No Room for the Broken

If you take the time to see it, – amidst that carols, twinkle lights, shopping bags, ornaments, and cheer – there are people hurting.  How easy it is to busy ourselves with parties, cookie exchanges, pageants, concerts, and gingerbread house that we forget to see those around us who aren’t able to participate in the festivities.  Chances are, they weren’t even invited.

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If Christ is who this season is about, He certainly wasn’t blind to those in need. So why are we?  I’m not talking about giving $20 to some cause halfway around the world to appease your conscious.  I am talking about really seeing the need and hurt around us.  The kind of seeing that is relational and stops you in your tracks.  The kind that causes interruptions.  Yes, maybe doing so sacrifices the time that you would have spent baking cookies for the neighbors on your middle class block who have plenty of cookies of their own.  We slap “in jesus name” and “community” on everything we do, just so long as it fits within our comfort zone or schedule.  But this isn’t the Christianity Christ modeled.  If I only see my community as those who look like me, dress like me, and have a similar economic situation, then I’m missing the point entirely.

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This post by Shannan Martin of FlowerPatchFarmGirl.com should be read by all.  Her words hit me hard today and inspired this post.  Please read what she has to say.

I am guilty – more guilty than many probably – of packing my schedule so full that there isn’t room for much else, especially during the holidays.  So I am challenging myself to slow down, see, and make room.  Please join me.

Power Outages, Tree Emergencies, and Simpler Days

Two weeks ago, Seattle’s summer of hot sunny days seemingly came to a screeching halt. Rather than easing into fall weather, we plunged head first with a rain and windstorm that kept first responders, utility companies, and tree removal services employed around the clock.

Our uneventful tea-sipping morning got a whole lot more exciting when one of our trees crashed to the ground. Everyone was safe. Nothing was damaged. Police and utility companies responded. We were just one of the many crashing trees in our quiet little waterfront town that was at the mercy of wind sweeping in off the Puget Sound. Just as we lined up a tree removal company to come out, a second one of our trees also crashed to the ground.

As the typical accompaniment to trees all around, a power-outage surely followed early that afternoon. No internet, no electricity and the temptation to devour the sure-to-melt pint of ice cream in the freezer – funny how remarkably less concerned I was about my frozen broccoli.

It was nearly midnight and I was pounding out a draft of a post by candlelight and residual laptop battery-life. Raindrops pounding the skylights, wind whipping through the trees, gutters simultaneously clogged with fallen tree particles and overflowing with rainwater. Apparently the only scented candles I own – or was able to locate in the dark – were Pumpkin Spice scent so it really smelled like Fall.

But, candlelight. So peaceful. If electricity weren’t so darn convenient and if styling hair, ironing clothes, washing clothes (Did I mention we were in the middle of a wash and dry cycle that included nearly every garment we own when we lost power?), and only about 100 other things weren’t dependent upon its existence, I just might say “to hell with it!” Because, there is nothing quite like the calmness of candlelight.

In our culture, a simple event like a power outage alters our behaviors, habits, activities in a marked way. Whole cities shut down. We turn to board games, books, puzzles, flashlights, and shadow puppets when we otherwise may have surfed the web, watched a movie, channel surfed, or gone out with friends. Aside from the aforementioned hair and laundry situations, I love power-outages and event like them that force people into relationship and interaction with others in manners that cause us all to lose the veneer and dive into the authenticity of who we really are. A time away from the outside junk of life – because in general everything else is junk.

It is so culturally acceptable for us to hide behind our devices, have meaningful interactions with complete strangers online, and reference our favorite television shows as if they were family. Online friendships require little effort, investment, or risk. “Like” an Instagram post here or there. Comment on their Facebook status. Genuine? Maybe. Deeply invested in their day-to-day lives? Not in the least.

The other night I found myself answering work emails at the dinner table – something I would have hollered at Tim for, which he, of course, pointed out. So this weekend we are getting away from the junk that clutters our lives. Our phones will scarcely have service. Email access will be limited. We won’t bring computers. No, TV. Just us, a ferryboat, good books, hiking boots, beaches, kayaks, an island to explore, and real uninterrupted conversations.

It’s about time we all got rid of the everyday distractions from time to time and opt for genuine conversation, interaction, and relationship. Often times we don’t have something like a power outage to force us into taking a breath of fresh-unplugged air, so we must choose to make our own “power outages.” We have to make our own breath of fresh air.

The not so Unicorn Mom – Part 3

After spending a several months in one of the more high-end neighborhoods Seattle, I started to notice something about the moms there… An overwhelming level of perfection.

This is the 3rd and final post of the series.

You can find part 1  here.

And part 2, here

All lifestyle decisions have some sort of inevitable trade-off. Giving up one thing in order to have another. For example, giving up time with your kids in favor of a career. Or, staying home with kids instead of having that second source of income.

