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OLYMPICS! And Why I LOVE Gold Medalist Michelle Carter

You guys, I love the Olympics. Like, LOVE!  I always do, every single time, and the magic is not wearing off at all as time marches on.   The Olympics are basically  16 days of Disneyland at my own house every two years. The 1988 Calgary and Seoul games are the first that I really remember actively watching, and almost 30 years later I am even more in love with the whole thing as I was back then.   Winter, Summer, I don’t care.  I love and am here for exactly all of it.

The multitude of NBC channels and the on demand availability is allowing me to pretty much completely immerse myself in the Olympics- inasmuch as my two- and four-year-olds will allow. I mean, I have to pay *SOME* attention to them as well.  But I’m trying to watch at least a little bit of every single sport and make sure my kids do as well- and also that they see both men and women competing in all  of the events in which both men and women compete.   Basically, picture me sitting in a giant hot tub of Olympics with just my face showing, water bubbling around my ears, and trying my best to keep my kids in the tub with while they’re desperately climbing out at the edges trying to head for the Paw Patrol Pool (PS I know hot tubs aren’t safe for kids, reality is not relevant to this metaphor).  I would also like to send a big shout out to the stomach virus that has had me somewhat laid up for the past few days for giving me the chance to parent less and watch more. I’m not sure it was an even trade-off, though…just looking on the bright side.

One of the people I have “met” this past Olympic week is shot putter Michelle Carter.

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She is the first American Woman to win shot put gold. Near as I have seen, Michelle Carter has two main jobs: Professional Makeup Artist and shot putter. That’s right, she makes her living making herself and other people look beautiful and also throwing heavy objects better than any other woman in the entire world.  You can find out more on her website, I personally want to hire her to do #allthethings.

I also want to take a sec to honor the fact that she is a strong, successful, radiant black woman who is breaking ground and shining bright in a season where things have seemed particularly dim for people of color in our country AND she is showing that women can be beautiful and strong at any size.  Also, she posts stuff like this on her Instagram:

 

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But the reason she is so near and dear to my heart is because I see reflected in her so much of my sweet Miss Kenzie.  Yesterday, watching track and field had Ms. K running around the house at top two-year-old speed. “I WUNNING! FAST!” She declared.  “Are you Tori Bowie, sweetie?” I asked, “Are you Brianne Theisen-Eaton?”  “NOOOOO!” She indignantly declared, “I PWINCESS SOFIA!”  and took off running like a shot.  I cackled out loud, but then I stepped back for a minute and realized that to this child, there is nothing  mutually exclusive about being a “pwincess” and running fast. To us adults who have spent the past several decades being conditioned to certain ways of thought there might be, but not to my fast and fancy Princess Sprintsalot.

On her birthday weekend, we attended her Uncle Kyle’s birthday party on Saturday where she ran in the dirt with her brother and her her cousin, climbed all over the todder-sized construction machines, and needed about five showers when she got home. The next day, she couldn’t WAIT to wear her pink dress for her own party and lost her ever-loving mind over the new clothes from Grandma and Grandpa (which Grandpa had picked out, by the way, SO CUTE!) and the dress-up trunk from Nana and Granddad.  She saw exactly zero conflict of interest there.

That space that she’s living in right now, a place where she can be both strong and fancy, dirt-covered and beautiful, a princess and a superhero at the same time- and guess what? When you think about it, that space is TRUTH, y’all. All of these boxes we try to put women in, the one-or-the-other mentalities, the need to make sure that women aren’t too complex or confusingly muti-faceted, that is something that happens along the way. God did not say unto us, “And I shall make thee, women, into two kingdoms,  the Pretty and Fancy and the Strong and Capable.”  Nope, He made men AND women in His own image, women are His image-bearers and that means that we can represent any and all of the things in His nature that He calls us to and to Him, none of them are mutually exclusive.

That is where Michelle Carter lives in her life and she occupied it on the grandest stage this week. Engaging beast-mode in a way that would probably make Marshawn Lynch himself have a seat in deference, while wearing a fierce red lip and some perfectly crafted lashes. Head to her website to hire her to throw shot put and do your make-up. She is the strong and the fancy, the beautiful and the beast-mode. She’s showing my daughter that yes, she CAN BE and ALREADY IS everything that her little two-year-old mind believes that she was created to be.  I mean, if she JUST wants to be the president of the fashion club or decides that she’s all about being a construction worker and make-up is like, eew, then that’s just fine. She gets to discover for herself what God put in her and I’ll be over here cheering her on.  But women like Michelle Carter, women who are strongly living into all of who they were created to be, they show Kenzie that she can also be ALL of who she was created to be, all at the same time, in the same space, and she can SHINE.

THIS may just be why I love the Olympics so goshdarned much. I get to “meet” people like Michelle Carter who remind me of some of the many things that still right in the world and are even, dare I say it, getting better.  And didn’t we need this right now?  Didn’t we need some RIGHT and GOOD to come together around? I know I did. I feel reminded that the world is still an amazing place with goodness still awaiting my son and daughter as they grow.  Thank you, Lord, for the Olympics.  And there’s still a week left!!!!

OK, I gotta go. I’m missing synchronized swimming and pommel horse! And there’s handball later. I’m not even sure I knew that was a thin…

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Meet the Raskals, 7 Years In

YOU GUYS! GUESSWHATGUESSWHATGUESSWHAT!?!?!?!?

It’s our 7 YEAR  WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

(Woot Woooooooooot!!!)

