12 of My Favorite Books on Parenthood (with a cross-cultural spin)

Though mentioning “parenting book” sometimes elicits groans and eye-rolling from many in society these days, I am the type of over-achieving ex-teacher who tried to read every book I could on parenting BEFORE I even gave birth. Needless to say, there are many books that did not make the cut.  The books below are less practical, more spiritual, less “do do do” and more about learning to have grace with yourself.

Many of the parenting books also have a cross-cultural element. One of the most freeing revelations I have had in my four years of parenting is: They do it differently in other countries. Several of the books on this list give a glimpse into how other cultures tackle some of the major parenting issues in ways that are often overlooked or even criticized in the western world.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting), by Pamela Druckerman  
From Amazon: “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman had a baby in Paris, she didn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” But she noticed that French children slept through the night by two or three months old. They ate braised leeks. They played by themselves while their parents sipped coffee. And yet French kids were still boisterous, curious, and creative. Why? How?”

Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Fit to Burst is a book of parenting “field notes” written by a mom in the thick of it all. It is chock-full of humorous examples and fresh advice covering issues familiar to moms, such as guilt cycles, temptations to be ungrateful or bitter, enjoying your kids, and learning how to honor Jesus by giving even in the mundane stuff. But this book also addresses less familiar topics, including the impact moms have on the relationships between dads and kids, the importance of knowing when to laugh at kid-sized sin, and more. A thoughtful follow-up to Loving the Little Years, Rachel’s first book.”

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between)), by Mei-Ling Hopgood
From Amazon: “A tour of global practices that will inspire American parents to expand their horizons (and geographical borders) and learn that there’s more than one way to diaper a baby. Mei-Ling Hopgood, a first-time mom from suburban Michigan, now living in Buenos Aires, was shocked that Argentine parents allow their children to stay up until all hours of the night. Could there really be social and developmental advantages to this custom? Driven by a journalist’s curiosity and a new mother’s desperation for answers, Hopgood embarked on a journey to learn how other cultures approach the challenges all parents face: bedtimes, potty training, feeding, teaching, and more.”


Instant Mom, by Nia Vardalos
From Amazon: “In Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos, writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tells her hilarious and poignant road-to-parenting story that eventually leads to her daughter and prompts her to become a major advocate for adoption.”

Long Days of Small Things, by Catherine McNeil

You can read my review of this book here, but here is an excerpt: “If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.”


Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Loving the Little Years is a bestselling book of thoughts for mothering young children. It’s written by a mom, for you moms — for when you are motivated, for when you are discouraged, for the times when discipline seems fruitless, and for when you are just plain old tired.”

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, by Desiring God authors
From Amazon: “Are you mom enough? The cover of a popular magazine asked this haunting question in bold red letters that hung over the startling image of a young mother nursing her four-year-old. When the issue hit newsstands, it re-ignited a longstanding mommy war in American culture. But it turns out this was the wrong question, pointing in the wrong direction. There is a higher and more essential question faced by mothers: Is he God enough? This short book with twenty-four short contributions from seven young mothers, explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood. In the trenches, they have learned how to treasure God and depend on his grace. The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes as a result of answering the burning question above with a firm no.”

The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope, compiled by Seth Haines
From Amazon: “After his wife Amber had given birth to three boys in three years, Seth Haines saw that she needed encouragement in the day-to-day drama and details of motherhood. Secretly collecting nearly six hundred wise, honest, and sometimes hilarious letters from other mothers across the world, Seth compiled these “mother letters” as a gift for her. Amber and Seth have chosen the best of those letters–including letters from some of the most influential writers and bloggers online today–to include in a beautiful book perfect for the mother in your life.”

The Mystery of Children: What Our Kids Teach Us about Childlike Faith, by Mike Mason
From Amazon: “Just as Mike Mason’s best-selling The Mystery of Marriage explored the parallels between marriage and our relationship with God, so does The Mystery of Children illuminate key spiritual truths modeled in the complex parent-child relationship. More than a manual on parenting, this book is for everyone who wishes to become childlike in heart or to be closer to children-two desires that are intimately and wondrously entwined.”

(The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason is my husband and my favorite marriage book, though it is definitely more abstract and spiritual than practical.)

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
From Amazon: “Research reveals that American kids lag behind in academic achievement, happiness, and wellness. Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not? This book takes us across the globe and examines how parents successfully foster resilience, creativity, independence, and academic excellence in their children”

Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, by Gary L. Thomas
From Amazon: “Parenting is a school for spiritual formation, says author Gary Thomas, and our children are our teachers. The journey of caring for, rearing, training, and loving our children profoundly alters us forever…even when the journey is sometimes a rough one. Sacred Parenting is unlike any other parenting book on the market. This is not a “how-to” book that teaches readers the ways to discipline their kids or help them achieve their full potential. Instead of a discussion about how parents change their children, Sacred Parenting turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses children to change their parents.”

(Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas is another one of my favorite marriage books)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne
From Amazon: “Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change.”


Plus one documentary:  

Babies
From the film’s website: “Babies simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.”

What are your favorite books on marriage or parenting? 

**This post contains affiliate links.

The People Who Write Books

The crazy people write books, that’s who. Trying to write a book after spending two years as a writer of 800 to 1000 word blog posts is like running a marathon after training to be a sprinter.

I’ve been attempting to wake up and write at 5 am. Giving up our usual method of grinding beans and waiting for French press coffee, I pulled out the 12-cup automatic drip coffee maker. The smell of coffee yanks me out of bed, down the stairs and into my chair.

