You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘volunteering’ category.

Ordinarily I am distracted by looking at myself on zoom calls, but tonight at UUCA’s congregational meeting where we announced our call of Rev. Amanda Poppei to be our next senior minister and she accepted, I was beaming. I couldn’t stop smiling.

There are few endeavors I’ve been a part of that have been as demanding and singularly focused as the ministerial search committee. The two that come to mind are pregnancy and childbirth. While those experiences were definitely more physically taxing, I think serving on the MSC may have been more emotionally and intellectually challenging. Of course since it’s been 7 years since I was last pregnant I could be misremembering in that way that the details of childbirth become hazy when you’re removed from it.

In one of the books I just read, Writers & Lovers, the narrator—Casey—talks about how all the male writers she’s known have been unwaveringly confident that they have at least one great book inside, ready to be written. But neither she nor her female writer friends ever seem so sure, even when they devote their lives to writing that book. In one scene, Casey is talking with her obnoxious landlord and he says to her about her book something like, “I can’t imagine you have anything to say.” Which makes Casey wonder if she does.

I was thinking tonight about this and about a conversation I had with my friend Art from church at a leadership retreat a couple years ago. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about except that it had to do with my writing, and what was keeping me from sharing more of it with the world. I think he asked me something like what was I afraid of, and I didn’t know. I realize now that this is vague and doesn’t sound particularly motivational, but whatever he said made me feel braver.

At first I resisted the nomination to join the MSC, for a variety of good reasons. Then my friend D, who is also a writer, and who served on a previous MSC, told me that the heart of the search process is storytelling, and that’s why I needed to serve. She explained that the first part of the search is listening to the congregation’s stories and crafting a narrative from them about the church. The next part of the process is listening to the stories of the ministers who apply for the position. And finally, you have to tell the story of your candidate to the congregation so they will see in the candidate what you saw and vote to call them as your minister. Of course this is a significant oversimplification, and she didn’t mention how many thousands of hours the whole thing takes, but what D describes was true. And I thought, that’s what I’m good at—listening to people and helping tell their stories.

Often when strangers ask what I do for a living and I say writer, they ask if I’ve written any books. No, I haven’t written any books, I explain. And most people move on or tune out after that. But if they actually want to know more, I tell them. And I am really proud of what I do. I’m proud of the people who I interview and write about and they say, “you made me sound so much more interesting than I actually am.” But they really are more interesting than they realize. I’m proud of the stories I write about nonprofit organizations that educate and inspire people to get involved or contribute. I’m proud of the essays and poems I write that people can relate to, or that make people laugh, or think about something differently. And I am proud of everything I wrote for the ministerial search committee because what I wrote helped us find a spectacular new minister. Of course I didn’t do it alone. Our team was made up of some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and hardworking people I have ever known. The rest of them have skills and insights that I do not possess. But I am proud that my skills and insights mattered. D was absolutely correct that the search process is about storytelling. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a storyteller for this community that I love, especially knowing that the person we found to be our next minister is going to change people’s lives and those people will change the world, in ways large and small. To know this, and to know that words I wrote are catalysts, like the object at the beginning of a Rube Goldberg invention that gets the ball rolling to cause a spectacular chain reaction, fills me with joy.

I think girls and women are often told, subconsciously or overtly, to stay small and be nice, and are criticized when they stand up for themselves or proudly stand by their hard work. Elizabeth Warren, Taylor Swift, Megan Rapinoe, and Glennon Doyle are women I admire who come to mind, but there are a million more examples. I will probably never be famous, but I am a role model for my kids, and I’m a writer, and I’m proud of what I do.

Today was the day we had birthday cake for lunch.

Somehow in the surprising amount of hubbub yesterday—with Zeke’s birthday and my work demands and church demands and who knows what else—we forgot to have Zeke’s birthday cake. We asked him a couple times if he was ready for cake but he never was, and then he went to sleep.

So today we had to cajole him into pausing the Xbox, drag Zoe out of her bedroom, and force everyone into a festive mood so we could sing happy birthday and watch Zeke blow out the seven candle. (Anyone want a slightly used #7 candle?)


After dinner tonight (tuna melts, not cake). I attempted to have a discussion with the kids about why and how to restart (again) some kind of schedule and shared household responsibilities. You can guess how well this went. I said tomorrow is a new month and we need to shake off some bad habits we’ve fallen into so we can take better care of ourselves and our house.

Have I mentioned how this is hard? I could spend the whole day teaching Zeke. Or I could spend the whole day cooking and cleaning and taking care of the house. Or I could spend the whole day writing and editing and doing the work I’m paid to do by my clients, which are doing amazing work to heal the world. Oh and I could spend the whole day tending to my volunteer work or helping my community. But I haven’t figured out yet how to split myself into multiple people. Any ideas?


