march is a verb (a review).

One of my favorite classes in college was United States History.

I’ve always found history interesting, and this particular professor also professed a deep love for his content–a win on the engagement front. I couldn’t soak in enough information during that hour.

My favorite thing he ever told us though was a sort of passing comment during a larger conversation.

“Until the 1930s, the presidential inauguration was always held on March 4th,” he said. “You know, so the president could march forth into office.”

Now, I can source the fact from the first statement. Every president (save a few extraordinary circumstances) was sworn into office on March 4th until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. The problem is, I can’t seem to find a source confirming the second piece–which happens to be my favorite part.

Maybe it’s true; maybe he was just making a good joke (as history teachers are obviously known to do), but this fact has remained with me: March is a verb.

I’ve always loved that about the month of March especially because it always feels like a month on the cusp–a month of movement. Without fail, I always feel ready to march forth into something new each spring (another verb, hello), and this season is no different.

We’re collectively ready to move into the growth ahead.

But, since we’re kind of still on the cusp, here’s what I was up to during March (in case you were wondering).

What I Read

I read three books this month which brings my 2018 total to 7 so far. I’m feeling pretty good about that statistic, but I’m feeling even better about my book choices this month. It’s easy to read 3 books in 30 days when they’re good.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I got around to this one only about 2 years after it was first recommended to me, and I am so glad I did. Novels have a tendency to start out really strong for me and then leave me wanting a little in the end, but this book did exactly the opposite.

Ove, upon first introduction, is a cranky and stubborn old man, but as his past story emerges, so does a really heartwarming and endearing story. I loved everything about this one; it just took me a few chapters until I felt really invested.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This novel was really fun because it takes place in Shaker Heights, another Cleveland suburb not far from where we live (I may have driven past one of the houses from the book today). I particularly enjoyed reading descriptions of the city from different, fictional perspectives (not to mention the fact that I finally learned what a “tree lawn” is).

There is a lot that happens in this book as two very different families converge. I really liked the plot but felt like the book ended right before all the characters were going to start changing and developing for the better. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know.

In any case, I did really enjoy this one, but, per my previous confession, it left me wanting a little in the end.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This is the one I want everyone to read and then talk to me about. I found Trevor Noah’s memoir to be a fascinatingly honest reflection about his life growing up in South Africa during and post-Apartheid.

His stories run the gamut from funny to shocking to heartbreaking, but his insightful analyses of all the various seasons of his life remain consistent and are incredibly thought-provoking.

Of all the books I read this month, this would be the one I would tell you to read first.

What I Wrote

I was busy over at Mighty Moms this month, but also found some time to reflect upon the screwdriver currently functioning as a toilet handle in our house this month.

It’s good to let your brain process a variety of different things, if you ask me. 😉

What I Thought About

I’ve been thinking a lot about 1 Peter 3:15 this month (a very specific place to begin).

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…

I’ve also been thinking about this paragraph from the very first chapter of Born a Crime:

My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

Now, Trevor Noah is coming from a place of cynicism, but I still can’t seem to get that last sentence out of my head. Jesus was ridiculous. I can’t very well make a defense for what I believe based on another religion being unbelievable or impossible. That whole water to wine thing was just the tip of the iceberg of things he would do, after all.

With this thought process still in the back of my mind, I read all the accounts of Good Friday this past weekend as told in all four Gospel books and was continually drawn to the voices of those who mocked Jesus on that last day:

If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.

He saved others; he cannot save himself.

Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

It didn’t make sense. What kind of person willingly endures something so excruciating when he doesn’t have to? He could have saved himself. He could have come down from the cross.

But he didn’t.

It didn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense because, for them, death was the end of the story.

I understand their confusion. But, the difference between those onlookers and me is that I can hold the actual end of the story in my hands.

And as I think about making a reason for the hope that is in me, well, I think the end is where it begins.

Does faith sometimes feel ridiculous and outrageous and completely inexplicable? Yes.

But when I think about the fact that everything God does is moving toward eternity, then all those things that are seemingly counterintuitive start to make sense.

And those are just a few of the light and easy things I’ve been trying to sort through. (This blog post is, of course, not for well-polished, final thoughts, you know.)

March Forth!

