Lately, at our house

I didn't intend to take two full months off blogging, but such is this busy season of life. Forgive me?

Instead of blogging, I've been doing all kinds of other important things—including but not limited to—growing a baby, turning 34, buying and assembling kid rooms, lots of weekend trips, watching The Bachelor, a day trip Disneyland, reading this book and this one and this one, and hosting our sweet cousins last weekend. 

As for work stuff, I'm officially hosting a brand new podcast with Coffee + Crumbs! Some of you may know that I co-hosted a radio show in college (which lasted about two months) and I was a recent guest on the Extraordinary Moms podcast. I've always found the audible medium really fun and also very intimidating. Podcasting is an entirely new hobby for me, and it's huge learning curve but really exciting. I hope you'll consider listening to our first few episodes and please subscribe on iTunes and/or leave a rating. These first few weeks are crucial in gaining momentum so your subscription and rating is super helpful. Thank you for the love!

I also have a few essays up at Coffee + Crumbs too: Preparing to Jump and Finding a Seat at the Table. In even MORE exciting news, Ashlee signed a Coffee + Crumbs book deal with Zondervan and all of us regular writers are contributing essays to the book which releases May 2017! Lots of writing to get done between now and baby's due date! Cue: excitement. Cue: panic.

And for something entirely different, as if podcasting isn't different enough, I've had fun helping my grandpa (he's 90!) launch his first blog. We've added bits and pieces since last fall and there is a lot of interesting content related to his dental research. Most of it is over my head, but fascinating nonetheless. 

I promise to not leave this place empty again for long stretches but some of that's dependent on how good of a sleeper our new guy proves to be. 11 weeks until his due date and we are so anxious to see his sweet face. Can't wait to share him with you soon.


How I helped a Pakistani woman obtain her citizenship (and an arranged marriage)

A few years ago I helped a Muslim woman from Pakistan become an American citizen. It was 2008, and my church needed volunteer tutors for people in our city who wanted to learn English for life skills. I remember an older woman standing up during the announcement portion of our church service to share why such a ministry existed. “There are women who can’t help their children with homework or even go grocery shopping,” she said. “Imagine how their life might change if they knew English.”

I’d spent a few summers tutoring kids and figured the volunteer commitment wouldn’t be difficult. A few weeks after my Saturday training they matched me with two Pakistani women—sisters-in-law. They lived together in a lower income neighborhood less than two miles from my own. What I didn’t realize is that several streets within the neighborhood consisted of mostly Muslim families.

On the first day, several little boys in traditional white shalwar kameez clothing greeted my car and led me to the house where I’d tutor. The man of the house spoke English and worked a full time city government job. He’d been the one to call for a tutor, and I found him formal but friendly. If anything, he didn’t fit my stereotypes. He wanted his wife and sister to receive an education, and this seemed counter to what I thought I knew about devout Muslims from Pakistan.  

Over the course of a year, I spent several hours each week with Sajida and Khalida. We’d sit in a small, sparse room seated on each side of a card table, and I’d point at flash cards and workbooks. Children filtered in and out of the room, and the women took turns tending to them. They’d often sent me home with steaming plates of spicy foods.

Eventually, the man of the house asked me to stop tutoring his wife and focus all my time with his sister, Khalida. Her English was still very weak, but she was making faster progress than his wife, so he wanted her to receive more of my attention. He also asked me to spend less time on conversational English and focus on studying for the U.S. citizenship test instead. Khalida had taken it before and failed, but he believed with a little more studying she could pass.

To be honest, at the time, I didn’t give much thought to all of his requests. I didn’t know anything about the immigration process, and how long many people wait for an opportunity to become citizens. I didn’t wonder why this family, this woman, was being given a chance to receive her citizenship when other families with more education and US work experience had been waiting years. If anything, I jumped at the chance to be part of, what I believed, was giving someone a better life. A citizen?! I could help her become a citizen?! How cool is that?

