules and commitments and lives in general. I wasn’t confident in my choices. I wasn’t sure of myself. I didn’t stand my ground in what was best for me or what I knew I needed to do, despite what anyone else wanted.

There are times when we need to sacrifice and say “yes” when we don’t want to. There are times when saying “yes” is joyfully easy.

There are times when saying “no” is the hardest thing we have to do, and there are times when we say it as a knee-jerk reaction. Most of the time, it’s hard. Even if we really don’t want to do something, often the pressure to say “yes” makes saying “no” difficult. But after we do the hard work of saying “no”, we need to be okay with that choice.  We need to know that we don’t owe anyone an explanation if it comes from a place of pressure and people-pleasing.

We can say “no”.

We can let people think what they want about it.

We can know in our truest selves that we made the right choice.

And then we can have room to say “yes” to something even better.

On Unkindness and Cowardice and How Truth is Essential to Defeat Both

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I am not the kindest person I know.

I am sometimes socially shy to the point of rudeness; there are moments when I value my own comfort over making others feel comfortable; I can be extremely harsh and judgmental, to my own self as well as to everyone else; I often have mean thoughts about other people that pop into my head.

I share this with you all today lest you think this post is coming from a “holier than thou” place. It’s not. I’m a pretty mean person sometimes. I think we all can be.

I recently went to a wedding this past year that was beautiful. The ceremony was heartwarming, the music was fun, the food was tasty, and the decor was gorgeous.

But the people… the people were mean.

No, not the bride and groom… I’m talking about their guests, whom I was one of.

There were countless times at the wedding where the guests made a snide remark about the wedding itself, or even the bride herself, or the way they chose to order the events. Overall, I got a sense of extreme judgment going on, and it was very unkind.

Being a pretty mean person myself, this still baffled me.

Why on earth would you attend a wedding where you didn’t love and support the couple getting married? Why in the world would you expect someone’s wedding to entertain YOU rather than be the bride and groom’s special day? Why, oh why, turn the happiest day of these people’s lives into a haughty evaluation session of their clothes, taste in music, wedding budget, and food choice?

I was astounded at the unkindness I saw from the so-called “guests” at this wedding.

I know that in American middle-class society, there is are norms of what a wedding should be. Sure, there are subcategories of style and location and theme, but there are some expectations about what happens at a wedding these days. I don’t know if I was ever aware of this before I got married myself, and I know that many of these key expectations were not present, or were dramatically altered at my own wedding.

So, self-centeredly, the unkind guests at this wedding, an event which I thought to be pretty standard with societal norms, made me wonder what on earth was said about my own wedding, and my own choices for one of the biggest moments of my life.

Was my choice to walk down the aisle in sunglasses to Hall and Oates’ “You make my dreams come true” scoffed at? Did people roll their eyes when the guests were asked to move chairs from the wedding location a few yards to the reception tables? What about the buffet of Hy-Vee catering– did people turn their noses up at it all? Was the dollar dance seen as cheap? Was our music contemporary and trendy enough? Did people think a dry wedding reception was lame?

I’m so glad that I didn’t think about these things the day of my wedding. I was too focused on becoming Mrs. Florine, and how grateful I was for all the things I wanted my wedding to be. What others wanted my wedding to be didn’t really enter my head. Maybe that was another sign of my self-centeredness, but if you ask me, that’s the way it should be for the bride on her wedding day.

A wedding is about two people getting married. 

It’s not about how fancy or expensive things are or even how smoothly everything goes. And while I think it also should be a fun party for the guests, I really think a wedding should be whatever the heck the bride and groom want it to be, and the guests can deal. It’s not about them. 

But regardless of what you believe a wedding should be like, I have to wonder how being kind plays into the lives of these guests I keep referring to.

As I stated earlier, I am far from the kindest person I know. But this is something I am not content to sit in.

I hate my unkindness. I hate my selfishness. I hate when my reflex is to be mean or judgmental or harsh, even if it’s behind someone’s back. No–especially if it’s behind someone’s back, because that means I don’t even have the spine to tell someone to their face that I think a certain way about them (which usually would imply that the way I think is cruel).

Or there is another option. Perhaps I don’t tell them something to their face because I’m too much of a coward to do so. Even as I write these words, I think there might be fear behind much of this blog post. Fear that stops me from telling these guests to their face that their comments are unkind and rude and downright mean.

Sharing the truth isn’t easy, and often we don’t get rewarded for it. Perhaps this is why we even have the temptation to gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back: because telling someone something negative to their face is hardly ever appreciated, even if the comment is true or warranted.

The comments that these guests made were not warranted, and most of them weren’t true at all. They were just cruel evaluations and harsh opinions.