And since I’ve been blogging here for almost a year (OK, on and off for almost a year) and haven’t really formally introduced Jeff and the kids to you, it seems like today is the perfect day to give an introduction- and also use it as a bit of a tribute to this dude I’m married to, the life we are building, and the God who has just so totally heaped the blessings on me and on us with so much boundless love and unearned grace that I swear it oozes out the doors and windows of our house sometimes.  So here goes:

13912802_10208923448822000_6029081899118018346_nJeff and I were married on August 1, 2009.  I was 31 and he was 29.   I had spent my 20’s  waiting and wishing and hoping and praying and not really getting past a second date with any of the dudes I met, nobody came even close to seeming right. There was one point at about 29 when I actually turned my heart over to the idea that maybe marriage and a family weren’t for me, maybe my charge was to go forward and love on the children of the world as if they were my own.  But late in the summer of 2007, I turned my heart back over to God and said, “I want this and I will wait for it.”  About six weeks later, I met Jeffrey Daniel Rask.  Y’all, this life with him is so much more than ever could have prayed for. HE is so much more than I ever could have even known to pray for. Let me tell you about us.

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Jeff works in footwear development at a rather large footwear and sportswear company that is located here where we live in Beaverton.  I’m not gonna name any names, but if you want to “Just Do It,” I’ll bet you can figure it out yourself.  He loves ALLTHESPORTS, in particular basketball and golf, although he watches and keeps track of LITERALLY ALLTHESPORTS.  This is especially apparent during the Olympics when he actually knows the names of the curlers, the archers, the ping pong dudes- I haven’t met a sport yet that he doesn’t know something about.

He also greatly enjoys all forms of science nerdery and we both have rather large pockets of geeky fandom:  Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Superheroes, and of course the sacred and holy volumes penned by JRR Tolkien, may we sing praises to his name.  The man has also done about 90% of the work we have done remodeling our house.  He can do pretty much anything, I think.

You know the song, “Crash my Party” by Luke Bryan? Every time I hear that song I get misty and think of Jeff.  That’s how he is about me, about the kids, about anyone he loves- it is a drop everything kind of thing when anyone he cares about needs something- especially me.

There is truly nothing more I could ask for from this guy and it still takes my breath away. We laugh, we love, we laugh some more, we dream, we bing-watch on Netflix, we laugh some more, we have so many things we enjoy doing together, we wrestle with the big questions of both this world and the next together, we know each other’s hearts and what to bring home to make the other one smile (hint: his is steak and beer, mine is ALLTHECHOCOLATE and tea)- it’s good, y’all. God is good and this dude is good.  And then there’s the babies…

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Mister Cameron was born on March 12, 2012.

He made us parents.
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This little dude was the dream come true of both of our hearts.  When he was born, the doctor placed him on my chest and there he lay, his eyes wide and curious, leaning up against me and just taking in the world around him.  As soon as he could use his hands, he has had a compulsive need to to touch ALLTHETHINGS and learn every single thing about what they can do- both what they are supposed to do and what unintended purposes he can find for them  This means that constant vigilance (and sometimes physical restraint) is required in stores, museums, and the dentist’s office, but it also means that I haven’t had to operate any electronics for him in months, he has them all figured out. His strength and determination have meant that parenting him is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced, you’ll read plenty about that in this here blog. But it also means that when I send him out into the world, I can trust in his strength of conviction and inherent sense of justice to protect both himself and others.

What REALLY sets Cam apart from the pack, though, is his heart. It is deep and tender, he loves HARD and FULLY and that heart of his is wrapped TIGHT around those he loves and it won’t let go.  He loves his family and aaaaaaall babies. He just loves to gaze adoringly at them and stroke their heads. This has especially applied to his sister. Oh, how he loves her. He also chases her around the house and basically bugs her for fun.  But if she doesn’t feel good or if she’s scared or if the blessed event occurs that she would deign to ask him to rock and read to her, he will come running at full speed, all thoughts of himself completely cast aside. God gave this little man the vision, the strength, and the heart to tenderly but firmly lead those who need him in future years.  In the meantime, our job is to help him learn to harness his powers for good- and also to steal all the snuggles he still so readily gives at ever chance we get!

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Miss Kendall was born on July 20, 2014.

She made us a family.

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This little lady is the light and the life that we didn’t even know was missing.  We hadn’t yet completely decided whether or not a second kid was even the right choice for us when we found out she was coming, yet the minute she was born it was like there had been this Kenzie-shaped hole in our lives that was finally filled.  She came into the world voicing her opinion and has not stopped.  She figured out early that language was how she could let the world know about her thoughts, feelings, needs, and ideas and she has run relentlessly in the direction of mastering it ever since.  At her two year checkup, her doctor told us that he COULD see her again at 30 months for another checkup, but that is usually just to check on language and so we could skip that appointment if we wanted to, he’d seen all he needed to see there.

As challenging as it is to parent an opinionated and determined two-year-old with ALLTHEWORDS at her disposal, the struggles pale in comparison to the relief Jeff and I feel in knowing we have an inherently strong woman on our hands. In a world where docile women seem to be magnets for the wrong sorts of people, we are raising daughter who will be a living breathing repellant to anyone who would seek to control her.  She seems to have confidence in how worthy, loved and deserving she is woven into the very depths of her soul- undoubtedly by the God to whom she is every one of those things.  As we raise her, our job is to help her hold fast to those beliefs in a world that will try to take them from her- but also teach her that perhaps we should take down the volume every once in awhile.  Because, #ouchmyearshurt.

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So, that’s us.  Seven years in since we married, almost nine since we met.  Thank you for joining me on this part of our journey as a family.  Time to step away from the computer and go buy some steak and beer (or maybe not…he just had his birthday and we did steak and beer then…so maybe salmon…wait, our grill is broken. Take-out Buffalo Wild Wings it is.)

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Time to Plug In

The need for connection to the Father who created me is never fully silent, but lately I’ve been feeling the tug on my heart even more strongly.  The distance between heaven and earth has felt more palpable to me lately and I’ve had an ache in my heart to close the gap. When one is busy being a wife and a mom, sometimes it feels like even communion with God Himself needs to take a number behind the dishes, laundry, “Mommy, UP PWEEZE” and “MOMMY! YOH NOT LISTENING TO ME!!!” Moms are notorious for having a hard time prioritizing self-care and for me, devoting the time to dig into connection with God has been among the many casualties.

