February Reflections

Delight

I took coffee to my parents a few weeks ago. We tend to do sit-down visits around beverages with my family. It’s always interesting the direction those conversations will take. My parents always want a full report on how the kids are doing, but once we had covered that, we moved on to books and movies.

I was telling them a conversation I had recently with Stephen concerning World War II and the Cold War. Stephen is an avid reader about those topics and I had recently posed a theoretical question to him and was astonished by how thoughtful his answer was. Quite honestly, he had probably already considered the question because the answer he gave was detailed and nuanced. He knows more than I do about that topic.

As I was telling this story to my parents, I could feel myself getting excited and I concluded with, “I think this is my favorite part of parenting… when they start to integrate everything they’ve learned, draw their own conclusions, form their own beliefs, and you look at this person and think, ‘I may have had a role in making you, but you are becoming wholly your own person.'”

My parents were just smiling at me. Indulgently. Wistfully. My Dad nodded and my Mom said, “It is the best.”

I think the way they looked at me will stay with me forever. In the moment, I saw us as parent and grandparents both proud of this kid we loved. It was only later, scrolling through Instagram, that I saw this meme and my thumb halted.

When I saw this picture, I saw the father in the background first. I saw his face. I saw the delight in his son. And I remembered the faces of my parents looking at me as I gushed in pride of my son. And I knew. The look on their faces wasn’t pride in Stephen’s knowledge of history. It was delight in their daughter being a mother.

It made me realize this gig of being totally in love with your kid doesn’t end when they graduate, get married, get a job, or whatever. I will be dazzled and delighted by them until I draw my last breath. I also realized how blessed I am to be the delight of my parents. Everyone deserves at least one person who thinks they hung the moon.

Further Thoughts on Delight

I’ve also decided I’m just going to start delighting more. I’m going to delight myself in some things. We had sunshine for the first time in what felt like months and I took my time delighting in that sunshine as I walked to the mailbox. I delighted in the birds singing. I delighted in the power-half-hour nap I took on the couch at 2 pm. I delighted in the sunset on the way to volleyball practice. Mindfulness is teaching me that I can engage my emotions in the small moments of the day where beauty and nurture show up and it will color the whole day brighter.

What I learned on the Roku

The Roku portion of my February is a tribute to the shows we watched or finished this month on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Cheer

This Six-part series on Netflix was so good. We are not cheerleading people by any stretch of the imagination, but that is not necessary. Cheer is a a documentary about Navarro College’s competitive cheer squad. There are so many underdog stories to root for, but the entire series was such a reminder not to compare your daily life to someone else’s. So many of the kids on that squad were dealing with pain- physical, mental, and emotional. In all their brokenness, they came together for two minutes and performed a near flawless routine. Hooray for glossy perfection, right? Except the beauty of the whole show was in the brokenness, the hard stuff they were pushing through and battling. Those were the reasons they were worth cheering for. We don’t know the hard stuff people are facing under their performance any more than we know the beauty God could be forging out of our own brokenness. We could be on the cusp of our own “Daytona.” Whatever the case, the real story is in the journey.

Downton Abbey

I know. I’m the last person in the universe to behold the beauty that was and is Downton Abbey. There’s so much to love about this show. The costumes. The setting. The humor. The history. The heartbreak. The cast. Dame Maggie Smith, for the love of God. Has a better television character EVER existed? I could write a book about this show, but I think it boils down to this: there was something magical about the writing and the actors that made me care so much about the characters. Call it kismet. The villains were redeemable. The heroes were flawed.

There was a scene in one of the later episodes when Mrs. Baxter’s kindness to Thomas completely changed my opinion of him. I had hated him, with (at best) minimal sympathy over the course of the show. He had been wretched to just about every character including himself. But Mrs. Baxter saw goodness in him. And if she saw goodness, there was goodness to be found. How we treat people can give them the dignity it takes for others to see their value as well.

I will never get over Downton Abbey.

Books

From the stack at the top, I did some nonfiction reading on the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle with Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. It was interesting to see some of the parallels to the show, particularly the history around World War I. Interesting fact, the Carnavons of Highclere bankrolled Howard Carter’s excavation of King Tut’s tomb.

I also read up on the Vanderbilt family. The time period paralleled Downton Abbey, but of course it was defined by their rise (and fall) during the Gilded Age in the United States. Fortune’s Children is family history to Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, and this book is well written. He highlights different time periods through the lens of one family member. It reads like easy fiction- this family knew extravagance and disfunction, in spades.

