Peacemaking

Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking.

Peacekeeping involves silencing marginalized voices to create an absence of conflict. It values lack of conflict over true justice.

Peacemaking knows there can be no real peace while there is injustice. It acts in love towards the creation of true peace, but it does not silence the oppressed and it faces conflict head on in order to make right what is wrong.

Peacekeeping seeks unity for unity’s sake, even if that unity is merely an Instagram filter slapped over a broken situation.

Peacemaking insists we remove the filter and do the hard work of reconciliation, so that we don’t need a filter in the end. The actual photo will made beautiful by true unity.

Peacemakers, take heart. There will always be those who will choose the absence of conflict over true peace, but know your choice to make peace instead of keeping it is the work that changes the world.

Carnation Days

“IMAGINE YOU HAD ONLY ONE DAY LEFT ON EARTH. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH IT?”

 

I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.

 












Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders

Misadventures in Gardening

Once upon a time, there was a mama and a glass of wine and a simmering pan of roasted garlic. It was witching hour, that crazy hour of the day when the children are hungry but it’s too early for dinner and Dad is not home but it’s time to start cooking anyway and there aren’t enough snacks in the world to stop the whining.

I’m thrilled to be published at Mamalode today, please continue reading on their site








I’ll Have a Peppermint Mocha With a Side of Outrage

This morning a news article popped up on my Facebook timeline about how people are upset about Starbuck’s 2015 Red Cup design.  Like a total Internet dummy, I clicked on that link.

There I was confronted with my first “War on Christmas” faux outrage article of the year.  And it’s only November 6th.

In a nutshell, some people are upset about Starbuck’s cup design because it is plain red, and does not feature any seasonal decor.  Look, I hear you, to a point.  The cup is kind of boring.  I imagine this is how the graphic design meeting went down.

Red Cup Designer 1: Hey, I’ve got an idea!  Let’s make the Red Cup red this year.  Just red.
Red Cup Designer 2:  We can’t do that!  We can’t just have a plain red cup! You’re an idiot.
Red Cup Designer 1:  Hmmm.  You make a good point.  Two shades of red?
Red Cup Designer 2:  Brilliant.  You’re a genius.

source: Starbucks.com

But to turn this into some kind of battle in the so-called War on Christmas because the cup is missing its usual (secular) holiday graphic snowman is just lunacy.

Every year when this debate rears its head, memories of my childhood float to the surface.  I remember the greeting cards from relatives that said “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” and I also remember no one being offended by them in the least.   But memory is a capricious historian, so I did a little digging.

Last month, the Wentzville Community Club held an event celebrating the town’s anniversary and it featured a plethora of memorabilia from clothing to washboards, from old toys to newspapers.  The newspapers were my favorite part.  I flipped through articles written in the 1950s and marveled over the commonalities to themes our town still faces today, like funding for the school district in a growing community.  But things got really interesting when I stumbled upon the papers released near Christmas.  Page after page of the paper featured paid advertising from companies all over town, many wishing newspaper patrons “Merry Christmas” and many others wishing “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or “Holiday Cheer.”

Just look at those ads.  Talk about a war on Christmas!  It’s no wonder Kelley’s Beauty Shop is nowhere to be found in Wentzville these days.  I’m sure that Kelley was run straight out of business after she featured that heathen child holding a stocking. 

This one is the most confusing of all.   First it says “Happy Holidays” but later it mentions Christmas, then it references the Pagan holiday Yule but there are angels decorating the tree which makes it unclear if that tree is a Christmas tree or a Yule tree and the babies are naked.  How do we know if we are supposed to be offended or delighted?

The ads went on for pages.  It was immediately clear to me why the streets were filled with angry mobs demanding an abolishment of the words “Happy Holidays” in the 1950s.

Oh, wait.  No, no they weren’t.

It turns out that outside of one pamphlet released by a communist conspiracy group, most people in the 1950s were able to view these egregious advertisements and instead of feeling offense feel … joy?

Crazy, right?

They saw words of merriment where today we see words of political agenda.  They gladly accepted their neighbor’s wishes of joy instead of ascribing malicious intent.   In short, they behaved like rational grown-ups.