This weekend, I read something on Instagram that really encouraged me to go ahead and follow God down this rabbit hole I’ve heard Him whispering to my heart about.  Stephanie “Honey” Holden and her husband, Pastor Nick Holden, are among a growing collection of people who I probably never would have heard of if it weren’t for what basically amounts to Six Degrees of Noonday Collection. Stephanie is a big Noonday Collection supporter who a lot of Ambassadors follow in Instagram (and some know personally, although I’m not among their number) and  #HoneyandThePreacher, as the Holdens have hashtagged themselves, have invited their Instagram followers into their marriage and family in the most warm, sparkly, and fun way and once you follow them on Instagram, your feed will get just a little bit brighter.

And shining brightly was exactly what Pastor Nick was talking about in this post that was totally a kick in the britches for me.

The Lord of glory and grace placed us where we are for a reason. The key now • is to stay plugged in to Him • that we may SHINE.

 

There is so much wonderfulness wrapped up in those words.  The reminder that, in this season where my life’s original to-do list is behind me (college, teaching, marriage, kids) and I stand with the path before me still shrouded in the morning fog (James 4:13-17) for which this blog is named, that I am standing where I am for a reason. That God is already at work, His plan is already in action, and my next steps will flow from where I am. There is also the promise that as long as I stay plugged into Him, I will shine just as He needs me to,  I never need to wonder if I’ll have what it takes.

But sandwiched in between those two is the key for me, another reminder- permission, really- to step into what God has been whispering to my heart about lately. “..stay plugged in to Him.”   And the metaphor just keeps on giving, because SHINE is what we are all called to do. To shine brightly like a city on a hill, to not hide our light, to show our Father in Heaven to those around us- and all lights’ve gotta be connected to their source in one way or another (in this day of cordless and solar charged, the “plugged in” metaphor doesn’t *entirely* play, but everything has to get its power from some source that must be replenished somehow).

So in the weeks to come, I’m giving myself permission to prioritize digging in to connecting with God- pursuing the connection itself and also seeking a rhythm and a framework that enables me to tap more readily into that connection on a daily basis, something to keep me soldiering on through the desert seasons and grounded on the mountaintops. If we are being totally honest, it wasn’t anything I was ever super great at in my pre-kid days either- but “You’ve never been very good at it anyway, why start now?” sounds an awful lot like something enemy of my soul might whisper to me to keep me in chains, so I’m having exactly none of that. I have some ideas…some plans…some things that already work and some things I’m committed to trying. But mostly, I want to follow GOD HIMSELF into this.  He knows me better than I do, not only did He create me in the first place and knows my innermost being,  He created me specifically for this connection with Him. He has a road map, a game plan for how He and I can meet and spend time together in just our very own way, unique to the two of us and to the particular season of life He has crafted for me and led me into.

So here goes! I’m about to put down this computer and pick up a Bible Study, y’all. Have a blessed week!

 

 

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Mom-Empathy > Mom-Shame

A few weeks ago, we were in the throes of a pretty hard core behavioral struggle with Cam (4) and I was feeling pretty desperate.  Cam is byenlarge a pretty well-adjusted, cooperative, happy kiddo, we just got his end of the year report from preschool and it was absolutely glowing. But ever since he was 18 months old, when he has reached the end of his rope, he would hit Jeff and me.   By this time he was four years old (still is at press time, although no longer hitting- for now) and we STILL had not found a formula that helped him move past it. I had spent the past two and a half years trying everything my ten years of teaching had taught me, I had reached out to my friends who had backgrounds in child development, I had read books, blogs, and articles- and we would get relief for a time.  I had thought we FINALLY had the hitting licked about a dozen times, but it always came back and I had to admit that I was out of my depth. I went to my beloved Facebook Mommy Page and I laid it out to them.  I had gone there with bits and pieces of it before, but this time, I gave all the gory details, including the fact that he was currently locked in his room because he had kicked me when I had tried to help him calm down and I didn’t know what else to do, and tried to prepare myself for what I would get back.

These ladies are pretty awesome, I was pretty sure I could count on not being mom-shamed or told I was a horrible mom so I felt somewhat safe.  And their answers were gentle, affirming, and helpful, just as I was expecting. But there was a surprise for me buried in their responses, something I was NOT expecting- and that was MY OWN emotional response to them.  When I wrote the post, I thought I was looking for answers and solutions, shreds of practical advice that would lift my spirit by giving me hope that we could finally kick this problem forever out the door.   As it turns out, what ministered to my soul and lifted my spirit the most were not the suggestions and recommendations and links to articles, but the ways in which those wonderful women used their words to let me know I wasn’t alone.

“It’s definitely the age. You’re doing a great job.”

“_____ is in a similar stage”

“Tori, I don’t know what to tell you and I wish I did because we are going through much of the same thing with _____ at school.”

“No advice sorry but I can say that you are doing amazing”

“I feel you are parenting my child.”

“This is my life with _____”

“I’ve had this conversation so many times with my youngest son.”

Even my friend who is an actual professor of early childhood stuff at an actual university (a major one, you’ve heard of it) gave her feedback with shimmering threads of, “It is so hard, you’re doing a great job, we struggle so much with this…”

I didn’t expect to be as touched as I was by the solidarity.  The fact that the empathy felt more valuable to my heart than the actual advice made me realize how much shame I had been experiencing about the whole thing.  I mean, it’s hard enough when you find yourself struggling as a mom in the face of the constant parade of social media highlight reels, Pinterest boards, and parenting advice articles.  Add to the mix that before I had kids of my own I was a TEACHER and a fair amount of my self-identity, sense of self-efficacy, and an embarrassing amount of my pride is tied up in my ability to get kids to listen to me and you’ve got a recipe for shame.