Self to lose- Self to find is a faith based look at the Enneagram. I’ve been diving into the Enneagram recently and this was a good resource. I’ll probably have more to say on that in the future.

The Unhoneymooners was my fun fiction for the month. It had some Pride and Prejudice themes in it, namely, what we assume about people when we first meet is not always accurate. The Elizabeth Bennet character comes from a large Mexican American family living in Minnesota. The dialogue was very funny.

God with Us by Glenn Krieder is a book I have had for ages and finally decided to read. It was an exploration of the presence of God throughout Scripture, not just at the arrival of Immanuel Jesus. My biggest takeaway from this book was that so much of what we know about God in Scripture is anthropomorphic. We ascribe human trait to God because that’s the only way we can attempt to understand him. God has condescended to us and allowed that because He wants a relationship with us. But that means that it is not the whole picture of who He is. We see through the glass dimly. We have to hold tension to the mystery that He is infinitely more. Even the language we use to describe Him is not sufficient because language is anthropomorphic.

The last book I “read” is a screenshot from my Audible app. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness is a beautiful memoir about a family’s journey through childhood illness. A daughter is born with an unknown blood disease and the fragility with which Heather Harpham writes is akin to the condition of her daughter at birth. This quote at the end is a keeper:

“Between us was the future. Who we would become as we grew older, as the kids left home. And also the future of the two small people we loved most, our aspirations for who they might become, the revelation of who they already were. All of this reverberated in the gaze we held for a long time. Brian lifted his wine. We clinked and pressed glass against glass, globe against globe. ‘To the end,’ Brian said.

And the beginning.”

Asheville

We took a trip up to Asheville. The Downton Abbey Exhibit is at the Biltmore through April, so it seemed a good time to revisit this city. We were last there fourteen years ago, when we lived in Tampa and a mountain vacation seemed the right thing to do in the summer. Traveling with teens as opposed to an infant and a toddler is infinitely easier. But still, I have fond memories of both trips. In the picture below, we had just bathed those babies in the antique claw foot tub at the B&B we stayed at. I was feeding Lindsey and Stephen was playing with a truck. Paul had put Harry Potter on the television. We were happy and cozy in our vacation digs. In the recent picture we had just checked in to our brand new hotel. We were about to walk to dinner, where we would enjoy a leisurely meal that did not feature chicken nuggets or toddler tantrums. These pictures tell me that I have loved every stage. They tell me I will love whatever comes next.

The Highlight Reel

Lindsey plays club volleyball. This year one of the Dads on our team created a YouTube channel where he posts video of all the tournament matches that the girls play. He also condenses each match into a 20 minute highlight reel of all the best plays. Think SportsCenter Top Ten, but with 14 year old girl’s volleyball. It’s been fun to re-watch the games because we catch things we didn’t notice during live time. Lindsey sifts through all of it after a weekend tournament and breaks down all of her mistakes so that she can practice more productively on the things she struggled with. Sometimes, she has a match, day, or tournament when she knows she played well, and she loves to watch that highlight reel. She counts all the “kills” and “good ups” she had, and she will savor her small victories.

I’m happy for the highlight reel. We all need a moment to bask in a job well done. I think it’s natural to want to enjoy success. It’s important to remember though, that it is only a snapshot in time. The fact of the matter is, you don’t learn much, if anything, from watching the highlight reel. It produces all the temporary endorphins, but it doesn’t instruct the future. What I’ve learned from observing Lindsey watch these videos is this:

The raw unedited video is better for instruction.

The raw unedited video shows all the mistakes.

The raw unedited video shows all the stoppages when inerrant balls enter the court, when a timeout happens, an injury, a substitution, a conflict at the scoring table.

The raw unedited video shows discouraged shoulders and facial expressions.

The raw unedited video follows the ball and not one individual person.

It takes a lot longer to observe the raw unedited video.

The raw unedited video is life. The highs and lows. The mistakes and miscues, the accidents that change our trajectory, the rests along the way, the hurt, and rejection. The times when emotions got the best of us, good or bad. It is the unadulterated truth that this world is not just about us.

Who we are becoming matters more than any highlight reel. That’s not a volleyball or sports lesson, that is a universal truth. We learn from this life what we take the time to observe, practice, and correct. Enjoy the highlight reel, but don’t forsake the unedited footage of our lives, because that context is often what makes the next highlight reel possible.

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.