It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.
You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”
“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.
The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.
It’s the beginning of summer for us in Australia, and time for me to write my favourite list. I started keeping track of what I learned a few years ago thanks to Emily P. Freeman, and it became a way of caring for my soul, not just something to write. I hardly wrote on the blog during our winter and spring, but I never stopped writing down what I was learning. In a world that keeps changing and moving, I need these practices to keep me grounded and firmly here. Maybe you should try it too? The easiest way for me to do it is to have a place in my journal (like a page), and whenever I learn something, I go there and jot it dow. Re-reading the list at the end of the season (I keep my list according to the seasons) puts a smile on my face every time.
Our spring was warm and beautiful, and here’s what I learned:
I learned how to bullet journal (see above). I love it and will probably write more about it in the coming weeks. The short story is that I enjoy having everything in one place, and it’s become a creative space for me. More life-giving creative outlets are usually a good thing. For an explanation about bullet journaling, you can start here. My version is this one: It’s a homemade planner with whatever you want in it. The end.
You can’t really sift wholewheat flour. I started sifting flour this year, and feel super grown up doing so, but when I sifted wholewheat flour in October, the bran was left behind in the sifter.
For a few weeks in early October (our spring), the evening air smelled like perfume. I think it was jasmine or something else, but all I had to do was step outside for lungfuls of the sweetest smelling perfume. It wasn’t like this last year, and by the end of October, the scent was gone. But it was delightful while it lasted and a good excuse to get outside in the evening.
Grocery shopping in person is a major energy and decision-making drain for me. Even if I have a good list. Even if I meal plan. I’ve been using a few places for online shopping in October and November, and it’s been a sanity saver.
Always keep bacon around. This has been a lesson of 2017, and you will have to trust me on this. When you have bacon in the fridge, all things are possible. Including (especially) happy meal times with children. Also, breakfast for dinner. Also, fast tomato sauces. Also, fast white sauces. The sky is the limit.
Putting up photos is a good thing. My phone has lots of photos. My laptop holds lots of photos. Photos that I just look at, on our walls, in a book? Not so many. I changed that up with a giant photo board for our wall as a gift for my husband’s birthday. It brings us all so much joy to see these memories from the past.
Re-reading my old blog posts reminded me of the ups and downs of the past years and reminded me of the woman I used to be, the good and the bad. It was a sweet walk down memory lane, and it gave me many reasons to be grateful for this space and your investment in it. I wrote about that here.
Ecclesiastes wasn’t written by Solomon (blog post coming about this soon). I finished my first grad school class two weeks ago. Studying again was one of the most enriching and even fun parts of 2017 (also one of the most stressful). I learned a lot from the class and from the process of formal study, but one little lesson was a comment my professor made in class during our 45 minutes on Ecclesiastes. I’ve been told by almost anyone who mentions the book that it was written by Solomon, but he said most scholars – conservative and critical – dispute this claim now mostly because of the Persian loan words in the book. Persian didn’t exist when Solomon was king.
I love to keep track of what I’m learning each month, and it’s become a celebration of growth in small and big ways, a way to measure my days. Emily P. Freeman via her blog introduced me to the process, and I like to join her linkups each season. You can head over there to find others who participate. Please do sign up for my email list in the tool bar at the top of the page if you want to be notified of blog posts in your email. I send out a short, weekly email with links to my posts and other little things along the way.
This is a story where I tell you I started washing my face, and I’m guessing you want to know why this matters. So here’s the (unfunny) punchline from the start: the little, daily things we do daily provide an anchor for the rest of our lives. Routines matter. When trying to master the deeper, harder things, it helps to sometimes master something easy first. It also helps when mastering something smells like fresh and coconut-y.
We don’t realize how much we do because we learned it. No one may have taught it to us actively, but we were learning passively. My mother taught me how to read. I have no memory of this, but all my memories of childhood pass through the books I read. My father-in-law taught me how to uncork a wine bottle when he found out I couldn’t do it alone. He stood in our kitchen and showed me how to push the screw into the cork, how to twist and twist until the sides came up and push down for the cork to come out. I think about it every time I open a bottle of wine. No one taught me how to take care of a home, but those are things I learned passively from watching my mother and also the women who cleaned and cared for our house in the Philippines. I watched them wipe dust away with a cloth, sweep the floor multiple times a day and wash dishes. To this day I prefer the broom to a vacuum cleaner even though no one taught me how to use either one.
Here’s another thing I did not learn – how to take care of my skin. No one looked at my skin when I was a teenager to tell me if I had oily, dry or combination skin, no one looked at my breakouts to figure out if something could be done about it, no one showed me where and how to choose a simple face wash. Even though I knew I was supposed to wash my face every day, the simple truth was I had no idea how to do it.
So most of the time I didn’t. Eventually I started buying a face wash and every now and then I would use it, or after a day of make up, I would wash my face. But overall I relied on my sturdy brown skin to hold up under the sun, under makeup, under my own naiveté.
Fast forward to the past year and I can see the wear and tear on my face. Some of it is the natural process of ageing, one that doesn’t thrill me, but I welcome it. I refuse to look down on the life experience that comes with getting older. It is more precious than wrinkle-free skin. But I could also see the impact of years of neglect on my skin. That’s different from ageing.
