Happy Mother’s Day, Mama

At 5:45 this morning, my six-year-old, Jed, climbed into my bed, snaking his way in-between his daddy and me. He’s usually my child who will sleep in a bit. “You teenager, you,” we joke when he rolls out of bed at 8am on the weekend. He smiles, looking pleased with himself. But he’s also notorious for getting up early on special days.

Placing a small-but-growing hand on my head, Jed stroked my hair.

“Happy Mother’s Day, mama,” he whispered.

I kissed his forehead and took in a deep inhale of the crown of his head, which still smelled like sunscreen from yesterday’s beach excursion.

“You’re the one who made me a mama,” I said, pulling him closer.

“Well, I didn’t really…” he offered, looking up to face me.

“You’re right, buddy,” I nodded. “But you were the first one I got to hold in my arms.”

I began my journey to motherhood just shy of ten years ago. It was a jolting start—the joys of finding out I was pregnant, a few weeks of mounting excitement and buying clothes fit for a doll, and then the horrible lows of midnight cramping and bleeding that refused to be tamed by desperate laments and Heavenward pleas.

I haven’t described the details of miscarriage to my kids. Some of it would be too disturbing and isn’t necessary at their small ages. But I have shared parts of the stories of those who came and went before them. Partly, I want them to know that pain and loss are very real components of life, even in a family that loves big and prays hard. And partly, I want to honor the memory of the little ones I so desperately wanted to know and hold, but never had the chance to.

It’s ironic that Jed brought this up today. I’ve been thinking about my first pregnancy a lot the past several weeks, too. But less because of the loss, and more because of my own mom. As I’ve Googled “gifts for her” in search of Mother’s Day presents for some of the important mamas in my life, I’ve reflected on moments, lessons, and memoires that have impacted me. The one I keep coming back to is the night I miscarried my first baby.

I was visiting my parents in Spokane, Washington, traveling for work and attending my best friend’s wedding. Peter had stayed back in our home in the West Bank, prepping for a big development project launching the following month. And during all this busy, happy time, my body handed me the biggest personal loss I’d known up until that point.

There, in my childhood bathroom, my mom joined me, standing over the porcelain bowl and gazing down at the small, bean-shaped mass that had come and gone all too soon.

“Oh honey.” Mom put her arm around my shaking shoulders and pulled me close. After a minute of the familiar, strong embrace I’ve known my entire life, she pulled away.


Mom quickly exited the bathroom, only to return a minute later with an undiscernible object concealed inside her fist. She reached for a Dixie cup from the small dispenser on the wall and placed it on the edge of the counter. Then she opened her left hand, revealing a single latex glove. Stretching it over her right hand, she bent over the toilet and scooped out my first baby—or “the tissue,” as medical journals call it—letting it slide gently into the ready cup.

“In case the doctor needs to see it…” she said. “…and because it just doesn’t seem right to flush it.”

Ten years later, I can’t help but laugh at the fact that my mom, who has no medical background, had latex gloves stashed in her house, just waiting to be used for some worthy cause. Now, thanks to COVID-19, gloves and masks are standard household items. But this was pre-pandemic. This was the preparedness and ingenuity of motherhood on full display, even long after children had grown up and left home.

In the days to come, my mom and dad stood by me as I buried a little cardboard box, a handful of wildflowers, and notes from Peter and me deep into the earth surrounding a crab apple tree on their property.

There is a lot I could say about loss. This was the first of five babies who would blossom in my womb, only to complete their lifespan before I had a chance to hold them in my arms.

But now that I’ve recovered from the pain and disappointment, one of the most gripping parts of this story is my mom’s reaction to plunge her arm into a toilet for the sake of her child. For the sake of her would-have-been first grandchild.

Her movements were intentional and calculated—a rubber glove, a prepped cup, thoughts of doctors and follow-up appointments. And also, there was an instinctual ease to her strategy—like she was performing from habit and memory.

To my knowledge, my mom has never pulled more than toys or toddler paper-packing-fun out of toilets. But at this point, she had over twenty-five years of motherhood under her belt. Decades of self-sacrifice, preparing for unseen events, and being handy at a moment’s notice had prepared her to be exactly who I needed her to be at my most unsure moment.

Sometimes I wonder: what will my children remember about me once they’re grown? Will it be the early morning snuggles or surrenders to “just one more kiss” (for the fifth time) before bed? The moments when I come undone and act and speak out of stress and fatigue? The twirls and giggles of sweaty, family dance parties in the dark? The moments of “I wish I could play right now, but I have a little bit more work to do…”?

Or maybe their memories of me will come flooding back—and almost redefine themselves—when triggered by current and relevant events in their adult lives. Maybe it’s my presence and friendship in the later years that ices the cake and gives the whole mothering ordeal of the early years its ultimate meaning.

It is yet to be decided, as my oldest is only six. However, today I find myself extremely grateful for and proud of all the mamas who spread themselves thin and give in ways they’d rather not and prep for unlikely situations and show up again and again and again. No matter how little sleep they had the night before. The habits we form and put into practice as mothers are more powerful that we are likely to realize; they are the daily, mundane actions performed on repeat out of necessity, but the foundation of our seeming-instinctual understanding of who and how to be in our children’s most felt moments of need.

So happy Mother’s Day, to all the mamas out there, powering through and reconstructing yourselves a thousand times over as you give and love your littles. And an especially happy Mother’s Day to my mama—you’ve been there for me in ways you’ll never realize, in times you were unaware of just how much I needed you. I love you.

One Year Out: Reflections on Suffering and Christmas Eve

Oh what a difference a year can make.

On this Christmas Eve, I sit on my couch clasping a warm cup of coffee—legs curled under a soft blanket from my sister-in-law—and slowly inhale the wintry magic that only Christmas lights and ribbon-trimmed garlands are powerful enough to conjure.




And a wave hits me. A wave whose stirrings originated in currents of fear, grief, and heartache. A wave who has traveled miles of tumultuous ocean to finally catch sight of the shore. A wave who has felt the stabilizing embrace of soft-but-sure sand that transforms surging tides into playful pools.

A wave of gratefulness, thanksgiving, and relief.

On Christmas Eve morning last year, I sipped my coffee from a padded, wooden chair in my daughter’s hospital room. The early morning light was still grey—barely bright enough to illuminate our small space. We had arrived from Jordan via a medical evacuation plane the night before, and this was the first morning in a week without needles and screaming and tears.




It was only temporary, I knew. A calm before the next storm. A big storm—an evening of terrible tests for my tender, fourteen-month-old babe, Nove. These were the beginnings of the tests we had traveled for—the reason we had left our home in Jordan just days before Christmas. But I squirmed thinking about how horrible they would be.

Finishing my coffee, I returned my cup to the tray. The clink of porcelain on porcelain pierced the room, and Nove’s limbs jumped. Wincing, I crept across the floor to her crib. She had barely slept the last week, nurses and doctors coming in at all hours of the day and night to check her vitals, administer a handful of medications, and run countless tests in attempts to determine what was happening inside my baby’s brain.

Despite the clink, she had remained asleep. I leaned my head in closer, careful not to push on the bars and cause them to squeak. I wanted to hear her breath, to smell her still-baby scent, to feel close to her while she enjoyed a longed-for moment of rest. Her little blonde head glowed, reflecting the window’s growing rays. “Angel girl,” I whispered.