I will never not be obsessed with the fact that both “March” and “Spring” are, by definition, forms of forward motion.

Not only that, but this season also gives me life because it is literally breathing life into everything around me.

Now it’s just up to April to bring us some warmer temperatures so we can get less metaphorical about the whole thing and literally march outside and into the spring.

Seriously though, April. C’mon already.

screwdrivers, wrenches, and repurposed plans.

All the handles in our house decided to form some kind of mutiny against us this week.

It started with the dryer when I found a load of clothes still soaking wet an hour after I had started the cycle. After trying again and then assessing the situation, I quickly deemed its solution out of my hands and called in the expert.

Jake handed me a wrench.

A few days later, it was the toilet. Lily called me in because she couldn’t get it to flush. I tried a few times (you know, for good measure) but had already known it was time to get ahold of our plumber.

This time, Jake came armed with a screwdriver.

Both tools are currently enjoying their new, repurposed lives as handles. If you want to start the dryer, clamp the wrench down where the knob should be and turn it right a few clicks. If you want to flush the toilet, just twist the screwdriver to the left.

I suppose it’s probably just a matter of time before you’ll need a pair of pliers to open all the doors and some kind of intricate pulley system to operate the light switches.

I’m not complaining though. Everything still works as though it was never broken in the first place.

///

Jake and I were friends for a few years before we starting dating. If you ask him why we didn’t get together sooner, I’d be willing to bet somewhere in his response, you would hear him use the word “homebody.”

Apparently I gave him the impression that I wanted to live in Des Moines forever.

(That’s probably because I did.)

I never really imagined my life as anything but familiar. Des Moines made sense to me because it was the only city I had ever really known. And when I got old enough to start imagining a different landscape, I never really did. I loved my hometown. Why rock the boat?

The irony of the whole thing, of course, is that Jake and I lived in Des Moines for the first seven years of our marriage. And furthermore, that Jake actually really liked it.

We cultivated something good there. Sowed seeds into the earth that continue to bloom and grow even from a distance. We learned a lot and loved a lot and reflect often about how purposeful our lives felt there.

And then Cleveland came calling and that familiarity was shattered.

But, in the three years since we rolled into town, we’ve tried to sink our feet into the soil here, too, and, wouldn’t you know, the more you push yourself out into the unknown, the more familiar it becomes.

Cleveland has shaped and changed us in ways that Des Moines never could have. It has stretched me in particular and pushed me out of about a million comfort zones. It has led me to situations I never would have found in Iowa and given me people to challenge my perspectives and shape my thinking.

It has turned me into a version of myself that I never could have predicted.

///

So, back to the screwdriver that’s sticking out of my toilet.

I’ve been thinking about its purpose lately. Someone made that screwdriver, and I doubt very much that it was marketed as something that was versatile enough to keep your basic plumbing functional.

Screwdrivers insert and remove screws. That’s what they were made to do, and, should they only do that one job faithfully forever, then, well, job well done, little tool. You served your purpose.

And yet, we found a screwdriver that also works perfectly as a toilet handle. We turned its purpose on its head (Phillips head, if you wanted to get specific about it).

Jake and I are staring in the face of another season of transition. There are a lot of unknowns. A lot of conversations about where we should be and even more conversations about where we have come from.

Through those discussions, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my life would look like if we had never left Des Moines. If my plan to live in the same place for my entire life had never been laid bare.

And you know what I decided?

It would have been great. (Maybe that’s not what you were expecting me to say.)

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with digging your roots deep into one place.

Had we stayed in Des Moines, Jake and I would have continued to cultivate the things that were already growing around us. We would have served a worthwhile purpose (you know, turning screws and removing screws), and there would have been a whole lot of good, Kingdom work in that life.

And yet, God turned that purpose on its head a little and brought us to Cleveland.

Almost like He was saying, You’re doing good things where you’re at, but what if we try to utilize your abilities in a way you probably wouldn’t have expected for yourself?

Now, at this point, it’s probably best that I leave the metaphor behind, lest anyone thinks that I’m likening Cleveland to a toilet or something, but I do feel a little like that screwdriver lately. Like my life has been repurposed and reimagined in the last three years in ways I never would have thought of scripting on my own.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter where you are; it just matters what you choose to do with your life once you get there.

