Sunday, January 31, 2016

10 Things I Learned in January

At the end of each month, I share things that I learned. This habit helps me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. It's my way of reflecting and celebrating. It's how I take notice and be present. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned this month: 

1. One hour in the snow is just right for our family. 

During our holiday trip to California, we took a day to drive up a mountain so our kids could play in the snow. For Hawaii kids, this is the dream. We spent one hour frolicking, making snowmen, and sledding down a hill. When the kids predictably began complaining about their cold feet, we jumped back into the car.

2. I love partnering with others in creative projects. 

Right now I'm currently collaborating with others on a few different new ventures. There is such magic that happens when you try something new and risky with other creative people.

3. I can eat this for breakfast every day.

Toast topped with a fried egg, avocado, and a dash of pepper and truffle salt. Yessss.

4. True listening transforms us.

My friend and former colleague Adam McHugh wrote a powerful and deep book called The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, which compels us to listen to God, others, and ourselves. Since reading it, I've been challenged to be a better listener and to allow my heart to be more attentive and open.

5. Speaking of listening to God and others, I have recently taken on a new leadership role at my church as Pastor of Spiritual Formation.

Essentially, I will be giving guidance and direction in people's spiritual journeys. I'm excited and honored to join people as they seek to know God more deeply, grow spiritually, and be released more fully into their God-purposed lives. I see this ministry as one of listening - listening to people, listening to the spiritual and soul realities, listening to God - and helping others to do the same.

6. Parenthood involves saying ridiculous things in all seriousness. 

As in, "Please wipe your face with a napkin, not a quesadilla." I really had to say this to my child.

7. Hawaii has vog, and it's gross.

The air quality is generally lovely here, until vog (air pollution from the nearby erupting volcano) settles in. We've had a few days of heavy vog, and it is nastier than Los Angeles smog.

8. We all have bad days, and this tool can help:

This diagram is in Jes Baker's Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls as a tool for increasing health. I think it is wonderful in its simplicity and effectiveness.

Step 1) You begin with an "I feel" statement. Such as one of my common ones, "I feel anxious." Step 2) Fill out the symptoms. Step 3) List out the core areas of your life that affect your health. For mine, I add in connectedness to God, water, and quiet time. Then Step 4) Assess how much or little of that area has been getting met, and Step 5) Actionable solutions for each area. Step 6) Put each solution into order. And now you have an action plan!

I've realized that lots of my grumpiness and anxiety comes from needing more time to connect with God and have quiet.

9. Sometimes I use popsicles to bribe motivate my kids. 

You guys, I'm a genius. I make homemade popsicles with fruit, yogurt, and spinach. My kids think these green popsicles are a fantastic treat, and are basically willing to do anything to get one. I feel no remorse over this.

10. Everyone has fear, and everyone needs courage.

I have my own fears. You have yours. We all need encouragement. Take courage today, friends. Do something that scares you, and kick fear to the curb. Go impart some of that courage to others around you.

What about you? What did you learn this month?

Monday, January 18, 2016

On Turning 35

It's official. I've reached 35. 

This is the age I imagined as a teenager that people had life all figured out and had already peaked. Well let me tell you, the view from 35 feels quite different than what I anticipated (isn't that almost always the case with life?). I have a few things figured out, and a whole lot of gray space in the category of Things I Don't Know. Healthy wisdom makes you realize the vastness of what you don't understand. 

Things I know at 35. I know that my body is in pretty good shape now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. My lower back is constantly wary of me attempting radical feats like bending over to pick up a Lego. I know that our physical health is never, ever a given. My spirit and mind may feel youthful and zippy, but my body may say nope, not today. Body aches and illnesses remind us that our worth is inherent, and doesn't rest on our ability to be functional and high-performing. But on the days my body is working well, I'm going to dance with my kids and do yoga stretches. 

I know that good life partners are as necessary as water. I have a few good people who, by my lucky stars, are committed to crying and laughing through life with me. Like me, they have their blind spots and stupid moments. That's a given. Make a pact together that you'll tell each other the truth, always be on the same team (even if you disagree), extend large doses of grace, and be out for each other's good.

I know that my soul needs tending. Some days I feel a surge of joy and vitality flowing through me, other days I wake up in a dismal state and all of life feels like it’s the pits. That’s the indicator that my soul needs me to listen to it. Souls are like gardens, needing regular watering and fertilizing and pruning. Souls that get ignored become grouchy. I’ve learned to be a better listener to my soul, paying attention to its usually quiet, unassuming voice. When I am anxious or hurried, that's usually a sign that my soul needs some air time. When an inner voice says, “Maybe it would do me some good to go for a walk or go be alone or make a change today,” I know to follow that lead. Usually that inner voice leads me back to the true Voice, the creator and author. This Voice is the source of life, though I often forget that. I tend to get distracted by other things that compel me. I fill up on food and TV and social events, which end up feeling like snacks rather than a full meal. But then I somehow make my way back to the Voice that speaks my name and knows my thoughts, and there is a settling back home. It is the place of rest and contentment and security.

