Connect with Yourself After 2020

I sat at my desk, the warmth from the tears involuntarily rolling down my face almost comforting as I got more honest with myself than I had been in a long time, and answered her question directly.

The moment hurt, but the pain passed almost as soon as the words had left my mouth—replaced by a sense of calm and acceptance.  I watched as the woman on the other side of the screen, a counselor in Atlanta who has been working small miracles in our family for a few months now, nodded her head in understanding.

“Well, you have certainly connected with yourself and the emotion of the experience now.” And with that assessment, she gave me the go-ahead on what I had presented to her as a potential next right step for my healing.

We are constantly “connected” to the world and others through digital devices that fill so much temporal, mental, and emotional space in our lives, but I wonder if anyone else has struggled to connect with themselves on a regular basis after this last year.

When I first started seeing my counselor, toward the end of 2020, I was a desperate mess. Who wasn’t? I knew I needed to try counseling because even though I hated admitting it, my emotional pain had passed the boundary of where my coping skills could help me. Also, in an attempt to compensate for the limits of my healthy coping skills, I was leaning into unhealthy coping skills.

Not wanting to waste time, and more self-aware in my thirties than I have been at any other point in my life, I told my counselor first thing: I struggle with connection, I think emotions are dumb, and I would much rather think through things than feel them.

Fast forward several months and I’m finally feeling unstuck. Counseling has helped tremendously, but one of the heavily utilized (healthy) coping skills that I have used is reading. Reading has given me a cognitive means to access a linguistic ends I wouldn’t otherwise experience; giving me words that describe my emotional state, enabling me to have more meaningful conversations with my counselor.

I will always be grateful to my parents who were true over-achievers when it came to giving my sister and I the gift of reading when we grew up.

I have memories of my dad reading Home for a Bunny and The Pokey Little Puppy to me multiple times every night as a little girl. I still smile when I think about the excitement I felt when the mailman delivered Baby-Sitters Club books to our door each month, thanks to my mom’s commitment to keeping our house stocked with reading material. Amidst our imperfect family life situation, which played out set against the backdrop of interracial adoption through a color-blind lens and undiagnosed detachment disorder, reading became our strongest coping and connections skill.

We are all experiencing extra stress, and dare I say emotional trauma, from existing in 2020.

I think this article from Jennie Allen and Dr. Anita Phillips sums up the emotional impact of 2020 far better than I could, if you need convincing. I want to offer you a new way to think about books, and encourage you to try reading as a coping skill going forward.

Let me start with what I know to be true about books, in the form of this beautiful metaphor from Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop.

Dr. Bishop talks about diverse books in terms of racial and cultural representation, which is important, and I want to extend her idea into connection. I believe that in order to fully use books as a means of effective connection, we need to be reading books that are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.

Disclaimer: This post is about to get heavy with book titles from my personal reading lists, simply to illustrate the metaphors. If you’re not into what I’m reading about, that’s cool, but stick with me, because at the end of the post I am sharing a reading hack that will serve you well no matterwhat your reading interests happen to be!

Thinking of books as mirrors allows us to find ourselves on the pages as we read.

Ten years ago, I was taken by surprise the first time a book functioned as a mirror in my grown-up reading life. I had sat down in my parents’ big, red, comfy chair, prepared to devour a non-fiction book that had been highly recommended. I got two paragraphs into Compelled to Control by Keith Miller when I stopped, took a deep breath in, cursed out loud as I exhaled, and got up to find a highlighter.  

This mirror began my life-changing journey into recovery for control addiction.

Using a book as a mirror is helpful when processing through emotional trauma.

While I read several books related to the specific emotional pain I was experiencing last year, and from them found great words that allowed me to see myself from a different perspective, there was one book that made a huge impact on my progress.

Allison Fallon’s The Power of Writing it Down spoke to my identity as a writer and gave me the inspiration and motivation to utilize my writing as a tool for self-discovery and healing.

Currently, I am using books to reflect on my personal identity as an educator.

I know that I will be returning to the classroom in just a couple of short years and I want to show up for my students in a way that isn’t dated, out of touch, or practicing dulled skills. A lot will have changed in my ten-year-stay-at-home-mom sabbatical, and I take my career seriously. I am finding myself as an educator on the pages of Unpack Your Impact by Naomi O’Brien and Lanesha Tabb, and Cultivating Genius by Gholdy Muhammad.

I was in the 8th grade when I first experienced books as windows.

And, technically, I can’t remember any titles of the books I read—but I do remember having a phenomenal social studies teacher who threw out whatever dated textbooks our rural, poor school district had stored away and adopted a before-her-time woke approach to teaching US History.

What stuck with me most was everything I learned about the Civil Rights Movement from the PBS documentary, Eyes on The Prize. I was shocked, horrified, disgusted, heartbroken, and self-ordained into the mission of social justice and equality that year.

One teacher, who taught a language arts and social studies block in a rural Idaho middle school, rolled up the window coverings and let me see that a world existed outside of my privileged existence.

Last year I realized that, at some point, I had stopped making an intentional effort to discover more windows in my reading life.

I read Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone and Children of Virtue, stories in the fantasy genre that broke through the fiction rut I have been in for years. I listened to snippets of my husband reading my girls More Than a Princess by E.D. Baker and remembered that a grown up’s reading choices are going to directly impact their kids’ reading life.

Right now my to-be-read-list is full of books that will act as windows.

I have Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi on my shelf, waiting to break into my non-fiction rotation. I have Her Stories and Fiesta Feminina to fill in shorter reading times with African American and Mexican folktales. And, I’m slowly compiling a list of window books that will allow me to see the kind of leader I want to be when I grow up.

Books as mirrors and windows can be challenging for me—I don’t always want to face myself and what I don’t know because there is something at least partially true about the saying “Ignorance is bliss.”

However, it’s after I get past my own discomfort with mirrors and windows; after I have connected authentically with my own story and the stories of others, that I get to my favorite part: the invitation to contribute and be involved in growing the world into a more unified, connected place. That is the invitation of the sliding glass door.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

–Maya angelou

Maya Angelou’s quote embodies the metaphor of books as sliding glass doors.

After slowly reading Compelled to Control ten years ago, I set down the mirror, skipped the window, and went straight for the sliding glass door.

I wasn’t excited to read Hunger for Healing by Keith Miller, but I knew it was my next right step. I read that book one chapter at a time, multiple times through, while I worked through a twelve-step recovery program in the early hours each Saturday morning. That book invited me to step up and do something about what I saw in my own life, and to own the responsibility for taking actions that aligned with what I wanted for the future, which was connection.

Sliding glass doors are less scary with friends.

Last winter, I was invited to join a reading group comprised of people who felt called to the work of racial reconciliation. We discussed Jemar Tisby’s latest book, How To Fight Racism. We shared, we listened, we wrestled with our own histories, and added to our understandings.

We ended by committing to doing our part by choosing one specific thing to focus on in our personal fights against racism, selecting a new title (hello, sliding glass door!) and adding a couple of new members for the group.

If there were ever a time for doing our part in making the world a more connected place, it would be right now, as we end the first quarter of 2021.

The newest sliding glass door for our group is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander this spring. I’m especially excited to read this book because the current education book I am reading continues to reference it and I do love making connections across texts. I am hoping that both books will equip me to be a more effective educational leader, as well as a stronger ally for racial justice.

Reading books that are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors is a strategy to connect with yourself and others, for the betterment of the world around you.

I’ve included a lot of titles on my reading lists to illustrate the metaphor and strategy, but it’s likely that you and I have different interests, so I want to show you a favorite reading life hack to help you grow your reading lists to include more mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.

If you haven’t already made friends with your local library’s website, I suggest you do so!

Library websites should have a place designated for research. In the short slideshow below, I use our local library’s website to show you how I find and use NovelList to search for books by keyword. My favorite part of the  Novelist databases (there is one database Children’s literature and one for adult literature) is that once you find a book, they offer “Read Alike” suggestions in the side bar.

As we begin encountering one-year anniversaries of various emotional traumas from the last year, I want to encourage you to connect with yourself and the emotions of your experiences.

Maybe you need the help of a counselor, and if that’s the case I would encourage you to make it a priority to set an appointment. But, maybe you just need to carve out some time to spend with yourself, unplugged from the digital world and tuned into what your mind, heart, and body have been trying to tell you over the noise of last year’s distractions.

Either way, books can serve as insightful companions as you move forward, and with that I will leave you with this.

“Salvation is certainly among the reasons I read. Reading and writing have always pulled me out of the darkest experiences in my life. Stories have given me a place in which to lose myself. They have allowed me to remember. They have allowed me to forget. They have allowed me to imagine different endings and better possible worlds.”