But on the list of things I want to change in my life, my skin isn’t even close to being a priority. My list is enormous. I want to create more with my kids, be more organized, use my phone less, put the laundry away so it doesn’t pile up, wake up early to write, go to bed early so I can wake up earlier, not get angry at my kids, not discuss the lives of people when they aren’t around, use my phone less, eat less gluten, paint the cabinet that’s been sitting on the deck for most of the year unused, clean out the kids’ toys, set better boundaries with my kids, use my phone less, eat less sugar.
Did that exhaust you? (Just writing it exhausted me.)
I’m guessing you’ve got a list, too, a mental tape that runs on a loop, full of daily categories where you could do better, promising you that if you could just get it together and change, your life would be different.
My list is full of good intentions, but the judgment it can direct toward me leaves little room for growth.
This is why I started washing my face.
It was one small change I chose to make, one that is about skincare yet also so much more.
Here’s how I did it.
I found a teacher. Her name is Jamie B. Golden, and I watched an Instagram live she did on skin care. I have no idea if her ideas are going to work long term, but when you have no idea what to do (and don’t want to see a dermatologist), you find someone you choose to trust and listen. I made a list of her recommendations and routines, and I went to Chemist Warehouse and bought what felt like a lifetime worth of products and terrorized their sales assistants with questions (“WHERE IS THE RETINOL?”). When there is something you don’t know how to do, the first step is to find a teacher. Let them fill in the gaps of your education, give yourself the grace of being able to say, “I don’t know how to do this. I need help.”
I set a routine and follow it. This meant buying products I did not have (other than moisturizer and a basic cleanser). Every evening now I follow a five-step routine. I even use a fresh washcloth every night because Jamie says it’s gross to use the one from the night before. In the morning I follow another routine before I leave the house. I’ve done this now for over three weeks, every single evening, every single morning. It takes me five minutes on either end, tops. I don’t do it because of the results – I’m not even sure I can see any yet – I do it because it is one small thing I can do daily to tell myself I can learn something new. I can follow a routine. I can take care of myself.
Find ways to enjoy the change. There have been times when I’m tempted to skip the cleansing and the toning, but the sheer enjoyment of it keeps me there. This isn’t going to work for every habit, there are some things (many things) we have to do that don’t produce endorphins of happiness. But when I can find something that helps me enjoy the process, it doesn’t hurt. For now that’s the smell of the moisturizer and the feel of a hot washcloth on my face.
How about you? What is one small change that could make a deep impact in your day-to-day life? What is one small thing you can choose to focus on for the next few weeks as the world around you gets more frantic? When the volume goes up and the demands you to do more and spend more, will there be a place in your life where you can tend to something small and watch it grow?
Growth is happening in your life and mine, and it takes place in the smallest of spaces, in the things that seem and feel insignificant. Don’t let someone tell you that thing you’ve changed is trivial. Even the smallest (good) habit is a victory, and the each step you take to take down the bad habits is a step taken in courage even if you feel weak. Every step counts. Every change counts. It all matters.
Now, I’m off to take my makeup off and press a hot (clean!!) washcloth into my face.
Maybe you’re frustrated by the list of big goals but wanting to seize your life and change? Small changes are for the rest of us, the ones whose dreams mock us from the sidelines, the ones who yearn for change but know they can’t just shove everything to one side. We do it bit by bit, piece by piece, and we believe that each piece is making a difference. If you want to read more about small changes, you can start here:
Many of you long for a Christmas season away from the materialism your local shopping mall offers. I’m sharing today one of our family traditions that began in 2012 when the stories of destruction started coming out of Syria and the DRC. We were heartbroken, and didn’t know what to do. This Advent calendar became one simple response. Somehow as the years turned since 2012, the sadness in the world hasn’t changed, maybe it is even heavier. Even with the good news stories out there, I am still overwhelmed at the way our culture normalizes abuse and destruction. This little step is a reminder that we can do something every day to hold close and in our prayers the lives of those who face destruction daily. I’ve added details at the end of the post about how I made the calendar.
Before Jesus told raging waters to be still, before he fed 5,000, before the blind saw and the lame walked, before there were prostitutes, tax collectors and fishermen, before the nails and the whips and the thorns, before all of this, he was a baby, he was a child.
What is he thinking about when he looks at the children of the world today? Does he remember what it was like to be hungry, naked, tired, afraid?
Come to me, all of you, Jesus would say, just as he said 2,000 years ago, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
When grenades fall in Damascus and little children fearfully huddle in apartment buildings, Jesus remembers running with his parents to hide for his life.
When little children are gunned down in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Jesus remembers the campaign of violent genocide Herod began after Jesus’ birth.
When there is no food to eat again and tiny tummies quake with hunger in North Korea, Jesus remembers 40 days without food and water.
When a child in Gaza prays in the night for peace, Jesus remembers being far from his true home, alone in a cold, hostile, violent world.
When little girls in Cambodia are beaten and exploited, Jesus remembers the torture of the lash and the nail driven through his wrist and the betrayal of his friends.