I find that, as Jake and I look forward to the future, the unknown doesn’t feel so intimidating anymore and the familiar doesn’t always feel so familiar.

But what I know is that God will keep doing things with our lives that are probably better than anything we could plan anyway.

We just have to be willing to let Him.

february in rear view.

I blinked and February was over.

Except, exactly in the middle, it delivered our family another bout of the stomach flu, so, for a time, February felt like it might last an eternity.

Months have a funny way of feeling both long and short all at the same time, don’t they?

Thankfully, February afforded me enough time to read a few books and think about a few things as well as make a super important decision to start watching The West Wing again from the beginning.

But that’s neither here nor there. What’s here is where my brain has been this past month:

What I Read

I read two books this month, and feel particularly good about this statistic given that I doubled my actual goal (sometimes it pays to set a low bar, you know?).

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

When I was teaching ninth grade, I used to read young adult fiction almost exclusively, so I had good recommendations for my students (except mostly because I love it too). It had been awhile since I read fiction that was just purely fun, and since love is a theme of February, I figured this was a good place to start.

It delivered on fun and silly, and while I did enjoy it, it didn’t quite pull through with the glowing recommendation as say a John Green or Rainbow Rowell book would.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

I picked a book in honor of Valentine’s Day to start the month and quickly remembered that February is, far more importantly, Black History Month. I picked this book off a display shelf at the library and was not disappointed.

The premise alone is fascinating: Two kids, both named Wes Moore, were born blocks apart and within a year of each other in Baltimore. Both were fatherless and led difficult childhoods navigating their neighborhood streets. One Wes Moore became a Rhodes Scholar and decorated veteran. The other is currently serving life in prison as a convicted murderer.

The author (the first Wes Moore from above) tells both stories with equal attention to detail as he sets out to answer his own question: How did these two similar lives end up so wildly different?

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s told so thoughtfully and the perspective it offers is important. I’ve been thinking a lot about its implications since.

“Gun Reform: Speaking Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change” by Brené Brown

Last month I wrote about an article I had read that resonated with my feelings of being in the middle of so many political conversations happening right now. Many would probably view my feelings about a couple of hot-button issues as contradictory, and yet, here I am, asking incessant questions and wanting to look at issues from a lot of different angles.

Brené Brown’s words in this piece are specific to her thoughts on gun control, but you wouldn’t even have to agree with her exact stance to support her push for better critical thinking. I appreciate her reminder that it’s okay to sometimes live in the middle of an issue and refuse to take a “You’re either with us, or you’re against us” approach. I especially like what she says here:

The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other.”

The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. But make no mistake; this is opting for the wilderness. Why? Because the argument is set up to silence dissent and draw lines in the sand that squelch debate, discussion, and questions—the very processes that we know leads to effective problem solving.

What I Wrote

I’m still plugging away putting chapters of my life into a larger compilation than single blog posts, and I’m happy to say that I just wrote about a season in my life during which I was afraid of pirates.

This is a true story.

When I was about seven, I used to lay on the bottom of my bunk bed and press my fingers between the blinds juuuust to make sure that a ragtag group of eye-patch wearing men weren’t circling their ships around our cul-de-sac.

Mom and dad, you might be learning about this for the first time. Everything is fine. I seem to have turned out alright. I watched Pirates of the Caribbean without any emotional trauma and am currently helping Lily work through her pirate unit at preschool without any problems.

Anyway, other than that, I did write something for the Mighty Moms Club about why reading to our kids is so important; I still love to put my teaching hat on from time to time.

What I Thought About

Unwasted Time

As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to dwell upon wasted time. I often wonder if I’m planning enough activities for my kids and can name far too many instances in which one of the girls will ask me to put my phone away. The wasted time in a day is always easy to spot.

But lately, I’ve been trying to key in on the unwasted time. To sink a little more deeply into those moments in which there is no better alternative.

Of course I know that I don’t need to be actively engaging all of my kids every moment of every day (I’d need more arms and probably another body altogether), but I’ve been trying to acknowledge those moments of undivided attention and purposeful interaction (sometimes it’s as simple as reading a book with a kid on my lap and my phone in the other room) for what they’re worth: Time well spent.