Every year, writer Rachel Held Evans posts this very useful graphic to help you determine whether or not you are being persecuted during the holiday season:

Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holidays-persecuted

Because the truth is, there are very real examples of religious persecution happening in this world every single day.

Being handed a plain red cup at Starbucks is not one of them.

Here’s the bottom line.  We can either accept one another’s holiday wishes in any form with gratitude, or we can dismiss them because they don’t meet our expectations of what should be said.

When we choose the former, we are reminded that for the most part, people mean well with their words and actions.

When we choose the latter, we must accept the fact that we are the only ones taking the Merry out of our own Christmas.

And if you still can’t move on, draw your own snowman on your Starbuck’s cup. 

Redefining Optimism

About a month ago, I sat down in a university auditorium with several hundred thirty-something year old women including my own teenage bestie to listen to my favorite childhood author, Judy Blume, speak about her new novel and writing process.

I might as well have been a eleven-year-old girl at a One Direction concert.

I took surreptitious pictures from the audience, choked back tears as she spoke, refrained myself from jumping out of my seat when she answered the question I had submitted, and could barely contain the shaking in my hands as I waited in line to meet her afterward.

Please read the rest of this post over at Mamalode … 

The Speed of Summer

Every year around this time a huge red and white tent is erected on the corner of the county highways that intersect near my house.  Every year I think the same thing, “It’s awfully early for fireworks, isn’t it?” And every year, it dawns on me that it is already the middle of June, that it is in fact not too early for fireworks to be on sale, and that time is a capricious tease.

I swear the Earth actually speeds up its trajectory around the sun in summer, and that its maddening pace can only be felt by those over the age of eighteen.

All of the old adages about time creep to the front of my mind.  It gets faster every year.  Don’t blink.  Carpe diem. The days are long but the years are short.  And the thing is, they are all frustratingly true.  No amount of eye rolling in our younger years can prevent the truth behind these words from catching up with us down the road.  

There’s a large poster affixed to our refrigerator door that says, “Before You Say You’re Bored, Have You Considered…” and goes on to list dozens of activities the boys thought up for the long summer days ahead.  I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I’ve uttered the phrase “I’m bored.”  We wake up each morning and stare down the same 24 hours, yet we view the hours through such different lenses, me and my children.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see the hours through the eyes of a child again.

But I do know one secret to slowing down time.
I do know one small trick that stops the Earth in its tracks.

Be present. 
Being as present as humanly possible slows the march of time.

Be right where you are. 

Be with the people you are with.

Engage your senses in the task at hand.

Aiming for attentiveness in a world of distractions is not an easy task, but it is a worthwhile one, and its rewards are so sweet.
  

The smell of the vines on your tomato plant while you pull weeds.

The taste of rain as it falls from the sky.

The sweetness of mint chip for lunch.

  The icy cold shock of the deep end in June.


The sound of a band that makes you get up and bust a move.

The way you get lost in the pages of a book.

The freckles on a sun-kissed, sleeping face, waiting to be counted.

The sound of the ice cream truck through your kitchen window as you chop vegetables for dinner.

The warm sun on your arms as you sit in traffic.

The friend’s voice on the other end of a long-distance call.

The goodbye kiss on the way to work, and the welcome home embrace at the end of a day.
We can’t add hours to our days, but we can add life to our hours.  We just have to pay attention.  And this is the extent of my summer bucket list this year:  Be present.

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell.  This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver 
 

How Grover Cleveland Got His Banjo

For the last few months,  I’ve written a lot about the stuff that is leaving my home, why, and where it is going. 

Over that same time period, I’ve noticed a trend occurring.  Anytime one of my friends invites me over (okay, anytime I invite myself over to a friend’s house), they preface the invitation with an explanation of how messy their home is.  I think some of you might be envisioning my recently de-cluttered space as a lot more pristine than it actually is, so today I want to clear the air about a couple of things.

1.  My house gets messy too. 

Seriously messy.  Every single day.  This house is lived in.  We learn, play, eat, sleep and dream in this house, and that means that on any given day, we use a lot of stuff.  It’s also not a big house, which means that we do all of those things in the same, multi-purpose area.  In addition, we have a dog whose favorite pastime is taking our dirty clothes or smelly shoes and decorating our furniture and backyard with them. One of our children still insists that he likes his room better messy, and I’m not fighting that battle (except on Fridays…I fight it a little on Fridays).   We also have a small obsession with our public library that leads to random piles of books on all surfaces of the house.  Just last night, Jason was clearing our table after dinner when he looked over at me and declared, “We’re weird.”