But here on this blog, where I evaluate these wedding guests and share my own opinions, harsh or not…. is it really much better?

While I refused to participate or even listen long to the gossip I heard, and while I didn’t make a cruel remark myself, I certainly didn’t call out these people for their unkind behavior.

I’m doing it now… behind the shield of a semi-ambiguous blog post.

And it’s now that I realize that truth has a huge part to play in the remedy of both unkindness and cowardice, two things I think we all struggle with from time to time if not everyday of our lives.

When we are unkind, the truth is we are often just masking an insecurity we are feeling. We do this by putting another person down. It makes us feel elevated ourselves because “at least we’re not like so-and-so”. Or sometimes it’s because we are masking a deep wound that we feel from the other person’s actions, and instead of addressing the hurt, the sadness, or the betrayal, we simply lash out at them and are either unkind to their face, or behind their back. Covering up these truths only makes the wound deeper, and the insecurity’s power over us stronger. It does no one any favors.

When we are cowardly, we hide from the truth that needs to be exposed, either in our lives, or in the lives others. We refuse to look at our own mess in the light and shy away from facing our fears. And we won’t speak up when someone else is being oppressed or abused or even just gossiped about because it means confronting someone else’s unkindness and potentially alienating ourselves, or becoming the brunt of more unkindness. Refusing to act out of cowardice hides the truth and allows others to become victims. It makes us into guilty bystanders instead of advocates for the less powerful. It also does no one any favors.

I am guilty of both unkindness and cowardice.

And so are you.

We all are.

To be kind means to speak the truth in love. This is also what it means to be courageous. 

To the bride and groom: I truly hope your day was everything you dreamed it would be. You both looked beautiful and the whole day was so special. I’m extremely happy for you both.

To the guests at their wedding: I truly hope that your unkind behavior is exposed to you in some way so that you can examine the root of either your insecurity or your hurt. And I truly apologize about not being courageous enough to speak truth to you at the time. While you may have been offended in the moment, I know that it’s my responsibility to be honest and loving and kind, and part of that means saying things that are uncomfortable but true.

This blog post is an attempt at sharing truth, feeble and untimely though it may be. I should have said something simple, kind, and true in the moment, and not allowed my cowardice to stop my mouth in the face of someone else’s unkindness.

I will try to do better next time, as I hope we all will.

Let It Be Enough: the prayer of a minimalist

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

A few years ago, I started the practice of a breath prayer, very similar to the contemplative practice of centering prayer, if you are familiar.

It includes a name for God that is especially meaningful to me at a specific time, and then a very simple request for something that I can only receive from Him.

Some of my most common breath prayers over the years have been ones like these (so you get an idea of what I’m talking about):

“Prince of Peace, comfort me.”

“Lord of Hosts, be my defender.”

“God of the universe, keep me present.”

“God who sees me, remind me I am loved.”

In my minimalist journey, the simplicity of these prayers has been essential. They focus me throughout the day and allow me to connect with God without having to have this intricate, hour-and-a-half-long “quiet time”. They also have helped me get through those early stages of having a newborn who nurses every hour. I remember being up at 3am with Esther, and praying a breath prayer over and over as I nursed and bounced her back to sleep. I couldn’t think of much else to do or say, but having a simple heart-felt prayer truly centered me during those hard moments of exhaustion.

And now, I find myself reflecting on these prayers as part of my journey towards minimalism. See, I’ve recently gotten into another kick of purging things. It’s been so good to simplify again. And being able to get rid of the access clutter in my life has helped me address some other areas of cluttered baggage, worry, and stress that I don’t really need.

I feel myself reawakening as I continue to let go of physical things. It’s almost like…since I can let go of these material possessions, then I can more easily let go of the other heavy burdens.

I can let go of the expectation for my parents to give me only what God can give me. I can let their best efforts and their love be enough.

I can also let go of the expectation for my husband to give me only what God can give me. I can let his love, leadership, and overall character be enough.

I can let go of the expectation for myself to be perfect as only God is. I can let my personality, my capabilities–really, myself be enough.

I can let go of the expectation for this life I’m living to be picture perfect and neat, or exciting and adventurous 24/7. I can embrace the chaos or the monotony or the less-than ideal circumstances, and let this beautiful life that God has given me be enough.

And I see now that God has given me another centering prayer to say in one breath– another breath prayer: “Be Enough.”

Or perhaps, “Let it (him/her/me/them) be enough”.

It is not a command to be good, kind, cool, pretty, sexy, pure, clean, happy, or whatever else enough. It is an invitation to let each moment, each person, each item in my home, each piece of food I consume, each word I say, each action, and each situation God brings me— to let all of it be enough.

