January Reflections

Since my word of the year is Mindfulness, I want to build some self- reflection into my life and a month-in-review seemed the best way to do that. It’s also good accountability for consistent journaling when I know I have to blog it all at the end of every 30 days. This end of month blog may look different each month, but I imagine it will be a potpourri of the things I’m enjoying, learning, questioning, reading and laughing about.

Things I’m learning

1. We took a trip to New Orleans with my parents after Christmas. We wanted to show my Dad the World War II museum, enjoy the city’s charm, and eat amazing food. We checked all the boxes. On our way home, we were waiting in the airport and chatting about places we’ve been and the kids were naming all the places they want to travel. My Mom was listening and she said, “I don’t have a bucket list. I never really have.” I quickly blurted out, “Oh, I do.” I didn’t list any places though. I looked at my Mother’s face and the tone of her voice and just paused. Her comment was not passive aggressive, wistful, prideful, or hopeful. It wasn’t tied to any emotion. It was just her truth. It’s not right, wrong, well informed or ill informed. It just is. Values, dreams or methods are not assigned a moral value based on how well they align with others. My dreams, goals, lessons, and values are my own. They may not be for everyone, but they don’t have to be universal for them to right for me. No one is behind and no one is ahead because we are all on our own path- being equipped for our unique journey.

2. My husband was looking over my shoulder the other day as I was was scrolling through my emails. “What are all the purple flags for?” he asked.

“It’s my new system,” I replied, “Email triage. Not everything requires immediate action. Like at the ER, chest pain gets you taken back immediately, because it could be life threatening? Most ER visits are not life threatening. Most emails do not require immediate action. That’s how my inbox operates now. I have it noted so I come back to address it, but it’s not a 911.”

I think about how in the Scriptures, there is emphasis on THIS day. Give us THIS day our daily bread. THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I think we were made to live in THIS day. To put aside the demands of things that will live to be solved another day (or that might even resolve themselves) is to be fully present in THIS day. This is the day God made and suggested we enjoy.

Things that made me laugh

* Paul and I were telling Lindsey the plans for our 25th anniversary this summer and she said, “Why are you doing all that? Your marriage isn’t that great.”

* Stephen went on a service and educational trip to Austria with school. One of their experiences was worship in a multicultural church in Vienna. When he came home he told us he found his worship niche with Pentecostal African immigrants residing in Vienna, Austria.

Should be easy to replicate that experience.

* I grew up in a place where winter lasted 10 months. It was cold a lot. What I remember most about birthdays from my childhood was that kids born in July and August had it the best. Birthday parties could be outside and featured lawn games, picnics, and swimming. My January birthday parties were held inside my parents’ basement, playing pin the tail on the donkey and hoping the guest list wasn’t decimated by a blizzard or a flu epidemic. I live in Georgia now and it was 72° on my birthday. All day I thought about how I could have had a pool party.

A Quote That Made Me Think

“Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

– John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion

It actually blew my mind that John Calvin wrote this because in my mind I always pictured him as a curmudgeonly old man (I might be projecting from the church people I’ve known who love to quote him) and yet, this quote seems so full of grace. I never stopped to ponder that self-awareness could help me understand God better and seeking God would help me understand self better. Mind blown. Well done, John Calvin.

Books I read in January

I set a goal this year to read 26.2 books, a marathon of reading so to speak. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly how many books I normally read in the course of a year. This could be a low bar or an unrealistic expectation. We’ll see where the year takes us, but at least there will be a measurement in 2020, and what gets measured can be improved upon. I read a wide variety of books. I’m all over the board so to speak with genres and my selections are not for everyone. I want to use this space not to review the books, but more to reflect on what I learned from reading them.

The Pressure’s Off : Breaking Free from Rules and Performance by: Larry Crabb

This book was outside my normal genres but I heard someone mention it on a podcast and I was compelled to give it a shot. I learned so much from this book. The basic principle he writes about and that we all fall victim to is the Law of Linearity. This law states “there is an A that leads to the B you want. Figure out what A is, do it, and you’ll have the life you most desire. The pressure’s on.” (p. 12) Can I tell you how subtly this creeps into your life? It affects me on so many levels but this book focuses primarily on the spiritual. I so often try to define God with this Karen-made system where if I do X, God will do Y for me. Or the reverse, if I don’t do X, God won’t punish me with Y. This is garbage theology because Christ came to set me free from unrealistic laws. I think the Law of Linearity is an unhealthy mindset even if you are not a person of faith because personal growth and setbacks are not linear. Life happens. One step forward and two steps back is a popular saying because it is a common enough reality. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Every single day.

I recognized that living under Law of Linearity meant I was wholly focused on my performance. God existed only to bless my good and punish my bad. That’s not a relationship with God, it’s a relationship with performance. Viewing God as Santa Claus or the Angry School Principal puts him in a small box where I deceive myself into thinking I can manipulate the outcome. It’s such a small way to live.

God will bless me. God will discipline me. These are both true. But I choose him not because blessings or discipline are a prize to be won or avoided. He alone is the prize.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by: Kelly Harms

I’ve decided this year I need to read more light hearted fiction, so I’m going to try for one per month. I am so often drawn towards tomes of history or the Great American World War II novel. 2020 me is being intentional and fun. (Sarcasm font)

This was an entertaining fast read about a single mom of two and the summer break she got alone in New York after her estranged husband resurfaced to make up for a long absence in the kids’ lives. The heroine has a teen daughter with a sarcastic attitude (totally relatable to my own child) and every chapter begins with a journal entry by the daughter. It also has a poignant moment between the two that sets up this quote on page 294:

” So the change you’ll see when we all get home is that I show you how creating an enjoyable life- not just a vacation but a life- is another part of being a mother, like serving vegetables once a week or lecturing your kids about slouching.”