For most of the families on “the hill,” in truth, there is no second stream of income necessary. For these primarily Ivy-League educated executives, doctors, lawyers, and business owners one income is more than sufficient to support a family. Even when a 2 bedroom, 100 year old, not-been-renovated-since-the-70s house costs over $800k, most of these families could still make ends meet with one income source. However, in order to afford the lifestyle of perfection that permeates the area and sets a new standard of “normal,” most families opt for both parents to work and I don’t mean part time. I mean full blown, high-powered careers.

While you would never know that many of these not-so- unicorn moms have had to give anything up for their lifestyle, I think they have. They have given up countless hours with their families and the opportunity to be there for their kids through life’s most mundane – but important – moments. The rat race of perfection that most of these households seek stretches their time and efforts thin. Everything from the elaborateness of your family vacation to the premier-ness of your child’s sports team is a competition. If someone were to invent some sort of point system, that would almost be better – at least people would know if they were winning.

I can’t help but doubt the sustainability of this lifestyle. I’m not referring to environmental sustainability here but long-term lifestyle sustainability with regards to time and effort. None of these families need new cars every 2 years, designer clothes, or professional interior design services. Nor do most of them truly need housekeepers, gardeners, or the like.

“Entitlement” is a word that is thrown around a lot these days – usually directed at seemingly spoiled teens or anyone who feels they are deserving of something that in someone else’s mind they didn’t earn.  I am starting to think the concept of “entitlement” is more widespread and does not exclude the highly educated or the economically privileged from its grasp. The desire to “have it all” is too powerful. Whether this manifests itself as desiring a powerful career and a family or desiring to maintains a certain lifestyle, this “have it all” mentality is pervasive.

When do you look in the mirror and say “we have enough,” or “we don’t need this?” It’s a challenging thing to have perspective on when everyone around you seemingly has (or appears to have) the same things or more. This is not an environment conducive to making cuts or determining what is truly necessary. People feel entitled to have the same lifestyle and luxuries that those around them have, without giving the burden or impact this lifestyle places on their family a second thought.

So rather than envying these not-so-unicorn moms, I will be grateful for what I have been blessed with. I choose to sacrifice perfection for quality time with my husband and my someday-children. In the end, my meadow of brown grass, pile of unfolded laundry, and mismatched dining room chairs beat competing in an exhausting and un-win-able perfection contest any day.

Sometimes we all need to step back, widen our scope, and take in a little perspective to see how incredibly fortunate we are.

The not so Unicorn Mom – Part 2

After spending a several months in one of the more high-end neighborhoods Seattle, I started to notice something about the moms there… An overwhelming level of perfection.

Last week I posted Part 1 of this series.  You can find it here.

My friend Jen is the mom that every kid would kill to have. She whips up the most elaborately detailed Halloween costumes on her sewing machine without batting an eye. I’m pretty sure that she is missing her calling as a professional costume designer! In case that isn’t enough to convince you, Jen is never short on awesome ideas for class auction projects, bakes like a pro, and is the first to volunteer for classroom help or field trips. Jen puts her kids’ needs first, which for normal people like Jen and I requires some level of sacrifice, like settling for Levis instead of Chanel and a Prius instead of a Mercedes G-Wagon. You know, HUGE life sacrifices. 😉

Jen and her husband were renting in this neighborhood for a few years before they bought a house elsewhere. Jen laughs about volunteering in her daughters’ classrooms with some of the other moms “on the hill.” A number of times, other moms suggested that Jen run the finger-painting station because “she is just so good at it.”  While I don’t doubt Jen’s superior finger-paint table management skills, Jen is pretty sure that the other moms’ brand new Marc Jacobs blouses making contact with some paint covered kindergartener’s fingers was their primary motivator. Why someone would volunteer in a kindergarten classroom wearing designer garb is beyond me, but Jen laughed on the inside and smiled as she dutifully took her seat at the finger-paint station.

I can’t imagine volunteering and essentially saying “I’m here to help, but oh, no I won’t do that. Someone else can do that!” Don’t get me wrong, there are certain activities that I wouldn’t exactly jump with joy over and there are certainly some I would prefer over others… However, participating in your kids’ lives requires the occasional stint at the proverbial finger-painting table.

My friend Jen’s story is just one example, but I could list dozens more. Yes, I admittedly am pining after their Pinterest worthy lives – perfect houses, fashionable attire, sweet rides, etc. But, time and time again, I am seeing that this level of perfection come at the cost of participation. Missing out on your children’s childhood in favor of spending time on “just one more deal” at the office, keeping imaginary cellulite at bay with lengthy personal training sessions, or whatever else you have to do to look perfect all the time (facials, massages, manicures?? I don’t even know!!). All these important things that keep you away from your kids are why you bothered to carefully screen your au pair, right?