Brene Brown  (who I am reading and quoting like mad right now) says that shame can’t survive empathy and I experienced that in full force as I read the words of my sister-moms on that post. Their empathy, compassion, and solidarity ministered to a wound I didn’t even realize I had and lifted me up out of a pit on to the solid ground I desperately needed to be on as I fought this battle.

I started my last blog post with a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron on empathy,

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.”  I felt the warm glow of that very truth as these women sat with me in my struggle not as superiors who knew all the answers, but as equals who felt my pain and had been there as well.

It’s a truth we also see illustrated throughout the Bible.  The authors of scripture frequently address their readers as their brothers and sisters, this theme is particularly prevalent in Paul’s letters.  Even our Savior Himself did not set to his task of saving our souls before he had lived among us, as one of us, as an equal- even though he is the greatest of us all.

If shame can’t survive empathy, even when the shame isn’t fully recognized as it wasn’t in my case, what would happen if we all set about the task of perfecting empathy and compassion as a weapon in the war against shame, particularly when it comes to other moms?  In her TED talk about shame, cyberbullying, and the tradable commodity of other people’s dignity, Monica Lewinsky touches on this idea, that we can use empathy and compassion to fight shame.   You can watch that here.

What if we all spent the next few days looking at the moms around us and just sitting with them in their struggles.  Even if we have no advice, just knowing that they are not alone can minister to them and loosen the shackles of shame that may be weighing them down.  Telling her she’s a great mom, recognizing good things we see her doing in the midst of her struggles- it may heal her in ways she doesn’t even know she needs.

So to my Mommy Page Girls, I say thank you. Nicole, Erin, Emily, Amy, Chelsea, Rachel, , Kristina, Jessica, Jaimie, Victoria…y’all have no idea how much I needed exactly what you said to me that day, even I didn’t know. I hope I can return the favor some day. Matter of fact, I’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to do it for you and to pay it forward.  That’s a promise. <3

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On Doing Compassion in the Wake of Tragedy

 

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

-Pema Chodron

You know how sometimes you read something that is so incredibly timely that it just stops you dead in your tracks and takes your breath away?  Like, “I’m reading THIS particular thing right NOW at THIS particular place in time?  How uncanny is that?” Well, that happened to me this weekend while reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.  I picked up the book where I had last left off, at the beginning of a section in which she talks about compassion and our responses to other people’s suffering.

This past week has seen a lot of suffering in the news, specifically coming out of Orlando, Florida, site of both the deadly and cowardly massacre at Pulse Nightclub and the alligator death of the toddler at a Disney resort.  The internet has been full of people’s responses to other people’s suffering. Some have been beautiful, but some have been more than a little disheartening.  There are some who have been quick to blame and shame the parents of the child who was killed.  I heard a friend say that people within her own family were discussing what they would have done if they were at Pulse Nightclub, how they could have stopped it or at least protected themselves, that it never would have happened to them on their watch.

Almost immediately as I started reading Dr. Brown’s thoughts on compassion, she launched into an explanation of the concept of compassion that knocked the breath right out of me.  It spoke directly to the heart of the blame game types of responses. She writes:

“If we take a closer look at the origin of the word compassion…we see why compassion is not typically our first response to suffering. The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, meaning “to suffer with.”  I don’t believe that compassion is our default response. I think our first response to pain- ours or someone else’s- is to self-protect. We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame.  Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.”

And there you have it. It makes perfect sense. The blame game is self-defense.  If we can make ourselves believe that the death of that sweet baby was due to some egregious lapse on the part of the parents, we don’t have to let in the realization that IT COULD HAVE BEEN OUR VERY OWN BABY.  If we can make ourselves believe that the hateful massacre at Pulse could have been thwarted if someone had just been smarter, or worse that it was somehow deserved due to the lifestyle and love of the people there, we don’t have to let in the realization that IT COULD HAVE BEEN US OR OUR FRIENDS OR FAMILY OR CHILDREN OR SPOUSES OR  PARTNERS.  The absence of compassion is an act of self-defense, plain and simple.

Dr. Brown also quotes American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron when it comes to the bravery of the opposite of the blame game response, which is compassion:

“When we practice generating compassion, we can expect to experience the fear of our pain. Compassion practice is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.”

That is the place from which I have seen those in my tribe operating this week.  They have bravely moved into the daring practice of compassion.  They have allowed themselves to confront the frightening reality that IT COULD HAVE BEEN OUR BABY ON THAT BEACH, IT COULD HAVE BEEN US OR OUR LOVED ONES IN THAT CLUB.  They have stood shoulder to shoulder, both in person and in thought and prayer, with those who are grieving and it has been beautiful to witness. But there is pain and fear and rawness in those places and it makes everything just a little harder on the heart.  Which is probably why the blame game responses are so hard to take.  We are a raw nerve, those of us who are living with the realities generated by compassion, and so we have little space or tolerance for the opposite response.

But if there is one thing that the events of this past week have taught us, it’s that tolerance, compassion, empathy and unity are desperately needed on all fronts.  When you really think about it, compassion and connection were just as much the targets in that nightclub shooting as were the people the shooter gunned down.  He wanted not only to take lives, but to rip a hole in the fabric of love and divide us as a people even more. Fear and hate were the goal.

So in honor of those who lost their lives, let’s ALL see if we can’t dig a little deeper into compassion in order to love one another better. If I’m someone who finds myself jumping to the blame game response, maybe I can bravely take a look at my heart, and see if maybe I can walk into the fear just a little in order to find some compassion. If I’m someone who does the hard work of compassion, maybe I can extend a little of that compassion to the blame gamers as well, knowing that their response comes from the same fear I feel in my own heart, and respond with empathy rather than a pointing finger. We will nudge others to compassion more effectively with love than we will with hate.