Privilege and Responsibility

Since finishing The Other Wes Moore a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my response to the story should be. What impact should the stories of these two lives have on my own?

Tavis Smiley’s words in the Call to Action at the end of the book have given me a lot to ponder:

Fundamentally, this story is about two boys, each of whom was going through his own personal journey and searching for help. One of them received it; the other didn’t. And now the world stands witness to the results. Small interactions and effortless acts of kindness can mean the difference between failure and success, pain and pleasure–or becoming the people we loathe or love to become. We are more powerful than we realize, and I urge you to internalize the meanings of this remarkable story and unleash your own power.

And now the world stands witness to the results. My life of privilege doesn’t mean I am off the hook when it comes to potential impact for people around me. Love and compassion transcend specific experiences, after all, and I know I have a responsibility to make a difference somehow.

Obviously, this train of thought should be its own essay, but the short end of the story is that I’ve been thinking about who is sitting around my table (both figuratively and metaphorically). Am I surrounded only by people who look like me, live like me, and believe the same things I do, or am I welcoming people into my life who might offer me different perspectives, lenses, and opinions with which to view the world?

My goal and hope is the latter.

February in Rear View

And that’s it. February 2018 is gone and never to return again.

Spring is on the cusp and I feel it. February gave us a few days of upper sixty degree weather, and, let me tell you, we did not waste them. We breathed that warm air deeply into our lungs and turned our faces toward the sun.

But we’re ready for you March, and I’m crossing my fingers you deliver Spring with abandon (and a few more episodes of The West Wing for good measure).

january in rear view.

Just like that, it’s February 3rd, and I’m looking at January in the rearview mirror. I’m never overly torn up about the departure of the first month of the year (is anyone, really?). Our hands are raw from the incessant washing and the kids are getting stir crazy from being cooped up inside, but we did manage to contain the stomach flu to only one kid and found some new inside activities to keep us busy, so at least there’s that?

Anyway, I was inspired by my insightful writing friend, Emily Fisk, (who was, in turn, inspired by her own friend, Brittany Bergman) to think and reflect on each month as it passes rather than wait until the year’s end to process as a whole.

I particularly love this idea because, of course, who can remember everything you read and wrote and thought about after an entire year has passed? Not this girl, anyway.

So, in case anyone is interested, here are a few things I read and wrote and thought about in January alone.

What I Read

  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham: I love a good memoir, but I didn’t necessarily love this one. She wrote parts of it while shooting the Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls, and it honestly read like someone wrote a book while they were also working on something else incredibly time consuming. Her writing voice is exactly as you would imagine it though, and I especially liked a chapter in which she reflected upon her age based entirely on a conversation about a roll of paper towels.
  • Moms Make Peace through Christ” by Emily Jensen: This is an article from the Risen Motherhood podcast blog and looks at the source of division and disunity specifically in relationships with other moms (one of our more vital life sources!). This quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer stopped me in my tracks:

“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. … How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”

  • I Live in the Tension, Too” by Emily Fisk: In this essay, Emily perfectly articulates my often uncomfortable feelings about today’s current social climate especially when she says this:

“…now I live here, in rhetoric, political, spiritual no man’s land. I share borders with ancient faith and progressive politics, but in the middle of the Venn diagram is me with thoughts and opinions some consider contradictory. I hold membership in groups that sometimes oppose each other, groups that sometimes seem to demand total allegiance in exchange for my participation.”

What I Wrote

I’ve gone a little quiet on my own blog recently because I realized at the end of last year that my brain was needing to take the short chapters I’ve been living and turn them into a more holistic story.

When I was four, my dad taught me to ride a two-wheel bicycle. A few days after I mastered the skill, I asked him to put my training wheels back on, and I can’t stop thinking about how this one small story from my childhood represents many of the larger themes in my life. I’ve been trying to wake up early at least one morning a week to put an order to all these thoughts. We’ll see where these early morning writing sessions take me.

I did, though, sum up all of 2017 based on a spot the differences page in one of Lily’s activity books, so don’t worry, I’m still thinking in very specific metaphors over here.

What I Thought About

Gratitude

I’ve been reading through the book Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and then recently listened to a Journeywomen podcast episode (I can’t tell you enough how much I love podcasts right now) titled “What to Do with Unmet Expectations.” I am a person who wants to be grateful in any circumstance I am given, and I am also a person who often feels given less than desirable circumstances (lookin’ at you, residency, and your buzzkill 80-hour work weeks).