Roxane gay

Unlocking Connection: Magic Words

My first baby had barely taken a breath before my worst nightmare was unfolding. Literally, she wasn’t breathing, and that was why I was missing out on the immediate skin-to-skin bonding touted by many as the golden standard motherhood rite of passage for attachment. Instead, I watched the NICU team whisk her away for monitoring, feeling panic take deeper and deeper root inside my heart with every passing second.

Fortunately, our daughter’s health (and our bond) ended up being just fine.

I am also grateful that my desperation to overcome my own detachment disorder had given me the insight to have a backup plan for just such an occasion.

I sometimes wonder what the hospital staff must have thought of my insistent instructions to my husband, “Go, read to her!”, and his devoted willingness to pull out Girl of Mine and go along with my plan.

And so it was that our oldest daughter came into the world hearing the exact same story her father had read to her over and over again throughout pregnancy.

Some of my favorite memories of my pregnancy were making our bed in the morning and stepping around the stacks of books Kelvin read to our girls after I had fallen asleep the night before. From the beginning, our family chased after connection, and reading has proven to be the most consistent, effective, and magical practice in that quest.

If there was ever a time for magic in parenting, it would be while raising young children.

There is nothing quite like the sleep deprived, never-ending-laundry, scheduling around feedings/naps/toddler tantrums kind of life. It’s messy, exhausting, emotionally taxing, and yet undeniably sweet. Reading together during this time gave us a reliable rhythm for connection, as well as practical language skills that brought a bit of peace into our non-reading time.

Reading together gives younger kids an opportunity for extra physical and emotional connection.

One of the most challenging things of motherhood, at least for me, was relinquishing my personal space. It’s possible that my children were more clingy than most, but having kids on me all day often felt draining. Somehow, though, snuggling up with my babies and a book never seemed to bother me, and it quickly became my favorite form of physical connection, and the ritual ultimately led to consistent opportunities for emotional bonding.

Story time became quality bonding time, and the magic words came right up off of the pages and into the girls’ minds.

They were exposed an onslaught of extra words every day, giving them a strong foundation to learn language. Their language skills made it easier for them to express themselves, and thus reduced the frustration that comes from not being able to communicate wants, needs, and inquiries. Of course, with an increased vocabulary and an early awareness that they had a voice, it wasn’t long before their emotions outgrew their expressive language skills.

When threenager problems surfaced in the form of epic meltdowns, magic words from picture books were sometimes the only way to pull my girls out of emotional chaos and back into their thinking brains.

I stumbled upon this realization by accident, as I held a shrieking child in my lap, and, in total desperation to keep myself calm, intuitively reached for my personal favorite coping mechanism—a book. Feeling a little guilty that all my attempts to connect with and calm my daughter had failed, I chose to read as if she weren’t wailing in protest over whatever it was that she wanted and couldn’t have. To my amazement (and relief), after I read a couple of pages she got quiet, and I could feel her breathing slow and tension release from her little body.

This magic trick worked with all three of them, and so far the older two have even been able to internalize it and use it independently to regulate themselves when needed!

Magic words grew right alongside our girls, simultaneously expanding their understandings of both the real and imaginative worlds where they played together.

The summer before we sent our oldest off to kindergarten, I read the girls one of my childhood favorites, The Boxcar Children. I was giddy when I went out back to call them inside for bedtime and found them running back and forth from front yard strawberry patch to their swing set pretending to be children taking charge of their own survival. Not wanting to interrupt this literary milestone, we decided to let them stay up late that night, feasting on strawberries and narrating their adventure aloud to one another.

That summer was a pivotal moment for our older girls, who made the connection that magic words could take them on adventures, and that they were no longer dependent on their parents to access such fun.

It was a time of transition, and since we’ve never wanted to force family reading time, we set them free to read through copious amounts of books without us. We maintained the rhythm of reading picture books together at bedtime, but instead of snuggling up on our laps, our quality time shifted to become more of a side by side practice. Admittedly, this would have been more heartbreaking if we didn’t have our youngest girl who still, to this day, prefers to be held when we read to her.

What started as a small, strategic step connect a mother and her babies has magicked itself into a foundational piece of our family’s identity.

It hasn’t been a linear process— our middle girl thought that books were for eating until she was 18 months old, leading me to jokingly confide in my mom that, “This one might be a dud.” (She wasn’t, she actually learned how to read earlier than our oldest!) But we managed to balance consistency, flexibility, and patience through the labyrinth of young family life and at this point, it’s just a collectively accepted fact: We read in this family.

Our identities as readers influences our family culture.

Whether it’s trying a new food because Cilla’s family eats it in Cilla Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, or the growing interest in history to fully understand Before She Was Harriet, we share an enthusiastic curiosity.

We’ve borrowed memorable phrases and integrated them into our daily language, wisdom such as “It’s always a good idea to take more than one book on a trip.”, from Julieta and the Diamond Enigma.

And, because reading and storytelling are closely connected, we value sharing our voices with the world; our girls are prolific writers and have started their own library of books they have authored.

The beautiful thing about connecting to your kids with reading is that you can start anytime and enjoy the benefits.

Reading from the beginning has given our family the magic words we’ve needed to survive thus far—for the record, at the time of publishing this we have an almost three year old (send good vibes), a five year old and a seven year old. But it is never too late to pick up a book and begin enriching your family life with reading together.

It really is that simple!

In case you’re thinking that you don’t know the right book titles, or that my teaching experience is the source of the magic described in this post (I promise it’s not!), or that your child just “doesn’t like to read”, I want to share this quote from one of my favorite author’s on the subject, the fabulous Mem Fox.

“The fire of literacy is created by the emotional sparks between a child, a book, and the person reading. It isn’t achieved by the book alone, nor by the child alone, nor by the adult who’s reading aloud—it’s the relationship winding between all three, bringing them together in easy harmony.”

Mem Fox, Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

Did you catch that? It’s the relationship formed between the child, the grown up, and the book…it’s the connection.

This brings me to my best teacher advice for parents who ask me about all the reading things:

It’s all about miles on the page. There is nothing more powerful, no fancy teaching methodology more influential than simply picking up a book and beginning. Read and repeat, that’s it! Start small and let the “fire of literacy” grow organically.

You don’t need an arsenal of literacy strategies, a massive home library, or a teaching background to give your family the benefits of reading magic words.

I’ve already given you my best teaching advice, which truly is enough. But, for my fellow over-achievers, I wouldn’t dream of ending this post without connecting you to some of my favorite resources, so grab a pen and write this down:

(some) Favorite Reading Material:

  • Sandra Boynton—this beloved author writes brilliant, rhyming board books. We have several memorized, and if you ever get a chance to hear Kelvin read Pajama Time, your bedtime parenting game will never be the same! Bonus: Her facebook page is always a bright spot in my newsfeed.
  • Mo Willems —I’m pretty sure his award winning Elephant & Piggie series is what made my girls realize they could write stores. too. These stories have text that is approachable for young readers, but the plots and dialogue are good fun for grown ups too!
  • Cricket Media—In addition to books, we are huge fans of these literary magazines. The illustrations are beautiful and they offer a refreshing mix of short stories, non-fiction, folktales, poetry and art unified around a specific theme that changes each month. They have a magazine for every age group—a subscription would be an amazing gift idea!
  • Caldecott Picture Book Awards—Last week I provided a short list of resources for finding award winning literature. The Caldecott Awards are given to books with amazing illustrations. Pro-tip: Never underestimate the value of the pictures of picture books. When combined with the words, the illustrations themselves are educators.

Books for Parents (I’ve read and loved both!):

  • Reading Magic—This book was required reading in my Master’s program and I’m so glad it was, it changed how I read books aloud.
  • The Enchanted Hour—This book presents current research on the why of reading aloud.

Words are magical.

Here’s my plan for you, if you are willing to go along with it: Open a book, any book, and watch the practice of reading with your kids breathe life into your connection with them. And then, connect with me on social media and let me know how it’s going!

Oh, the Places We’ll Go!

I can still see the giant smiles on my students’ faces as I snapped their pictures on the playground equipment with a couple of giant, bright green and blue, polka dotted balloons. They were more than happy to spend their normal class time making silly faces and pretending to fly up into the sky with the balloons—their contributions to our classroom door’s decorations for Read Across America Week.

My students loved this week, probably because they were encouraged to come to school in themed costumes celebrating the characters and stories of Dr. Seuss.

My theme, year after year, was inspired by Oh The Places You’ll Go. And, if my students are anything besides silly and fun—they are readers. It’s been seven years since I decorated my portion of an elementary school hallway for Read Across America Week, and it will be another three before I do it again. I hate to state the obvious, but a lot will have changed by the time I return my post as a classroom teacher.

The biggest change? I am now the mother of three Afro-Latina girls and therefore even more passionate about diversity and inclusion in the school setting than I was before.