But as a mom to three young children, the time is too short. Just as I begin to swim away from the shore, out of the shallow end into the deeps, and finally start writing something real, it is 6:30 am. The children whine for breakfast, the baby needs to be nursed, it’s time to go out on a short run, or the laundry needs to be transferred from the washing machine to the dryer. I struggle to break out of the writing trance to get back to life as usual.

But on my run today, I thought about the small work that gets us to the end. Every morning that I wake up and pound out my 500 words, is like a notch in the wall, a foothold taking me higher up to the summit. Some weeks I feel depressed. Self-doubt and loathing threaten my resolve. My inner accusers challenge me, critiquing my every word, every sentence, every groggy minute spent away from my family, friends, or hobbies. Why are you wasting your time? they say.

But then God inevitably gives me a sign. Like the sun bursting through the spruce tree branches into the window over my kitchen sink in the morning, he creates a constellation out of the ordinary.

This autumn, Colorado experienced an uncharacteristic three weeks of dreary cloud cover and rain, which eats away at my soul more than other people since I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It didn’t help that my three children, five and under, seemed bewitched.

So one night last week, I escaped the house at dusk, abandoning my husband to stories about talking animals, tooth-brushing, toileting, singing and prayers. I wandered the streets of our suburb, which was probably very attractive in 1979, gazing into windows and wondering how I got here.

I considered quitting writing.

I passed a yard with a small, green wooden box constructed on top of a pole–one of many little free libraries that have sprung up across the nation that invite the free exchange of magazines, literature, and trashy novels. Rifling through, I found a book. A strange, slim stranger among ordinary friends, it was a book so niche that I wondered if my husband had slipped in it in the box. It was exactly the book I needed for the next notch in the wall I am climbing towards writing this book proposal. I took it as a sign that I am on the right road.

Lately, my three year old daughter has been flapping her arms, running round and round the kitchen island, singing, “I fly through the sky and land on the ground!” over and over and over again. It is the mantra of a writer. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying through the sky, with words and images elevating me almost effortlessly, but most times I just feel like I’m walking with my feet firmly on the ground. I crunch dying leaves, get hit in the face by stray branches, act as referee for my children at the park and wipe oatmeal up off the floor that my daughter has dumped out.

“Look! Look at those geese!” my five year old son said earlier this week, pointing into the grey sky. Turning like he does to mansplain to my three year old daughter, he said, “They spell out words in the sky, like our last name, ‘Verner.'” I imagined all the things the geese would write if they could spell out messages for those of us on the ground to read.

I keep trying to quit, but God keeps sending new North Stars to guide me along my way. I am caught in the river current and swimming back is impossible. Earlier this week, Annie Dillard pushed me along, with these words:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idosynratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands?

Because it is up to you.

There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” —The Writing Life (p. 68)

So I’m showing up. I’m writing what only I can write. I’m giving voice to my own astonishment every morning at 5 am–even if it means I only end up with one decent paragraph. I’m walking with my feet on the ground, but trusting God to lift me up every once in a while and set my ordinary words to flight. Perhaps my words will speak to someone on the ground.

When Your Kid is the Bully

I watched with horror from a distance as my 5 year old son stalked two children much younger than he was and poured water on them—and their mother. For thirty seconds, I actually pretended he wasn’t my son. The museum was crowded and I had my other child with me. Maybe the mom would never know that little boy was my son. But when he started throwing wet straw on them, I knew I needed to intervene.

Another day, I looked across the park to find my son throwing mulch at two boys probably three years older than him. The boys had sticks taller than they were, and the boys were creeping closer to my son.

“WHAT was that all about?” I demanded, marching him away from the park.

“I told them I wanted to fight,” he said.

Shaking my head, I inwardly vowed to never go to the park again.

A few months ago, my two year old daughter pushed another girl off of the play structure that was higher than I am tall. I happened to not be on my phone, cooing at my baby or gabbing away with another mom and I caught the girl by her dress—just one foot off the ground.

What’s worse than having your child get bullied at the playground? When your child IS the bully.

The best advice I have received as a parent happened one day as my kid was losing it at the grocery store. I don’t remember which child, though it could have been any one of the three. A woman pulled her cart up to mine, looked me in the eye and said this,

“Just remember, it’s their age, not their personality.”

Thank God, because at this rate my children will be horrible, selfish, out-of-control human beings. OR they are acting exactly their age.

Growing up, we must have watched the movie Overboard a hundred times. In it, Goldie Hawn’s children are especially terrible. But when the teacher at school begins to complain about them, her character, Annie, jumps to their defense. “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE,” she says.

A bad week of feeling like a failure as a mother demands that I spin this story towards the spiritual. Because for my sanity, I sometimes just need to dig around in the mud for meaning in mundane life. Here’s what I got:

As unruly, loud, obnoxious, disobedient, frustrating and obstinate as my children can (often) be, God has just as much a right to label me as “rotten” to my core. And yet just as I cannot really walk away from my children (though I’m tempted to pretend they aren’t mine), God doesn’t disown us just because of bad behavior. Again, thank God.

God loves bullies just as much as he loves the bullied. The Bible says it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. To all who condemn God’s children, he responds, “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE!”

Perhaps my children acting out is forcing me to wrestle my own perfectionism to the ground. Because sometimes I care more about other people thinking I’m a good mother than I do about actually being a good mother. And God won’t let me get away with that attitude.

So while I am tempted to confine my children at home for the remainder of their days as children, staying in our safe playground in our private backyard, I will continue to risk badness at our neighborhood park. My children leave me open to attack by other bystanders who have their phones out, ready to mom shame. Or, more likely, out of the ashes of my smoldering pride, a new friendship may be born out of the many “me, too” moments shared only by parents who have been there.