I am finding though, no thanks to my own strength of course, that gratitude is not hard to come by each day as long as I take the focus off myself and put in on things that really matter. This excerpt from the podcast has been playing on repeat in my brain:

“Only in nearness to God will we have all of our desire fulfilled. I like to call this holy discontent. This means that the purpose of this unmet desire is to constantly remind you that only God will satisfy the unending desire of your heart. Elisabeth Elliot says, ‘Heaven is not here, it’s there. If we were given all that we wanted here our hearts would settle for this world and not the next.’ So this holy discontentment is a kindness to keep us longing for more of God.”  

The Weirdness of Residency Schedules

Since I kind of threw residency under the bus earlier, it’s probably worth noting that I actually can’t remember the last time Jake worked an 80-hour week. January has been very good to us.

We’re constantly re-calibrating to new schedules over here which is a weird part of this whole residency life. Just when you get into a rhythm, four weeks pass and it’s time to embrace a new routine.

In a week, the kids and I will have to readjust to having Jake gone again most days and evenings, but I find that there is also an adjustment period for when he is home more often than he is gone.

Weird is honestly the best word I can think to describe it, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what is fair to expect of each other when we’re both home as well as what I want that family time to look like.

Conclusion: The idea of fairness in parenting is ridiculous, and our family time probably shouldn’t look like me taking a nap on the couch while Jake entertains all our kids.

January in Rear View

Already I feel better about moving into a new month (even if Punxsutawney Phil declared six more weeks of winter).

January is now in the rearview mirror, and when I think about what’s still to come as the road keeps stretching into 2018, I’m kind of on the edge of my seat.

I think this is going to be a good one.

spot the differences: a year in review.

A friend recently asked me to think of one item that would represent the past year of my life.

One physical object to sum up all that was 2017.

Those who know me well should understand how much an assignment like this thrills me.

A given opportunity to think in metaphors? Yes please.

I went through a few options in my brain, all of which felt a little cliché, so eventually I gave myself permission to table the task.

Then, a few nights ago, Lily and I were working through an activity book she got for Christmas, and she turned to two pages of nearly identical pictures.

The task? Spot the differences.

•••••

I started off last year with a headache.

I woke up to a blank canvas that felt shrouded by post-travel chaos and kids who were considerably out of rhythm.

I set one measurable goal (yes, I did read at least one book each month!), but other than that, I didn’t resolve to make any major changes in 2017.

Instead, I made some slow and subtle alterations to my rhythms and priorities. I started paying attention to the words I was consuming, and (most significantly) I changed my approach to the one hour a day I can count on all my kids either sleeping or playing quietly. Simply, I gave myself permission to rest as well. I sat in the same chair every day, studied my bible, prayed intentionally, napped occasionally, and, wouldn’t you know, felt rested.

Now, of course I didn’t do this for 365 days straight, but 2017 brought a shift in my priorities and the way I allot my time each day. It brought small changes to my daily disciplines and a clearer focus when I looked at everything else around me.

It was not a year of great change. It was a year of small, intentional choices each day.

•••••

At a quick glance, pages 16 and 17 of Lily’s Christmas Creativity Book look identical. The woodland animals are caroling happily as the snow falls softly around them. (Is this an appropriate place to note that the mouse is weirdly larger than the moles?)

It’s only upon closer inspection that you notice the subtle differences.

Some of the differences don’t alter the picture much. The worm is facing a different direction. The rabbit doesn’t have flowers on her scarf. The badger’s hat is orange instead of green.

But other changes, while still subtle, will, no doubt, have larger implications.

The smaller mole isn’t wearing glasses. The badger isn’t holding a light. The mouse’s lamp is facing in a different direction altogether.

The animals all sing happily with unchanging faces between the pages, but I can’t help but think about how the mole with glasses must see so much more clearly than the mole without or how different things are illuminated based on where the light faces or whether it even exists at all.

•••••

The start of 2017 next to the start of 2018 doesn’t feel largely different to me. (Yes, we are *for the most part* sleeping through the night now. No, I didn’t manage to figure out a way to get residency cancelled indefinitely.)