“What do you mean, we’re weird?” I asked, taking the bait.

He proceeded to show me the assortment of items he was cleaning off of our table:  several library books, a sign up sheet for a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament one of our boys created (complete with “official” member ID numbers), a jar of fake money, the latest iteration of a chore chart, three rocks absconded from a local creek bed, a postcard from a family in New Mexico that we don’t actually know, and a tiny banjo in a tiny banjo case.  And we had eaten dinner at that table without paying a bit of attention to any of those items. 

So friends, please don’t feel like you have to prepare me for the level of mess in your home.  Even if my home were truly minimalist and perfectly swiffered (which it’s not), you still would not owe me any explanation or apology for your home.  I love my friends for who they are, not how they keep house, or what they keep in their house.

Which brings me to the second thing I need to tell you.

2.  We still have stuff.  And a lot of it is… um… interesting.

Meet Grover Cleveland. Grover is our indoor garden gnome who recently became unemployed when he failed to manage his only task of keeping the succulents in our master bedroom alive.  Grover has been lonely and a bit despondent since he lost his job, so we decided to find him a new hobby.  Enter the tiny aforementioned tiny banjo.  We realize we could have just purchased him a new indoor plant to care for, but frankly, we’re not sure Grover is up to the task.

Sure, we may use poor Grover as an excuse for our own inability to keep our houseplants alive, but the truth is, Grover’s unlikely presence in our master bedroom brings us joy.  It’s illogical joy, but joy all the same, so he stays. I’ve said before that joy is subjective, and Grover Cleveland certainly illustrates that point.  I’m sure there are plenty of you thinking that a garden gnome in a master bedroom is the first thing that you’d get rid of, and that’s okay.  I’m not about to tell you what should bring you joy.  

Grover is not the only thing that made the cut.  

This, my friends, is a mantle fish.   You put this fish on your mantle and it keeps evil spirits away.  You probably want to know how you can get your hands on one of these.   Lucky for me, my husband makes them, but in very limited editions.  I know.  Back off ladies, he’s taken. 

There’s more.  We kept all of our musical instruments, piles of art supplies, a whole lot of Legos, two shelves worth of board games, an assortment of costumes for dress-up play, more hats than one family needs and a broken lawn mower.  We’ve still got some work to do, but for me, de-cluttering is not intended to be the end, but a means to an end.  For me, that end looks like creating a space that amplifies the values and interests and purposes of the members of my family.  At the end of the day, I’m not hoping to arrive at a truly minimal house without any possessions, but rather a house that is a place to grow and learn, to live and love, a house in which our possessions don’t possess us, a house that isn’t always clean, but when we do pick up the stuff, that stuff brings a smile to our face.  A house where friends and family are welcome to just drop in, even if I didn’t sweep that day or put away the rock collection.  A house in which a quiet little gnome like Grover Cleveland can be both a gardener and a renowned banjo player.   In other words, a home.  

So there you have it.  My home still gets messy, and it still holds some truly random stuff.  But moreover, I want you to know that I’m not comparing my home to yours.  This de-cluttering journey is really just an outward expression of my own set of issues, which I pour out on the internet mostly for your entertainment.  So friends, here’s my proposition:  no more apologizing for our homes.  I won’t apologize for Grover Cleveland or the bra you just sat on (thanks Hobbes) and you don’t apologize for the dishes or the dog hair.  Instead, we’ll just pour a cup of coffee (or open a beer, your choice) and enjoy each other’s company, which is really what matters most. 