So, yes, my child just hit your child. I am sorry and I am doing the best that I can to teach them to be decent human beings. But before we label them, let’s wait and see what the next twenty years will do for their impulse control. God knows I’m still a work in progress, so I’m trusting my children are, too.

When Your Kid is the Bully

When We Make (Awkward) Small Talk

I used to talk to strangers a lot more than I do now. Of course that was when I lived in China, was single, and took every opportunity imaginable to practice my Chinese. Conversing with my neighbor was a win-win. I got language practice and my neighbors could satisfy their curiosity and ask me ALL the questions:

“How much money do you make?”

“Are you married?”

“Do you want me to find you a Chinese boyfriend?”

And because of that, I got to ask them everything I wanted to know as well.

One day in China I was waiting for the bus at rush hour. There were no lines, no “But I was here first’s” and no personal space. This was every man and woman for themselves. So I decided to sit on the bench with my packages and just wait for the sea to subside. I watched with amusement as elbows and knees were thrown. The mob moved as one to try and ooze into the small opening of the bus.

But as I watched, I began to notice something.

Someone.

One man in particular ran up to the crowd, pressing in against them, then retreated right before the bus drove away. I watched as this happened at least five times. Eventually, I noticed something else. As this man pressed in, I saw his hands search pockets and purses. This man was a thief.

I continued to sit and watch. Eventually, the man noticed the waiguoren (outside person/foreigner) sitting on the bench, lap piled high with packages, watching him. I finally got up my nerve.

“So how much money do you make in a day?” I asked.

Without missing a beat, he answered, “About 1000 yuan a day.” This was easily a month’s wages for a lower middle class Chinese person in my city.

Another bus approached. He glanced past me, “Excuse me,” he said. “I need to work.” I watched him run up against the crowd again, then retreat at the last moment. We chatted between each of his “work trips” and I asked about his home, his family and if he felt bad about what he was doing. “Mei ban fa,” he said. No other way.

When the crowds began to subside, I kept a hand on my bag and bid my new acquaintance goodbye. “Man zou,” Go slowly, he said. “Man zou,” I replied.

***

Since moving back to the states seven years ago, I have gotten rusty in my social skills. I no longer talk to strangers, am awkward when the grocery store cashier asks me how my day is going, and prefer texting to talking on the phone. But since moving to a new home two months ago, I am hoping for a fresh start. I want to do the things I once did in China to get to know my neighbors. Surely those methods translate to my home culture?

So two nights ago when I ran out to buy beer (yes), I hesitated when two men stood smoking in front of the entrance to the liquor store. But my old brave self took over, pushing aside my minivan-driving, latte-drinking mom self. Just do it. Go in, she said.

The men parted quickly as I approached them, the one in the hood scurried around the corner, the skinny one entered the store, apologizing. “Can I help you find anything?” he said.

“Do you have any seasonal beers?” I asked. He pointed out a few.

Bottles lined the entire back wall behind the cashier, from floor to ceiling. I was the only one in the store. “So it sounded like that guy was speaking another language,” I mentioned.

“Yeah, I think it was Hebrew,” he said. “He comes around here a lot, but he usually comes back drunk within an hour.”

“So what do you do in a case like that?” I asked. “When someone comes in drunk, do you serve them?”

We chatted a bit more and I left, my pony tail swinging as I put my Blue Moon in the passenger seat. I felt like my old self again. The self who was curious, asked questions and was interested in people. (Okay, perhaps I’m mainly interested in those who are different from me, but still.) It felt good to be inquisitive again.

***

I recently listened to a TED talk about a community on an Italian island where there are ten times the amount of centenarians than in North America. Research shows that their longevity is not due to their diet, exercise or even positive thinking. The main reason for their extended life expectancy seems to be that they live in a tight-knit community where they have daily social interactions. They make eye contact, greet one another and exchange small talk.

Though suburban living has the potential to isolate me from my neighbor, I can still seek out community. I want to greet my neighbors, make eye contact, and ask probing questions. I want to use the tools for language learning I developed in China to get to know my neighbors right here in America. What’s the main ingredient in noticing my neighbor?

Intentionality.

If we are not intentional about getting to know our neighbors, it will not happen.

So how am I going to do this? I’m taking my children trick-or-treating for Halloween. We’re going on walks around the block and stopping to chat with neighbors along the way. I’m forcing myself to talk to random teenagers or moms at the park. And I’m asking cashiers how their day is going before they have a chance to ask me.

I’m embracing my awkward for the sake of community because Jesus tells me to love my neighbor. And sometimes loving is awkward, isn’t it? Jesus doesn’t say loving our neighbor is comfortable or convenient. In fact, the story right after he commands this unreasonable love for our neighbor is about two men who side-stepped someone in need and another man who stopped to help even though it required time, money and effort he may not have wanted to give.

I’m praying for a holy curiosity in all the people around me.

I want to start loving with my ears. Every encounter with every person in my day is pre-ordained by God and full of potential. I don’t want to assume I know people’s stories, because even the most ordinary-seeming person can astound us.

How Writers Find Their Brave

Madeleine L’Engle should be the patron saint of Christian women writers. Any time I start doubting myself, I pull out Walking on Water and feel like I can stop hyperventilating and breathe again. This morning in Walking on Water I read:

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artists and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.” (p. 18)

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist.” (p. 24)

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.” (p. 24)

Serve the Work. Get out of the way. Listen.

Yes.