In my 20’s I was very much consumed with “What should I do in this life?” Now I’m a bit more of the mindset, “Who should I be in this life?” I’m working on being kind. And being courageous. And loving people better. I figure that what I do will flow out of who I am. If I'm a good person, I'll do good things. There are about a thousand ways to measure the worth of my day - how many to-do’s I crossed off the list, how many likes I got on the internet, the number of “must read” articles I skimmed. Today I’m choosing to measure my day by how much love and kindness I extend to others. 

I’m enjoying my 30’s. The day-to-day isn’t glamorous, but I’m doing what I need to be doing. Raising three kids, partnering with my husband, tending to our community, and trying to be a faithful steward of all I have. On the best days, I operate with a keen awareness of the resources at my disposal - my time, attention, words, money - and work hard to use them to serve and care for the world around me. The other day I made a big batch of chili for our family dinner, and poured in all the love I had in that moment. Did you know you can pour all your love into whatever or whoever is in front of you, even a big batch of chili? 

For the record, I don’t think my life has peaked yet. It is getting richer and deeper by the year. I imagine that in this 35th year of my life I’ll venture into uncharted territory, stumble and fail, and reach heights unimagined. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reflections on 2015

End-of-the-year reflections from past years: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Happy 2016, dear friends!

Near the end of the year, I enjoy taking time to reflect on the past year. It helps me to remember what I learned, consider the greater context of my life, and embrace the coming of a new year.

1. What was the best thing that happened this year?

Our lovely, lively Aria Li Mei Marks was born (you can read about her birth here). As our third child, she brought more joy and chaos into our family (and forced us to purchase a minivan).

2. What was the most challenging thing that happened?

Saying yes to the right things for right now. Whew, more than ever before, this year was full of challenging decisions for Steve and me. These decisions involved competing values and complicated outcomes, and we really had to lean hard into wisdom, prayer, and discernment.

3. What was an unexpected joy?

Ministering with Steve in new ways was an unexpected joy. This year we had the chance to preach at a conference together, as well as lead and minister to others in our home. After several years of doing completely different things, ministering together was really life-giving.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

The temptation to people-please. There were several points this year when it was tempting to let the opinions of others sway my decisions, rather than be guided by my own true convictions.

5. Pick three words to describe 2015.

Sleep deprivation

6. What were the best books you read this year?

Soul Keeping by John Ortberg
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
On Writing by Stephen King
The Martian by Andy Weir

7. What did you do in 2015 that you've never done before?

I wrote a short memoir each day for 100 consecutive days. The 100 Days of Memoirs project was challenging and invigorating (and a little insane to do in the early months after giving birth), and I am so glad to have done it.

8. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

For 2015 I committed to be a person of love, generosity, joy, kindness, and compassion. I'm not sure how to measure that. Did I intentionally grow in those areas? Yes, I tried. Do I think I am different from who I was last year? Yes, I think so.

For this coming year, I have a sense that there will be ways I grow through effort and intention, but also through letting myself freely receive what comes my way. I haven't yet made any resolutions or goals, but I probably will at some point.

9. For what are you most grateful?

I'm grateful for the abundance of people in my life - my husband, our kids, parents, siblings, our housemate, friends, church community. If one's wealth can be counted in relationships, I am rich beyond what I deserve.

To a lesser degree, I am grateful for coffee, good schools for our children, a healthy body, public libraries, and date nights with my husband.

10. How did you change this year?

I was altered by parenthood this year, stretched by having a third child while also raising a feisty 3-year-old. Through my kids, I grew in my capacity to love unconditionally.

I also changed as a writer. I finally came to a place of embracing the writer in me, identifying as a writer and storyteller.

11. What moments were most memorable?

Delivering our third child. Co-speaking with Steve for an InterVarsity Fall Conference of 150 college students. Launching our monthly Beer, BBQ, Bible Study nights in our living room.

12. What were your greatest discoveries?

Hydro Flask water bottles. The 100-Day Project. Capsule wardrobes.

13. What are you looking forward to this coming year?

I am excited to take on a new leadership role in our church, as well as continue to offer people guidance as a spiritual director. I'm also looking forward to working on writing projects, and developing as a storyteller.

14. What was the most significant thing you learned this year?

There are many voices speaking, but it is only God's voice that is worth following.