That is contentment.

And in my quest for minimalism, I realize that it is not about creating a certain aesthetic or getting rid of things just for the sake of being less cluttered. It is a quest for contentment with what I have, and actually requiring less to be content in the first place.

To allow my possessions to be enough.

To allow a simple schedule to be enough.

To be content enough not to “buy” into the message that I am what I have.

The truth is, I am enough. I can, through Christ, be enough.

Today, like all days, I need to breathe this prayer in and out each moment.

Let my milk supply be enough. Let the babysitter’s care for Essie be enough. Let the sleep I end up getting be enough. Let the training for the 10K I get done be enough. Let the snacks I bring to MOPS be enough. Let the time Esther takes to walk be enough. Let the money my husband makes be enough. Let the groceries I purchased this week be enough. Let my attempts to fill our CRU table be enough…. 

All of these are enough ultimately because only you, Jesus, are enough.

You hold all things together. You make all things enough.

To Feed Another: a Journey Towards Wholeness

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Feeding myself has been a journey.

I think about this as I watch my little girl grasp a steamed string bean in her hands, fervently cutting her new little shards of teeth on the limp pod.

On March 8th at 12:32 am, I became the one person who could feed this child a concoction that was designed by the Almighty and my own body—specifically for her. Before then, my responsibility in providing nourishment for my daughter consisted of me feeding myself well, something which I continue to do, so that the milk which flows from my breast to her tongue will be sufficient in helping her to thrive.

But this—this feeding myself well—it hasn’t always been so easy or important to me, even in the recent past.

I often think of my eating disorder and how it successfully passed from my mother to me, and the potential reasons why it did so, because I am determined that it will stop with me.

There are probably a lot of control issues behind this level of determined thinking that I need to be conscious of. But it is good that I be mindful about how I am feeding myself and how I am feeding my daughter, and also, how I am feeding myself in front of my daughter.

I first began distressing about feeding my daughter on the second night she was alive. Technically it was the first night, since she was born shortly after midnight, but after fifty hours (yes—five, zero) of labor, and three and half hours of pushing, I had not slept in three days and so technicalities escaped me. My husband, who had also not slept much or eaten a real meal in a few days, lay knocked out on the family bed at the birth center’s recovery room. I meanwhile, tried my hardest to latch Esther’s mouth onto my nipple every 12 minutes, in fear that neither of us were “doing it right”. The lactation consultant had not been by, and I attempted to remember what I had learned in the breastfeeding class I had attended a few weeks prior.

I remember looking down at my cracked and bleeding nipple and at my squirming newborn’s hungry mouth and thinking, “Am I really the only one who can do this right now?”

In that question were housed a multitude of doubts, and not simply the exhausted frustrations of a brand new mother at 3am.

They were doubts about my own ability not just to learn the tricky art of breastfeeding my particular baby, but about whether or not I could really feed another human being, and do it well.

Food. Sustenance. Nourishment. It is essential to life. The food we eat or do not eat determines of much of our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps the “normal” mother is not intimidated, much less frightened by this task of feeding. Perhaps it is my history with food that makes this responsibility so terrifying, which sends me spinning into questioning my capability to do any of this.

Doubts plague me—doubts about whether I, a formally bulimic and anorexic girl who got pregnant, had to deal with all kinds of people coming up to her, touching her belly and commenting on how “big you’re getting”, who lost all her modesty in the delivery room, and who is now dealing with a crap-ton of postpartum hormones—whether I can really do this thing called “being a mom”.

Mostly because “being a mom” means I’ve got to feed my kid. And I only just learned how to feed myself.

But then again, Perhaps the “normal” mother, regardless of how well or poor she has fed herself in the past, or how much she struggles with insecurities or how many doubts she has about her capabilities…perhaps every mom feels this pressure: the pressure to nourish; the pressure to sustain; the pressure to feed.

Perhaps I am just as “normal” as everyone else.

I decided I wanted to breastfeed my baby well before she was even conceived.

Oh, I did my research, and I knew that it was the healthiest option. Also, my husband and I were in agreement that I would stay at home with our kids, so I wouldn’t have to worry about pumping while at work or some of the other challenges that sometimes lead mothers to choose formula over the breast. I had read articles, books, blogs, and testimonials, and I was pretty sure I would be that “crunchy mama” with the cloth diapers, baby carriers, and avidly breastfeeding until well after most kiddos are weaned.

But, I’m not going to lie; the simplicity behind breastfeeding is also what attracted me to it.