Annie Dillard says something similar in The Writing Life:

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.” (p. 75)

Most days I sit down and write paragraphs of pure junk. It flows so easily. Then I pick back through the rubble like a hurricane victim trying to salvage valuables from the storm. A friend of mine just shared an article with me about how we must first allow the madman to write. That’s what I’m doing these days. Lots of “shitty first drafts” written by my inner madman. (Thank you, Anne Lamott, for empowering us to write what comes first.)

I have a friend who wants to start writing. “How did you get the courage to start?” she asked.

I wrote because not writing was no longer an option. It was more painful not to write than to write. Like plugging a water faucet with your finger, the words were just too pent up. They demanded a release. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke says that we should only write if we must.

But I am still learning how to get out of the way and serve the work. It takes a certain faith to believe in the word magic. Elizabeth Gilbert has built her entire career on it, writing Big Magic and producing a podcast called Magic Lessons. It feels like voodoo. But Christian poet Luci Shaw instead names the Holy Spirit as her muse in Breath for the Bones.

Sometimes it helps to over-spiritualize things.

When I meet other writers, they ask me if I want to write a book. “Maybe eventually,” I’ve always said. I still feel like I’m in love with the love of writing, like I’m not ready to commit to this as a profession. It is an affair without the commitment and I don’t want to sacrifice the butterflies for the long-term, daily work of love that includes the non-sexy tasks of emptying the dishwasher and hanging the wet clothes on the line. But the time has come.

The Book is asking me to write it.

I was excited at first. But lately I’ve taken cues from my children and become a fantastic whiner. Just what my husband needs.

I made the mistake of going into Barnes and Noble. Thousands of beautiful books full of billions of words assaulted me. I couldn’t leave quickly enough. They seemed to all be harassing me, screaming, “We don’t need any more of these!”

But hanging on my husband’s neck in the kitchen after the kids had finally quieted down that night, I told him about the abuse I had suffered. I echoed the books’ words: “Why? Why does the world need another book?”

“Think about it like this,” he said. “The world doesn’t need another child, either. There are billions. And yet each one is precious—unique—and a necessary and beautiful contribution to the world. And people just keep birthing them.”

This from a man who consumes over 80 books a year and reads for a living. He has narrated a few horrible books in his lifetime. Surely he would save me from myself if I was way off track.

But he believes I can do it. I don’t think I would have even started writing without him as a coach, editor and cheerleader. God knew I wouldn’t venture out without at least one person in the world telling me I could do this.

So I released my inner madman this morning. He’s running all over the page. I’m listening. I lift my hands in terrified obedience–surrender, even.

Yes. I will serve the work.

Here we go.

 

If you are a writer, how do you find your brave?

 

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

What do Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, Luci Shaw and Rilke have in common?

The Cost of Getting Proximate {for SheLoves}

Sharing this post at SheLoves today, for the theme “Amplify.”

Bryan Stevenson changed my life.

Last year, his book, Just Mercy, crushed the last of my illusions about justice in the United States. A few months after reading it—sleep deprived with a 12-day-old newborn—I drove to hear Stevenson speak in the auditorium of a nearby university. I nursed my infant with one arm and scribbled illegible notes with my other hand. But two words rattled me, transfixed me. They altered the course of our life, in fact.

“Get proximate.”

I stopped writing and looked up as he spoke. “Get close to the problems instead of trying to solve them from a distance. Get proximate to the poor and be willing to do uncomfortable things,” he said.

Was I willing not to just visit, talk about, or pray for those living in the margins, but actually move there?

For the past two years after moving from the city of Chicago, we rented a house in a nearly all-white area of Colorado snuggled up against the Rocky Mountains. The middle class neighborhood was made up of retirees with large campers parked in their driveways and a few young families. People didn’t bother locking their doors and I would have felt safe walking down our pitch black street late at night under a jubilee of stars. We were within walking distance of a huge new park with a splash pad, a giant wooden playground, a Frisbee golf course and tennis courts.

But as we began to search for a home to buy, I sensed God nudging us towards something other than safe, secure and comfortable. As we looked for houses in the nearby college town, I picked subdivisions where the neighborhood school had a high percentage of non-white students and free lunch recipients.

I drove around neighborhoods near trailer parks and run-down apartment complexes, ashamed that though I’d be willing to live near them, I wasn’t willing to actually live in a low income neighborhood just to be proximate to the poor.

Buying a home holds a mirror to our prejudices, privilege and values. It blasts holes in our claim to love our neighbor when we begin to realize we meant the neighbor just like us.

God never assures us safe or comfortable. He doesn’t urge us to pray for “smooth journeys” or perfect health. In fact, the gospel message juxtaposed against American culture is starkly counter-cultural.

Jesus wandered from house to house, keeping company with the misfits of society. He touched the untouchable and dined with the outcast. In the end, he gave up the right to protect himself and willingly died so these misfits could experience belonging. This is the gospel. So why do Sunday mornings at church always feel so polished and pristine?

We finally bought a home. Though the city is 82 percent white, the neighborhood school is 73 percent white. Fifty-two percent of the students have free or reduced lunch. It is not a drastic shift, but it is a small step toward a wider community of neighbors.

The city we moved to is double the size of the one we left. The hum of life murmurs at a low level. We now hear sirens, see bikers buzz past our picture window and hear Thai, Arabic and Hindi spoken at the grocery store. For the first time in my life, there is an African American family living across the street. My children are also beginning to recognize Spanish being spoken at the public library or MacDonald’s play place. I have plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on unsuspecting Chinese people who don’t know I spent five years in China. From a diversity-standpoint, this feels like a good decision.

But what about the increase in homelessness and crime—does Jesus really want us to move closer to that?