And I wished I could take it all from her. I wished I could trade places with her and be the one melted into the hospital bed, tethered to drips and pumps and monitors. I wished I could carry the burden of her pain and confusion and fear in my own body. That I could release this angel baby to laugh and play once more. Deep injury is done to a heart as it watches its child suffer. Even long after the wound has healed, scars remain. You hear the screams in your sleep. You see the writhing in your mind’s eye. You feel their fear reverberating through your body. Regardless of the final outcome, no one is the same after watching their child endure terrible physical pain. No parent forgets the guilt of not being able to rescue your most precious treasure from life’s harshest moments.

Hours passed and the sun shone stronger and laughter and joy filled our hearts as family poured into our room from Jordan and America. My husband, Peter, and our four healthy kids had traveled through the night with the assistance of my best friend, Kyle, who generously left her own family to help get my whole crew to London. My in-laws had flown in from Nashville to make this a special time for the non-hospitalized grand-kids. My brother-in-law, his wife, and their three kids had dropped their Christmas plans with their “other family” to be with us at our most vulnerable hour. It was a strange mix of emotions that day. Peace after so much chaos. Smiles after so many tears. The attempt to anchor my heart in the real-time of this beautiful day before the dreaded night of tests arrived.

Christmas pajamas were opened. Long hugs were exchanged. My sister-in-law—who feels more and more like my own flesh and blood with each visit and life event we journey together—hung a soft, floral blanket on Nove’s crib and strung Christmas lights over the room’s large whiteboard. My nieces taped flowers made from discarded tissue paper onto the windows and walls. The gorgeous commotion of too many loved ones in too small of a space was what I needed to prepare me for what was to come.

And come it did. After sedating Nove in the evening and allowing her to fall into a deep sleep for a few hours, a doctor and four nurses entered our room to start their work. “It’s going to be pretty rough,” our doctor said with genuine compassion worn across her face. “You’ll need to wait in the parents’ room, and we will get you when we’re done.”

My body shook a little as I tried to swallow my own fear and the exaggerated lump growing in my throat. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to stay. But it felt like the day had gone too fast. Like the beauty and the stillness and the peace hadn’t lasted long enough. Where had our quiet, grey-lit morning gone? Where were the laughs and commotion and pajamas of the afternoon?

Not wanting to wake Nove from such a peaceful sleep, I hovered my hand six inches above her small back and mouthed, “I love you.” I squeezed my stomach tight and released a deep breath as slowly and evenly as I could—a trick they teach you in youth theater when you’re feeling scared. But having your sick child poked with a bunch of big needles is weightier than dancing the Charleston in front of three hundred people; my techniques didn’t help, and I felt dizzy.

I closed the door quietly behind me and counted under my breath as I walked to the parents’ room at the end of the L-shaped hall. “One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…” I was twenty-five seconds of “normal paced steps” away. But it felt so, so much farther.

Choosing a seat in the corner of the empty room, I hugged my knees into my chest. I wished Peter could be here with me. But our four little ones were spending their first night in a new place after a long journey, and we felt it was better for him to stay near them that night. They had endured a lot of confusion and fear the past week, too.

Squeezing my eyes closed, I tried to pray for my small baby. But I was so emotional, all I could muster was, “Help her, help her, help her.”

Glancing down at my phone, I saw it was three minutes until midnight—the time the tests were supposed to officially commence. Earlier that afternoon, I had posted on Instagram and Facebook, updating friends and family about Nove’s day. I had asked anyone who was able to join me in singing “Silent Night” at 12am London time. A song of hope for my baby as she began the challenges this night would bring. At exactly midnight, I started to sing. I barely made it through one line before I began choking on the words, cheeks streaming with disappointment, sadness, and fear.

But I persevered, and as I reached the second verse, I heard it. A terrible, chilling scream from a room about twenty-five seconds down the hall. I flung my hands over my ears and tightened my knee-to-chest stance. My carol ended abruptly, overtaken by an audible lament of sobs.

Almost simultaneously, little dings began chiming from my phone one after another, steadily growing in number and frequency. Taking a breath, I peeked just enough to see the screen: dozens of notifications from friends and family, all over the world, announcing they were singing over Nove at that very moment. Pictures and videos flooded my social media. Individuals standing and singing in their kitchens. Whole families holding hands and lifting their voices in unison in front of sparkling trees. Entire congregations clutching lit candles and releasing words of hope—of The Hope of the world—over my angel baby.

That night, Nove endured four lumbar punctures (more popularly known as spinal taps), a handful of throat and nasal swabs, and a tray-full of blood samples. I heard the sound of those tests. It was anything but a “silent night.” And yet, the world wrapping their arms around Nove and our family as we lived through this terrible pain was one of the “holiest” nights I’ve ever known.

Unfortunately, most of the tests done that evening came back “inconclusive.” And Nove had to repeat them multiple times over the coming week. It was a harrowing experience, to say the least. Memories that unleash a physical response in my body to this day.

But our story has a happy ending. We did get results. Our baby did get better. And now we have a very-cheeky, two-year-old Nove who commands the whole family with the point of her chubby finger or the pout of her plump, rosy lips. This year—this Christmas Eve—is a world away from where we were last year. My feet rest on my own couch in my own living room, and my hands are warmed by my favorite mug filled with familiar coffee. And no one in our family is sick.

However, this is not the case for so many families around the world. 2020 has brought incalculable loss. Lives. Jobs. Dreams. And not everyone will get their happy ending—a reality that should continually sober anyone who has seen the desires of their once-terrified heart fulfilled.

As much as I’d like to forget it all, today beckons me to flip back the pages of the calendar. To run my memory fingers over the bumps of my scarred heart and revisit the pain of watching my baby suffer. To wade through the dancing waves of my own relief and venture out a little deeper—far enough to feel the weight of the cold, restless currents. To feel the pull of a tide that has yet to be tamed by a steadying shoreline. To remember the treading and enduring of anything but a “silent night.” To connect with a world enduring fresh, raw pain.

Because this is the promise of this blessed eve. The reason for celebrating this holiest of holy nights: that, through the coming of the Christ Child, the Divine extended Itself into the deepest recesses of pain and fear and brokenness in the human soul in order to reconcile the world unto Itself. That in the midst of our darkest hours and most horrific moments, the Holy One—Immanuel—is with us. In the middle of pain, in the middle of heartache, in the middle of not knowing how this chapter will end:




I can’t help but imagine Him running His fingers over His own scars today—weeping for His suffering children. The Light of the world—the ultimate, redeeming end to every broken story—willing to join us in our pain. To meet us where we’re at. To finish the song and carry us forward when we are too weak to sing or move ourselves.

Immanuel: God with us.

Merry Christmas. May you experience the Holiness of tonight in the midst of the ocean you tread.

Until next time, Ana

Dear Fellow Christians: Concerning the Next Two Weeks

Dear fellow Christians,

The two week countdown to the 2020 US Presidential Election is in full swing. Emotions are flying high, votes are being cast, and all sorts of nasty and hopeful posts are taking over our social media feeds (with even greater force and fervor than we’ve witnessed over the last year). It is a season of anticipation, excitement, and, for many, anxiety.