No mixing and warming up bottles in the middle of the night, no spending hard earned money on formula, no forgetting to bring enough milk for a trip out of town. As long as my baby was with me, my breasts would be there, ready to supply all of their nutritional needs.

            It’s beautiful.

I realize now, that breastfeeding is not always so simple.

Many women struggle to develop a good latch. Some have trouble maintaining an adequate milk supply. Others get plugged milk ducts and mastitis, or even thrush. These things could happen to me too, and they could be difficult. I learned this as I browsed “What to Expect When Your Expecting” while 30 weeks pregnant, and at the breastfeeding class I took at the birth center where I would deliver Esther a few weeks later.

And while these challenges scared me a little, I still wanted to do it—to breastfeed my baby. The pros greatly outweighed the potential cons, and I knew that this commitment to breastfeed would be the first of many decisions I would make about feeding my little one once I finally brought her into the outside world and out of that cocoon of coziness she was wrapped in, germinating for 41 weeks and a day inside of me.

And on that exhausting night in March, when the thunder and lightning raged, the wind blew, America celebrated women, and Jews celebrated Purim, I met the one I would be saddled with feeding. I met my daughter.

I remember how she looked against the bright lights as my midwife and my husband handed her up over to me. I remember Dennis exclaiming, “It’s a girl!” as he cut the cord and I kissed her head on my sweaty and bare chest.

I remember saying to her, “Hi baby, I’m your mommy.”

And when they finally left us alone as a family, after they cleaned me up and I had stopped shaking, I remember pulling that little unnamed baby close, and feeling her mouth grope for my breast, as they were already leaking the golden colostrum that was designed especially for her.

Getting the hang of breastfeeding Esther came in stages for me.

First, it was just getting over the sore nipples and engorgement. Then it was fretting about my forceful letdown, which left Esther sputtering and me spraying milk at whatever happened to be a foot in front of me at the time. Then it was regulating my oversupply while still staying comfortable, which involved pumping at least four ounces of milk first thing in the morning.

By five months, I finally felt confident.

…And then a month later we started solid food with her.

Quickly, it became clear that feeding my child would no longer be as simple as pulling her to my breast. No. Now there were bibs and sticky messes and baby spoons and packing pureed goop into glass jars next to ice packs.

Suddenly, I was reading all the labels and spending evenings blending large batches of whole foods and freezing them into ice cube trays. Suddenly I was worried about whether Esther was getting enough zinc, or protein, or—as my little one just battled some crazy constipation—fiber.

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I lament at the amount of time and preparation this all takes.

And I think back to when I first learned to feed myself well, or rather, when I began my process of learning to do so.

I remember the intentionality with which I packed my lunches when I first committed to recovery from my anorexia and bulimia. They had to have the right kind of nutrients: enough “healthy fats”, as my dietitian called them, and each of them had to contain the correct serving size of each food group, and enough calories.

At an age when most people were living off of late night pizza and beer (college-aged), I was learning to feed myself.

Now, I’ve been recovered from that seven-year-long disease for four years. But I still have to deal with the root issues as battles in my brain.

Now, Esther doesn’t eat many baby purees, and we’ve embraced the simpler yet messier task of baby-led-weaning (BLW). But I still read labels and plan out her nutrition intentionally.

And every day I’m faced with the pressure of feeding. Feeding myself, feeding my husband, and feeding my daughter.

I do the grocery shopping. I do the meal preparation. I eat, and what I eat goes into producing the milk my daughter eats. I fill the sippy-cups with water and prune juice. I cook the dinners. The snacks I buy are what we end up pulling out at 9pm when we’re watching The Newsroom and our little one is sound asleep in her crib.

How did slowly learning to feed my own self well suddenly turn into being crowned “Queen of Feeding”?

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We will have more kids. And I will be in charge of what they eat.

I will feed my tribe.

This sinks in slowly over the months, like tea seeps into hot water in a steaming mug. Like I slowly conquered breastfeeding, my milk supply leveling out as I finally stopped leaking milk through all of my shirts. And I suppose that’s how it has been: gradually and with grace, until I’m ready to sustain. I have become this source of nourishment slowly, and it still is a process.

The anxiety about feeding lessens as the days pass. As avocados are sliced and coffee is brewed and I scrub sweet potato off of the dining room floor. As my child weans herself and I grow into my motherhood and food begins to taste different without the pressure of the very new.

And I remember the first time I ate ice cream after anorexia without wanting to empty myself clean. And how soon it isn’t painful anymore.

I want to teach my daughter that eating is good, and food is an adventure, and if it ever starts to feel hard, that I know how it is, and that I got through it by the grace of God and His determination to make me whole.

Feeding myself has been a journey. 

Feeding my daughter has been a journey.