Before moving (and in rebellion against the inner voice that warns us we’re googling too far) I searched online to see if there were any sex offenders in the neighborhood. There are. The site also offered all the registered felons. There were many—even on the route my kids will one day walk to school. I joined the local online forum for our neighborhood and learned that three cars were broken into last week and an unsolved murder a few streets away was solved. Fear began pawing at me, whispering that I am right to shelter and shield my children.

Proximity costs us …

Continue reading at SheLoves.

 

Monthly Mentionables {July/Aug 2017} + 10 Things I Learned While Renovating Our New Home

If you want to test your marriage, parenting, and general lust for life, try moving with three children, age four and under. I suppose it wouldn’t have been so challenging if we hadn’t attempted to paint all the kitchen cabinets and the entire interior of the house before moving in …

But my word for this year is “fire,” so I will leave you to apply all the metaphors to this current situation. Just not the cozy, sit-by-the-fire ones, please.

But in the midst of our normal, daily life stressors, I can’t not mention that this was the month of Charlottesville, the solar eclipse and Hurricane Harvey, plus flooding in many other countries around the world. Each event left me stunned and speechless. As a writer, I struggle because I feel the pressure of speaking into the noise even when I know I may not be heard. The weight of responsibility weighs on me. But that’s a topic for another post …

Today, I’ll keep it light and share what I’ve learned this month via books, podcasts, articles and writing.

Because of the busyness of our recent move, the book reading has been minimal. But with the many hours of painting and nursing a baby, I’ve squeezed in podcasts and much blog/article-reading. Please comment here or on social media. As an extrovert, I love knowing I’m not writing into the void and as a mother to small children with little time to reach out, I appreciate feeling like this blog is more of a conversation than an online journal I am publishing for every stranger to read. Don’t be a stranger;-)

So here we go. Here are the books (okay, book), podcasts, articles and very little writing I’ve been into this month, plus ten things I learned this summer while renovating our new home:

Adopted, by Kelley Nikondeha

I have a serious problem. As a writer, I have some amazing opportunities to pre-read books and be a part of book launches. I find I CANNOT SAY NO to these. It’s a problem. But I am so glad I went against my own better judgement and agreed to read this book written by a long-time contributor to SheLoves. Adopted is a slowly-read-and-savor kind of book. It is an underline-every-line kind of book. The author was not only adopted, but also adopted two children from Burundi (and married a man from Burundi), so she speaks out of her experience as she shares about belonging to the family of God. Kelley is an outstanding writer and I loved the way she weaves words and images from Africa throughout the book. If you are looking for an early morning companion to your daily Bible reading and coffee drinking, be sure and pick up this book. It will change the way you view your place at God’s table.

Podcasts

Pass the Mic

Bonus: The Fierce Urgency of Now: Christian Complicity with Racism and the Imperative for Immediate Action. This is fabulous. Please listen if you have a chance this month.

 

Pray-As-You-Go

I’m experimenting with listening to this during the first part of my runs in the mornings. I’ve shared it before, but it includes a spiritual song, then a reading of a short Bible passage and a few questions for reflection. They have British accents, so it makes it feel even more spiritual somehow;-)

 

The Simple Show

Episode 88: No & Yes. I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately as I begin the school year calendar. What will I say no to and make room for the things I want to say yes to? This episode gave me a lot to think about.

 

Slices of Life. This one was new to me this month. I love the depth these women go to as they discuss daily life.

Episode 39: Making Time for Your Kids

Episode 53: The Benefits of Margin in Your Day

 

Sorta Awesome

Episode 110 Sorry/Not Sorry. This is a long one, but if you don’t have time to get together with girl friends yourself and need a good belly-laugh, this is a perfect way to spend your minutes folding laundry, cooking dinner or commuting to work.

 

TED Talks Daily. These are all fabulous. If I were teaching right now, they are talks I would assign as homework so we could discuss them in class. Here are some I listened to this month:

How to Design a Library that Makes Kids Want to Read, by Michael Bierut (I feel like this isn’t the right title for this–listen through all the way to the end!)

Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy, by Adam Alter

How Cohousing can make us happier (and live longer), by Grace Kim

When Black Women Walk, Things Change, byT. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison

12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing, by Anne Lamott

 

Recipes:

Authentic Italian Meatballs at food.com

Garlic Lemon Herb Mediterranean Chicken + Potatoes (one pan) at Café Delites (Be sure to add feta cheese to this one)

Shrimp Boil at Tasting Table. (Use less salt!)

Vanilla Cupcakes from Life, Love and Sugar. The cake part wasn’t anything new, but the frosting was better than any I’ve ever made before! I’m excited to try out some new recipes from here.

Casper, WY. The night before the eclipse. The sun was already showing off.

Interesting Articles from the Web:

Be a Foster Parent or Be the Village, by Katie Finklea at Loving Well, Living Well

The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul, by Philip Yancey at Washington Post

I Moved My Kids Out of America. It Was the Best Parenting Decision I Ever Made, by Wendy DeChambeau for The Week 

Oldest Kids in Class Do Better, Even Through College, by John Ydstie for NPR

Teach Me How to Age Well, by Leah Abraham at SheLoves Magazine

The ‘Wait Until 8th’ Pledge–Let Kids be Kids a Little Longer, by Linda Sharkey, at Westport Moms Blog

White Supremacy (Overt and Covert), a great visual for understanding race

Why Free Play is Disappearing in Our Culture, for Today’s Mama

10 Truths and Realities of Transracial Adoption, by at Loving Well, Living Well

12 Best Practices for Finding Time, Energy and Inspiration to Write + A Prayer for Writers, by Sarah Bessey

100 Books by Christian Authors of Color, by Deidra Riggs at her blog

 

FOR FUN:

This Shiplap is Killing Me: 8 Things I Hate about HGTV

John Piper’s Best Tweets

 

In Case You Missed it on Scraping Raisins:

Why I’m Not Apologizing for My Kids and Doing Hospitality Anyway

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead

#WhiteChurchQuiet and How the White Church Can Get It Right

Why I Write (because don’t we sometimes need to remember?)