In these times, people of faith are attempting to turn our eyes upward and remind ourselves that November 3rd is neither our end nor our beginning. That our promises for this life are much greater and more deeply rooted than any temporary governing body on Earth. For many of us, we are trying to keep our perspective where it matters most—on God, Christ, Kingdom, hope, truth, and love.

I see many posts and stories on social media touting these eyes-on-the-cross messages. Most commonly, some form of, “Whatever happens in two weeks, Jesus will still be on the throne.” As a fellow Christian, I too, believe this to be true.

However, I can’t help but cringe a bit when I see these statements slapped around for all the world to see. Not because of any lack of truth in the words themselves. But because of what they unintentionally communicate to millions of our fellow Americans, and to our world at large.

Our “no matter what happens” statements can, all-too-easily, sound like churchy, quick-fix platitudes that, in reality, do little more than relieve us of some amount of personal discomfort with the heated election season.

In fact, to some onlookers, these quickly-typed-out and posted proclamations resound of privilege and a lack of empathy. They can reek of a reality that is incredibly distanced from the pain and brokenness existing in our nation. They often communicate complacency and apathy—setting us apart not as agents of love and grace and transformative power, but as disillusioned and detached followers of a faith that (seemingly) fails to bring the hope, justice, and love it promises.

Whether or not this is what was intended.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in John 11—the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. To me, the beauty of the incident isn’t solely found in the power to raise a dead man back to life. Rather, it is the heart and emotional stance Jesus—the was and would-be King of the cosmos—took as He gathered with His friends who were deeply mourning. Although the entire chapter is padded with proclamations of faith and belief and power, Jesus, in that moment, places those faith-filled proclamations to the side and chooses to join His friends in their great sadness. He meets them in the midst of their fear, their imperfect understanding, and their “where were You when this happened” frustration. Verse 33 says that, watching Mary weep, Jesus “was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (New International Version). This is closely followed by the famously-short verse: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

From the surrounding verses, I assume Jesus already knew how this chapter of the story was going to end. Or, at least, that He had a full and complete belief and hope in the fact that the mourning would cease and Lazarus would breathe once more. That the end was good. And yet, in that moment, He chose to enter into the pain of those around Him. He chose to be moved by the reality of that circumstance, and what it meant to those on earth. He chose compassion, empathy, and humility. He was available and relevant to those in pain.

For some of us—if we’re being completely honest—our daily lives will not be too greatly altered depending on who arises as the next presidential victor. Yes, most of us have, to varying degrees, been upended in 2020 because of COVID-19. And whoever is president over the next four years will determine how our nation proceeds in this pandemic. No matter who that man is and what plan he adopts, it will most assuredly bring a certain amount of change, hardship, and frustration for some portion of our country. And this is no small thing.

But there is more than COVID-19 happening in America. Masses of people have vocalized their firm belief that the next president of the United States will directly affect the extent of freedom and equality experienced by millions of Americans across our nation. The president—whoever he ends up being—won’t have all the answers or the perfect strategy for change. Nor will he be the sole hindrance to a nation trying to uproot hundreds of years of bondage preventing true equality. However, the voices that are heard, the extent to which they are considered, and the way in which they are responded to greatly depends on who sits in the Oval Office over the next four years.

The fact is, not all of our friends, family, and neighbors have the margin to say, “No matter who wins, yada yada yada.” (You can fill in the blank.) And let us not assume it is from a lack of faith. It is very much rooted in a current lived and experienced reality. From pain and brokenness that exists in our country right now.

Whether Trump or Biden, we will all have plenty with which to disagree in the next four years. Plenty to roll our eyes at and say, “Well, if it had been so-or-so, life would have been so much better.” Taxes. Masks. Quarantines. Re-openings. Trade. Russia. China. Supreme Court Justices. Etc. And no matter who takes office, we will, as Christians, continue to put our trust in the Lord and intercede for real and lasting justice and mercy on Earth.

But the reality of this moment, this day… it matters, too. It matters how we, as Christians (and maybe especially for those of us who are white, middle-class-and-up Christians), communicate with the world around us. How far we’re willing to stretch ourselves to peer into someone else’s life and see that their reality might be very different from what we have lived and known. It matters whether or not we choose to take on the practices and example set before us by Christ Himself—a real, lived-out compassion, empathy, and humility. It matters how we allow our belief about the end of the story—that it is good—to influence the way we tend to the matters and people of today. It matters that we love in a way that bears witness to our belief that the world is reconciling itself to its King.

Because it mattered to Him. Enough to be moved. To be troubled. To weep.

No matter what color t-shirt we’re donning, what side of the aisle draws our eye, what box we’re checking, we each have a choice about how we will vocalize our faith and the Man we represent as the heat of the next two weeks intensifies.

May you feel Him near, sense His kindness, and be a light to the world around you—in word, in deed, and in social media posts. May we all find unity in our desire to exemplify the glory and wonder of that final chapter of His story, and the hope it means for our world today.

On Truth

“The truth will set you free.”

I’ve heard these words my whole life, as I’m sure many of you have. The origin is John 8:32, a verse in the New Testament of the Bible. However, the words and the idea of the power of truth have spread much wider than just Christian circles. They denote a belief that upholds entire value systems adopted by many religious and pagan civilizations throughout history—that truth is associated with freedom. That truth is good. That truth is what is right—knowing the truth, telling the truth, keeping the truth. Truth as in what happened, as in honesty, as in what is ethical, what is right, what is just, what is inherent, what is vulnerable or transparent. All keys to a more free self, society, and world.

But what is t/Truth? And how much of our personal understanding of what is true is actually part of some cosmic, universal Truth?

Okay, let me be really honest—“what is Truth” is a much bigger question than I am able to tackle. My brain starts to deteriorate about seven and a half minutes into theoretical philosophies on such ginormous matters.

Like, I feel things disintegrating inside my brain as I read…

But on a not-anywhere-near-a-full-time-philosopher level, I’ve been thinking a lot about truth. As I scroll through social media feeds and read posts and make sense of political memes, I am fascinated with the concept of truth. About how people come to form their opinions about what is true, right, and valuable. About how we take what we were taught by parents, politics, religion, and various social structures and mix it all up with our own life experiences to create some sort of intellectual modeling clay. About how we take that clay and shape a personal worldview that is quite intricate—having bends and turns, ups and downs. It becomes so real and known to us, it acts like an actual structure we can live in, with walls and windows and stairs and doors. It becomes our shelter, our safe place, where we feel most comfortable. The hows and whats that make up our personal understandings of truth—which, ultimately, make up the entire way in which we view the world—become a spiritual, emotional, and intellectual home to our individual selves. That’s why, I think, it feels so scary and personal when the storms of differing opinions come rolling down our street (or our feeds). These storms threaten the entire structure of how we view and make sense of the world. And it feels unsafe. No one wants their house invaded or torn apart.

But there is a problem with this tendency of hunkering down into a set of homey and comfortable—fixed and rooted—personal truths. The problem is that no one person—no one family, community, country, generation, or organized religion—has arrived at the fullness of cosmic Truth. (We’re gonna leave deities out of this one.) The problem is we are all extremely limited in how we interpret and understand what we think to be truth.