I loved that! We get so hung up on teaching and nagging and demonstrating all the things to our kids we forget that modeling a life well lived and enjoyed is just as much a legacy as knowing how to separate light and dark laundry.

Warsaw 1944 by: Alexandra Richie

Remember when I said I was drawn to historical tomes? Well, here you go. I became fascinated with Poland two years ago when I read the novel Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (highly recommend). It just weighed on me that this country was stuck between two tyrannical bullies. Their liberation came from their next oppressor and the rest of the world kept quiet because peace was more important than the freedom of these people. It’s such a human story and it was the Polish identity for most of the twentieth century. When we were in New Orleans at the World War II museum bookstore, I picked up this book and could not put it down. (I did pay for it, because while many things are permissible in New Orleans, shoplifting is not one of them)

The book is about the Warsaw uprising in summer 1944. The resistance in Poland tried to drive out the Nazis in the hope that the Soviets and (preferably) the Western Allies would lend support. Support never came and 170,000 Warsawians were killed and 520,000 were processed as refugees and sent to concentration camps, PoW camps, or to work as slaves in German factories and farms. The city itself was razed to the ground.

My favorite quote was from an editorial George Orwell wrote to the Tribune in September 1944 in admonishment for how the media, and the world really, was collectively turning its back on Poland (p. 537):

“Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency…”

That is such a timeless warning not only for political entities, but us as individuals. Dishonesty and cowardice have a cost and we cannot ignore them without realizing the toll that takes on our humanity.

Happiness for Beginners by: Katherine Center

My friends at Amazon sent me an email, because they know me so well, and thought I might enjoy this book. I had a week left in January and three books already done, so I decided a short piece of fiction might be the thing. Apparently, no one knows me better than Amazon because I did really like this book.

It’s another piece about a woman’s get away and journey of self-discovery. This one is set on a wilderness survival course in Wyoming. There is a romantic storyline here too, but it’s more about what the heroine learns about herself. I really liked Helen Carpenter. Our lives do not have any circumstantial similarities, but I identified so much with her personality.

The Epilogue in this book is worth the entire book. It’s written in Helen’s voice and it’s such a beautiful reminder that we get to frame our own story. You can write it as a history of all the tragedies that have ever befallen you or you can frame it as a journey of overcoming. She says it’s beautifully on page 308:

But that’s not the story I want to tell. Those aren’t the moments in my life I want to dwell on. They happened. They mattered. They left their marks. But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one.”

How good is that? Fiction teaches me just as much as nonfiction.

That was my mindful January. As I read this back I see a few themes emerging. I’m grateful for all the things that converged this month and I’m excited to see just what I do hold on to.

The path to 2020 Mindfulness

(I’m finally getting my New Year post up. Yes, it is two weeks late, but if you noticed the title of the blog, this is a safe space from deadlines and schedules.)

I’m not much of a resolution person. Really, you can resolve to do something any one of the 365 days of the year. For some reason January 1 Resolutions seem to get all the press and when the resolve is gone after a few weeks, the failure feels a lot like shame. I do understand the allure of a resolution. Beginnings seem to demand a title page, don’t they? I think that’s why I decided instead on a word of the year. It’s more of a theme that centers and defines the truth you are living out (or wish to live out) in the coming season. It’s the underlined title at the top of the page that you can build the outline of life around wherever the content of the year takes you.

My word for 2019 was Adventure.

It was an easy word to land on because I started 2019 on a plane to London with Stephen for a 10 day trip across Europe. I also knew we had another family trip to Europe planned for later that year. Adventure was more than just those trips, though. I wanted a year where I adventured… a year when I tried new things. Like starting a blog. Or where as a family, we embraced the spontaneity that had defined us when the kids were younger- when we woke up on a Saturday or Sunday and said, Let’s go do THIS today. Adventure served me well last year because the intentionality of the word lead me to my word for 2020.

Mindfulness is a state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts. I have been terrible at mindfulness my entire life. My coping skill has been to live outside the present and focus on the next good or fun thing on the calendar. Anticipation is great, but living in the future as a panacea for the struggles of the present is not a very whole approach to life.

As we were living out adventure this year, I became aware of enjoying all of the moments. We only have a short time left with all four of us in the house together and I want to live fully aware in that time. I actually thought my word of the year would be savor, but savor seemed too focused on just the good times. I don’t necessarily savor an argument with my fourteen year old over the state of her bedroom but I can be mindful in that tension. I can remind myself to remember what really matters in that moment and maybe dirty clothes and empty cups are not the thing.

There was a time back in the fall when we were all riding bikes and I watched Stephen and Lindsey racing to be first. Paul looked back at me and we laughed at them and it hit me, These are the good old days. The four of us together. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of the last 16 years. I want to live wholly present in these next two years. I want to experience and feel and ponder all of it as I’m living it, not just looking forward to the next Big Thing. Today is a Big Thing too.

I have lived in that survive-for-today-anticipate-the-future mode for so long. I say that without any shame or guilt. It was all I knew to do, and on some level it worked because it helped me to arrive in the place I am now. But like Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I know better now.

I am mindful.