And so we spent weeks and weeks memorizing and cramming for Khalida’s citizenship test. We could barely have any type of basic conversation beyond “Hello” and “How are you” and “My name is Khalida” but she could memorize and recite how many stripes are on the American flag and who signed the constitution, and everything about all the branches of the government. On an early spring day, Khalida’s brother picked me up from work in their run-down minivan and drove me to the citizenship office where she’d take the test, and pass.

When they dropped me back off at work, it would be the last time I saw her. She wasn’t sticking around for the big, official swearing-in ceremony. Instead, she’d be heading back to Pakistan, where her brother informed me that her citizenship would make her a very eligible bride. I thought he wanted her to receive an education, when really he wanted to marry her off. Eventually, she’d return to the United States with an arranged husband and a life spent at home. A citizen with freedoms, but not enough English to even grocery shop by herself. Needless to say, I felt defeated.

So when I read more about the San Bernardino husband-wife shooting, and marriage-for-visa rackets, my ears burned a little bit. When I read commentaries about the need to strengthen our borders and reconsider who can enter this country, I feel conflicted. I now have first-hand observations that our system is probably flawed, and while I won’t jump to conclusions that thousands of criminally minded men and women are entering our country through shoddy marriages, I can also understand the concern.

To be honest, I often don’t know what to believe or how our President should act when it comes to immigration laws.

But there are a few things I do know.

This is America—that a Muslim family had the ability to call a local church for tutoring services, and that church didn’t turn them away despite very different beliefs.

This is America—that the church did not ask me to do anything besides teach with love. No formal preaching. No formal discipleship, simply praying for opportunities to show them Jesus through my actions and consistency and love.

This is America—where I, an unaccompanied Christian woman not wearing a headscarf, could go into a Muslim home and use my education to teach other women, who in many Muslim countries are not allowed access to such privileges.  

This is America—where I am welcomed by a Muslim family with smiles and conversation, sent home with warm plates of spicy foods, and treated with respect despite our very different beliefs.

And this is America—that I was able to help a non-English speaking woman receive her citizenship so that she could return to Pakistan, a highly valued potential bride, who in theory was able to bring her new husband back to the land of the free and the brave.

Without a doubt, our current immigration system isn’t working correctly. But, despite a broken system, when I read about hateful, fear-based rhetoric about Muslims in our country, I can’t help but think I’m living in a different America than the one I believe in so strongly.

Border control, to me, starts by getting to know our neighbors. It begins by literally leaving our homes and going into theirs, eating their food, and offering our gifts to each other despite sometimes very different religious and political viewpoints. When I went into the home of two lovely and kind Muslim women, I saw our commonalities. They are no longer “those Muslims” but Khalida and Sajida. I picture their faces when people like Jerry Falwell Jr. stand up to give a public charge to arm ourselves, and I worry about them when I hear of people targeting Muslims with hate language or violence.

I wonder, all these years later, if Sajida and Khalida are safe and well. I wonder if they’ve learned English. I wonder about Khalida’s new husband and if he was allowed to cross our borders, and if so, should he have been allowed to do so? I hope he came here for opportunity and peace; not to cause destruction or harm.

I also wonder when we’ll stop throwing love out first? Could we make less sweeping generalizations? Could we commit to getting to know Muslims in our community before speculating what religious codes they do or don’t follow? Could we possibly start by pursuing friendships, while also civilly discussing reasonable laws and safeguards?

Yes, our system is broken, and I’d like to see it fixed. It will take more than dialogue and tutoring and warm plates of food. But what would our America look like if more people started by opening their doors and kitchens and hearts rather than closing them so tightly?

Finding ways to say yes

My friend Ashlee wrote a Coffee + Crumbs essay last month and she posed this question:

In parenting, which battles are worth fighting?

I loved her question so much that I'm answering it today!

In our house, we try to pick our battles carefully. I want our home to be a place of peace and rest; a space where our kids feel loved, accepted, safe and welcome. Never do I hope to see a day when our children would rather be somewhere else. Their nest should be a sanctuary.

But, let’s also be real: kids need boundaries and rules. Jonathan and I are not afraid to use the word NO. We often say it with an intense look, and a "do not fight me on this" voice. There are certain behaviors that are simply not tolerated, and our kids know so, but they're at an age where they still push almost every boundary. Knowing this, and recognizing my desires for a peaceful and happy home, I choose to pick my battles. There are some simple childhood pleasures that we let our kids indulge in because we think they help balance some of the ways we’re strict, and they allow me to YES as much or more than I say NO. 