How do you know that for sure?

Well, I don’t. But that’s my best guess.

We know in part, and hopefully, we’ve gotten closer and clearer and wiser since the dawn of time. Ideally, every generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before, growing and stretching closer to the ultimate Truth that has burdened our hearts with values like justice, equality, order, goodness, mercy, kindness, belonging, and love. (These come from somewhere, after all. So we’ll just non-philosophically lump them in with that ultimate Truth we’re trying to find and access.)

If we can admit we only know in part, that we do not, in fact, have all truth or can even begin to know how far along on the Truth spectrum we might actually be, we should be able to make a good argument for always being on the move as far as truth is concerned. For never settling down, for never digging out a foundation, for never pouring the concrete or putting up the walls. We would probably do much better with temporary structures that help us find shelter from what we don’t understand in life, but ones that can easily be picked up and moved forward as the path becomes more clear and obvious. Structures that allow the winds of life and the changes and revelations of society to reverberate through their entirety.

It’s not a perfect analogy, and I don’t mean to imply we should build our house on “the sand” and not “the rock”… but maybe I’m suggesting we often can’t tell the difference between sand or rock when it comes to how we view the world. Maybe what we thought was so solid is actually pretty shifty. Maybe what we thought was rickety has more strength and validity than we first assumed.

Maybe we’ve spent massive chunks of our lives defending certain things and people and interpretations of various ideals just because we were taught it was right or true. And we’ve never given ourselves the space to back up and reevaluate if it was solid ground to begin with. Or if, just maybe, a more clear interpretation and understanding has been unveiled.

So here’s the conclusion I came to while vigorously rubbing dry shampoo into my hair today (while five unruly children ran around hooting and hollering in the background of my churning mind):

A fixed worldview that does not grow, refuses to admit wrongfulness or shortsightedness, and that will not find the capacity to learn from those who hold opposing opinions cannot recognize the humanity in—and assume the good intentions of—those who hold a different worldview. When our personal truth becomes so grounded in a certain spot and position, it robs our ability to peer into the understandings of others, and to see those others as similar, not-so-different humans who also want what is “true” and good and best for our individual selves and society at large. It is a worldview that is held in vain, offers little (if not nothing) to our overall journey of human progression, and is terribly detrimental to our current society’s immediate quandaries.

A worldview that is set gets stuck.

It’s not that we can’t hold anything sacred. That we can’t have a deep faith that is constant and an ultimate cornerstone in our lives. That we can’t take a bold and radical stance on issues that really matter to us. Rather, it’s our personal understanding and interpretation of faith and justice and freedom and truth that often trip us up and keep others at arm’s length. That makes the people on the other side of the aisle or line look like enemies, rather than fellow seekers of the Truth who hold a different or varied interpretation.

“The truth will set you free.” It assumes movement. Change. That whatever once was becomes something new, fresh, better. Truth—real, capital “t” Truth—leads us forward. Not backwards. Not still or stagnant. The Big Truth we hold onto so tightly (in whatever form we express it, whether through faith, science, politics, etc.) should be a Truth that changes our daily truths—making tomorrow’s truth look different than yesterday’s. It should be a light that pours in to expose our misconceptions, misunderstandings, and our own hesitancy to justice, compassion, and selflessness. If we are not changing, our Big Truth and Guiding Light might not be as true as we’d like to think. At least, our understanding of it and interpretation of it might not be as clear as we imagine.

How we see the world—the people who populate it, the governments that order it, the selves that color and liven it—should never grow stagnant. Our limited understandings should not be “enough.” The progress we made yesterday or last year or last century is not “enough.” The understandings of our beliefs need to ebb. Our interpretations of our values need to flow. All under and within and following that Big Truth and Guiding Light that ushers us into a greater, wider, more broad understanding of what it means to love, to be free, to be equal.

So before I spend another 1,300 words talking in circles, I’ll close by asking you these questions (the same I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks now): What is it you think you know? How did you arrive at the worldview you currently hold? Who and what have shaped the views you hold most sacred and precious? Why are they so important to you? What’s the point of it all? (No need to give answers to these questions here or on my social media feeds; they’re for your own personal consideration.)

I don’t ask out of doubt in you or your values, or because I’ve come to some great answer or conclusion of my own. Rather, I ask because these are questions we all need to be exploring if our goal is truly to sharpen our understanding of what is true and right and just and good for our own selves, our own country, and our shared world. We are at a some big junctures, people. This is a good thing—opportunities to better ourselves and our world sit right on our doorstep. The only thing that will hold us back is ourselves. Our set, stuck selves.

As my almost-four-year-old, too-smart-for-his-own-good Joel told me today, “Just be cool, mom. Just be cool.” (By the way, you should always be nervous when your child tells you this after a long time of being silent and out of sight.) But it’s true. Many of us could use some official chilling out. Not because things don’t matter. Not because we don’t have incredibly important roles to play in moving our families and communities and society toward a greater understanding of what is best for now, best for the future. But because of this. Because we are taking our own selves so seriously that we are often missing what is really important. What is really good. What is really true. What really needs our thought, our support, our voice, our silence, our vote.

I invite you to ask, listen, reevaluate, and realign with me as we as we aim to make today brighter than yesterday, tomorrow more “true” than today.

Until next time, Ana

Goodbye Jordan, Hello World

It’s hard to believe I’m writing these words, this post. This week has come much sooner than anticipated. But, nonetheless it is here. And with a deep and felt sadness for the immediate losses—but a building excitement for all that lies ahead—our family is preparing to leave Jordan in eight, short days.

For the past five years, Hubby has been in process to become an American diplomat with the US Foreign Service. It has been a dream of his since college, and the journey to fulfill it has been long and sometimes challenging. Studying, tests, interviews, background checks, call lists. A lot of work, a lot of waiting. And then, POOF! Just like that, he’s summoned for his initial training in Washington DC and our family has three weeks to pack up the last decade of our lives, say goodbye to loved ones and a beloved land, and prepare to restart life on US soil and, soon, unknown locations overseas… during a worldwide pandemic.

*Insert jazz hands*

On September 1st, it would have been eleven years that we’ve lived in Jordan and Palestine. Thirteen for Hubby. We were just fresh-faced babes when we arrived in Amman together, twenty-three and twenty-four years old. It was exactly one month after our wedding day, and we stepped onto the hard-packed, sandy ground fully accessorized with rose-colored glasses and a fragrant romanticism, thinking we would change the world. But we had no idea what would await us in the following eleven years. We knew almost nothing of pain, suffering, poverty, war, loss, or the grit it takes to bear the load that comes from such real hardship. The emotional perseverance it requires to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with those who hurt in ways my mind could not have imagined before seeing them with my own eyes, feeling them with my own heart.

Our first seven years overseas were directly focused on aid and relief work with refugees. We partnered with NGOs in both Palestine and northern Jordan, participating in sustained relief efforts and community development projects alongside local Palestinians, and then helping with emergency response given to Syrians as they crossed the Jordanian border from their war-torn homeland. We regularly worked sixty-hour weeks, listening to horrific stories of war and occupation, trying to do what we could—with the funds raised by our NGOs and partnerships with local community leaders—to ease the immediate burdens of thousands of traumatized refugees.