Please don’t misunderstand me—I have always advocated for diversity and inclusion, but having children of your own changes everything. The idea of sending my own children into another teacher’s classroom, full time, five days a week has intensified the sense of urgency I feel to do my part in supporting teachers as they teach diversity in the changing social landscape.

Another change? Read Across America Week has distanced itself from Dr. Seuss.

There is no way to put this delicately, but a closer examination of the author our culture has lifted up for decades shows blatant racism. The more aware our society becomes of racial bias throughout our country’s history and it’s persistence into this very day—the more often we are going to have to answer some questions about what matters most.

For this educator, what matters most is equality and justice.

This means, that when issues of racism in texts and teaching come up, we have to be willing to go there. They have to be acknowledged for what they are so that we can all move forward and do better. As painful as it may be, these issues will continue to come up, because education is a social institution that continues to be impacted by our country’s regrettable history around race.

And when such issues do arise, a question worth asking is, How can we do this better now?

Read Across America seems to have found an answer—it appears they have moved away from celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday in March and instead shifted to a year long reading campaign around the theme Create and Celebrate a Nation of Diverse Readers. I’m here for it.

If you are a parent or educator who is excited about creating and celebrating a nation of diverse readers, but not sure how to begin—you’re in the right place!

I have a few ideas to get you started, and I am committed to teaching about diversity in the classroom and out, to kids and grown ups alike. I am excited to both share what I know from my personal experiences in a multiracial/multicultural family and learn alongside you going forward.

Suggestion Number One—Go, and listen to new voices.

I mean that literally, you should definitely listen to stories about diversity with your children. Bookmarks on Netflix is a fabulous option (my girls love this show). There is also KidLitTV which offers podcasts and read alouds for kids, many of which feature diverse authors and characters.

Suggestion Number Two—Go, and get friendly with your librarians.

We are on a first name basis with our librarians. Ms. Nicole, Mr. Travis, and Ms. Corinna have read stories to our girls pretty much their entire lives, and they are always happy to help with a book recommendation.

Our local library does a phenomenal job highlighting diverse authors, illustrators, and characters, but in case yours doesn’t, here is non-exhaustive, short list of awards given out for diverse children’s literature. Pro-tip: If you find a title that you would like to read, but your library doesn’t have it, ask your librarian how to make a purchase request.

Suggestion #3—Go, and let the children in your life see what it looks like to be a lifelong learner.

This is one of the most powerful things you can do to create and celebrate a nation of diverse learners. As grown ups we are always modeling something for our future leaders to learn. Let’s make it something meaningful. If you haven’t already tried this with reading, writing, piano practice, etc., you will be surprised at how quickly kids catch on and join in!

The best educators, whether professional or parental, are reflective practitioners.

That means they are constantly asking themselves hard questions like,

  • Where are we going?
  • What is most important?
  • How can we do that better next time? And,
  • Are diverse voices represented in our reading?

I am committed to supporting parents and educators like you figure out how to teach diversity so our children can go places where they can lead with understanding and respect for those who are different from them, even when it’s hard.

If there are specific questions you have, resources you need, or problems I can help you solve, please let me know in the comments or send me a message!

The Truth About Love

I can’t speak for every adopted kid, but I can tell you that I personally don’t remember a time without lies about love running through my head.

They were elaborate, razor sharp, and welded a dark cage around my mind, heart, and soul before I even had a fair chance at fighting back.

They shifted shapes and appeared through various internal and external means, but they all derived from the same basic beat.

You. Are. Unlovable. You. Were. Nobody’s. First. Choice. You. Were. A. Mistake.

They persisted despite my parents’ loving me dearly and the loving sacrifice my biological mother made to give me life.

The facts are:

  • My parents adopted me after losing their first, biologically born child, because they wanted a baby.
  • My birth mother gave me away.
  • Sometimes I still have to fight intentionally, usually invoking the help of the Holy Spirit to see Truth, rather than hear lies about these statements.

And, while I spent a good amount of my life unaware of, and thus defenseless against, the damage being inflicted against my soul, God never once took his eyes off of me or allowed me to fully succumb to that which sought to destroy me.

If you go back up and re-read the lies that held me captive, you will see what made them such effective weapons…hiding in plain sight. Right in the middle of two outlandish lies is an almost truth. My parents, adopted and biological, did not plan on me, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t want me.

However, I have always been God’s first choice. Jesus went to the cross with me on his heart. He knew everything about my personality, what would become my history, and every sinful, shameful thing I would manage to engage in during my lifetime. And, He still chose me.

God doesn’t make mistakes, so you and I couldn’t possibly be one, no matter how much effort we might put towards convincing ourselves otherwise.

He loves every single one of his creations, including you. Including me. Those are facts and our world will be a better place the sooner we accept them. Once we do, we can get to work on figuring out how such a love works and how we should respond to it. Spoiler alert—the right response is to share it.

Over the last year, I have felt the familiar entangling of almost truths and blatant dark lies, attempting to take God’s children captive.

Perhaps you have felt it too—a focused effort to disrupt relationships and unity within friendships, families, church bodies. I spent a good amount of the last nine months trying to wrap my mind around it, a process increased in difficulty each time I stumbled into sinful reactions, and self-centered emotions. However, God is always faithful and last week He sent me a breakthrough in the form of an overdue walk and conversation with a dear friend.

Real friends tell you the truth, even when it’s hard to hear.

This is an act of love. Over the course of our walk, where I spoke about the intersection of love and the pain I was feeling and the pain I had caused (which ironically, causes me pain), this friend told me the truth. By holding onto the pain, I was giving it power.

I don’t want to go back to giving pain power to write my story.

I made a desperate choice when I asked God to lead my life, believing that He could redeem pain and re-purpose it for good. He has done just that, time after time. I can’t quite figure out when I decided the pain of the last year was beyond His reach, and truthfully it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I have confessed the weakness of my faith to my Heavenly Father and am fighting harder to follow Him out of the pain and into Love.

I’m not upset, because I know that love costs us something. To quote a favorite song by NF,

“If you want love, you gonna have to go through the pain.
If you want love, you gonna have to learn how to change.
If you want trust, you gonna have to give some away.”

I want love, in fact, I have love—from God, my family, and my friends. And there is enough to share.

I am learning the truth about love; that it’s capable of balancing the tensions of pain, anger, distance, disconnect, disagreement, regret, and remorse.

I am learning the truth about love; that it’s not a positive emotional state that effortlessly happens for a “normal” family—and that it’s normal for our sinful natures to make love feel more complicated than it is.

I am learning the truth about love; that it has to be fought for.

I am learning the truth about love; that it leaves the door open for future reconciliation even when a boundary has to be held.

Boundaries are what protects love from the slow blistering of bitterness, resentment and contempt.

I was an adult, beginning my recovery process when I learned about the power and necessity of good boundaries. Boundaries are not walls—which keep people from connecting with one another in a meaningful way.

I think of holding boundaries as choosing to exist inside a beautiful mason jar. Boundaries allow me to be fully seen and fully see others, but they provide an emotional, spiritual, and physical space that keeps me from putting my junk in others’ lives and vice versa.

Holding boundaries takes a lot of effort, especially in the beginning. Respecting others’ boundaries is also challenging. Both get easier with practice.

Boundaries are not static—they can create more or less space depending on what the relationship calls for.

This is amazing, because you can bring people super close to you. It is also tricky because familiarity and trust can lead you to forget that they are necessary in the first place.

At some point, I got overly confident in my ability to hold and respect appropriate boundaries—hence the pain from the last year, and the months of needing boundaries to maintain a lot of space between the world and I.

I can feel the boundaries shrinking back these days.

I can feel my faith growing, and along with it my courage and willingness to be vulnerable. I am feeling a larger variety of emotions, and am more quickly able to identify what I need in order to move past the annoying, inconvenient, painful ones. I am relenting in my resistance to God’s steady rhythm calling me toward self-love.

The feelings of my heart and beliefs of my soul are coming into alignment with what my mind knows to be true.

God’s love is undeniable, and capable of overcoming anything, even death.

He uses broken people to elevate His voice, a voice that proclaims love wherever it is heard.

I’m invited to be one of those people; and while His love knows no limits, my ability to love others is absolutely limited by my ability and willingness to love myself.

Self-love is so much more than a trendy social media hashtag.

It is foundational in doing Kingdom work for the Glory of God.

It’s less about #treatyoself and more about accepting the gifts of love and salvation God has given us in the form of Jesus’ bleeding out on the cross so that we can access the power of the Holy Trinity.

It’s less about Instagram stories filled with perfect vacations and more about saying no to the demands of a culture addicted to worshiping the false idols of busy and comparison.

It’s less about sharing our highlight reel with our followers and more about following the light He shines from within us to escape our own darkness, bringing others along with us as we stumble along.