But above all, let’s honor the Pulse victims and their families and the parents of that sweet baby by coming out of this stronger and able to love and understand one another just a little bit better than we went in.  Let’s respond to hate and fear with love and compassion.  Let’s give ourselves and one another grace and space in our fear and pain, but also challenge ourselves to dig deeper and love better in the midst of it.

Compassion. Empathy.  Acknowledgment of our shared humanity and how we are all far more alike than we are different.  Let’s do it, people. Go, team humans!

 

 

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Choosing Ethical Fashion: A Guide for the Beginner (by a Beginner)

Fun Fact:  my Noonday Collection Starter Collection was just about my first-ever on-purpose Fair Trade/ethically manufactured purchase.  I know I bought things here and there over the years that fit those criteria, my love of 7 For All Mankind jeans in my 20’s means that I shelled out large chunks of my measly teacher’s salary on an ethical brand, but I pretty much had no idea at the time what I was doing. It wasn’t that I didn’t KNOW or didn’t CARE about the people who made my clothing and accessories, au contraire, I definitely cared. The issue for me was that “Ethical Fashion” seemed out of reach and intimidating to me, like it required worldliness and savvy that I just didn’t see myself having.  Plus the words “Fair Trade” conjured up images for me of baja hoodies, broomstick skirts (grossly misplaced images, but you get my drift), and other things that just weren’t my style.

As I waded into the Noonday Ambassador Community, slowly but surely things started to change for me.  It wasn’t that I felt any more convicted or convinced, it was that I was starting to develop relationships with people who were shopping this way. People who were like me in many ways were shopping consciously and ethically and wearing clothes that I would totally wear, which made it seem more approachable and less intimidating to me. I heard someone say recently that relationships are far more effective in changing people’s minds and behavior than a convincing argument could ever be and I can totally see from this experience why that’s true.

I’m still just getting started and I have very little expertise to offer on the subject in general- with the exception of one area: I am an EXPERT on being a beginner at it and what it feels like to just be getting started.  So that’s what I’m going to write about today. I’m going to offer a beginner’s perspective, just the basics to get one’s legs under one’s self and also share a few resources and point you in the direction of few more experienced and knowledgable voices. I’m going to start by doing that LITERALLY and pointing you in the direction of a podcast by my actual real life friend, Andee Zomerman, who is a blogger and an author and a speaker.  In this podcast, she interviews the amazing Bethany Tran, founder of The Root Collective, an ethical footwear company.   In this interview, Bethany talks about how her company works, how it makes a difference, and toward the end she talks about how she got started and give a bit of a perspective on life as an ethical shopper. So I HIGHLY recommend giving that a listen.

http://andeezomerman.com/2016/04/sc-26-bethany-tran-the-root-collective.html

For my part, I’m going to stick to the basics: What, Who, Why, and How.  So let’s go:

The “WHAT”:

At its most basic, when someone says that something was manufactured ethically, they are saying, “NO HUMAN BEINGS WERE HARMED DURING THE MAKING OF THIS THINGIE RIGHT HERE.” A lot of ethical fashion brands also take it a step further and are also doing other really, REALLY good things with their companies. Some are focused on environmentally responsible and sustainable manufacturing, some are concentrating on providing economic opportunity in impoverished communities and/or to underserved demographics, some are fighting human trafficking by providing dignified and consistent employment to people at risk for being trafficked or to survivors of human trafficking- and some even check two or more of those boxes (NOONDAY!). But the underlying commonality is the promise that everyone involved in the making of those clothes was paid and treated fairly.

The “Who”:

There are all kinds of companies doing great, great things. Some of them have certifications that guarantee that they are keepin’ it between the lines with their manufacturing practices, examples include Fair Trade Certification and being a Certified B Corp.  Some companies are simply based in countries where there are labor practices in place that guarantee the working conditions for their employees, including the USA.  To learn more about what to look for in choosing ethical companies, I refer you to another real life friend of mine (well…we are online friends, but we’ve been that way for a couple of years now and we have met in person), the amazing Molly Stillman.  Check out 5 and 6 on her list of tips for purchasing with purpose here.

Additionally, here is a list Molly has collected in the years she has been at this. The brands are alphabetized and links are included:

http://www.stillbeingmolly.com/fair-trade-ethical-usa-made-brand-list-directory/

Also, here’s The Ethical List from The Root Collective. You can browse that right here!

 

The “Why”:

If you’ve listened to the podcast I’ve linked above, Bethany sums up a lot of the reasons that ethical shopping is important. Many people cite seeing the documentary “The True Cost” or  hearing the news of the factory collapse in Bangladesh as the catalyst for their change in shopping habits. Other people are motivated by the stories behind of the workers who are making their pieces, some appreciate the environmental responsibility of the manufacturers…and for me, it’s probably a big old melting pot of ALLTHETHINGS that provides the foundation for the importance or ethical shopping for me.

The one big, special reason that shopping ethically and consciously has become important to me is that it’s giving me a chance to make a statement with my dollars, to cast a vote for the kind of world I want to live in. It makes shopping feel like an actual investment in the future of this world rather than just throwing away money on something that will have its season and then move on.

The “How”:

This was the big one for me, the main reason I didn’t get started earlier: I didn’t know how.  I think that’s probably going to look different for everyone, but I’m just going to outline what it looks like for me- keep in mind that Im painfully practical.

-I’m starting slowly, piece by piece. I’m approaching it the same way I always have: when I land on an idea for something that would enhance my wardrobe, I go seek it out- but rather than heading to my previous go-to’s, I hop on over to Bethany and Molly’s directories and see if I can find a good place to find it there.