It didn’t take long to realize, in either situation, that Hubby and I were not the people with answers. No education, no training, no dream, no vision, no handout, no project, no promise of a better tomorrow could, in and of itself, make the world a better place. Make the hurt and injustice and fear any less of a reality for the people we now lived among. And we realized that just because we sat with the hurting day after day, and heard their stories and were as close to them and their situations as we could be, we still couldn’t understand. We still were not them. And their stories still were not ours. This new, felt pain—the desire to do something to fix the world and all its problems but realizing it’s not actually all ours to fix—is a burden we have borne and will continue to bear. It is something we are not looking to find relief from—rather, it is one of the greatest truths we take away from this last eleven years. That more than the world needs people of privilege to fix or do or rescue, it needs us to really and truly “be”—to wholeheartedly “be.” To listen, to learn, to accept, to soak-in, to empathize, to join, to promise to sit in the middle of the pain and the unfair and the injustice with those actually experiencing it. To let those suffering tell us what they need and when they need it and how they want it packaged. To be still, quiet, ready, and committed to togetherness. (I think about these deep lessons we are still learning, and I find them incredibly pertinent and relevant to the political and social climate we, as Americans, face in this moment of our country’s history.)

Hubby has spent the last four years getting his master’s degree and consulting with various groups and organizations on the topics of culture, language, religion, and interfaith dialogue. It has been wonderfully life-giving work that has only fueled his fire to participate in the creation, implementation, and communication of US foreign policy abroad. At the same time, I have furthered my work as a freelance writer and editor and, most recently, made great strides writing my first book—a memoir covering a five-year stint of our life abroad.

And now, with enough stories to fill an encyclopedia and enough kids to fill a school bus (or make a sports team or orchestra or theater troupe—yes, we’ve heard them all), we are gearing up for all the hard goodbyes that accompany this transition to a longed-for future. Jordan has been our family home—the only place we’ve lived as a married couple, the only place we’ve raised our children. Hubby and I became grown-ups in this land. We lost five babies here, we conceived five more—two of whom took their first breaths outside the womb in Jordan. My oldest son calls himself “Jordanian,” says his king is “Malak Abdullah al-Thani,” and claims both English and Arabic as his languages. His ultimate dream is to have a playdate with King Abdullah or the Crowned Prince Hussein.

“You don’t understand mom, because you’re American. But I’m Jordanian.”

I will miss the little and the big. The incredible friendships and community we have cultivated and loved these past eleven years. The friends on whose shoulders I cried with each lost baby. The people who squeezed my hands and jumped up and down with me, screaming in excitement when I found out I was having three babies at one time. The Westerners and Americans who felt like “home” when I was drowning in a sea of language and unknown cultural norms. My Jordanian, Palestinian, and Syrian sisters who taught me how to bend and stretch and deepen my understanding of connection with others, no matter where you’re from or how you were raised. The hordes of young shabab—teenage and college-aged dudes—who love my husband and have filled my home with laughter and eaten all my food. The dust cyclones that danced outside my kitchen window as I washed dishes after a long day of house visits with refugees barely hanging on to life, hope, and faith. The herds of camels and sheep and goats that grazed on straw, garbage, and scant desert brush along the perimeters of every house I’ve ever lived in in the Middle East. The psychedelic bursts of red, pink, purple, and orange bougainvillea sprawling over crumbling cement walls and climbing up white, sandstone villas. My early morning stroller walks with my youngest babe, waving hello each day to the man who walks his German Shepherd and wears rubber gloves and picks up carelessly-tossed-aside garbage outside his well-kept home. Looking down at my feet and trying not to snicker as I walk by “Saddam G”—another man I pass daily who happens to look exactly like Saddam Hussein and wears metallic aviator glasses, a backwards ball cap, and long, chunky gold chains. (Hence my lovingly-given but very-unspoken nickname.) I’ll miss the call to prayer that fills the air of anywhere in Jordan five times each day—a sound that signals feelings of home to me. The gas trucks that drive up and down neighborhood streets, blasting an instrumental, mega-phone version of J. Lo’s “Get on the Floor” to announce their presence and goods. The fresh grapes, lemons, cherries, apricots, plums, and more plucked from my own little desert oasis of a backyard. Plates piled high with traditional Arab meat dishes from my generous neighbor. Small tins filled with sugar-dusted date cookies for the Eid holiday… from every neighbor.

And so, so much more.

I am continually amazed by the strength, resilience, and adaptability of this small country. As much as I will miss it, as much as my heart would be happy to live in Jordan the remainder of my life, I am filled with hope and joy concerning all that is to come. About the unexpected love and life and adventure that awaits our family.

Jordan, you forever have our hearts. Please keep us in yours.

Until next time, Ana

Ramadan Kareem: Engaging in the Month of Fasting as a Non-Muslim

Ramadan Kareem! “Have a generous Ramadan!”

Ramadan is one of my favorite months of the year. Husband and I moved to the Middle East one month after getting married (about 10 years ago), and we landed smack-dab in the middle of Ramadan. It was a fascinating and massive learning curve for me. At first, I only felt the tangible and obvious ways it interfered with my daily norms and routines. Like, it’s illegal to drink water or eat food in public for the entire month. Yes, even for an American.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But as I began Arabic lessons and started to connect with my first handful of Muslim friends, I had an opportunity to look beyond myself and learn about all the fun and devotion and beauty the month of Ramadan is to Muslim families. The following two years, Husband and I lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. We chose to fully participate in the Ramadan fast, and we enjoyed Iftar meals with our neighbors every single night during those months. Oh the joy and fun and laughter and connectedness and sense of community we experienced! I have not felt anything like it at any other point in my life. I get teary eyed thinking about it; memories I will cherish as long as I live.

People around the world are different from us. People living within our own country, city, neighborhood. We cannot change this, and no one is immune. And actually, it’s been true throughout most of history. However, with today’s technology and social media, the average person is able to access and encounter different cultures, religions, and world-views to an exponential degree. We live in a very connected world. So why do we act so disconnected? So divided? So angry?

Another post for another time.

For the sake of this post, I’ll say that most of what we know about other people in other countries with different belief systems comes from headlines. Or short, opinionated snippets from some source not in favor of or not positively representing that specific group or belief. And if what you know about Arabs or Muslims or the religion of Islam is primarily from headlines (even legit, trusted news sources), it’s likely you’ve only been exposed to a limited and extreme understanding of Islam.

Headlines rarely make friends.

Not all of us have the opportunity to hop a plane for a month-long delve into a new culture and experience a mind-blowing, perspective-shifting, worldview revolution. (Although if you ever do get that chance, please do it.) You can still choose to intentionally learn and discover and connect to those who are different from you. And, as today is the first day of the month of Ramadan, what better time to learn something new about Islam? I’d love to give you three short-ish—and hopefully insightful—lists.

Lists are my favorite.