But, when I start to examine the two more closely, the differences are so pronounced that I feel it almost tangibly.

As we step foot into 2018 and look forward to all it has to offer us, I feel remarkably more centered on the things that matter.

You know, like a mole wearing a new pair of glasses or a badger who finally has a light to illuminate the night.

This, of course, has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that God taught me a million things this year and then used those things He taught me to help answer the prayers I was praying. And I guess I can’t help but wonder how much different the picture would look hindsight without that one small change to that one single hour of my day.

Maybe I’ll ask the mouse. He obviously seems like the one in charge, don’t you think?

spot
All this to say, I don’t have any grandiose plans for 2018.

But I do have a sneaking suspicion that, if I continue to prioritize the right things, God will continue to show up in grandiose ways.

And that’s something to look forward to.

nothing can sit empty.

The world feels like an especially ugly place lately.

It seems like every screen I turn to shows me something more terrible than the thing before. Something more horrifying. More gut-wrenching. More mind-boggling.

And, as if it all weren’t bad enough, I also have to deal with the fact that I don’t particularly like my knee-jerk reaction when faced with this ugliness.

Because before I can get to the feelings that lead to the actions that might elicit some kind of positive change, I’ve first got to wade through something else:

Fear.

It’s a both a familiar and unwelcome feeling–a sort of paralytic fear that rises and falls from my belly to my throat.

I’ve met this fear enough to know that it stems from uncertainty and anticipation and helplessness all rolled up into one.

(You know, the same kinds of feelings The Left Behind for Kids series elicited way back in the late 1900s. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one traumatized by those.)

I have prayed against this fear a lot in my life because I believe I serve a God who promises that I don’t have to be owned by fear. Fear is rooted in lies, after all.

Please take away my fear.

Please give me peace.

Please shift my perspective.

Again and again and again I have prayed these prayers.

And still the thorn remains and digs in deeper every so often.

A friend of mine recently told me a parable from the Book of Matthew that I didn’t remember ever hearing before (or at least understanding). It’s been on my mind a lot these past few weeks:

When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.

The evil spirit leaves the man. So, the man cleans his house. Empties it, sweeps it, puts it all back in order. But he doesn’t fill it with anything.

The house just sits empty. So, the evil spirit comes back with seven of his more terrible friends and things end up far worse for the man than how they began.

Nothing can sit empty.

So, if I want to eliminate the presence of fear from my life, I have to fill its void with something else.

Truth.

And this is a daily and vigilant task.

It’s a change from output to input.

It’s leaning into what God actually promises me when it comes to fear and allowing those truths to fill the unoccupied spaces fear leaves behind.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. ¹

There have been so many times in my life when I’ve felt frustrated in the face of fear. I was asking God to take it away, after all, and yet, it persisted.

Now, I wonder if the problem wasn’t that God wasn’t answering my prayer, but rather that I was expecting Him to empty something from my being without seeking out what I should fill it with instead.

Fear still creeps in (I think it always will), but when I choose to breathe in words like “love” and “power” and “sound mind” in the face of that spirit of fear, I suddenly have a filler for the void fear will leave behind.

Will leave behind.

God promises as much.

The world will continue to be an ugly place. I know this because, again, I know that you can’t expect things like hateful rhetoric or twisted beliefs to be righted unless Truth moves in to fill the empty space. 

So I’m going to keep pushing through the fear. I’m going to keep asking God to fill my house with the things He is: Love. Hope. Grace. Righteousness. Wisdom. 

And then I’m going to ask Him to help me breathe that Truth into all the various empty spaces I can find. I’m going to ask Him to give me opportunities to love the marginalized and oppressed and hurting.

Which I know He will.

He’s the answer to the ugliness if only we will ask Him to fill the voids left in its wake.

And even on the darkest of days, there’s hope in that.


¹ John 14:27, 2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4:6-7, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 94:19, Psalm 55:22

a seat at the table.

I read two books in June.

I know it’s the middle of July and pretty after the fact, but it still felt worth mentioning.

I read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult first because literally everyone told me to. As soon as I read it, I figured I should probably write about it given all the recommendations, but I couldn’t figure out how to best formulate my thoughts.