And, let’s tell one another the truth. We are all just stumbling along, aren’t we?

Try as we might, there is no short cutting love. If I am learning anything about love, it’s that it requires hard work to give and receive it as intended.

We approach this hard work by simply doing the next right thing in love.

I learned about doing the next right thing at the same time I started learning about boundaries, from the prayer read aloud at the beginning of every recovery meeting. The first part of the serenity prayer is almost cliché, but the second half gets me every time.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next

The truth about Love is that it’s an act, not an emotion.

It is also a choice. Right now, the Christian faith community has a choice to make about what to believe about love. There are an awful lot of half truths floating around out there, seeking to ensnare God’s people—the very people who should understand self-sacrificial love more than the rest of the world—into a cage that looks like comfort, power, and influence.

This cage has been crafted with the sole purpose of separating God’s children from their power to share His love with the world.

It feels like scarcity. It feels like selfishness. It feels lonely even though it’s crowded. It feels like uncontrollable sobbing and near panic attacks over lost relationships that crossed boundaries.

And I for one, want out.

Father, forgive us for a faulty faith.

Speak the truth of your love, in every aspect of our lives, louder than the almost truths that allow lies to slip into the brokenness of our sinful human hearts, setting up traps for our souls.

Help us to honor your name, your gospel, and your commandment to love others in a way that demonstrates sacrifice.

Open our eyes to those among us who have no intention of bearing your fruit, who would use the term Christian to cover ungodly beliefs that manifest into ungodly actions—and free us from their influence.

Continue convicting those of us who find ourselves dangerously close to the cage the enemy is attempting to construct around us, give us the courage and the wisdom to resist.

Test our hearts with the truth of your love before we speak, share, or act in your name.

Amen.

Spiritual Practices for Loving the World

Last week my dentist asked me how things were going for our family. I shared that our family might have it better than everyone else in the world right now; that while things were hard, God has blessed us abundantly. My dentist, who happens to follow Jesus, agreed and thus started a conversation about our privilege as American Christians and our duty to love the world – even more than ourselves.

Hearing my dentist declare his own need for Jesus and confess his Christian duty to serve and love the world was a much needed breath of fresh air in an environment currently polluted with angry, selfish, and hard-hearted dialogue.

Our King commands us to love the world in a self-sacrificial way. It is not a mere suggestion and putting ourselves first is not love.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, it’s no secret that I cannot stomach the phrase “God bless America.” It has never settled well in my heart, even before I gave my life to Christ. Asking the sovereign king of the universe to grant our country the kind of prosperity that so many of us are unwilling to share, while simultaneously allowing blatantly oppressive systems to machine “the land of the free” through history seems to be the opposite of humility, the opposite of generous, the opposite of just, and the opposite of grateful.

God, help us to see.

We are called to more than this.

Love is more than this.

We only have to look as far as Jesus on the cross to know that the kind of love we are called to give away freely, costs us something.

This uncomfortable truth is our inheritance, brothers and sisters. I am not writing from an enlightened, holier than thou, self righteous place. I am constantly battling the selfish demons inside of me that lead me to grumble, hoard, lash out, and lust.

Self-sacrificial love doesn’t just happen in this heart–I have to be diligent about asking the Holy Spirit to help me destroy those demons every. single. day.

‘Taking up your cross’ is a phrase that gets thrown around casually among Christians, but I suspect few of us could articulate exactly what what we would be willing to be crucified for.

We might say that we would be willing to die for our faith in Jesus, our family, our friends, perhaps even strangers in a heroic move – but what if our crucifixion looked less extreme than death?

What if it was an inconvenience in our daily schedule when we are unexpectedly needed to serve others?

What if it was sacrificing the new shiny thing we’ve been eyeing in order to give away more than a tenth of our income, because 90 percent of what God has given us is embarrassingly more than enough?

What if it meant cutting ties with American partisan politics–heading to the polls conflicted, and coming to terms with what it means to be a citizen of heaven first?

Could you see yourself reporting to duty for that kind of crucifixion?

Don’t shy away from an honest answer here, friends.

Our honest responses to these questions are what will lead us to our next right steps in following through with the command to love the world. Less than honest responses will lead us right back to our personal status quos, and frankly, that serves nobody. The world needs us to take growing our faith seriously and that starts with identifying our weaknesses and asking the Holy Trinity for help.

The world has an endless need for Christian love, and while the concept is simple, the barriers to expressing such a love well are very real.

None of us, no matter how spectacular we may be (and you are fabulous, friend!), are going to wake up tomorrow and end world hunger or abolish sex trafficking. If we set our hearts on making big, immediate changes we risk disappointment and discouragement that could deter us from our mission.

I’m proposing a hopeful alternative today – small, frequent efforts in the form of spiritual practices that, over time and with help from the Spirit, lead to changing the world with love.

Spiritual Practice #1: Use a different lens

Whether we seek them out or not, we are constantly consuming visual images. Some words on our newsfeeds are charged enough to bring forth images when we scroll past them. None of what we see is by accident, we are simply marks and a lot of money goes into figuring out how to lure us into buying a product, whether it be a concrete object or a worldview outside of the gospel (there isn’t a lot of money to be made in self-sacrificial love).

What happens when a well researched target consumes images designed specifically to sell them something? Mathematically speaking, the target buys it.

We are visual creatures and the connection between our eyes and heart is nearly instantaneous. This is why the constant bombardment of images dangerous, especially for Christians who are called to live in a way that defies the world’s norms. If we don’t have devices in place to check our own deceitful hearts, we are easily led away from the mission of God and toward the world’s vices.

How do we protect our hearts from the algorithms that covertly point us to the world rather than the Word?

We pray. We access the grace and mercy of the Holy Trinity as we interact with whatever crosses our daily line of sight, as we process the historical and current events shaping the culture we are immersed in. We accept their gift of sight with gratitude, especially when it convicts us. We allow the Spirit to burden us with the weight of what living out Christian love will cost us.

And when confronted with the truth that our hearts might not be willing to sacrifice, we turn straight to God’s word.

Spiritual Practice #2: Ask for help before, during, and after reading the Bible

Even if you are a total theology nerd, reading the Bible in a meaningful way can be hard. Not only does it take discipline to get into a habit of reading regularly, it takes serious effort to understand the historical and cultural context in which the words were crafted. And, if you can get past those two challenges, there is still the matter of making your stubborn heart comply with the word of God.

Because you’re human, your heart naturally resists the word of God.

This resistance can take many forms. It can look like:

  • Choosing to hit snooze instead of waking up, studying scripture and surrendering your schedule to the Lord before stepping into your day.
  • Reading quickly, dare I say skimming, so that you can check God time off your to-do list for the day.
  • An almost purposeful refusal to absorb and act on what is intended to soothe your soul by bringing it more into alignment with the Trinity.

God forgive me, I am guilty of it all.

Since our human nature is predictable, let’s work smarter, not harder, and ask God in us to do some heavy lifting.

Let’s ask God to give us not only an authentic desire to study His word, but also the discipline to show up and do it.

Let’s ask Jesus to show us, in every word we read, what could possibly send a man to the cross, fully willing to die for a people that despised him.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to hold what we’ve learned in our hearts, using truth as an agent of changing us from the inside out.

A prayerful heart posture before, during, and after studying God’s word moves us toward the humility and grace required to love the world well.

We cannot rely on our own understanding of the world if we want to also love the world self-sacrificially. We will prioritize our human pride over the wellness of our souls and miss opportunities to bring glory to God by living out the gospel. We must surrender the throne of understanding to King Jesus, who not only understands, but embodies, what it means to generously love the world.

Spiritual Practice #3: Tithe with the world in mind

This spiritual practice is super simple. Prayerfully consider where you are sending your tithe money. Is it being used to love the world beyond your own community?

Supporting the local church and supporting kingdom work around the world are equally important.

We live in a culture of consumerism, in which individual greed is constantly threatening what should make us stand out in the world: open handed generosity with the gifts we have been given. Contentment and heartfelt gratitude should guide us as we share the Lord’s abundance of past, present, and future blessings with the world. Tithing for our own community’s benefit is only a portion of what we are invited to share.

If it’s been a while since you last asked the Lord where he would have you share your finances, might I suggest checking in?

It could very well be that the blessings He has granted you are meant to be shared with a missionary across the world. Or perhaps, with an organization that has more access to an under served community than you do. There is joy to be found in following the Spirit’s nudges to spread God’s blessings into various communities locally, nationally, and globally.

The world needs to see and feel the love of Jesus, will they see it in you?

God, I hope so. Lord, help us to see clearly, even if it hurts. Give us the courage to sacrifice our comfort, time, and finances in a way that makes our love look more like yours. Let our demonstrations of love honor your crucifixion and bring you glory.