For fun, I thought I’d share some of the battles we do (and don’t) fight with our children. I’d love to hear yours!

I don’t let them stay up past 7:30pm, hardly ever…

…but we buy them donuts every single Saturday morning.

I let my kids put Band-Aids on their body whenever they want…

…and temporary tattoos are also a big YES.

Jumping on furniture or standing up while they’re eating is not okay…

…but we’re okay bribing them to eat with a promise of dessert (and it usually works).

We allow them to watch an hour of Netflix almost every day, during the dinner hour or when I take a shower…

…but I’m fairly firm about sticking to educational shows.

Owen is often without pants while we’re at home…

…but I don’t usually let him or his sister wear whatever they want.

I say “YES” whenever a store clerk offers them a lollipop…

…but I also am strict when it comes to brushing teeth and regular dental visits. (I have my dentist grandpa to thank for that.)

I don't tolerate hitting, or mean words...

...but I also don't make them share everything with each other.

What are some battles you’re always willing to fight, and some that you’ve thrown out the window?

Why I don't have a five point plan for 2016

Every January, I fill out a big ol' document with reflection questions about the last year and goal oriented questions for the year to come. I love the process of celebrating accomplishments and milestones while dreaming about what's next, and I think there's great value in doing so. I typically make far too many goals with not much of a plan about how I'll accomplish them, and yet putting my dreams on paper somehow, miraculously, often leads to many successes by year's end.

Recently I stumbled upon a quote from Jenn Giles Kemper in her new Liturgical day planner, Sacred Ordinary Days. She writes: “While many are setting goals or intentions for the new year, both seem to have limits when it comes to establishing lasting habits and rhythms that help you “become,” rather than merely “do.” Goals and intentions are task-based and work best with a quantifiable measure of success and an easily marked ending point. Something more process-oriented is helpful when you’d like to reorient toward “being” over “achieving.”

I'm a person who loves to chase big dreams and achieve great things. Even on this year's "to-do" list I've set intentions to write a book, have a baby, and start a podcast—not exactly small goals. But, as I reflect back on last year I'm realizing that the things I'm most proud of, the things that made our year wonderful, are not the articles I published, the money we saved, or the vacations we took.

For me, the best part of 2015 was settling deeper into my role as wife, mom, daughter, writer and friend—learning not to classify myself as one of these things but as a unique woman of God who can thrive because of how He sustains, guides and provides for me. I can't really list any huge accomplishments from the last year, at least not any the world would count as impressive, but I know more about who I am, and whose I am. And I think that's what God would hope for me.

So this year I'm trying something new. I'm not filling out that huge goal planning sheet like I've done in past years. Instead, I spent about 15 minutes last week writing down a short list of dreams and goals for the year. I'm hoping this change in process will be a reminder to myself that while goal planning is fine and good and sometimes very important, it's not what will make my life meaningful.

What makes my life meaningful is becoming more like Jesus, growing wiser and more patient, praying more and complaining less. I want to be a woman who takes time to rest and play, a woman that loves others in the ways they need to be loved, a woman who doesn't need validation from the world around me to feel confident who I am.

The beauty of being is that no matter what the year holds—triumph, tragedy, or anything in between—I can still become a woman who grows closer to God. The small processes I'm trying to make habits in my life don't need to dramatically change if life throws a curve ball (or, more likely, I have a newborn who doesn't sleep!)

So this year I will continue what I started last year, with much, much room for improvement. More early mornings, less late nights. More bible, less Facebook. More family bike rides, less anger. More sunsets, less tears. More chaotic meals with friends and less anxiety about hosting the perfect party. More Sunday mornings at church, more MOPS, more homegroup.  More grace, less fear. More becoming, less accomplishing.

And if in the middle of all this I happen to finish a book, well, I could handle that too. (Wink.)

For more on the topic of "being" rather than "achieving" you might also enjoy this post by Nicole Walters.