-Another go-to place to shop for me is The Flourish Market.  The owner, Emily Sexton (who, incidentally, models for The Root Collective and is the gorgeous ginger on the cover of The Ethical List document you see above), is a Noonday Ambassador who I’ve also met in person (although she may not remember). She’s done an awesome job of collecting pieces from various ethical fashion brands that are on trend and have wide appeal- or they appeal to me for sure, who knows if that’s “wide” or not. Her stuff is simple, on-trend, and it’s a great way to get a sampling of stuff by different manufacturers all in the same place.

-Bethany says in her interview with Andee above (you listened to it, right?) that her closet has shrunk considerably since she has started shopping ethically- and that’s just fine with me. I’ve always been a small closet girl, my practical nature has never allowed me to become a particularly prolific shopper, so that’s not going to be a big compromise for me. I am going to start focusing on the capsule wardrobe concept, but trying to source the pieces ethically. If you’ve never heard of a capsule wardrobe, here’s a post from the Noonday Collection Flourish Blog, written by my friend Jennifer Frey (again, met online and have met in person.) It talks about a capsule wardrobe for Fall 2015, but she explains the concept well and I’m sure a quick google search can find you specifics for whatever season you’re targeting.

And that’s about all I have so far. As I make additional purchases, I will share them with you.  You can watch me slowly (very slowly) overhaul my wardrobe.  And I’m also not promising that I will be able to source everything ethically.  Jeans, man. Those things are expensive, I’ll have to work back up to dropping a couple of Benji’s on one pair of jeans. But the thing is that it’s not about perfection, it’s about knowing that every purchase matters and that every little bit makes a difference.

So who’s with me? Who wants to try their hand at making a difference with their shopping dollars? Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to add that Noonday Collection is a FINE example of a company that Fair Trade, ethical, and is making a difference. Any Noonday purchases you make through your girl here totally count toward ethical shopping. Here’s the link.

torirask.noondaycollection.com

Now go forth and change the world, one killer outfit at a time.

 

 

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I’m Exactly the Right Mom for My Kids: A Reminder for Myself

Mood music for this post:

I am exactly the right mom for my kids, I am exactly the right mom for my kids, I am exactly the right mom for my kids.  I’m telling myself that over and over right now because Mister Cameron, who just turned four, had a screaming fit in the locker room of our gym yesterday after swimming because I wouldn’t get him dressed.  He had a screaming and crying fit IN! PUBLIC! because I was busy so scrambling to dress myself that I couldn’t do something for him that a couple of months ago he would get furious with me for even attempting to help him with.  And what’s even harder for me is that I couldn’t reach him once he got himself going.  Nothing I tried worked until I had to give in and dress him myself and then walk him out of the locker room screaming.  The older woman walking out ahead of us was so startled by him that she gasped and took the good Lord’s name in vain while looking daggers over her shoulder.  In her defense, I don’t think she realized that this was a child whose poor mother was doing the best she could, I think she heard a yell and assumed he was unsupervised- because it’s only logical that a supervised child would not scream like that.  Of course, one could argue that he WAS unsupervised because there certainly was nobody present whose authority and direction he was responding to.

Before I had kids, I was a teacher for ten years and behavior management and reaching difficult kids was absolutely my jam.  I thought FOR SURE that when I had children of my own that I would be able to find ways to reach them like I had with my students. I didn’t expect that they would never tantrum or melt down or rebel, but I did expect that in those moments they would respond to me.  I learned almost immediately that that is most certainly NOT how it was going to go down with this boy child of mine.  Even as a newborn, he presented challenges to our breastfeeding relationship (he wouldn’t open his mouth wide to latch on) that it took even our experienced lactation consultant six weeks to help me figure out.   A few months later, he had a FOUR MONTH LONG sleep regression and defied every method of sleep training we threw at him. And don’t even get me started on trying get him on a nap schedule, the little stinker would vary the length of his naps so no matter how consistent I tried to be, the curve balls he threw upset the apple cart daily. As a toddler and preschooler, the stubborn tenacity with which he holds on to his pet vices, even in the face of frequent redirection and consistently-enforced consequences, is infuriatingly impressive.  I have to tip my hat to the kid, I have never confronted the equal of his strength of conviction, not even in his father. 😉

As you can imagine, the level of self-doubt that this triggers in the already vulnerable heart of a first-time mom is considerable- particularly in one who has experience in reaching kids and believed kids to be inherently reachable- as long as the adults have their act together.  In my hardest moments, I have been haunted and taunted by the nagging feeling that another mom could have gotten him to latch right, someone more organized and tenacious could have gotten him to sleep, or that he would have settled down in that locker room for someone he likes better or loves more.

It’s a darned good thing that I know my Heavenly Father because He is the only assurance I can take seriously when it comes to my ability to properly mother these babes.  In my better moments, I push aside the panic and the fury (oh, the FURY!  The kid makes me so mad, too, because my pride and my authority are on the line) and cry out to God for guidance and my Heavenly Father gives me a talking to of my own-  am I SERIOUSLY questioning whether or not HE gave this kid the right mom? Child, puh-LEEZE!  Both my relationship with Him and His Holy Word are filled with promises that He does not mess around with anything, least of all how He created us.

Psalm 139:13-16 hits me right in the feels in those moments when I’m doubting whether or not I’m the right woman for the job when it comes to my kids:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made:
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

When I think of the “I” and the “me” and the “my” in that verse as meaning each one of my babies, that is as true for the two of them as it is for me, I am reassured that God fearfully and wonderfully knit them together and has written their days in His book- and that includes me.  When He made those babies, He gave them me on purpose because for whatever reason, how He made me is exactly what He had in mind for how He made them.

That right there is at the same time the most comforting and the most convicting revelation I can ever remember having.  Because nobody knows how imperfect I am better than I do- well, except maybe God but His infinite grace for me is bigger than my struggles and so far, my grace for myself is not that large.  If I truly accept that God believes that I am these babies best option, then I need to rise to the challenge and I know to the depths of my being that I can only do that through the God who made me just as He made my babies.