Spiritual Practices For Loving Your Community

Raise your hand if you are thankful for your people! I know there is no way I could have made it through the last year without the amazing friends God has put in our lives. From the perfectly timed encouraging text, to the porch dates sipping on bubble tea cocktails, dinner and flowers dropped off at our doorstep, and the numerous prayers that left me in tears – our community was the real MVP.

Community can provide us two life-giving blessings during hard times:

  • it can meet our needs in tangible ways, providing hands and feet of Jesus level of support;
  • and it can be a means of transforming troubled times types of energy by focusing on helping others feel loved and appreciated.

If you liked the spiritual practices for loving your family last week – you are in for a fun treat today.

These spiritual practices are some of my favorite things to do, especially when I find myself in a self-centered funk. I have taken some of the thinking work out of these practices to make them easier for you to try, but please feel free to put your own creative twist on them!

Spiritual Practice #1: Dine and Dash (or it’s less fun, but equally helpful socially distanced partner, Dinner Delivered)

My dad created the spiritual practice of dine and dash years ago when my sister lived with us while she fought thyroid cancer. At the time I was a new mother struggling with postpartum PTSD, whose husband who traveled a lot for work, and was drowning in a house with four kids, two of which were under a year old.

My dad invited us over to share a meal with zero expectations – simply eat and leave whenever we were ready.

He insisted we bring nothing to contribute to the meal and preemptively refused help with the dishes (paper plates for the win). It felt rude to accept such an offer, but dine and dash has become a beloved blessing when unexpected, challenging times call for it.

We are designed to live in community, but sometimes barriers keep us from seeking it when we need it most.

In my case, I was emotionally overwhelmed and distant – because postpartum PTSD was an intense reality – and my heart, mind, soul, and body needed space and time to heal. I was also overwhelmed by the pragmatic – a run to the grocery store, cooking something to share, and then figuring out the four car seats needed to get us all there…I just could not summon what was needed to get it done. Dine and dash meets both physical and emotional needs by making a meal shared in community easy.

Dine and dash is an invitation to seek physical rest and emotional refuge within one’s community: show up, eat, and leave – without any social expectations.

It reminds people that they are not alone, and tells them that it’s okay not be less socially engaged at times – we don’t always have to be smiling and bubbly to share a meal together.

Or, if you are social distancing – it’s dropping a meal off at the door and providing emotional space by sending a text to let them know it’s there, and simply waving from the car with an encouraging smile.

To make this easy, here are my favorite go-to meals:

Dine and Dash

  • Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls – served with whatever taco fixings you have on hand. We love avocados, pickled jalapenos, cheese, sour cream, and of course, Juanita’s tortilla chips.
  • Ham and Cheese Sliders – served with potato chips, Claussen dill pickles (found in the refrigerated aisle by the cheeses), and green apple slices
  • Slow Cooker Pot Roast – served with baby carrots (throw them into the slow cooker an hour before you eat), mashed potatoes (Trader Joe’s has frozen mashed potatoes that are both easy and delicious), applesauce and/or a green salad.

Dinner Delivered (I get all of this at Trader Joe’s)

  • Orange chicken, precooked rice, broccoli (all in the freezer case), and a fresh pineapple
  • Shredded BBQ pork, Hawaiian rolls, coleslaw kit, and watermelon
  • Chicken Asada, Cuban style black beans, rice medley and mangoes

Spiritual Practice #2: Snail Mail Love Notes

I am blessed to have a group of friends who love reading and writing as much as I do. Whenever I get a handwritten note in the mail from one of them, my heart smiles. Whenever my girls draw me a picture or write me a note, they call it a love note – even if the actual words “I love you” are nowhere on the page.

Taking the time out of our busy lives to nurture friendships is an act of love.

We live in an increasingly digital world. Yes we have text messages and polos, but making the effort to write a note by hand, find the envelopes and stamps, and actually get it into the mailbox makes this spiritual practice an offering of precious time and love. The time is well spent – snail mail love notes give us the opportunity to focus on who and what we are grateful for, and they also offer encouragement to the one receiving it.

A little bit of prep work goes a long way here.

We have found that it’s helpful to have a “love note box” easily accessible. I have a stash of stationary for the grown ups that I keep with the gift wrapping supplies, and the girls have a decorative shoe box of their own.

Their love note box is full of blank cards and envelopes, thank you cards, and stickers.

Our house runneth over with writing utensils of every kind, so all that’s left to find are the stamps. (Pro tip – stamps look like stickers but cost so much more so unless you are looking for a creative way to throw your money away, don’t include them in the kids love note box…ask me how I know.)

Our girls love to send notes to family throughout the year, but they especially love taking their love note box to our cabin and hand delivering the messages into our neighbor friends’ mailbox across the street. We are excited to expand this love note practice by having official pen-pals this year– the daughters of a missionary family that we partner with.

Spiritual Practice #3 – Boredom Buster Drop Offs

I think it’s fair to say that we have all learned a lot in the last year about how to love from a distance. One of my favorite new ways to do this is to drop off boredom busters to keep kids busy so grown ups can have a little bit of a break.

Sometimes us grown ups just need a minute.

Whether there is a family welcoming a new baby, more than one sick person in the house, or a loss to be grieved, helping to keep kids busy can be a major blessing. Kids love novelty and anything “new” is likely to capture their attention for a least a small window of time. A boredom buster drop off is a great way to meet a practical need and remind the people in your community that you see them and want to help care for their family.

This is a new-to-us blessing that we came to appreciate in 2020.

We recently had to cancel a play date due to a suspected stomach bug passing through our friends’ household. Instead of staying stuck in the disappointment of our canceled plans, we rallied the girls and brainstormed what we could drop off to keep our friends busy. We settled on kid friendly snacks, a card game, a sticker book, and a word search book. Serving others blessed us.

Again, a little planning ahead makes this last minute spiritual practice accessible – even at the last minute.

Do you have a place you could store a stash of boredom busters? A few ideas are puzzles, board games, and simple art supplies like paper and crayons or even some magic painting books. Our favorite place to get boredom busters is Usborne Books & More.

Full disclosure, we consistently bought products (mostly boredom busters) from this company for five years before I signed up to be a consultant and stretch our budget a littler further. I’m linking my favorites here, and I will get a commission if you order – but, I promise that I am too opinionated to suggest something that our family doesn’t absolutely love.

  • Coloring, Stamp, and Magic Painting Books: Our favorites are magic painting, little coloring books, and stained glass coloring
  • Sticker Books: Our favorites are the Build Your Own robots and Little Sticker Dolly Dressing
  • Crosswords, Trivia, Word Searches, Joke Books: Our favorites are the animal themed trivia, crosswords, and word searches; as well as the knock-knock joke book
  • Puzzles: Our favorites are the Atlas Puzzle, the Cinderella Puzzle, and the Nighttime Puzzles (there are three puzzles with nine pieces each – perfect for littles!)
  • Flash Cards and Activity Cards: Our favorites are the animal doodles and the never get bored wipe clean maze cards.

When you’re struggling, it can be really overwhelming to answer the question, “How can I help?”

I have found that having a plan for how to bless my people when they need a little extra encouragement before they actually need it allows me to love them in a meaningful way. Sometimes we know we need help, but we cannot summon the energy or courage to identify what would be helpful and ask for those needs to be met. Sometimes we want to help, but we don’t know how.

Sometimes keeping it simple is best.

Everyone needs to feed their family. Everyone needs to hear encouraging words that remind them that they are thought of. Everyone can benefit from a moment to breath while the kids are contentedly distracted with something new.

Father, we are grateful for the way that you love us through the people you have put in our lives. We praise you for how you designed community to be a beautiful cycle of giving and receiving – and that as we send blessings of love out into the world, from the abundance that you have given us, we ourselves are blessed. We understand that hard times are inevitable, Lord, and thank you for giving us the mandate to not only to rejoice with those who rejoice, but also to grieve with those who grieve. Please help us to show up to do these things well for our community. In Jesus name, Amen.

I am always looking for practical ways to love my people better. If you have an idea to share with me, I would be grateful to hear about it! Come hang out with me on Instagram and let me know – how do you love your people well?

Easy Spiritual Practices for Loving Your Family

Last week I shared my big a-ha moment about how I was doing God time all wrong and how I overcame cycling through spiritual exhaustion once I decided to be a conduit of God’s love and live out my faith in a more meaningful way through daily spiritual practices.

Today, I want to share three simple spiritual practices that help me do just that – slow down enough to appreciate the gifts God has given me in my husband and three daughters, and sharing His love with them. These spiritual practices lead me to praise and gratitude for God’s goodness and they help my family feel seen, cared for, and loved. These are easy wins, friends, and we all need a few more of those in our lives these days!