The first is about Muslims and Islam (this is relevant because Muslims are the people participating in the month of Ramadan). Every time I visit the States, I get the same questions about Arabs and Muslims and Islam over, and over, and over again. So this will be the most boiled-down, over-simplified list you could probably find on the subject. It is not meant to insult your intelligence or to put Muslims in a 6-bullet-pointed box. The hope is to quickly debunk a few common misunderstandings, and possibly give you a new piece of information so you can have a more informed view or ask better questions. The second list is about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting. The third list is about how you can bring a piece of Ramadan into your home this month—no matter where you live or what you believe—and choose to practice celebrating people and places and traditions different than your own.

6 Things Every person in the world should know about Islam:
(But seriously; I’m talking to you, America.)

  1. “Islam” is the name of the religion. “Muslim” refers to the people who follow the religion of Islam. Example: “Ali is a Muslim. He is a member of the Islamic faith.” “Carol is a Muslim. She would love to answer any questions you have about Islam.”
  2. The Qur’an is the holy book of Islam. Although available in almost every language in the world, it was originally written in Arabic, and is only considered to be completely perfect and the word of God in its original, Arabic form. This is why, if you visit any mosque in the world, the Qur’an will be read in Arabic, rather than the local language.
  3. “Allah” is the Arabic word for “God.” Anyone speaking in Arabic and talking about any Abrahamic God (Jews, Christians, or Muslims) call “God,” “Allah.” Like in Spanish, the word for “God” is “Dios,” or in German “God” is “Gott.”
  4. Muslims do not worship the moon or believe in any moon gods. The crescent moon seen atop mosques or on various country flags represents the lunar calendar, denoting stages of time. As directed by the Qur’an, the moon and the lunar calendar determine what time a day Muslims pray, and when events like Ramadan or Eid holidays take place.
  5. In Islam, Muhammad is the “messenger of God” and is considered the final prophet to come. He is believed to have received the revelation of the Qur’an, and to have restored the faith of Islam. Muslims do not “believe in Muhammad” in the way Christians “believe in Jesus.” He is seen as a major prophet and the receiver of their holy book.
  6. Islam is a monotheistic faith (one God, “Allah,” who is the God of Abraham), and Muslims do not hate Jesus. In fact, they revere him. The four major prophets of Islam are Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

As I said, this is a very limited list. It is is no way a class or tutorial or book on the faith of Islam. Nor is it the same list a Muslim would give you if he or she wanted to share the most important aspects of his or her faith with you. However, it addresses the most common questions I get from friends and family in the West. There is so much more to be said about Muslims and Islam. I would encourage anyone to read books, take a class, or ask their Muslim friend for a more fleshed-out understanding. But that is not the ultimate goal of this post.

So what is Ramadan, anyways?

  1. Ramadan is the holy month of fasting engaged in every year by adult Muslims all over the world.
  2. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn until dusk. No water, no coffee, no cigarettes, no chocolate cake. Official times for daily fasting change every year since the dates of Ramadan change yearly, according to the Islamic and lunar calendars.
  3. At sunset, Muslims gather together to break the fast. This meal is called “Iftar.” Muslims are allowed to eat and drink from that time until dawn, when they begin the daily fast again.
  4. Ramadan lasts about one month.
  5. Ramadan is one of the five tenants of the Islamic faith, and is an obligatory practice of devotion. It is also a time of deep connection within the community, and full of fun, precious, family traditions.

Our family is big on broadening our worldview, learning about new and different peoples, cultures, and religions, and finding ways to accept, connect, and love people who hold different faiths and traditions than our own. One fun way to do this is during a time of festivity, holiday, or celebration. And now is such a time! Ramadan is a perfect opportunity to introduce (or to further) understanding about Muslims around the world. And I’d like to give you a few ideas how you might do this.

Ways to honor and engage in Ramadan as a non-Muslim:

  1. Have a conversation. This could go so many ways, and I encourage you to do it in various contexts and settings. We love having animated, excited talks with our kids (they’re all still very small, hence the enthusiasm) about how different families around the globe celebrate life and living. How different people think, exist, and express their love for God. Our goal is to make sure our kids leave the discussion knowing that “being different” can be really beautiful, and our job as citizens of this world is to look for that beauty in others and engage in friendship, kindness, and acceptance. If your kids are adults, change it up, but keep the convo going. If you don’t have kids, do this with your friends.
  2. Purchase and read a book or two about Ramadan (or Islam). There are many fun children’s books about the holy month of fasting. This a great way to introduce a new concept to kids and teach them about families around the world who have different traditions.
  3. Go meet a Muslim. It is sad to me that most white/Christian/Western Americans do not have any Muslim friends. But I was there once, too. In college, I drove to the local Islamic cultural center and met with a Sheik (which means “elder”). I was not looking to become a Muslim or to ask that man to become anything other than who he already was. I did not want to debate. I did not want to wave any flags or give any speeches. I simply wanted to know how to make friends who were different than me. My new Sheik friend, Yasser, then put me in contact with a few collage-aged Muslims in my area. They are still my friends to this day. And knowing them and having conversation with them was the starting point of my love for the Middle Eastern region. They were incredibly gracious to answer uneducated and, likely, very non-PC questions.
  4. Ask your new Muslim friend if you can join them for Iftar. Yes. Please. It’s not rude. In fact, your new friend will most likely be delighted you want to join them in a tradition and practice so central and precious to them. And if you have kids, ask if you can bring them, too. I know it’s not super Western American to invite yourself (and your ten kids) to someone’s house. But hospitality is rich and fervent and very much alive in Islam. I believe you will be beautifully surprised by the kindness and hospitality of the average Muslim.
  5. Host your own Iftar meal for your family and friends. If your kids are big, you could even fast for a day, or choose some thing to fast (food, breakfast, a favorite treat, etc.) in honor of the billions of Muslims fasting around the globe. Then hunker down at sunset, and enjoy a family feast. If you want to bring up the cultural heat, you could start by eating an odd number of dates. 1, 3, or 5 (watch out—sugar alert!). You could also research different Iftar meals from different countries and cultures around the globe. A Lebanese dish one night, an Indonesian meal the next. Muslims come from all over the globe; there are endless possibilities!

And so I leave you with “Ramadan Mubarak”—“may you have a blessed Ramadan.” May you reach outside of yourself this month and find the joy and beauty in someone who is different than you, and from a culture or faith other than your own.

Until next time, Ana

Show Me Where it Hurts

Years ago, before I ever had kids, I was at the park with my sister-in-law, watching her three-year-old run from swing to slide to tunnel to rocking-bouncy-bobble-head-like-animals-that-don’t-actually-do-anything-but-disappoint. I remember how chill Rebekah was as my niece moved from one thing to the next—sometimes conquering a feat I found incredibly above her pay grade, other times stumbling over flat surfaces. At one point, my niece completely wiped out and ended up splayed all over that mean, playground floor. Rebekah didn’t flinch. She calmly walked over, picked her daughter up, gave hugs and kisses, and gently asked if the fall was possibly “surprising” or “embarrassing.” My niece rebounded in less than a minute, and was back at play with no reservations.