The Antidote to Discontent

There’s something about the month of February that brings out the grumbling in all of us.  Maybe it is the fact that it is several months into the cold, dark season of winter, especially for those of you still buried under a couple feet of snow.  Last week, the groundhog confirmed we’ve got another six weeks of winter ahead of us (why do we keep consulting that groundhog anyway, he’s not even a trained meteorologist?) and I know many of you are ready to pack up the snow boots and break out your gardening gear.  (I hear you.  Last night while I was hibernating I had a dream that it was going to be 80 degrees all week long here in St. Louis and actually started to get dressed in a tank top before I realized it was still winter.  Talk about disappointing).  Or maybe our complaining has something to do with the fact that we’re a month into a new year, just long enough to have completely abandoned our sparkly New Year’s resolutions, yet not so long as to have forgotten we ever set them in the first place.  Or maybe it is because we’re smack in the middle of cold and flu season and we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I feel fairly certain that if Facebook were to run a quick analytic search it would confirm the fact that our status updates contain the most complaints this month compared to any other month of the year.  February seems to be the month of discontent.

I want to be really clear about something.  I don’t think complaining is an inherently bad thing.  There is catharsis in complaining, especially in the safety of authentic relationships.  Sometimes we complain because we are seeking solutions, and sometimes we simply need to be heard and have someone else say, “yes, I hear you, me too.”  I think being honest about our disappointments or challenges can draw us closer to the ones we love and actually play a positive role in creating community.  I don’t live in a highlight reel, and my guess is that neither does anyone reading this, so I am often relieved, inspired or just simply touched when others open up and share their struggles alongside their victories.  In fact, I read recently that one of the greatest gifts we bring to others is our authenticity, and I believe that is true. 

However, I also believe that living in a state discontent blocks our ability to live authentically, because to live an authentic life requires us to recognize and develop our own unique gifts.  It’s hard to do that when we are focused on the things we lack, or are caught in a trap of comparison.  Until we are willing to take inventory of the gifts we already hold in our hands and the beauty that already exists in our current reality, we will be blocked by discontent.  So, at least for me, it follows that the antidote to discontent is gratitude.

We hear a lot about gratitude practices in November, and to be fair, it’s an easier time of year to focus on our abundance.  We’re gearing up for the holidays and we haven’t been confronted by the real bite of winter yet, with its below zero temperatures and new strains of vaccine-resistant influenza.  It seems strange to talk about gratitude in February, yet this might just be the month we need to put this practice in place the most.  If you don’t already have a gratitude practice in place in your home or life, I want to encourage you to join me in one of the following practices for the next thirty days.  Look, many of us have already abandoned those New Year’s Resolutions, so we’ve got plenty of time on our hands to try something new, right?  Practicing gratitude for thirty days will carry us right into the middle of March when the forsythia blooms and we can begin to hope for Spring in earnest.  Besides, they say it takes thirty days to start a habit, and this is a habit that has the power to radically change your life.  What do you have to lose?

Here’s a few ideas to get you started, some that I’ve used over the years and some that are new to me (and most copied straight off Pinterest):

1.  Gratitude Journals:  The old standard.  You can purchase a journal, or make one like the example below, or just use any notebook from around your house.  Leave it on your nightstand and make a habit of writing in it before bed.  

2.  Gratitude Jar:  This is a great way to include your entire family in your gratitude practice.  Leave your jar and a few strips of paper on the kitchen table or somewhere your family tends to gather and encourage everyone to include an offering of daily thanks into the jar.

3.  Gratitude List:  I love this ring-bound, portable gratitude list to keep year round.  
4.  Gratitude App:  For the more tech-savvy, I adore this gratitude app.  I’ve used it on and off for a few years now and love that it is always at my fingertips.  You can also upload a photo from the day to include in your gratitude journal.  
5.  Gratitude Photography:  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so if writing is not your thing, consider an Instagram gratitude challenge.  For the next thirty days, take at least one picture of something you felt grateful for each day and share it with a hashtag like #30daysofgratitude. 

6.  Gratitude Simplified:  If all of the above suggestions feel too complicated or crafty or contrived, then keep it simple.  I love this bulletin board tacked with scrap pieces of paper expressing gratitude for co-workers.  This could easily be modified for your home.  Don’t have a bulletin board?  Try Post-It notes on the refrigerator or a closet door.  Or, don’t record anything at all.  Just simply set aside a time and space in your day to mentally review the moments that were life-affirming.  It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect.  It just has to be.

While I can’t promise that I won’t complain for the next thirty days, I will make a commitment to balance complaints with a renewed, dedicated gratitude practice.  Will you join me?  I would love to hear how you plan to incorporate a practice of gratitude in your life, or what you are already doing to give thanks on a daily basis.