So maybe God gave Mister Cameron to me because He knew that He could count on me to fight for our breastfeeding relationship when Cam struggled.  He knew that I had Jeff in my corner to help me through the sleep regression and what a beautiful, closely knit father-son relationship those two would develop through those late night moments when Cam and Mommy had had enough of one another and only Daddy would do.  And He must know that I’ve got something that He put in me that makes me uniquely equipped for what this kid is throwing at me right now, although bless my precious heart I have no clue what it is. But I do know that is FROM God and OF God and it is only THROUGH God, through total dependence on Him, that I’m going to be able to be what this child needs right now.

So will you pray for me in this season?  Pray that God will be ever-present, turning my mind to Him in those rough moments. That my ears and heart will be open to His leading on what this little stinker- I mean PRECIOUS LITTLE CHILD OF GOD needs from his parents right now. And let’s also lift our hands in praise that we have a God who loves us so much and whose perfect plan for us always calls us to dependence on  and an infinitely beautiful relationship with Him.  He’s certainly exactly the right parent for us, isn’t He?

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The Post in Which I Admit Out Loud What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Mood music for this post:

Have you ever had a dream, something that you want to do more than life itself, and the idea of admitting it out loud is terrifying? I can honestly say that has never happened to me in my life until now.  When I have big dreams and big ideas and I’m excited about them, normally you can’t get me to shut up about them, bless my heart.  But this dream I have right now, this dream I’m about to put out there with this post,  I find myself SCARED of speaking it out loud.

But I have to talk about it. I need to admit to it, give voice to it, and put it out there.  First of all, because speaking it gives me something to chase and it gives my journey shape.  Also because i’m going to need other people on this journey, people to get behind me, people to lead me and HOPEFULLY at some point in the future, people to give me opportunities and nobody is going to know I need or want any of those things if I’m sitting on the sidelines with my hands quietly folded in my lap, trying not to stare or look too interested.

So here it is, my big dream:  What I want more than anything else on this planet is to have a platform to encourage and empower other moms.  

There. I said it. Out loud. Or at least wrote it down. I want to encourage and empower other moms.  And I’m not just talking about your quintessential minivan-driving American soccer mom, I am talking about ALL! KINDS! OF! MOMS!

Being a mom is a uniquely and universally heart-riving experience.  That is NOT a typo, I promise. “Riving,” or the verb “to rive,” is an actual thing. I have mostly heard it in dramatic, old-fashioned writing…, “And the stone was riven in two under the weight of Mjolnir, the mighty hammer of Thor” type of thing. It means to splinter, split open, crack- and that’s exactly what motherhood does to our hearts, doesn’t it? Cracks the suckers wide open AND LEAVES THEM THAT WAY! I mean, it comes and goes and some moments are more vulnerable than others, but they are ALWAYS cracked wide open. It leaves each of us so vulnerable to things we encounter. For those of us in middle class America, that can mean being criticized for our parenting choices, ostracized by mean girl moms, lying awake at night worrying that our perceived shortcomings are somehow going to ruin our kids’ lives.  For moms in other parts of the world (and some here at home), though, that means worrying whether or not you will be able to feed your kids or even keep them with you.  But it’s all just uniquely heavy on a heart split wide open. And it’s those hearts I want to minister to.

So what does that look like?  Heck if I know.  Right now it means writing to other moms here on my blog and selling the crap out of some Noonday Collection to ensure that the mamas who are connected with our artisan partners can keep food on the table for their kids, keep those kids at home with them, and that our artisan partners can broaden their reach and affect the lives of even more mommies and daddies and kiddos.

My hope and my prayer is that going forward, it will mean much, much more. when I say that I want a PLATFORM, I mean that I want a PLATFORM. Which means I’m going to need readership and followers and people who will partner with me and believe in me and share what they are doing with me so that I can get behind them.  Because I want to do this. I cannot even TELL you how much I want to do this. I want to make the lives of other moms better so that they can make their kids’ lives better and together, we can make the world just a little bit easier of a place to walk around with your heart cracked wide open.

That is all.

 

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God is a Better Parent Than Me

Here’s your mood music for this post:

 

I referenced in my post about my experience at Shine, the Noonday Collection Conference, that God was pretty clear with me about the words, “Just show up.”

Just. Show. Up.

That’s what I’m being asked to do right now and it is A LOT of work. All of the showing up that I’m doing at the moment is the stuff that is uncomfortable for me and that I don’t feel like I’m very good at it.  I came into the new year with only one trunk show on the books (who cancelled while I was at Shine, by the way) and I’m having to try to fill up my schedule with what we refer to as “asks.”  People who I have to ASK if they would be interested in hosting a trunk show, and that I’m not good at.  But I’ve been doing the work and showing up and this past week and a half feels like it’s been about a month long.   I have one show on the books as a result of my asking, one “yes” that I am trying to turn into an actual booking, and one “maybe.”

Honestly, it’s pretty much all I’ve been thinking about. That and how tough things are right now with the kids, they are both in phases where there is a lot of drain and not much give-back for Jeff and me.  It’s been a tough week and yesterday, as I sat on Cam’s bed folding his laundry, I said to God, “Father, I’m so sorry for being so stressed about all of this. Am I totally defeating the purpose?  Am I not seeing your blessings because I’m having to work so hard at this that I’m letting it consume everything.  I’m so sorry…”

There are moments in which God responds IMMEDIATELY, and this was one of them. “It’s OK, ” He said, “This thing I’m asking you to do is really hard. It’s not easy for you but you are trusting Me and you’re doing it and no, you’re not doing it perfectly, but you’re trying and it’s what I’ve asked of you so it’s OK. I don’t expect perfection.”