Spiritual Practice #1: Praying for One Another

If you know me at all, you probably saw this whole “pray first” thing coming – it’s kind of my deal, and for good reason. Praying with and for our family members is a powerful way to pull love and light from the pages of the gospel right into the beautiful but messy fabric of family life.

God hears and answers prayers the moment we let the words escape our hearts.

Prayer is our opportunity to partner with God in speaking life into our loved ones’ days, weeks, and months; and hearing someone pray heartfelt words of intercession over you is a blessing that softens your heart and gives you hope. Praying often, with and for your family, is a great way to keep your hearts focused on what matters most and protect yourselves from the distractions of the world.

Prayer works because God is faithful, not because we are prayer experts – simply start praying with the words and faith you have, and let the Holy Trinity do the heavy lifting.

Praying out loud lets us see our hearts in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. While we have memorized some mealtime prayers to say as a family, most of our prayers are not memorized or scripted. There is, however, common themes repeated often in our family’s prayer life.

The most repeated prayers around here are:

  • for the girls’ relationships with Jesus and one another
  • to calm fears and ask for protection and courage
  • prayers for patience (usually mine)
  • special blessings (that’s what we call it when we just thank God for how He made the girls and then ask for all the blessings we can think of in the moment on their behalf – these are some of the girls’ favorites)
  • and of course, prayers of repentance.

Spiritual Practice #2: One Thing I Like About You

I wish I could remember where we picked this one up, because I know it wasn’t our original idea, and would love to give the credit where it’s due, but we have been doing it for so long that I haven’t the slightest idea.

One thing I like about you is a game we play around the kitchen table. Usually my husband and I start it (although the girls have been known to bring it up out of the blue sometimes) by looking one of the girls in the eyes and saying, “One thing I like about you, (insert person’s name), is…” and then offer a genuine compliment or appreciative statement about their talents, gifts, or character.

This spiritual practice double dips into blessings for your family members.

First, it covers them in words affirmation and reminds them that they are seen and loved for who they truly are. We all need more of that in our lives! Second, it models gratitude, a practice that leads us into joy.

You’ll notice that this game is not called “One Thing I Love About You” – that’s because it’s one thing to be loved, and an entirely different thing to be liked.

If you don’t believe me, go tell someone in your family something you like about them and see if their face doesn’t light up with a smile bigger than the last time you said, “I love you.” There is nothing wrong those three words, but their frequent use can make it easy for them to be taken for granted. And, an extra bonus? Learning to accept compliments without denying or minimizing is a life skill, so teaching your kids to respond with a simple thank you will go a long way in establishing healthy language patterns.

Spiritual Practice #3: Where Have These Feet Been?

This is storytelling game I made up when Kelvin was traveling every week for work and I was home with our two oldest daughters. Inspired by the Biblical practice of washing feet, this game usually takes place in the bat, but a foot massage would work too!

Sometimes the greatest emotional need we have is to be heard, and this practice is meant to hold space for listening.

When kids are corralled in the bath, or when you are rubbing a loved one’s feet, they are less likely to be distracted. Simply invite them to share about their day by asking them the question, “Where have these feet been?” And once kids figure out that they are going to be really listened to, rather than talked to, they can’t resist sharing about their day.

There is a simple trick to make this work: you, the foot bather or foot masseuse, must ask the question and then stay quiet.

Occasional follow up questions are okay, as long as they are short – something like “And then?” or “What else?” is perfect because it encourages more conversation without occupying much air time. My favorite blessing of this practice is that your loved ones will invite you into their world through storytelling, describing their day’s experiences in a way that they wouldn’t with normal conversation. If you pay close attention you will see them in a new light and learn to love them in a deeper way.

My favorite meme of the year reminds us, “So far 2021 is just 2020 with bangs”.

Friends, there is no denying that things are challenging right now. And I’m not sure I could have understated that any more if I tried.

Father, we recognize that the world needs the transformative power of love perhaps now more than ever. If these spiritual practices for loving our family are our next right step in bringing your love to the world, please help us have the courage and curiosity to try something new. Will you grow us in gratitude for the family you have given us, and allow our families to experience your love, overflowing from that which you have given us, in tangible and meaningful ways. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you don’t already hang out with me on Instagram, it would be wonderful to connect – and if you plan on trying one of these spiritual practices, I would love to hear about it!

Change The World: Be a Conduit of Love

In my life before children, I was blessed to teach in a school with a diverse student population, thanks to the many refugee families who lived in the neighborhood. I always wanted my students to know, regardless of where they were from, what language they spoke best, or the color of their skin – they were loved.

One of my favorite opportunities to teach love came the week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I read my students picture books that told the true stories of people who fought for love in the world. A class favorite was always Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport, and from it, this quote from Dr. King:

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

It’s been eight years since I read that book to a class full of open minded, soft hearted children, and as recent events have shown, we still need to fight for love. Our sinful human nature makes a simple concept incredibly difficult to live out.

Our states may be United, but our hearts are not.

We can see the narrative we are writing for ourselves with a quick scan of the news headlines or our social media feeds. At the heart of every narrative is a conflict, and the root of our current divisiveness seems to be a battle between scarcity and abundance worldviews. As a Christian, I’m embarrassed of what our community has put on display: fears of losing power, influence, or, God help us, money; all thinly veiled under a seemingly self-serving argument for holiness.

God’s narrative is one of abundance, and Jesus’ self-sacrificial love should guide our worldview.

Every good thing we have comes from God’s grace, and while it’s okay to enjoy earthly things, it’s not okay to hoard them. We tell our kids often that God has given us enough to share. Our sinful, selfish hearts – beating within the culture of a sinful, selfish world – require continuous repentance and conscious choice to remain open handed with the blessings we have received.

We don’t earn God’s gifts, no matter how hard we work.

My husband and I come from families whose parents were first generation college graduates and small business owners, so we value hard work. We also understand how the political, economic, and legal systems of the world have funneled power and resources to one group of the population at the expense of others – and not just in our country, but across the globe and throughout time. The sin of selfishness is driven by fear and has been at work in human society since the garden.

Love is the opposite of fear, and as Christians we should have more than enough love to share.

As we learn from what Jesus modeled, the right response is to teach our children why and how to share. Sharing is a heart issue in our home, rather than an obligatory act. “We share in this family” is a family mantra and we don’t hesitate to point out to our girls when we share things with them, so that they understand that we all benefit from the practice.

Sharing, especially when you don’t want to, is hard work.

We teach our girls the value of a strong work ethic alongside teaching them to share generously. Our girls have been clearing the table of their dishes since they could walk, and we have continued coaching them through the hard work of chores, piano practice, and school work. The mantra here? “We can do hard things.”

What if we, as a Church, did the hard thing of changing the narrative that scrolls through history year after year?

What if we said to one another, “We share in this family.” and “We can do hard things.“, and then followed through to such an extent that it changed the world? Do you think the attitude and actions from such a statement would contrast so distinctly against the scarcity mindset ruling the world that people would get curious about who God is? Is there a source of love so great that we could be empowered to set our selfish and controlling nature aside and live out that kind of faith?

I know our desire to control is strong – it took me four and a half years to get through a twelve step program for control addiction.

I am a slow learner, but God is good and didn’t let me give up. My faith was nurtured and grown in the wee hours of Saturday mornings, vulnerable and fighting hard to learn how to live a life surrendered to Jesus rather than clamoring for the control and power that rightfully belongs to Him. One thing I learned on my way to recovery – faith must be practiced in order to be meaningful.

One of the spiritual practices that has taken root in my life is the act of confession, and I have one for you today.

I have always shared this candidly with any church small group or Bible study I have participated in, and it has everything to do with that source of love we would need in order to change the world.

I never miss just one or two days of what Christians call “God time” – if I get out of my routine, it is easily two or three weeks before I am feeling so spiritually empty and discouraged that I remember the importance of spiritual discipline. One morning, when I was mothering an infant and a toddler around the clock, I realized why this broken rhythm of reading God’s word daily wasn’t working for me.

I was doing “God time” wrong.

Robin Meadows, in her devotion about motherhood, Overwhelmed By My Blessings, rejects the constant pattern of “filling up” on God’s word so that we can pour ourselves out into others’ lives. She argues that we should avoid the emptiness that inevitably comes from this rhythm by instead seeking to be a conduit of God’s love – always connected to Him in a way that lets His love flow continuously through us and into the lives of others. Genius.

Being a conduit of God’s love means living connected to the original source of abundance, with the intentions of sharing.