That incident is still with me. Watching how cool and collected Rebekah was. How slow to insist, “It’s okay!” And how quick to offer her daughter possible choices of why the fall was bothersome or hurtful. My niece didn’t feel rushed or devalued—she wasn’t told she was “okay” and to move on with life. She was allowed to feel whatever her heart was feeling at the moment, and encouraged to give it a name. “Surprise.” “Embarrassment.” “Pain.” Watching this scene play out dramatically changed the way I approach emotion. Especially emotion coming from other people. Up until that day, I approached feelings and failures and falls with the traditional, “It’s okay! You’re okay! Good to go! Try again!” And not just with chubby toddlers. It’s how I, unintentionally, handled adult relationships, too.

It’s all gonna work out.
Tomorrow is a new day.
It’s going to be okay.
At least this or that…
You are stronger than this.
The days pass faster than you realize.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s a season.
Just try to enjoy the ride.
Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

And sometimes, those statements are right. In fact, they are usually “right.” But they aren’t always timely. Or helpful. In fact, they are often an attempt to bear-hug the erupting emotion into a controlled and understood form—something with which the receiver or witness feels comfortable. It’s an attempt to kindly help the other person put their feelings in a labeled box, up on the shelf, where it can collect dust and, kindly, get out of the way of everyone else walking by. We don’t mean it this harshly. But that’s what we do with other people’s emotions. We attempt to shelve them as quickly as possible. And without making a scene.

Toddlers teach me so much. Part of it is because I have, on average, 74 of them running around me all day, every day.

You only have three toddlers.

Okay, smart alec. But more than one toddler in the same room is like a very scientific, chemical reaction where exponential multiplication happens at an unbelievable rate and it’s super mathematical and proved by science and involves biochemistry and calculus and is like a Facebook algorithm. There are SO many of them.

I watch the way these tots interact with big emotions—unable to put words to what they’re feeling, yet expected to reel in the tantrum and behave appropriately. Sometimes I think, gosh, I’m so glad my husband doesn’t look at me when I’ve having a hard day or feeling extra buckets of feels and say, “Ssshhh, sshhh, it’s okay, it’s okay. Stop. Stop. Stop crying. 1, 2, 3…” Let me tell you right now. That would not end well. For him.

I watch these massive amounts of toddlers and think, what would a 30-year-old version of this tantrum look like? A 40-year-old version? How would I hope to express myself? How would I hope to be met and talked to and cared for?

I have one two-year-old who is a 24/7 passion show. I mean, this kid eats, drinks, sleeps from his heart. He uses the biggest words and longest sentences, converses incessantly, and engages every muscle of his face while communicating. He so acutely expresses fear, joy, affection. I’m really in awe of his ability to convey—in one way or ten, simultaneous ways—what his heart and mind and body are experiencing. He tells me when he’s mad, sad, frustrated, hurt, or if he thinks someone is upset with him. Sometimes a fork is thrown across the room in the same moment he’s admitting anger. Sometimes the lip is pouting and tears are welling as he tells me he’s “so sad, Mom; I’m so sad.” He’s my greatest teacher and biggest conundrum. He forces me to evaluate what I actually think and believe about emotion, and how I’ll choose to engage it. With control tactics? Trying to bring the level down to my comfort zone and scale of understanding? Trying to make the volume level and amount of words and fantastical array of physical gestures suitable to my needs?

No and yes. I add 30 years to his 2-year-old life and think about him wrestling with big emotions. I think about how I hope he’ll express himself, and the ways he’ll bring self-control into the mix. How he’d communicate hurt to his spouse. How he’d express frustration to his child. How he’d handle being misunderstood by friends, or underestimated in the workplace. And I think about what my part is in helping him get there… helping him know it’s okay and normal and even wonderful to feel. To feel anger or sadness or joy or excitement. To feel embarrassed or surprised. To feel opinionated and strong disagreement. To feel enamored and in love. These are good things. Feelings are good things. Things worth expressing and putting into words. And also people—people—are worth our self-control. Worth knowing how to talk about and show those big emotions. How to do it without manipulation or assault or disregard. How to show hurt without hurting. How to express anger without erupting. How to lighten and honor a room with joy and happiness.

This isn’t about parenting. Yes, my life is about parenting all day, every day. But this is about communicating, living, adulting. This is about connecting with others. About emotional intelligence. About being powerful people who can voice feelings and receive those expressed emotions from other people. Without always worrying about the end result, yet having a clear picture of where we want to, eventually, end up. This is about patiently and calmly getting down on our knees next to a fallen someone, drawing near, and inviting them to name anything and everything they feel.

Surprise. Embarrassment. Pain.

And no more “you’re okay, you’re okays.” It’s scary and uncontrolled. It’s loving and unhurried. It can’t be manipulated or contrived. It’s uncharted-yet-always-planned-for empathy. And I haven’t figured it out. But I want to. For my two-year-old, for my husband, for my friends and family. For myself. For our world and community at large, which has so much social media expressed, energy-charged emotion surging through its veins and plains. Between my 2-year-old and my Facebook page, I’m pretty confident there’s never been a more fitting and necessary time for emotional intelligence. May it increase, here and now, starting with you and me.

Show me where it hurts.

Until next time, Ana

Fine Art and Made Beds

In college, I met a girl who told me her mom’s response to her every childhood request was, “Did you make your bed today?”

Mom, I want a puppy.

Did you make your bed today?

Mom, I want new shoes.

Did you make your bed today?

I want to quit basketball.

Did you make your bed today?

I want to join the track team.

Did you make your bed today?

Mom didn’t just give in and agree to any or every request if said girl’s bed was, in fact, made. Rather, this was a starting place of conversation. You want more responsibility? Less responsibility? More pretty things? Let’s talk about the most simple and easy of tasks. Let’s talk about taking care of and being grateful for and not taking advantage of something routine and simple. She said her mom’s heart was to help her kids take pleasure in and care of the small things. To remember it’s easy to want more speed sparkle and pizzaz, but sometimes very difficult to complete even the most routine and mundane duties of life.

Duh, that’s why they’re called mundane.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve failed to make my bed fewer than ten times in the past fifteen years. For some reason, college girl’s story really impacted me. I want to be mindful, responsible, excellent with the smallest parts of my day. Especially those parts that are an everyday occurrence. How do I approach and respond to the tidbits of life? The things I will encounter time after time, day after day. The things so seemingly insignificant, but that scream loads and tons and bucket-fulls about my priorities, character, and perspective on the world, things, life.

Wow. That’s a lot of stock to put into making your bed.

I know. And it’s less about the bed, and more about realizing how much we take for granted. How much of our lives can pass us by without noticing. How much opportunity we have to be grateful—even in the smallest ways—but choose to roll or twirl or bounce to whatever’s next. Whatever’s more important. Whatever’s shinier or more seen by other people.

I’m not really a details person. People think I am because I can choose to be if needed, or if it’s related to something I really care about. But I’m much more of a big picture girl. The big picture is my life is happy and organized and full of peace and laughter and warm coffee and yummy smelling candles and very, very clean kitchens and bathrooms. Filled with joyful children who engage in imaginative play for hours on end, a husband who wants to be around me and hear me and talk to me at the end of a hard day’s work, friends who know they can count on me and connect with me over seasons of bounty or of pain, a body that bends and moves and performs when I ask it to, work that thrills me and makes me feel full of life and purpose and satisfaction.

The big picture is great. In fact, it’s fantastic. I want to mat it and frame it and hang it high for all to see.