I am going to ask a naïve and uninformed question, but I want to know. Why bother having kids if you don’t want to spend any time with them? Was it just the next logical life step but they underestimated how much time and energy a family sucks out of you?

I fully recognize how judge-y and jealous this post sounds…. But please, please, hang in there for part 3, I am going somewhere with all of this. Promise!!

The not so Unicorn Mom – Part 1

I love that we are a society where it is perfectly socially acceptable for women to work, stay home, or a combination of the two.  Women should absolutely be able to pursue passions and careers right along with men.

Who doesn’t love the idea of the beautifully dressed career woman with the great job and the perfectly attired, well-mannered children?  The proverbial woman who “has it all.”

I used to think that women who truly fit that mold were a bit like a unicorn sighting – a woman who looks like she is fresh off the pages of a magazine. A magazine that I would have convinced myself was only airbrushed perfection. Or, at least this is how I thought until I spent some serious time in the premier Seattle neighborhood.

Here “on the hill” these women aren’t unicorns, they are the norm – beautiful designer clothes, ivy league educated husbands, perpetually perfect hair and nails, private Pilates instructions, beautiful well dressed kids, top pre-schools, expensive luxury SUVs, private children’s language tutors, premier sports leagues, organic homemade snacks, immaculately clean houses, manicured yards, etc.  How in the world do they do it?

And then I remember the secondary population of daily visitors to the neighborhood: the French or Spanish speaking nannies, the maids, the gardeners, the “household managers.”  Ah, thats “how.”

Considering the number of folks on their household’s payroll, I suppose I would expect some level of impressive order. But as I sit here with no kids, and a life that isn’t even half as “together” as these women’s, I can’t help but draw the comparison.  What the heck is wrong with me?!  No kids to use as an excuse and my lawn still looks like a brown meadow.  If we have enough clean laundry to get through the week and I have at least one good hair day, then I would count it as a darn good week.

I admit, I am fascinated by the level of perfection that seems to embody everything these women touch, I can’t help but wonder: Is it as impressive to have great well behaved kids when you hardly spend any time with them and those lovingly homemade organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, fun-free snacks weren’t made by you but your 20-something-year-old french au pair named Juliette?

Why then is this mommy rat race worth it?  And why does it feel like such a competition?  Who is winning?  How do you win?

A Season for “Yes?”

Typically the narrative goes like this:

I am exhausted.  I am doing too much.  I need to learn how to say ‘no’ to people…

Etcetera, etcetera… This needing to say “no” narrative is typically the broken record in my life.  But right now I find myself if a season of needing to say “yes.”  I am exhausted.  I am over extended. I am  stressed out. But right now, the need to say “yes” is keeping me going.  I absolutely do have too much on my plate, and I, admittedly, am primarily to blame for that…

People say, “Make time for yourself.”  They say, “Everyone needs to find a balance.”  They warn me, “Don’t burn yourself out.” 

But could this just be a season of busyness and intentionality about my “me time” and social events?  I am going to make a theory.  Can’t we learn just as much about ourselves through busyness?  The need to prioritize what we do, who we see, and who makes times for us when we don’t have as much availability has revealed a lot for me.

I know which friends will go the extra mile to make sure we get together.  I see who has sent a text or email to see how things are going and say that they miss getting together…Or alternately, which friends allow me to fall off the radar when I don’t initiate the effort.  That might sound harsh, but when I have more time, I am  often the instigator of walks, coffee dates, lunches, drinks, etc.  Cheesy as it may sound, its helping me learn who my real, true-blue people are.

I learn which activities re-energize me and which exhaust me further.  Maybe its an exercise in efficiently rejuvenating, but whatever this season is, I am learning a lot by saying “yes.”

There is only so much that I can control and manage in a day so I am learning to let go of the little things and accept help when I need it – both of these I normally am horrible at.

So long as it is not a permanent state of being, what is wrong with being busy for a season?  For me I am welcoming being busy right now.  Through this season I am learning a lot about myself and others.  My friendships, relationships, and state of mind are all benefitting from these lessons.  I am loosening my grip on the little things and becoming a fan of my new-found forced intentionality.

Found around the Web

Sometimes the grace and honesty of these authors causes me to pause and take note…. Today, enjoy these three beautiful stories of grace, trust, love, and honesty.

I love this breathtaking adoption story by Sarah Hagerty of EveryBitterThingIsSweet.com.

Read Shannan Martin of FlowerPatchFarmGirl.com‘s touching piece for Grace Table.

Check out Elise Chaffin’s honest anecdote on DeeperStory.com.

Or, enjoy a beautiful post on strength by guest author Brandy Walker on SarahBessey.com.

Happy weekend reading.