  • Abundance can be seen in God’s creation – every single six sided snowflake a uniquely formed crystal, every single grain of sand that an outgoing tide pulls from under our feet at the edge of the ocean, the intricate net of neurons that allows us the sensory perception to appreciate the endlessly creative and beautiful world He has made – all given to us because He loves abundantly.
  • Jesus demonstrates abundance throughout His entire ministry – not only in His patience with even his closest disciples, which I am always grateful to read about, but also in miracles, imaginative thinking, grace, empathy, gratitude, and obedience to God. His ways of living were considered radical and offensive by the religious leaders of the time; and they found his Gospel of abundant love, which operated outside of their law and order, a dangerous threat to their comfortable life and systems of power.
  • The Holy Spirit intercedes for us in abundance – simultaneously offering guidance here in this world, which leads us toward a life of joy, and generous intercessions on our behalf in the Kingdom of Heaven. He loves abundantly, compelling us to love others well.

The Holy Trinity’s abundant love has changed my life.

Maybe you can say the same. I believe sharing His abundant love, no matter what it costs us, is the only way to change the world.

It’s up to those of us who follow Jesus to lead this change.

Both secular and Biblical history should cause us all to recognize that a system of government, comprised of even the most religious among us, is not the answer. Our salvation is not found in partisan politics. Forgive us Father, for we have followed the false idols of promised righteousness, economic prosperity, and comfortable living for our “God blessed” American selves right into the hate filled, violent, divisive predicament we find ourselves in.

It is time to reconnect with the unifying, justice seeking way of Jesus.

How do we become conduits of Love rather than frenzied, depleted individuals living in the never ending cycle of filling up and dumping out? We go straight to the source. We find ways to incorporate God’s word and prayer into the ordinary moments of our every day lives.

There are beautiful books written about how to do this.

Some of my favorites are The Eternal Current by Aaron Niequist and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. I’ve slowly studied, practiced, and built up my own repertoire of strategies to stay connected to God throughout the day. They may or may not work for you, but my hope is that you will be inspired and led by the Spirit to try to find your own twist.

  • I place scripture around the house – handwritten index cards taped to the mirrors in bathrooms or near the kitchen sink, and as bookmarks, seemed weird at first, but are now common practice.
  • I assign different prayers to different parts of the day – short prayers before I get out of bed, before the kids get out of bed, before I back out of the garage, as I do laundry, when I get impatient with the kids, and before meals – this is a life-giving practice worthy of it’s own post (eventually).
  • I make worship a part of my life’s soundtrack – usually this is during the morning, before the girls hijack our Spotify, but also while we drive around town. I count faith based podcasts as worship!
  • I prioritize the practices of gratitude, confession, and reconciliation – our family runs on grace and gratitude, and usually the smallest things matter most.
  • I make a point to experience quiet – my favorite lately has been walking around our neighborhood when it’s still dark in the morning, but sometimes it’s a bubble bath after the kids go to bed or hitting pause on my morning routine around the house to hide (only kind of kidding) from the girls and drink a cup of tea while it’s still hot.

Jesus is our teacher.

He teaches a diverse population that crosses cultural, language, racial, and even temporal boundaries. May we, as citizens of Heaven, and refugees from our sinful lives, recognize that we have much to learn about His love. And, may we desire healing for our broken world enough to do the hard work necessary to become conduits of His love, so that it flows through us and into our communities without interruption.

Teach Kids About Hope

Last winter, I lost a years long disagreement with my husband. In my privilege as a white Latina mother, I had argued for putting off a discussion about race and racism until the girls were “just a little older”. My hopes were to put off my girls’ painful realization of their racial reality as long as possible – I wanted them to be fortified with the love and truth of the gospel before being exposed so intensely to the world’s brokenness.

My husband was patient and gentle with me while I wrestled with this part of my motherhood journey, because as the girls, so proud of their Blackness, now love to point out – I am the only one in our family who isn’t Black…which means there are some things that I will never fully understand. But, He is a man of God charged with leading our family so I trusted his judgment when he pulled out Henry’s Freedom Box and Martin’s Big Words from my classroom library stash and read them aloud to little eyes and ears.

The timing was perfect because we spent the year struggling at the intersection of our racial identity, our faith, and our country’s history.

Racial tension has always been a thing in our culture, and 2020, in true 2020 fashion, increased the painful intensity for people of color. Thanks to adoption and Loving v. Virginia our family photos flaunt a beautiful palette of skin tones, and we are able to hold space for one another to wrestle with these topics. For our daughters, three Afro-Latina girls trying to learn how to navigate life in a predominantly white community – the year was full of questions and contemplation.

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What started out as a couple of children’s picture books blew up into some intense conversations with our daughters.

The murders of Breonna Taylor, Amaud Arbery, and George Floyd were such an offense to the Imago Dei that more people seemed to understand the sentiment, lament, and declaration that Black lives mattered…just as much as white lives. However, we live in an area where it would be cruel and irresponsible to send our girls into the community assuming that everyone agreed with that statement, so we had to have multiple nuanced talks about racism, their identity in Christ, and their favorite topic – Black girl magic.

We spent the year growing their Christian faith and growing their love for their Black bodies.

But it wasn’t easy. The American Christian church has been and remains complicit in racism. By the end of the summer we had left the church that we had known, loved, and served for more than ten years over disagreements regarding racial justice – we battled discouragement as we began learning what it means to be an unchurched Christian, and pleaded with God that the circumstances of the year wouldn’t negatively impact our girls’ faith.

Hope is the antidote to suffering.

The Psalms show us that hope arises from lament and doubt. My husband and I make a conscious, daily choice to exchange our hope for an easy, comfortable life here on Earth for the hope of an eternity spent with Jesus Christ. As we discover more and more about what this looks like for ourselves, we are also learning about what it looks like to teach our girls about hope.

Teach kids about hope with the word of God.

  • Study scripture – model to your kids what it looks like to highlight verses, study passages, and pray words straight off the page.
  • Read Bible stories – use fun voices and choose books with great illustrations. We love the I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God and the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  • Study scripture with your kids – our girls have enjoyed different devotional books, but we have also been happy with the Sibling Bible study we are doing from Not Consumed.
  • Memorize scripture – our girls are better at this than we are, and hearing them proclaim God’s word around the house is a beautiful thing. A family favorite: “Two people are better than one, they can help each other in everything they do.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

Teach kids about hope by being rooted in community.

  • Nurture friendships – offer the impromptu prayer, take the meal, laugh over Marco Polo, make time for coffee dates, double dates, and family play dates. Let your kids see that meaningful friendships take time, effort, and are worthy of their own line item in the budget!
  • Fight for harmony – it’s a life skill to navigate the hurts of friendship. The closer the friend, the more it hurts when conflict inevitably arises. Teaching children how to apologize and forgive well will serve them as they build their own communities. Friendships that grow closer after surviving conflict are a treasure.
  • Support a missionary family – we have been blessed to support a family with four girls close to ours in age. Our partnership reminds us that God’s kingdom is a community spread across the entire globe and it has been a great way to teach our girls how to pray for things outside of our own family and daily lives.

Teach kids about hope by praying.

  • Pray for your kids – our girls know that I have a prayer journal for each of them. They also know that their father and I will pray for them whenever they ask, including in the middle of the night when they have scary dreams.
  • Pray with your kids – we have a book of mealtime prayers that our girls love to take turns reading from, and the simple practice of a dinner time prayer together has helped grow their personal prayer lives. When specific prayer needs come to our attention from family and friends, we invite them to join us.
  • Pray in front of your kids – our girls have seen us pray on our knees in the privacy of our home and in crowded public restaurants. They have seen us fast and pray. They have seen us use prayer as a weapon in spiritual warfare, and they have seen us ask others to pray on our behalf. And, they know that the best way to extend bedtime is to ask for a “special blessing” before we tuck them in.

Teach kids about hope by taking rest seriously.

  • Build margin into your day – I have impatiently told our girls to “hurry up” more times than I would like to admit. We have to fight for daily rest in our culture, and the best way to make it happen is to put fewer appointments and expectations on our calendars.
  • Help your kids identify the difference between rest and entertainment – our youngest daughter often goes to bed praying to be able to watch television shows the next day. We are millennial parents – our kids get screen time. However, we are intentional about investing time and resources to help our girls develop restful lives. Rest at our house comes in the form of reading, watercolors, board games, baking, and family walks or bike rides.
  • Make sabbath a part of your weekly rhythm – this is a challenge at our house, and we have seasons where we do it decently and seasons where we fail brilliantly. But, our girls love sabbath and look forward to it throughout the week, so I am hopeful that our imperfect efforts will still impact them. Simply put – God’s design for the week involves an entire day dedicated to resting our souls so that we are prepared for the next week.

Teach kids about hope by forming life-giving habits.