 

And Elsewhere on the Interwebs:

Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer (for SheLoves)

Small, Sticky Hands Lead Me to Jesus (for Redbud Post)

Selling Out by Settling Down? (for Mudroom Blog)

And this is for the Emily P. Freeman Crowd–10 Things I Learned this Summer while Renovating Our New Home

  1. Painting Kitchen Cabinets: Don’t use Annie Sloan Chalk paint on your kitchen cabinets unless you want to do three coats of paint, plus three coats of polyurethane PER SIDE–that’s 12 flips, people. I did use it on the kitchen island, though, because I wanted to use the dark wax and loved the turquoise color, called Florence.
  2. Shower Mildew: check this out before re-grouting your shower. Totally works.
  3. DIY Kitchen Island: My dad and I built our kitchen island basically using this site. I love it so far!
  4. IKEA and I are not enemies anymore. I love the drawer organizer, kids’ easel and paper, kids’ plasticware, comforter and plants.
  5. Downsides to the Open Floor Plan: noise and it is impossible to hide the clutter.
  6. Painting Kitchen Counters: haven’t done this yet, but I’m planning on using Giani–let me know if you’ve ever done this and have tips!
  7. Painting All Interior Walls: taping takes so long that I eventually just got really good at cutting-in.
  8. Stock Up on Trader Joe’s Frozen Dinners–the Indian ones and naan are actually really good! People should do meal trains for moves like they do for new moms. A couple friends brought us meals and literally saved my sanity that day!
  9. Keep Little Ones Busy: let them play with paint brushes and rollers outside and “paint” the sidewalk with water.
  10. Popcorn Ceilings: don’t attempt to remove them yourself. It is completely worth the cost to pay someone to do it.

Before and After pics still to come!

What all were you up these past couple months? I’d love to hear!

 

*Linking up with Emily P. Freeman and Leigh Kramer

**Includes Amazon Affiliate links

 

 

 

 

Why I’m Not Apologizing for My Kids and Doing Hospitality Anyway

Lately I’ve been asking myself if I still enjoy hosting people in my home. Gathering around the table, feasting, having deep talks over plates piled high with food in the glow of candlelight is the goal, right? The adults belly laugh, dabbing tears from the corner of their eyes, then grab another steaming roll to dip in their homemade soup while the children run off to laugh together in the backyard. This is my expectation. No, this is my illusion.

Instead, hospitality looks more like this:

I wait until the absolute last minute to tell my three children we are having guests, because they turn into crazed creatures pulsating with energy the second they know more attention-giving bodies will be in our home. Instead, as soon as my pre-arrival stress is about to erupt, I plug them into a movie to do the last minute meal prep, sweep the floor, pick up the toys and issue marching orders to my husband-turned-servant. Seconds before our first guest arrives, we scan the house, noting that it is worth having guests over just to have a decluttered home even if for just a second. But then the reality check arrives.

The doorbell rings and one of my children hides, while the other rushes to the door, suddenly all disheveled hair and stained clothing and immediately drags any newly arrived kids to their messy bedroom. The guests make their way to the kitchen and plant themselves at the kitchen island. My husband delivers drinks while I try not to screw up the whole meal in minutes because I am now not only stressed and hungry, but distracted. The kids race through the house, dumping the toys from every basket, crashing trucks over our feet and racing them on the hardwood floors. They reach grimy hands over the counter to blindly grab at olives, cheese or chips at the edge of the counter.

I calmly and slowly remind my children of “what we talked about before our guests arrived”—they should play outside or in designated rooms. Go there right now. Please. They ignore me. I stand there, hands covered in garlic, knife in hand and keep smiling at my newly-arrived guests.

Welcome to our happy home.

We had a family over last weekend with three children the ages of our children and one man who came solo. We spent the entire afternoon preparing. The food was overcooked and too salty, and I learned the downsides of the popular “open floor plan”—namely that the child chaos ricochets around the room and is impossible to escape. The four older children (all five and under) sat alone at the kitchen island, dueling with the plastic knives they had snuck out of the drawer and turned their food into ships and guns. The other mom and I tried to feed our babies finger food and unsuccessfully police our other children all while trying to talk about plans for a new small group. The older kids finished and the three-year-old girl caught her finger in the sliding glass door and wailed the remainder of the time. We all stood up, leaving our one male friend eating his apple pie alone at the table.

When the baby, too, began to cry, the parents abruptly announced their decision to abort mission. What was meant to last 2 ½ hours lasted 1 ½ hours. They were all out the door in minutes, leaving my husband and I standing in the kitchen, counters piled high with dirty dishes and over-stimulated kids running through the toy and food-littered floor. “Let’s go for a walk,” I said.

And so in the quiet after the chaos, I did what any halfway sensible adult would do and reflected on the wisdom of continuing the stress, anxiety and humiliation of having people to my home during this season with little ones. Maybe this isn’t the time of life. Perhaps I just said I liked hospitality because it seemed like the Good Christian Thing to do. “God, is this really…” And before I could even formulate the thought into a prayer, God interrupted.

“You do it anyway.”

Wait, what?

Do hospitality anyway. You do it in the stress and the mess and the raisins smashed into the carpet. You do it even though you are hollering over three preschoolers telling knock knock jokes with no punchline and talking about poop and pee at the table. You do it when your children throw tantrums and blatantly disobey you in front of your friends and family. You do it because doing life together means not hiding behind closed doors, but inviting people into your actual life. And real life is not pretty. It is not organized, perfect or pristine. Hospitality is not comfortable, clean or controlled.