So, instead, I picked up another book.

I heard about The Turquoise Table from another writer/bibliophile who had reviewed it on her blog. The premise was simple: Kristin Schell wanted to build community with her neighbors, so, in a quest to be, as she calls it, “Front-Yard People,” she put a big turquoise picnic table in her front yard and started hanging out at it as much as possible.

Simple. 

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about tables lately.

I’ve also been thinking about this Benjamin Franklin quote which Jodi Picoult so aptly placed before the first chapter of Small Great Things:

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.

But how can I be affected by what’s going on in another person’s life — their battles, their struggles, their needs — unless I offer them a seat at our table?

Unless I bring them into our life?

A few weekends ago, we drove to Chicago for a long weekend. Four hours into our six-hour drive, we passed a broken down suburban on the side of the road.

Two hours, one new alternator, one attempted battery charge, and one tow-truck later, Jake got back into our air-conditioned-less car (it was hot) and said something important to me: I want our kids to be uncomfortable sometimes. I want them to know that it’s good to do things for other people even if it changes our plans or pushes us out of our comfort zones.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot since too.

I want there to be a seat at our table for people even if it changes our plans or pushes us out of our comfort zones.

I want there to be a seat at our table for people with a wide array of opinions, beliefs, and life experiences.

And, I want the people at our table to teach us to better listen, better communicate, and better love.

(Which, I suppose, is likely inevitable.)

In the two years we’ve lived in Cleveland, especially, I’ve seen how quickly friendships can be formed around a table.

And the best part is this: It doesn’t take much.

I think it’s probably as easy as making sure you have a few extra chairs.

•••••

I haven’t given a book away in a few months, but I bought Small Great Things fully intending on passing it along to someone else.

That someone could be you!

If you want my copy, just leave a comment and let me know either straight on this blog post or on the social media thread that led you here!

The only catch is that you have to discuss it with me when you’re finished because I have a lot more thoughts about this one that still need to be fleshed out.

Don’t worry — there’s a seat at my table for you. 😉

finding perspective: there’s always someone else.

The long awaited First of July is finally upon us!

Maybe you didn’t know that today is an important holiday. That today new doctors all around the country, fresh from medical school graduation and their Hippocratic Oaths, are coming to a hospital near you.

But everything’s coming up roses over here because we’re walking our way out of Jake’s second year of his medical residency and into year three.

(You know, pushing play on season three of Grey’s Anatomy.)

WE’RE HALFWAY DONE, and this is something that cannot be said in lowercase letters.

Last year I processed this important holiday by writing about how I’ve learned to deal when the hours are long. I think I thought I might have a lot more to add to the list this year, but, as it turns out, things like “Communicate” and “Die to yourself” still prove to be incredibly effective relationship tools.

There is this one thing though. This one phrase that has been on repeat in my brain all year and never fails to jolt me back to perspective just when I’m about to staple the “Feel Sorry for Me” banner across my entryway at the end of an 80 hour week.

There’s someone else.

My life always feels less hard when I think about my friends or acquaintances whose lives are, indeed, much harder than mine.

Yes, Jake works long hours, but then he comes home.

That sentence alone gives me reason to never complain.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about the “someone elses” in a different way.

It all started when I read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Two years ago we were uprooted and transplanted to Cleveland and God met us here. He has provided comfort in the affliction and constant reminders that this is where He wants us right now.

That doesn’t change the residency requirements though. And, when the long weeks start to feel agonizing and like I might indeed sink through the hatch and into the sea, I think about someone else.

It’s like five years from now and I meet her in line at the grocery store. She has more kids than arms, and I only have one (kid, both arms still) because the rest are in school. She tells me that her husband is about to start his first year of residency, so I invite her over for coffee. We talk about all the things and become fast friends and then scour places like the library and preschool parking lots for other new friends because when things get hard, we both know the importance of rallying the troops (a perfectly normal and realistic hypothetical scenario).

There’s someone else.

So that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

I’m learning that, with an eternal perspective, nothing is without purpose. That God promises to comfort me during the challenges of my life and then, in turn, comfort others through me.

That doesn’t make the hard things any less difficult to paddle through, but it does fill me with a lot of hope and the good kind of anticipation about what the future holds (and this applies to a lot of things in my life outside of medicine).