And then He turned my thoughts to an incident that happened Sunday night and reminded me of my own thought processes.  Sunday night, Jeff and his dad took Cam to his first Blazer game. Cam did really well, stayed engaged the whole time, and by the time they got home about 9:30, it was two hours past Cam’s bedtime and he was done.  He has never been a kid who says, “Gee, I’m tired. I think I should go to sleep.” When he’s tired, he likes to pretend he’s not sleepy and gets wired and rebels and fights it…and Jeff and I were tired and did not react well at all.

The next day, I texted Jeff and reminded him that Cam’s struggle to go to sleep was really on us. WE had asked him to stay up late to go to that game, we KNOW he struggles with getting to sleep when he’s tired, and we owed it to him to give more grace than we did.  This, God told me, is exactly how He saw this situation with me. He was asking me to do something that was hard for me because He knows it’s the best thing for me and for the world and unlike Jeff and me, HE is perfect and patient and has limitless grace for me as I struggle- and what’s more, He doesn’t forget to be proud of me for trying and doesn’t forget to celebrate what I’m doing well in His frustration.  He doesn’t forget that it is HIS PLAN that has put me in this place of struggle and so when I don’t respond perfectly,  He gives hugs and grace and encouragement. Oh, that we had remembered that with our sweet Cameron. Forgive us, Father.

The next day, on the exercise bike at the gym, I was reading the She Reads Truth “Daniel” study and something jumped out at me. The author wrote, “Here’s the thing:  our failure to perfectly follow Christ has already been defeated on the Cross.”  So truly, God is perfectly equipped for my failures.  Not only can He be patient with them and redeem them, He has already redeemed ME from them.

So, I can go on just showing up, with no promise of success, bumbling my way through it because IT IS HARD FREAKING WORK to do something that you don’t feel like you’re any good at it, and my Father in Heaven is going to keep being patient and encouraging and forgiving and redeeming my bumbles because He is perfect and He’s a way better parent than I am.  In the meantime, I’m going to strive to parent more like He does.  Father, be with me…

 

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Why I’m like a Liger

The mood music for this post, a little Napoleon Dynamite:

In the 2004, the movie Napoleon Dynamite bumbled awkwardly onto the scene and pretty much consumed pop culture. “Vote for Pedro” shirts were everywhere, people would respond “GOSH!” any time they were exasperated, and everyone started saying that the Liger was pretty much their favorite animal EVER because it had magical properties.

Around that time, I was teaching 5th Grade. Just about nobody clings more frantically to pop culture than 10- and 11-yr-olds who have all of a sudden realized that middle school is coming at them like a freight train and they better learn how to be cool right quick.  One of the assignments each year was for the kids to research animals and write reports about them. Each kid got their own animal, but we also chose one to research and write about as a class for an example of how it was supposed to go. You know, modeling and whatnot.  So, I’ll bet you can guess what animal those little dudes picked that year.

Yup, the Liger:  (Drawing by Napoleon himself, if the movie is to be believed)

Liger Napoleon

As it turns out, the Liger does NOT have magical properties.  Ligers are actually rather sad creatures who are born when you mate a male lion with a tigress. Not to be confused with mating a male tiger with a lioness, which breeds a tigon.  I’m not kidding, it’s a thing.  They are prone to a whole bunch of health problems and purposefully breeding them is ill-advised and it’s all very depressing so I will skip the rest and jump to the part where I feel like it’s my spirit animal.
One of the reasons ligers and tigons have such a rough go of it is that their natures fight with one another. Lions live together in prides and their instincts lean toward a social, group mentality. Tigers, on the other hand, are loners and prefer not to be in groups. So, the result of mixing those two sets of instincts is that ligers and tigons spend their lives oscillating between craving social interaction and solitude.  And here you have how I can relate to the plight of the liger/tigon.

I have always thought of myself as a total extrovert. I am a compulsive people-meeter, I always initiated friendships at the playground growing up and that’s pretty much continued as my pattern throughout life. Getting to go new places and meet new people turns me into Buddy the Elf.

Image-1

But then there’s this other side of me. The side that looked forward to bathroom trips when I was in school because it meant I got a moment to myself. The side that is happy as a clam when my husband is out of town, despite the fact that I love him and also like him and he’s super-supportive and helps with the kids and I look forward to him coming home from work every night, because I get time to myself. The side that felt suffocated at the idea of spending last weekend in Shine sessions all day and then rooming with THREE OTHER PEOPLE at night.  GAH!

I always told myself that that side of me was called being a loner. Turns out, it’s not. It’s called being an introvert. That sounds way better than “loner,” right?  So, yeah. I’m an introvert, apparently. A people-loving, social interaction-craving introvert. I’m sure there are percentages involved, CLEARLY I’m not  a 100% introvert because I do love me some people, but there is a percentage of me that is one.  And it’s just enough of a percentage that I can easily feel stifled if I let my extroverted side make all the decisions and do all the planning.

So, that’s why I feel like I can related to ligers and tigons (and possibly also bears- oh my- in that I would love to just eat myself silly and then sleep all winter).  There’s a lot of back and forth between the introvert and the extrovert.

However.

Whereas this tends to make ligers and tigons miserable and at times it as made ME miserable, the older I get the more I’m learning to use it to my advantage.  Of late, I have learned that it means I get the best of both worlds.  Which, incidentally, reminds me of something else that was very prominent during those days teaching 5th Grade:

But seriously, I’ve learned to embrace it. It’s a pretty solid blessing to feel equally at home in a group of people and by myself. And yeah, it can create some dissonance when I’ve extroverted way too much and my inner introvert is DYING for some time to myself, but I’m willing to bet that those who fall more solidly on either side of the spectrum experience their moments of dissonance as well.

So, there you have  it. I’m a liger. If you were an animal, what would you be?