And I am walking closely to grace as I teeter past these milestones and menus and meals, eating whole foods and whole pints of ice cream like I’ve always known I was capable of once I became whole.

 

Sufficient for Me: a hard word for 2018

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This month is a weird month for me.

This time last year I was finishing up the last of my Bradley birthing classes, rubbing cocoa butter on my stretch marks, and doing crazy amounts of walking and squatting as to attempt to induce labor.

My little girl is 11 months now, and we are a month away (obviously) from celebrating her first birthday.

Cue emotional sobbing about the swift passage of time.

Milestones such as this one that is about to occur are a chance to reflect on the year past. However, I will save my motherhood lessons until next month when my little Esther will actually be 12 months.

For today, I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold (yes, I know people usually do this in January, but I’m different and slow, so deal with it).

For those who used to read my previous blog (The Art of Breath), and this post (yes, all five of you), you know that God usually gives me one word to focus on throughout the year. This word was usually given to me in September because, up until fairly recently, I was either a student or a teacher for whom the new school year was usually the best time for start fresh with a new focus. But somewhere between quitting my job and having a baby, the word “Journey” was my word for like a year and a half. This January, The Lord released me from that particular word, although not it’s lessons, and gave me a new one.

That word is Grace.

Grace is one of those words that has a very different meaning depending on who you ask. A dancer might say it is elegance with which movement is executed. A young boy might tell you it’s the short prayer he says with head bowed and eyes closed before he is allowed to dig in. A landlord might think of the period in which she allows for her renters to get away with being late on their payments when the term “grace” is used.

But my word of “Grace” for this year of 2018 refers to the unmerited favor of God, and then my responsibility to extend forgiveness to others based upon my state of such gracious love. Grace, for me, encompasses so much–forgiveness, freely giving without expectation, long-suffering, forbearance, seeing God’s blessing in and among trials, and choosing to bless others when it’s hard.

This word might sound precious and sweet, and oh, it is! But it is also a hard word.

There are some people I need to show grace to (forgive), people who really do not deserve it, or even know that they have hurt me or continue to do so.

There are some situations I have to walk though gracefully, choosing to experience God’s blessing, even though it seems like there is no good that can come from such circumstances.

There is gracious service to give, and the call to not expect anything back in return– not even a “thank you”.

There is the task of letting go of my own ambitions goals and expectations for myself and to receive grace in each disappointing let down that comes this year.

I began this post by writing that I want to take a good long look at what I want this next year to hold. This is not exactly true. Because in all honesty, I do not want to do these things that grace requires. They are not exactly fun to work on and sometimes seem to be bitter pills to swallow in the name of no immediate recognition. And when I’m merely thinking in terms of this world, rather than eternity, I really just want to toss this new word out the window and pick a word that fits with what the selfish person inside me really wants 2018 to hold.

And then I am reminded of hose verses that Shane & Shane put to my current favorite song.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “…’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And I know that it is the weakness in me that cringes at this grace-word, and all it means for me. Not just for this year, but also for the lessons I will learn and carry with me into the next year, and years to come.

And I am reminded too, of the whole point of each “one word” for the year. It is not so I can focus myself on what I would like the coming year to hold. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. The whole point of each one word is to submit to what God wants to do with me and in me for this period of time.

But it is not I who have to worry about producing enough grace to accomplish all of these things–the forgiving, the serving, the walking through trials, the patience, the loving till it hurts. No.

His Word says that it is His grace that is sufficient for me. His mercies are fresh every morning, new and tailored for the particular day, which I am always ill equipped and ill prepared for. His power is perfected in my weakness because it makes me lean on Him fully, rather than relying on myself.

And so I start this February out–because, yes, I’m a little late on the New Years Resolutions, and also because this is not so much a resolution as an acknowledgment of God’s work–with this beautiful, hard, complex, and scary word. A grace-filled word. A word chalk-full of potential and freedom and life. I start this season–because I don’t really know if God will release me from it after a neat little calendar year–with this word:

Grace. 

His one word is sufficient for me.

Stuff That Lasts

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I used to have a poverty mentality when it came to stuff. Like, physical stuff. The poverty mentality is one which decides that more stuff for less money is better because, well, you get more. It’s about the quantity of stuff (food, clothes, gum balls– whatever), not necessarily the quality.

But after one too many “BOGO” sales at Walmart and Rue21, clipping coupons for processed food that I knew wasn’t healthy for me, and that I would never buy unless I had a coupon, as well as after the 10 Hanger Project, I realized that cheap stuff doesn’t usually last.