  • Focus on the good, beautiful, and true – helping kids develop this kind of lens to perceive the world during regular old days and good times, will make it easier for them to find hope during hard times. Hope is good, beautiful, and true – and every day life offers a giant, interactive, three dimensional seek and find puzzle to practice recognizing it.
  • Vent rather than complain – one of our family mantras is: “In this family, you always have permission to express yourself.” We also have a rule – no complaining. We always want to hold space for the girls to honestly share their emotions, enter venting. Venting is a way of processing emotions with the goal of getting through them and letting go of them, either by simply being heard or coming up with a plan to get their needs met. Complaining is venting without hope.
  • Celebrate small wins – if you would have told me before I had children that I would live a life of cheery high fives, the occasional round of applause, and copious amounts of praise and encouragement every da, well, I might have high fived your face. My natural instinct is to set high expectations, drive myself into exhaustion trying to meet them, strive for perfection, and rarely celebrate…this doesn’t work well for anyone and it’s an absolutely evil thing to teach children. Progress is progress, no matter how small, and it calls for celebration and gratitude.
  • Do the next right thing – our girls would tell you that this is a Frozen 2 concept, and as long as they are learning, I’m okay with giving Princess Anna of Arendelle the credit. Doing the next right thing is a beautiful, longstanding spiritual practice that can bring you through times of suffering. It’s the difference between being overwhelmed by the big picture to the point of getting lost wondering if things will ever get better, and moving slowly forward by focusing on what the present moment calls for. One of my favorite resources for learning about this practice is The Next Right Thing podcast with Emily P. Freeman.

We all need hope.

As I write this, I have friends all around me who are suffering with their own things. Parents passing away, serious illness, job loss, marital problems that seem impossible to overcome – none of us make it through life without seasons of sorrow and despair.

Where are you finding hope?

Our life experiences, the good and the challenging, are meant to lead us into praise and gratitude. Where are you finding hope right now? This question is worthy of courageous and honest reflection (and perhaps even confession) before you begin teaching your kids about hope.

Our Hope is Jesus.

When it comes to teaching kids about hope, helping them to grow a friendship with Jesus should be the go-to strategy. When Jesus becomes our good and our treasure, the things of this world lose their grip on us and hope becomes a more constant companion as we navigate our way through the various seasons of life as a sinful human.

We all need to be students of Hope in 2021, and we need to teach our kids as we learn.

I will end with a prayer I heard recently on the Made for This Podcast with Jennie Allen – I feel like it might be perfect to pray on repeat this year. When we encounter moments calling for hope this year, may we all keep our eyes and hearts on Heaven as we pray.

God, show us what you want us to do, show us what you want us to learn, and show us how this is the greatest opportunity to tell someone about Jesus. Amen.

Where To Start

It’s a privilege and an honor to share one of my most trusted confidants and sister in Christ with you all today. Sometimes God gives you a lifeline in friendships. Grace and her family have been exactly that for us. They have said, “We will march with you.” and have done so figuratively and literally, time and time again through their words and their actions. Simply put, allies like Grace and her family make the work Kelvin and I do for racial justice bearable.

On our first march together, I remember huddling up to pray before we left the building, five littler girls in tow. The words the Holy Spirit put on my hurting heart were not what I was expecting. “Start with me, Lord.” I have repeated that prayer many tearful times since, convicted and challenged every time.

Today, Grace is going to show up for you all like she shows up for me – courageously speaking the word of God, in love, for His Glory. She has some convicting and challenging words for us about where we can all start. Thank you, Grace, for being here.

When Jamie asked me to write a piece for MLK weekend my initial response was “I am not qualified to do that.” But despite my objections, she insisted that I was, indeed, qualified. So I approach this with great humility. I recognize my vast limitations and experiences. And I tremble with a bit of fear.

What if this white girl’s blind spots are far greater than she imagined? Who am I to speak into this?

And yet.

God has called both my husband and I into the hard work of racial justice, especially within the Church. He has put a burning anger in our hearts for what is and has been and a burning hope for what could be.

In the 1840’s Fredrick Douglas wrote in the appendix to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas,

“What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference… I love the pure, peaceable and impartial Christianity of Christ: Therefore I hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed white moderate pastors in Letter From A Birmingham Jail. In his letter King states,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you see, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

While the Christianity of this land may no longer look like slaveholding, women-whipping, and cradle plundering as it did in Douglas’ time we would be wise to examine what kind of Christianity we’re ascribing to. And the white moderate response from Dr. King’s time, unfortunately, sounds awfully familiar.

Douglas, King, and many others have called out the complicity of the white American church. And in 2021’s America, it doesn’t look like much has changed.

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I grew up in predominantly white spaces in Boise, Idaho. I grew up in the peak of the “Colorblind” era of race relations. Like every good 90’s Christian kid I blasted DC Talk’s “Colored People” and Michael W. Smith’s “Colorblind” from my boombox. I thought I understood.

But as I’ve matured, as I have learned about the history of our country, as I’ve learned about the history of the church in our country, and as I’ve listened to the current day experiences of People of Color in our country and my own community- through books, podcasts, and conversations, I have come to understand that I knew very little.

And through spending most of my life closely tied to the inter-workings of churches, I have seen and experienced that the words of Dr. King do ring true.

His line about preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice” strikes me as particularly haunting.

Because the white American church has tried so hard to not rock the boat or offend, to protect the status quo, to not be divisive, that we have failed to live courageous, truth telling lives. By failing to acknowledge and address racial injustices in our communities in order to “preserve peace,” we have failed to cultivate true peace and unity in the body of Christ.

Jemar Tisby, author of The Color of Compromise and How To Fight Racism said days ago on Facebook “There’s a lot of discussion about division and unity in light of the insurrection last week. But talking about racism and white supremacy is not the problem. Racism and white supremacy themselves are what divides. Only by talking about them openly for what they really are do we have a chance at seeking unity.”

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So how does the Church disengage from complicity and fully engage in Dr. King’s dream in a meaningful, gospel centered way?

How do we shed our misconceptions about peace and unity and live courageous, truth telling lives? I have some ideas for where to start.

  1. Courageous Responsibility. There are many ways we can take responsibility but one place to start is by taking responsibility for how we respond in real life or online conversations. Instead of being triggered and angered by words and phrases like white supremacy, white privilege, and black lives matter, we can take responsibility for our triggers and our response to them. We can sit in the discomfort of them and then bring those feelings to the foot of the cross.
  1. Courageous Humility. Being prideful is easy, I know this from personal experience. Exercising humility is definitely harder. Sometimes we need the courage to be quiet. To listen. To suspense our disbelief. To maybe even recognize that we don’t know everything about the experiences of those who don’t look like us. We need humility and curiosity to respond with “tell me more about this” instead of deflecting and defending with “yeah but what about…”
  1. Courageous Confession and Repentance. This one hurts the most right? We Americans are not well versed in the practice of confession and repentance, especially at a community level. But we cannot make any progress towards racial justice without individual and corporate confession and repentance. We have to be able to see how we have been wrong. How we have hurt others. And then we must do something about it. Personally, I confess that I can care more about justice than unity. I confess that I can care more about being right than relationship. I confess that my own pride and self-righteousness are hindrances to the unity of the Church. I will continue to bring these things to the cross and turn from their destructiveness.
  1. Courageous Love. Austin Channing Brown in her memoir I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness describes the love required well.

I am not interested in love that is aloof. In a love that refuses hard work, instead demanding a bite sized education that doesn’t transform anything. In a love that qualifies the statement “Black lives matter,” because it is unconvinced this is true. I am not interested in a love that refuses to see systems and structures of injustice, preferring to ask itself only about personal intentions.

This aloof kind of love is useless to me.

I need a love that is troubled by injustice. A love that is provoked to anger when Black folks, including our children, lie dead in the streets. A love that can no longer be concerned with tone because it is concerned with life. A love that has no tolerance for hate, no excuses for racist decisions, no contentment in the status quo. I need a love that is fierce in its resilience and sacrifice. I need a love that chooses justice.

Jesus, we recognize that each person walking this earth is an image bearer of you and we revel in the beautiful mystery that we reflect the Imago Dei both individually and collectively

Lord, we, your children, have failed to love and care for each other. We have sought power, privilege, and comfort over sacrifice, truth, and courage and we have done so in your name. Forgive us, for we have sinned.

Jesus, we long for true peace and unity but recognize we have a lot of work to do.

Provide for us. Help us to take courageous responsibility, to exercise courageous humility, to practice courageous confession and repentance, and fill us with courageous love for all your children.

Jesus, we recognize that this kind of courage will have a cost.

We will not do this perfectly. We will fail and hurt each other. We will be tempted to seek comfort over courage. We will be tempted to fear for our earthly security. We will be tempted to be blinded by despair and not see the hope we have in you. But God we know you are faithful in our unfaithfulness and you give and forgive abundantly to those who call on your name.

Jesus, we “have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

Amen.