Monday, June 19

Breaking Rules

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39 (NLT)

Pulling my car onto the shoulder of the gently curving road encircling the soccer fields of our local park, my eyes scanned the fields containing of dozens of players, searching out my hubs. My children bounced gleefully in the back seat as I pointed him out on a far off field, warming up with some of the guys as they kicked a soccer ball back and forth. 

"Do you guys want to go say hi?" The words had barely left my mouth before the doors were thrown open and my kids sprinted around fields, always angling toward their dad. There is nothing quite as sweet as the bear hugs Aaron gives, and our kids know this. I smiled as they launched themselves at him into a fierce three-person hug from full sprint and lingered for a quick hello after a long day apart before turning around and beginning the sprint back. 

And while this might sound like the normal experience of any woman married to a man who is passionately passionate about the sport of soccer, the fact that every other player on the fields was Somali was a visible reminder that this is different. This is a quiet, new habit for my family in a community that has had its racial and religious tensions laid bare this past year in ways that are raw and incredibly hard. Our community's struggles with race, culture, and religious differences have left my my husband and I pondering how to engage our Somali community through genuine friendship in ways that are quiet and authentic, with no political undercurrents or strings attached.   

Tuesday, June 13

Unified Not Uniform

This morning we had family devotions with our kids and talked about the day of Pentecost from Acts 2. Although many things were discussed, one main theme that we focused on was how when the Holy Spirit came, the believers who were there began to speak in all the different languages of people that could be found throughout the city.

How amazed the people were to hear about the hope of Christ in their native language. It showed God’s design that all men, of every background, would be drawn to him.

We then discussed our recent move to our new neighborhood, right in the heart of our city, and why we believe God asked us to move here. We shared with our kids that although our last neighborhood was amazing (we still love and miss our old neighbors immensely!), we felt God was asking us to go to a place where diversity amongst the people living there was paramount.

My husband finished our morning by reminding our kids, “as believers in Jesus we are unified in our faith, but we are not uniform. God is calling all men to himself regardless of age, race, social class, or language. That’s why we’re here, to share the love of God with others who don’t look or act or even think like us.”

Thursday, June 8

What We Have in Common

Shrieking with delight, the teenage girls chased each other around the community splash pad. Drops of water glistened on their faces and soaked their clothing. As one girl passed me, we caught eyes and exchanged smiles, her face lit with joy. Bemused, I watched as they playfully jabbed at each other, words volleying back and forth in a dizzying mix of English and Somali.

Off to the side, I watched my own girls twirl around the splash pad, climbing the spiderwebbed playground toys and spinning round and round. In their faces, I saw the same joy reflected.
Later that day, as Elise and I were sitting together quietly, we had a moment to talk more about the morning. I asked her if she had enjoyed the splash pad, and she waxed eloquent about the other children she played with and how much fun she had.

“Those teenagers sure looked like they were having fun, didn’t they?” I asked. She nodded, then paused to ask what they were wearing on their heads. I matter-of-factly told her that sometimes, people with other religions or cultures have different traditions than we do, and that their head scarf is something that is a tradition for their religion. I asked her if anyone at her school wore a similar headcovering, and she told me that they didn’t but that some of the other moms did.

In her eyes, I saw nothing but acceptance. And it occurred to me, in the midst of our country’s highly-charged political and cultural issues, how much of what my daughter learns about the world is through me.

As a parent, I think it’s one my greatest challenges and privileges. Of all my children, my oldest has the unique ability to believe that everyone is exactly like her. For instance, there’s a little girl with special needs that is one of her favorite kids to play with at church. Unlike some of the other children, Elise doesn’t mind the frequent hugs and touches the little girl bestows; when you see the two of them together, they are usually laughing uproariously or racing around the gym. One day after church, one of the leaders approached me to tell me that Elise doesn’t always understand the idea of giving in when her friend wants the same coloring page she does. Although I promised the leader I would speak to Elise, I found myself struggling to communicate that idea to her after church.

“She doesn’t see any ‘difference,’” my husband whispered to me. And it’s true. Her best friend at school has an aide with her all day who helps her with tasks, and Elise has no idea why. Elise’s strength is the tenderness of her heart; she loves with abandon. She looks at others and sees commonalities, not differences. And I wonder: How, as a mom, am I encouraging that strength? How can I encourage her to engage the complexities of the world with compassion and sensitivity?