It was a few years ago that I started to think of my wardrobe as a year-round capsule, with some very seasonal pieces here and there I could stow away for the winter or summer (think shorts and bulky sweaters). With this in mind, I decided to invest in a few very nice, and quality pieces, which I usually got secondhand via consignment stores, eBay, or Thredup. I’m talking things like a pair of J Brand skinny jeans, my Matt & Nat saddlebag, and this super versatile Market & Spruce navy blazer that I’m wearing now. This worked wonders for my tendency to shop for clothes, because I was very specific about what I needed (read: wanted) and would be willing to spend money on.

I started to apply this principal to other items too. Baby products were a go-to, since my little girl is just under 11 months, and most first-time mothers research the heck out of their baby products. But I also tried to think about it with kitchen utensils, household cleaning tools, home decor, and even food.

(Note: With food, think of it as what will make a lasting difference on your health or on your experience of the food, not so much about the quantity or expiration date. Organic chicken has less hormones that will screw up your system, for example, so it might be worth it to spend the extra cash. But that tray of Fanny Bay oysters with butter sauce and $18 glass of Chardonnay may not add to your health, but is worth the splurge when you and your hubby are celebrating your 10th wedding anniversary because you will always remember it and smile. That kind of lasting.)

I’m finding that if I’m careful about researching the quality and functionality of a product, whether an item of clothing or a kitchen gadget, I’m more likely to appreciate it, and also take good care of it. In addition to it simply being of higher quality and lasting longer, my care and pride in these things also make them last.

This is a good lesson to learn. The Tripp Trap high chair my daughter sits in at breakfast will probably be used by all of our kids. My long sleeve wool black dress will likely be a staple in my closet for years to come. Even our stainless steel water bottles will no doubt help us save money for as long as my husband can keep track of them 😉

But even these heavily-researched, quality-made, price-compared, and highly-functional items do not fall into the category of “stuff that lasts”.

Tee shirts get holes. Evens ones from Banana Republic. Sheets get stained. Even ones with good reviews and high thread counts. Purses wear out. Even ones that go with every outfit and fit all of your “essentials”. And while I don’t think there is much wrong with hunting for the few quality items that will make your wardrobe functional and fashionable, or that will help you be more sustainable in your cooking and lunch-packing, I cannot deny that for me, it is easy to get swept away by these seemingly lasting things, which are, in all reality, completely temporary.

They are temporary not simply because they all will get holes, stains, or wear and tear. They are temporary because this entire world is passing away. Even your kids are temporary. Even your best friend or your spouse or your mom is temporary. Even you are temporary.

Here’s where this post takes a turn, people.

“So we do not loose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing fur us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

As a follower of Jesus, part of my job while I’m here on this temporal earth is to stare at the unseen–the eternal– to not become blinded by the transient. And, if I’m honest, I spend far too much time looking at temporary things. My heart, on the surface level, loves things that don’t last. There is always something immediate and attractive that keeps me from anticipating heaven, and all of those unseen things that are little tastes of what is to come.

God has used many things to get me to be smarter about what I spend my money on, and choose to own. For ethical reasons, like: who made it and how were they treated? For practical reasons, like: am I really going to wear that enough to justify the amount on the price tag? But the world still tempts to distract my wandering heart, even in this noble call to minimalism.

I am reminded that spending hours price-comparing a purse that I don’t actually need is not saving me anything, and is actually hindering me from being of use for the spread of God’s Kingdom. Being prideful about the fact that all of the furniture in my home was purchased used or given to us as gifts does nothing to prepare me for my future home in heaven. Researching and reading reviews of the safest and most versatile baby carrier might help me rest easy when I wear my daughter out and about, but it does nothing to foster those invisible Fruits of the Spirit that will help me rest easy in the gracious arms of Jesus.

My point is, even being prudent and wise and a minimalist can make a girl take her focus off of the real point of this life. This time we spend here on earth is merely a blip on the frequency of eternity, and none of our capsule wardrobes, safe carseats, or eco coffee mugs will matter one we get to heaven and see our Savior’s face.

Temporary things don’t matter as much in light of eternity. Peter says that a person can become “so nearsighted that he is blind” (2 Peter 1:8). We are capable of getting so focused on temporary things that we become blind to the things that actually matter. A mouse infestation can make us forget about our future inheritance, eternal security, and the grace that God promises to pour out for us for all eternity. We quickly loose the joy of our salvation and future glory because of a grape juice stain on the carpet. We become focused on the here and now. And it’s not that we shouldn’t pay any attention to the issues that surround us, what we choose to spend money on, or how we choose to do life with our families and friends, but we need to look at all of these things with an eternal lens.

At any moment, I am going to be taken into a new existence. I will not care at all about some of the things I currently obsess with.