Is a diamond encrusted, gold frame too gaudy? Maybe we’ll stick with a clean-cut, mid-century-modern, walnut finish.

I want to gaze at and meditate on and admire that big picture for years to come. I want it to be mine.

But big pictures don’t just happen. They don’t just paint and mat and frame and hang themselves. They take time, intentionality, attention to detail. They take vision and foresight—the ability to imagine away the blank, white canvas and strategically—swipe by swipe, stroke by stroke—fill that space with dark and light, depth and bright. They take structure, a plan, and someone showing up day in and day out, inserting detail after detail, to finally realize and complete the big picture. And if it’s really good—like Smithsonian or Louvre good—the bed has been made. There hasn’t been a routine or mundane or foundational piece skipped. Because really great art doesn’t skimp. It doesn’t jump out of bed and rush off to whatever’s next, leaving behind a torrent of duvet chaos. It builds. Swipe by swipe, stroke by stroke. Layering detail after detail.

That’s why my bed is made. Because it’s my first swipe and stroke of the day. It’s the foundation I’m going to build off of. Every layer of happy and peace, warm coffee, clean kitchen, relationships with kids and husband and friends, sizzle of joy in the workplace—it all starts with me getting out of my bed, saying thank you to my fluffy pillow, and recognizing that small act of ordering and pulling up and smoothing out as a detail that shan’t be missed.

I said shan’t because it sounds really proper, and we are talking about fine art, after all.

Like I said, I’m not a details person. But I’m trying to be, when it matters. I’m learning to decipher and discern what areas and people in my life deserve more detail from me. More attention. More gratitude. More ordering, pulling up, and smoothing out. Because I don’t have all those strokes in place yet. I don’t have the big picture painted and framed and hung.

Hanged, if we’re still being proper.

But each swipe and stroke gets me closer. Each job well done, child well snuggled, husband well kissed adds needed detail to the big picture. Each time I stop and say “no” to the unimportants and “yes” to what actually brings me joy and gratitude and grounding adds indescribable depth to that fine art I want hanging on my wall. And it’s not about being perfect or never stopping. About ordering and pulling up and smoothing out until you’re bent over and out of breath. Sometimes it actually means letting things go. Letting go of anything you don’t want to gaze upon in that big picture. So you have the time and space and freedom to build and make and paint life into your every day. To see the details for what they are and how they add. To not despise small beginnings, but to remember it’s the tidbits and easily-forgottens our lives are actually built on.

Did you make your bed today?

Until next time, Ana

Give it to me simple.

Life spins at an inconceivable rate. I keep waiting for it to slow down and give me a breather—a chance to sit by the window, sip a warm cup of coffee, and ponder the meaning of life. But it never stops spinning. In fact, it seems to keep speeding up. Or giving me the appearance of slowing down, just to get a “gotcha” at the end of everyday in the form of a remembered one or two more “to-dos.”

Basically, life can feel like a good, run-on fragment.

But I’ve had enough. I’m tired of spinning with the world and dancing to the beat of the “just keep moving” drum. I’m tired of running after and redirecting toddlers all day everyday, organizing and reorganizing every ill-placed toy, trying to prove or impress or outdo on social media or in person, and repeatedly shuffling through daily to-do lists only to find a new list tomorrow.

So this year, I’m choosing simplicity. I’m choosing to stop spinning. Me, not the world. The world can keep on spinning—round and round, bend on down, reach up high and touch the sky. But I am stopping. Sure, I’ll still be responsible and organized and get some things done. It’s part of life, part of human, part of me. But I’m saying “no” to extra. To excess. To extremes. Anything that requires me to move and groove at full capacity all day, everyday.

A chasing after the wind.

I’ve tried to do this before. Tried to give a hardy thumbs up to peace and space and quiet, only to be shut down by my own generalizations of what simplicity looks and feels like. This time, I’m being specific. I’m choosing specific times to switch on the achieving, accomplishing, grand-slam-for-the-win-and-that’s-the-game-folks human I need to be. And I’m also choosing big, glorious chunks of time to be anything other than a doer. Chosen, carved out, sacred hours to sit, be still, read, write, draw. Time to play piano and browse art books. Time to think, process, pray. Time to hold my chunky little newborn and drink in all the wonderfulness contained in that boundless chin and those roly-poly thighs.

Because she’s worth it. She’s worth all the good things in the world, including my big, glorious chunks of time.

Making space isn’t as hard as it seems. It’s really just a choice to stop. To say “no” to a bunch of pulls and shoulds and invitations. To say “no” to fixing all the fixables and refereeing all the squabbles and redirecting all the no-nos. It means leftovers for dinner and unswept floors and children who Geronimo off debatably-too-high couches onto just-cushiony-enough floors. It means deciding not to give advice and letting people be people and choose what they choose… whether it’s a four year old little boy or 34 year old redheaded man. It means saying “no” to stress or anxiety or dissatisfaction when chaos happens and tantrums ensue and letting the day unfold as it will without attempts to task-master all the disorderliness.

And then it means saying “yes” to all the too-often-forgottens of life. To the light glittering and jumping off the shiny green leaves of the lemon tree right outside the living room window. “Yes” to the long-ignored, white and black keys of that gorgeous instrument in the corner. To the sweet and sour aromatic goodness coming from the neck of that irresistible infant. To the blank page so desperately wanting to be filled with word and thought and all the feels. Saying “yes” to that spasming child who “just wants attention” and should be told “no” for consistency sake. Saying “yes” to one more song or book or jump or cuddle or all the above. Saying “yes” to a week straight of nights in, sipping a glass of tasty and verbally processing all the big and little questions of life with the one who means the most to me but often receives the least of me.

I have five small children to raise, a husband to befriend, and a home to run. I do love order, and chaos can unnerve me. I have to feed hungry bellies. And I need to teach my littles to do what’s right and be responsible and have compassion and get the pee inside the toilet. Those are true statements. But I’m making a choice this year—lots of choices, really—to not be undone. To not give away my peace or sanity or stillness to a constantly spinning world. I’m choosing to find joy and wonder in the movement of all the people and things in life while I stay firmly planted in one place. No keeping up, no outrunning. I choose to let my toddlers be toddlers and offer patience and compassion and empathy and a “probably so” every ten minutes if it means keeping my peace. I choose to look into those big, blue eyes of the four year old who has one question after another after another and recognize the incredible gift innocence and unlearnedness can be. I choose to put down Facebook or Instagram and pick up the foam sword, fighting my way through the pretend jungle or fort or battle and right into the very-real-hearts and memories of my little people. I choose to say “come sit with me” instead of “clean up clean up everybody do your share.” To say “thank you” instead of “here’s how I do it.” To say “take your time” instead of “hurry up.” To say “be brave” instead of “be careful.”

I’m not advocating irresponsibility or laziness or preventable trips to the emergency room. Merely simplicity. And that looks different for each person and family and season of life. But it doesn’t happen on account of wanting it or agreeing it would be good. It happens when we make choices. When we set the borders and draw the lines. When we are picky and choosy and specific so we can be open and free and playful. When we make the time and the plan to be unplanned. So 2019, whether or not you give it to me simple, it’s what I’ll give to you.

Until next time, Ana