But what I've come to realize is this: My children don't need me to have all the answers. They need me to show them that the lens through which they view the world should be the same one Jesus had: Filled with mercy, compassion, and love for God's unique creation. Respect for others and for the world we live in. And, above all, grace that covers.

Because at the end of the day, I want to teach them about the world, yes. But I want them to love God so much more that that consideration outweighs all other considerations.

Tuesday, May 30

Got Grit?

The summit of Black Elk Peak
On our recent vacation, my husband wanted to hike to the tippy-top of Black Elk Peak to view the Black Hills of South Dakota from a magnificent fire tower made entirely of stone perched on a summit high above everything else for hundreds of miles. 

It sounded so innocuous, a quick jaunt consisting of breathtaking views and then we'd wrap the day with a soak in the hot springs. 

We weren't 30 minutes into the seven mile hike when I began to reevaluate my quick assent to his suggestion. While we had a clear trail upon which to trod, I'd underestimated the rigorous nature of the hike and began to wonder whether the kiddos (and I!) would have the stamina to reach the top. We climbed up and up along switchback trails, witnessing impressive vistas of far distant peaks before a winding descent into a wooded valley only to be confronted with climbing once again to our destination. As we traveled, we began to hear reports that the end of the trail was particularly steep but that the view was "worth it." 

I began employing various "mentally tough" tactics about midpoint on our way to the summit, promising our daughter, who was starting to wilt, a break upon reaching a fork in the trail that was surely just around the next bend. She and I plodded along slightly behind the rest of our group, looking for that fork around each curve, both looking forward to that promised break and a little snack I had tucked into our backpacks.  

As we reached the fork, I reached for my pack, grateful for the opportunity to rest before tackling the steepest part of our journey and arguably the hardest part of the hike. My daughter, upon reading the sign and realizing that the summit was only 1/4 mile away, turned to me and said: "We made it this far without stopping, let's keep going! I want to reach the top without resting!

Ummmm..., what? I watched as my intrepid daughter suddenly found her second wind and disappeared up the rocky, steep trail, followed quickly by my husband and son. 

Monday, May 22

The Messy Side of Friendship

As I was visiting with an acquaintance the other day, they made a comment about what great friends Kristin, Julie, and I seem to be and how they wished they had a good friend of their own, a “perfect” friendship.

And although I agreed that Kristin and Julie are wonderful friends—or framily, as we like to call each other—our friendship is far from perfection. In fact, often it is just the opposite. I cringed as the woman spoke, knowing that social media often only portrays the lovely side to many things in life, including our relationships. And although I have no plans to air our dirty laundry for others to observe, I do think it’s important to talk about the messy side of friendships, and how you can still have great friends.

So here are a few things I’ve learned about great friendships, and how we survive (and thrive!) through all the ups and downs of life.

Monday, May 15

What Does "Beautiful" Mean to You?

I love beautiful things. Quirky dishtowels from Anthropologie, weighty coffee mugs with printed monogrammed letters, bold art prints, cushy throw pillows in an explosion of colors. Handmade children’s clothes stitched to perfection, good-smelling bath salts that melt into hot water. Ella Fitzgerald songs. The freckles on my children’s noses, their chubby hands held in mine. I love beauty in all its forms.

I used to think that was shallow. I felt guilty for enjoying those small pleasures when there were so many deep and heavy issues in the world vying for my attention. But recently I realized that rather than being shallow, that love for beauty is God-ordained:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 

Our love for beauty is a call to see the sheer possibility in the world, the loveliness of nature and relationships and creativity.

Taken another way: I read once that bravery and beauty, rather than separate concepts, should be considered synonymous. That it takes bravery to see beauty—in ourselves, our actions, the world around us—and that we miss out on our  chance to be brave when we fail to see the beauty in the world.

As I race toward my mid-thirties, I think about how true that is. How much more comfortable I am in my own skin, now, than I ever was in my twenties. I’m more aware and grateful for my body, the things it allows me to do, and how my good health isn’t something to be taken lightly or for granted.

But what does it mean to be brave? And what does it mean to be beautiful?