So while I’ll probably still be very choosey about what I hang in my closet, and I’ll likely still invest in grass-fed beef over the cheaper tubes they sell at my local grocery store, I will remember that these things are not a part of that category of “stuff that lasts”, and I will fix my heart, my treasure, and my eyes on what truly is. The invisible stuff. The God stuff. The real stuff that lasts.

Begin Again

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I’ve done it again.

The thing I vowed to never do and the thing I knew was oh-so wrong, even as I found myself doing it.

My husband has left the house for a few hours to cool off and I sit alone shame-faced, tear-smeared, and utterly disappointed in myself.

Not but four days ago I remember writing in my journal how I was giving up being negative for the month of September. And now I am eating those written words like a bitter pill.

I screwed up… again.

I silently wish over and over that I could do tonight all over, to not be critical, to hold my tongue, to pray instead of voice my disapproval in such a nasty and disrespectful tone of voice…

Oh God, could I just start over? Please?

And it’s not until now that I remember the words of St. Benedict: “Always we begin again.” And I think about what it means, in my faith, to be born again.

So often I want the development of my character (and the character of others) to be a neat and tidy process. I want to look back and see a steady progression into a better person, more self-controlled, patient… (I could keep going).

But all too often I look at my journey and I see a tangle of stuff– good things and bad growing up together. One stupid habit abolished only to be replaced with another one, equally as detrimental. I see plateaus and back-slides and screw up after screw up– the same ones over and over again!

If I look at the world, I don’t often see much grace for this kind of messy progress or lack of improvement. If I look into myself, I don’t always see hope, especially when I’m here–sitting on the couch waiting for my husband to come home so I can apologize once again for being the way I don’t ever want to be.

But I do see hope in those words.

Always we begin again.

And I think of the way life is.

How trees say goodbye to their own leaves each fall, and how they start from scratch come spring.

How each January the first, most of the world makes promises and vows that are oddly similar to last year’s.

How, in the beginning, children need you oh-so badly, and then they grow to leave you and be needed by their own little ones.

How even though I’ve been born already, 28 years ago to my then 28-year-old mother, I was born into a different kind of life at age 20–a life that is now reminding me of my need for a kind of grace which I cannot get from the world at large.

Always we begin again.

I see that supernatural grace in the eyes of my husband, who knows Jesus, when he holds me once again. I see it when I wake up in the morning with the permission to be different, to “put on” the woman I know I can be despite the woman I was last night. I see it when I forgive my parents for the things I’ve vowed to do differently for my daughter. When I let my upstairs neighbor borrow my vacuum for the sixth time this week and patiently explain how to use the new washing machine (I’ve lost count of the number of times).

I see it in God’s love– a love like a kid loves a raggedy old stuffed doll to pieces. And I know that I am that ragged little doll. And I know He loves the stuffing out of me. It makes no sense. And that’s why it’s grace.

And I know that I must give myself this love-grace too. Otherwise, I don’t think I am ever really able to begin again.

So tonight I’m starting over. And when I screw up in this same way a few days, weeks, or months down the road, I will breathe deep, let go, and I will begin again.

Always.

One Word 2016

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“If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five…”

These words can be found on the now wildly popular One Word Website.  And oh, how true they are. This time of year seems to be the time for a litany of imperfections to be perfected and a throng of promises to be made commonly titled as “New Year’s Resolutions.

At the gym I work at, we have an expectation that the Monday after January 1st will be crowded with people who have vowed to “get their life back together” by coming to cycle classes and pumping iron in the weight room. My boss tells us to be ready for the New Years crowd, but we all know that that crowd will disperse by mid-February.

And so it seems to be the case with other new years focus on problematic areas in need of correction.

Workout regimes fall to the wayside, diets are broken, cuss words are spoken, and those pictures we told ourselves we’d finally take or put into photo albums remain caught behind lenses or just not taken at all. It seems that the juggling act of trying to improve different parts of our already messy and chaotic lives is just too hard. How can we stay consistent with self-improvement when our focus is split into fractured pieces– our work life, our love life, our families, our personal fitness goals, our dreams, our desires for a better “me”?– it seems impossible to focus on all of it!

The idea behind Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen’s “One Word” philosophy is that we can do something about one thing this year instead of nothing about everything. They encourage you to boil it down to just one single word, to move beyond the cycle of long lists of changes you want to make that never get tackled.

“This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future.-myoneword.org

I was first introduced to this idea by one of my best friends, who told me that God always gave her a word that He used to teach her through each year. I thought I felt God using specific words to teach me as well, but I never formally chose one single word to keep my thoughts tethered to during these lessons.