He didn’t have evergreens, and there was no bunting of glass balls around the manger. Yes, he knew the safety and security of his mother’s embrace, but he didn’t know – or maybe he did, please no theological debates – that they were in a stable, stinky, dirty, dark and unhygienic in every way. His parents had very little financial provision, someone was going to try and end his life before it had barely even begun and his first two years would be spent on the run, as a refugee in Egypt.
He was a baby. He was a child. And he knows what it was like to have nothing and to be in danger, and when the chorus of cries from exploited, abused, neglected and unwanted children rise to heaven, he collects them all because he knows.
This Advent season, we are letting our cry from our corner of Australia join with theirs. As a family for the next 24 days, we will take a card a day, pray for the country and the child in the photo. It is our way of saying they have a name, their lives matter, their future matters.
I know that your life in December is already full, most likely it is fuller than you want it to be. For parents in Australia, school comes to an end, there are concerts to attend, squirrely, tired children to manage, and the end of school “look forward to.” For those of you without children or partners, you may have a big work push toward the end of the year, parties to attend, and perhaps 2017 has been too full of a year for you emotionally and physically, and December makes you feel the hustle of the past 345-something days.
This is not for everyone – the last thing any of us need is one more reason to feel like we aren’t doing enough.
But if in your spirit you’ve felt restless or sad at the thought of a Christmas like the ones in the past, maybe what you need is something like this. A space to hold some sadness on behalf of others, a place to pour out your prayers on behalf of those who suffer profound losses, injustice and abuse in our days. Prayer is my starting point for action, and it surprises me yearly what other actions end up following. What I’m trying to say is that prayer is never wasted because when we pray, we change, and prayer is never wasted because God hears (and acts).
Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
The How – Simple is better
1. I went to Google Images and searched for photos of children from countries I wanted to pray for, and I also went to Compassion’s and World Vision’s child sponsorship pages and picked specific kids from places that are dear to us and also places that are facing particular challenges.
2. I printed out the photos, cut them out and stuck them on cardboard squares cut out of our old diaper boxes. You can stick the photos on anything. You don’t have to stick it on anything at all.
3. I strung the squares out on raffia, and put a numbered clothespin on each one marking the day, then I hung it up in a place where we could easily see it. This year I will keep the cards in a box, and take one out a day. I’m going to pay no attention to the numbers. Just one a day.
4. There’s no need to get religious about this – prayers aren’t long or complicated, you can do it on your own when you want to, or if you have a family, we did it at a certain time (rarely the same one), I would tell my kids daily that it was time to pray for a “kiddo in another part of the world.” We take a photo and pray for them. It takes less than five minutes. This is more about in which direction we want to orient our hearts and theirs.
Dear friend, I am sitting here thinking about you and this space and how much I want to just chat again. It’s been a long time without any writing here, and I miss it. They – I don’t know who these people are, mythical guru types – say that you’re never supposed to put a blogging explanation up when you stop writing for a while, but I have to keep reminding myself that this is my space. I get to make my own rules.
What a year. We aren’t at the end, but the events in the world, the bloodshed, the disrespect, the abuse, it seems like we’ve opened a Pandora’s box that will not be shut as venom pours out. In my own life, I faced one of the most challenging personal situations I’ve dealt with in a long time. The middle of this year felt lost in this battle against fear and against myself. I started a graduate program at our local seminary, and I finished my first class last week. It was the second half of the Old Testament – Prophets and writings. I left every class overwhelmed with what I did not know about the Jewish context for these books, overwhelmed and grateful. When I read the headlines of our often unstable world, it helped to read the stories of unstable times that are thousands of years old. We are not the only ones who face immoral leaders and deal with abuse of power. It’s been here, it’s been here for a long time.
We spent five weeks in Europe to reconnect with our family there, and we returned to Geneva, the birthplace of this blog over seven years ago. It’s the first time we went back as a family, and it felt significant. Taking the boys on the bus routes they went on as babies in a stroller. Retracing my steps through the hospital where they were born. Standing in front of the apartment where I met my husband. Overwhelming emotions, many thoughts, and I’ll be slowly writing about those here because I hope to blog once a week from now for a little while, at least until my next class starts in seminary.
I started this for me, a means to process my own life, but over time it became about you, too, and wondering what these words and stories could be in your life. I hope that this has been a place of rest for you. I hope you encounter beauty here, I hope you sense an invitation to think deeply and breathe in grace and hope and move forward with your life with hope as your fuel, wherever you are, whatever you do, whoever you are. You and your life, your stories, your history and your dreams are welcome here.
As a thank you for being part of the life of this space, I’m hosting a giveaway. I’ll send one blog subscriber the book Soulkeeping by John Ortberg in the mail wherever you are in the world. This book was a life-changing read for me, and I hope it will minister to you.
How to enter the giveaway:
1. Subscribe to this blog (if you are already subscribed, you don’t need to do anything except number 2).
2. Leave a comment, tell me that you’ve subscribed and answer this question: what would you like to read on this blog? I would love to know your answer. If you’re already a subscriber, you’ll need to click over to the blog post to leave a comment.
3. The giveaway is open until Friday, November 17, 2017.