So, here’s to year three.

To the new lessons, new challenges, and new relationships born from hypothetical dreams.

And, in case, you’re out there celebrating this holiday too, make sure you don’t wind up in the hospital. I mean, give them until at least September to get the hang of things.

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the metaphorical preschool plant.

I have never been much of a gardener.

Years ago, Jake hand delivered a peace lily to me at school and I promptly killed the plant which was marketed as “easy to grow.”

(Also, it’s worth noting that I didn’t even know it was called a peace lily until about 5 minutes ago when I Googled “plant with white flower and spiky center.”)

My green thumb doesn’t have a great track record, really.

About a month ago, I got to spend a Wednesday morning with Lily at her preschool. We did all kinds of crafts, and, at one of the stations, we were provided dirt and flower seeds. Together, Lily and I filled her hand-painted pot with soil, dumped in an entire packet of flower seeds (because, you know, my green thumb forgot you really only need one or two), and sprinkled them with water.

And then we brought it home and waited for it to grow.

Now, I’ve grown things before, but most of the time, I buy them pre-grown. My tomato plant last year came with teeny green tomato buds all over it. The petunias in my front yard? They were already blooming when I thrust their roots into the ground.

This little preschool plant was the first thing I can remember growing from a seed.

And grow it did.

And then do you know what happened? It outgrew its container. The roots needed to be able to dig down deeper, so I had to transplant it.

I had to move it entirely, so that it could continue to grow and flourish.IMG_0224.JPGWe moved to Cleveland almost exactly 2 years ago.

If I close my eyes, I can still palpably remember the anxiety I felt while watching Jake haul the contents of our well-loved duplex to his hand-built trailer.

Everything was uprooting around me.

And then a few days later, it was all transplanted here.

As I helped Lily take our literal plant out of its tiny pot and place it into its new home, I was filled with an immediate sense of overwhelming gratefulness. The metaphor is not lost on me.

I know that God moved us here, so that we could continue to grow and flourish in new ways.

He took our roots and thrust them into the ground here, and, while very few things about this move have been easy, I can’t not see how this change has trellised our family to the important and lasting.

(Raise your hand if you’re impressed that I know what a trellis is.)

I never want to reach the bottom of the pot.

I don’t want to run out of room to grow.

I want my roots to run deep but also stay ready to be uprooted.

Our plant now sits on the front porch, growing steadily in its new space.

And, as I look at it each day, it serves as a reminder: I may not be a very good gardener, but I serve a God who is. And if I abide in Him, He will prune every branch that bears fruit, so that it will bear even more.

a story about a worm.

I saved a worm’s life today.

Lily spotted it on our morning walk. She stopped her scooter just past it, knelt down above it, and said, “Mom! It’s still squirmin’!”

Sure enough, there it was, smack in the middle of the sun-soaked sidewalk, baking on the concrete, and squirming ever so slowly.

I really only did what any good, conscientious citizen would–scooped it up with a nearby leaf, dropped it off in some dirt, and laid the leaf on top of the grass above it so the sun wouldn’t keep drying it out.

And you know what? I feel preeetty good about the whole thing.

I find anymore that it’s so easy at the end of the day to focus on all the things that have gone poorly.

The sharp tones. The unnecessary impatience. The moments of divided attention.

Recently I have found myself fixating on these moments during the quiet of the evening after all the kids are in bed and agonizing over my shortcomings.

Of course there’s something to be said for analyzing the day’s game tape and making changes as necessary, but there’s a lot of good in each day too. And I think I spend too much time overlooking it.

My new practice, then, is to pay more attention to the good as I end each day. In those quiet evening moments, I’ve been trying to make a habit of thinking about all the ways we loved and responded well throughout our days. To cut myself some slack and celebrate our successes.IMG_9947.JPG

So, here’s to the worms.

I was present with the girls in that small moment, and that’s something I want to remember.

Here’s to the books read. The twisted flower crowns. The patient correction.

Here’s to the times I left my phone in the other room, so my attention only had to be divided in thirds rather than fourths.

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These are the kinds of things I want to end my day thinking about, so that I’m more likely to repeat them tomorrow.

That’s right. We’re gonna keep on saving all the worms.

It’s definitely worth it.