Finally, I was encouraged by another friend to actually pick my “one word” last year, and, although I don’t think I lived it out perfectly, it was helpful to have one theme to keep coming back to  throughout 2015.

My one word last year was “Slow”, which came, unknowingly at the time, during a year that would prove to be chaotic, shifting and a complete whirl-wind.

Having to keep coming back to the word “Slow” kept me grounded during times of change, patient during times of waiting, and calm during times when I normally would have lost my head.

This one word reminded me to breathe when I wanted to just walk out of my classroom full of students and never go back. It kept me patient when our heater wasn’t working in subzero weather and when water leaked all over the floor, pulling up the tile and making it impossible to walk anywhere without slipping or getting a shoe-full of dirty water.

This one word kept me from making hasty decisions when we were house-hunting, and kept me silent when I normally would have exploded with frustration at husband’s and my disagreements.

It kept me patient and plodding along as I trained for my second marathon, restless to race through a long trek that was going to take more out of me than I expected.

This one word kept me from jumping to conclusions when misunderstandings with family and friends arose. It kept me patient and prayerful when I got the letter in the mail that I was no longer employed by CPS, and it kept me hopeful and trusting when I still didn’t have a position number or a paycheck as 109 students met me in my classroom on the first day of school.

“Slow” kept me restful when I was sick and itching to get out of bed and get back to work.

It kept me patient with myself and determined when I was so depressed that I dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to a job that I hated.

“Slow” kept me patient with myself during the ongoing transition into working with my husband at a job I had no idea how to do. It kept me calm during times when I felt frustrated with my lack of progress, reminding me that this might be a slow process, and that it was more than okay.

“Slow” also showed me areas in my faith walk that I had skipped over, impatient to grow in places where God had not yet given in the increase for lack of my quiet and calm attention. He scaled me back with “Slow” so I could be nursed in areas I needed to mature in, a slow process that I couldn’t rush through no matter how determined or strong-willed I was.

I’m not saying I did it perfectly– there were plenty of times I flew off the handle and was completely out of control when I should have been slow and calm, as my husband, friends, and students will be quick to tell you– but this word “Slow” helped me keep it together more than I normally would during a year when I needed to rest, have patience, refrain from rushing into decisions, be extremely calm, and have painstaking endurance.

“Slow” permeated into all areas of my life– my personal life, my relationships, my work, the forming– or rather, the unraveling– of my identity, my faith walk, and even my health.

And so this year I trust that the word God is giving me will be perfectly designed to get me through 2016, even if I do not live it out perfectly.

As this new year was approaching I began to ask God what word He wanted me to focus on. Over and over again I kept hearing one word repeated to me, but I didn’t want to listen. You see, it was sort of a scary word for me, and I was hoping that it might be something else. 

But as I scanned my journals, BSF lecture notes, written prayers, and even the songs I had been listening and dancing in worship to, I knew that this was the word He was giving me.

 My one word for this year is “Surrender”.

Is there a more important word in the life of a Christ follower? But even more personally, is there a more important word in the life of a control-freak, type-A, worrier like myself?

I think not.

And so, as I look towards the year ahead, there are definitely some big decisions, plans, and changes coming along down the road. And I’m going to need to surrender all of them to God. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything about anything or have no part to play in what happens. It just means that I will take every thought, decision, action, and plan captive to Christ Jesus, and be obedient to Him and Him alone. It means letting go of expectation and preference so that I am I indifferent to any choice that is not Jesus-approved. Surrendering my plans, my dreams, my body, my mind, my desires, and my plan to Him and allowing God to really take control of where I end up.

Hm. Sounds a lot like what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t it? I should probably have been doing this already…

But to have a whole year to focus on simply surrendering… is a little scary because it requires complete trust in what I cannot plainly see. (That’s what faith is isn’t it?)

I remember when I first became a Christian about 6 years ago, laying in bed imagining what my life would be like, and God clearly spoke to me saying, “Claire, your life is not going to be anything like what you can dream up right now.”

I still believe that is true today, and that no matter how many times I envision the future, my life is not going to be like anything I can imagine.

And so far, that has proved to be true.

The thing that makes it less scary is that I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess I can trust Him, can’t I?

I know I have little hope of living out a long list of resolutions that I might want to make– get up every morning at 5:30am, workout everyday, get certified in 6 different fitness formats, master html and photoshop, open up an online store….. I could go on.

But I can do my very best, with God’s help, at living out one word to the best of my ability, and to allow it to permeate all areas of my life.

And with a word like “Surrender”, I guess I have no choice but to let it control everything I’ve got.

What’s your “one word” for 2016? I’d love to read about what word you’re going to live out this year!