Three of the four books in the Bible about Jesus’ life and ministry tell a story about his friends trying to keep the kids away from Jesus. I’m sure the children then were not so different from kids today. They had dirt under their fingernails, food on their faces, didn’t know how to use inside voices or walk—not run–inside. They didn’t know they shouldn’t ask people why they are fat or handicapped or black. They probably announced that food was “yucky” and peed on the floor when they forgot to go to the bathroom. They probably fought to hold on to their favorite toys and didn’t like going to sleep in the dark. Those Jewish children probably acted just like my kids.

And yet instead of being embarrassed, Jesus invited those messy, noisy, belligerent children to come to him. He didn’t tell them to clean up or straighten up first. Instead, he reprimanded his well-meaning friends who were eager for a constant atmosphere of contemplation and miracles. “Don’t stop them,” he scolded them. “For the Kingdom of God belongs to people like these.” The Kingdom does not belong to the perfect adults (ha), but the imperfect, loud, obnoxious kids.

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

I’m not advocating for a child-centered existence, but I am wondering if there is something to Jesus’ command that I’m missing when I expect my children to be anything more or less than what they are–children. Perhaps I need to hang a sign by my table as a reminder: “She is three years old. He is four years old.” Because I forget and expect them to act like adults.

My children are peeling away my masks, forcing me into true, messy relationship without the pretense of perfection. And Jesus says that if I don’t learn to receive the Kingdom of God like one of these kids we apologize for and try to hide, then we will never receive it.

So I’m doing hospitality anyway. In the noise, fuss, mess and chaos. Don’t wipe your feet at the door. Just come on in.

 

How are you doing hospitality anyway?

Somehow, the Kingdom of God belongs to those with the greatest impropriety. The ones we are embarrassed of are the very ones to whom the kingdom belongs. Instead of working for our children to be seen and not heard, perhaps we should be doing more inviting, listening and learning from them.

Why We’re Not Doing Preschool this Year (and Are Doing a ‘Gap Year’ Instead)

I sent my first son to preschool two days a week before he even turned three. In spite of a twinge of grief and guilt as I dropped him off that first day, I know we both did a little skip when I left—him running to plunge his hands into the sensory bin filled with items I wouldn’t let near my house and me rushing home to put my daughter down for her nap and a glorious hour and a half of silence.

As an educator myself, I don’t need to be convinced that preschool is a good idea. It is fabulous. Structure, another adult to listen to and obey, friends to be made and exposure to more of life outside of the sphere of our home. Preschool is a wonderful way for kids to learn, grow and be socialized.

But this year, we are opting out of preschool.

I recognize that even having the option of sending or not sending my child to preschool and being a stay-at-home parent is a result of my privilege. I erased my last fourth-grade homework chart off the dry-erase board of our school nearly five years ago–just weeks before my first son was born–and I haven’t received a paycheck since (*sob*). But I want to acknowledge that I am a privileged person simply because I have the choice to work or not work.

For the most part, preschool in Colorado is not free, so money is a large factor in why we aren’t doing it this year.

But I also suddenly realized that unless I homeschool (which I’m not planning to), we will be bound to a school schedule for the next 18 years.

But we have this one year before that happens.

Just one year before we will be racing around in the mornings to get a child out of the house. One year before the school supplies, fieldtrip permission slips, picture money, parent conferences and other parent-child-school responsibilities begin. A week into madly researching a viable preschool option for my three and almost-five-year-olds, wondering how I’d juggle drop-offs and pick-ups with a one-year-old, the thought occurred to me…

What if we did something crazy, and just took a free year—a gap year? A year to be a little tribe and explore, play, learn and grow together?

Before kids, I was an upper elementary and middle school teacher—early education was not my thing. But I’m hoping by surrendering to the mess, stress, slowness and simplicity, I’ll fall in love with these little years. And perhaps we’ll build a strong foundation together before they begin to totter out of the nest into public school.

Here are some ideas I have for the coming year.

Play

This one is hard for me. It is nearly impossible for me to sit on the floor with my children and not start organizing toys. But I’m going to attempt to let go, give in and learn to play with my children this year. This year, I resolve to:

  • Allow lots of free play. I finally surrendered the couch cushions to the minions. They have their own pile in the sunroom now.
  • Visit all the parks in our city.
  • Sing and dance. My son has a CD player and all the CD’s are scratched, but they can really break it down.
  • Get outside every day—spend time in the front and back yard, go to parks, go on walks around the neighborhood or visit nature areas around town.

Explore

We are in a new city, so there is much to explore. But you might be surprised what you’ll find when you become a tourist in your own town.

  • Visit all the Little Free Libraries in our city. We always have a stack of books to give away. We’re going to ride bikes or drive around to visit all of these we can.
  • Go on hikes and nature walks. My kids whine the first fifteen minutes of a “hike,” but usually find rocks, bugs and flowers to distract them pretty quickly. The baby rides in the ergo for this one.
  • Attend free festivals and concerts. Denver is just an hour away, but our city has plenty to keep us busy year-round.
  • Go to the children’s museum, zoo and other museums in and around our city. Instead of blowing all their grandparent Christmas and birthday money on gifts that just get lost and clutter up our house, I usually use 70 percent of it on museum or zoo passes.
  • Visit a fire station or create our own fieldtrips.
  • Find out about other languages and cultures. We’ll be attending the international women’s club on a weekly basis, so this helps with that. We’re also hoping to have an international student live with us this year.
  • Visit the grandparents in the mountains.

Read

  • Go to the library once a week and attend library story times.
  • Intentionally read some books each week with people of color as the main characters.
  • Read books together daily—big books and little books. We just finished James and the Giant Peach and are doing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory next.
  • Listen to audio books. My son has enjoyed Magic Tree House so far.
  • Have them read quietly at certain times of the day (ha).

Create

I don’t do well with messes. This is one of the things I loved best about preschool—the teacher did all the messy things with my son so I never had to feel guilty about not doing those things. But this year I’m going for it. We bought an easel at Ikea, lots of washable paints and markers, rolls of paper and all kinds of random objects at Hobby Lobby to glue onto paper to make collages. We’re doing it. The goal is for all of us to have glitter, paint or marker on our bodies at all times just to prove we are artists (okay, maybe not glitter).

  • Draw
  • Paint (my kids hate finger painting, but we’ll probably try again)
  • Make necklaces
  • Glue things to paper—like pasta, tiny pieces of paper, feathers, nature items,
  • Bake
  • Do one pinterest craft a week (*slight cringe* #notapinterestmom)
  • Make puppets and masks
  • Play with sand (LOVE this crazy sand–as long as it’s on a sweepable surface), water, playdough, clay and other sensory items

Serve

  • Bake something for a neighbor or homeless person and deliver it once a week.
  • Visit a nursing home.
  • Attend the international women’s club each week at the nearby college.
  • Visit with elderly neighbors.
  • Have people over for dinner and have the kids help make it.
  • Practice random acts of kindness together.

Relax

  • Stay home at least one day a week.
  • Take our time going places.
  • Throw out schedules every once in a while—allow naps in the car, stay up late and have movie nights, wear PJ’s until 2 pm, take baths in the middle of the day.

 

Notice I don’t have a “learn” category. This year, I want to focus on my children learning experientially. Will we do letters, numbers and reading? Of course, because those things happen organically in life and we’ll talk about them when they do. But I am not planning on having a structured “school time” each day or week other than my kids attending Bible study and church each week.

Opting out of preschool is a slightly terrifying prospect to me, and yet I’m excited for margins in our days to lean into life.  Because we are not paying for preschool, we can afford a sitter one morning a week so I can write, but the other days (thanks to my husband who works full-time), our time is flexible. And as much as I would have loved a few hours with a few less kids a week, the thought of a year of freedom to live, explore, create, read, serve and relax sounds pretty amazing, too.

I’ll be writing about our experience periodically and sharing reviews about the books we check out at the library, so subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch!

Here we go. Let the adventures begin.

Leslie

*Includes Amazon affiliate links

Why we're not doing preschool this year--and all that we'll be doing instead.

 

#WhiteChurchQuiet and How the White Church Can Get It Right

I skipped church the week Alton Sterling and Alando Castile were gunned down. I feared their names wouldn’t be mentioned from the pulpit.

I wanted to protect myself from bitterness that our all-white church could afford to not even notice the tsunami happening in the African-American community. Instead, I immersed myself in downloaded sermons from churches with people of color at the helm, finding they were not as bitter as I was. It turns out this was not a new phenomenon to them like it was to me. They had seen it all before. And they’d see it again.

I found myself gathering a similar resolve this past weekend after Charlottesville, my insides coiling and preparing to fight or flee as a response to the inevitable silence of our white church. We’ve since changed churches, but our 98 percent white church has tended to shy away from controversy in the past, so I suspected silence from the pulpit.

I was wrong.

Our pastor hit it head-on. We began our service with a congregational prayer and response for racial healing. From there, he launched into a lament and a call to us to do more, be more, learn more. He shared a time when he got it wrong in a partnership with a local black church.

Our church doing a congregational prayer and response after Charlottesville.

The white church has so far to go. In Lisa Sharon Harper’s recent guest post on Ann Voskamp’s blog, she pointed out that race is often considered an extracurricular activity for the church. But fighting for equal justice for men and women of color is not the same as signing up to help with the monthly newcomer’s potluck. It is not the same as giving money for overseas missions or serving in the soup kitchen.

This is not just one lane of many that we can choose to advocate for—the lane of racial healing is for every single member of the body of Christ. For when one part of our body is hurting, the rest suffers.

We all know how these things go. The internet will be deafeningly loud—for a while. The buzz will quiet down for a time until the next brown teenager is shot or the next rally is broadcasted.

But what if the white church couldn’t be identified as #whitechurchquiet any longer—a Twitter hashtag coined by Andre E. Johnson as a way of calling attention to the silence of the white church? What if the white church was known as a champion of our brown and black brothers and sisters in Christ? What if the white church was the loudest cry, the longest march and the most insistent voice in the fight for equal justice for every breathing human made in the image of God on this planet?

What if?

I am tempted to tune out and turn off the noise. I feel numb to the hate, paralyzed by the need for change.

But the church does not have the luxury of scurrying away and hiding from pain.The church does not have the right to cover her eyes until this, too, has passed. No, the church needs to step into the fire. 

We are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The church is fueled by the Spirit of the living God and the resurrected King of Kings. This is not the time for the church to cower. This is the time for the church to come out of hiding and love with all the love we have been given. It is the time to speak into the spheres where we live, work and worship.

These are not dark days, for God is not dead. He is piercing the darkness. He wants the white church to join Him.

Race Resources:

70+ Race Resources for White People

80+ MORE Race Resources for White People

Facebook groups:

Be the Bridge

Pass the Mic

What if the white church was the loudest cry, the longest march and the most insistent voice in the fight for equal justice for every breathing human made in the image of God on this planet?