Zeke had fun yesterday but also had a hard time. I’ve realized his particular regression is a return to the mighty struggle he had with transitions when he was three and four years old. Although he had decided earlier that he wanted to go on a birthday hike, it was torturous to extract him from the Xbox to get him out of the house. Of course as soon as he was on the trail and climbing over rocks across the stream, he was ecstatic. So that was a good thing. But he seems to have lost the ability to remember that another activity might be as much fun or more fun that the one he’s currently doing. I am trying to remember exactly what we did to address this years ago, and whether the techniques you use with a preschooler will still make sense with a seven year old.

Meanwhile, this insomnia thing is real and has infected all of us. Zeke is still awake now, at midnight. He’s been struggling for hours to get to sleep. We’ve got to hit the reset button but I haven’t seen it anywhere.

I gave blood today, but not as much blood as I wanted to give. I usually donate power red, which means they extract two pints of whole blood but pump your plasma back into your veins. To do power red, your hemoglobin count needs to be at least 13.3. Today mine was 12.6 despite the fact that I ate salmon and spinach for dinner last night and eggs and bacon for breakfast. I guess I should’ve had a burger. Last time I went to donate they pricked a finger in my other hand and that one contained sufficient hemoglobin but today’s technician said they’re not supposed to do that.

So I gave a pint, which takes no time at all compared to power red, although the tech did have to call over someone else to help angle the needle correctly because of my tricky veins. And I ate my cheez-its and miniature nutter butters and drank two tiny boxes of cranberry juice. I’ll make an appointment for 56 days from now to go back and next time I will go full carnivore to ensure that 13.3.

From the Red Cross I stopped by my parents’ house to deliver some masks and attempt to fix an issue with my mom’s iPad, which I think I made worse. My mom wanted me to come in but I felt like it was safer to stay on the front porch. I was wearing my mask. It felt all wrong.

Then I stopped to fill up my gas tank for the first time in weeks. With my grocery points, my gas was $1.67 per gallon and I filled the tank for $30, which I don’t remember ever doing. I also filled with anxiety, dealing with all the things you have to touch when you pump gas. I wrapped baby wipes around my fingers and have sanitizer my hands five times since filling up the van. Then I picked up dry cleaning. More sanitizing. I keep wishing every business had automatic doors because I have to keep touching doors and door handles and it makes me cringe.

Now I’m sitting in my car, waiting for my breathing to slow so I can drive home.

It is not lost on me that today is day 40. I would like someone to lead us out of the wilderness now and into a healthy, just, equitable, and safe new world.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

I skipped writing yesterday. I am trying not to feel guilty about this on top of all the other things I’m inclined to feel guilty about because I don’t really believe in feeling guilty about things if they don’t involve harming others. Of course, there are things that I’m doing (or not doing) that others might feel harmed by. But I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings, right?

This week has been rough. I think it feels especially painful because it was supposed to be spring break. Technically it is spring break–there’s no expectation of online classes or distance learning or homeschooling–but otherwise our day-to-day existence is no different than it has been for the past several weeks since the quarantine began. I still have to work, and I’m not doing a great job of it because I can’t concentrate and it’s just awkward to have work meetings on my bed. I feel like I’ve been neglecting my kids, especially Zeke, but I can’t pull myself together enough to get all the things done and carve out the time I want to play with him. I have the sensation of sinking slowly into the abyss. Sometimes I am able to crawl out and take a shower.

Being trapped in the house during vacation is disappointing but also confusing and ominous. Nothing is normal or as it should be. I should have the week off. We should be having fun. I don’t want anyone else to tell me how we can have fun at home. I don’t want anymore input or ideas. I just want relief. If spring break is cancelled, what does that mean for summer? I feel like the unreality and unpredictability of this situation is wearing away at my soul.

Randy suggested getting takeout tonight in part because we are running low on food and in part because he wanted to get out of the house. Zeke was so excited to go with him. On the way to the restaurant they stopped at a friend’s house to pick up masks that her mother had made and she was sharing with us. These masks are the opposite of cold and clinical. They are adorable. And freaky. There is something unsettling about wearing something over your face that has been lovingly sewn with cute fabrics to prevent yourself from catching or transmitting a deadly virus. I kind of dread wearing one when I go out because I will be reminded every second of this frightening world we are living in right now.

Adding to my anxiety is that the climax of a monumental project I’ve been working on for the past 22 months is coming in the next 48 hours. I have spent thousands of hours and expended enormous emotional energy as a (volunteer) member of the ministerial search committee for UUCA–more time and effort than I ever could have imagined, despite the fact that the nominating committee warned us it was a “big commitment.” On Friday we will announce our candidate to the congregation. Then in a few weeks we will hold approximately a million virtual opportunities for people to “meet” the candidate and vote on whether to officially call the candidate as our next senior minister. I’m sure there are ways to make this situation more complicated but I don’t want to explore those right now.

One of the revelations of this quarantine business is demonstrating how people respond to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and problems. There are a lot of solvers out there. Sometimes you want someone to give you suggestions or solutions. But most of the time, I’ve learned through both personal and professional experience, people just want to be heard. Right now, especially, I think most people just want to be heard. When I post or text when things are hard, I usually just want to know that someone else gets it, that they’ve been there, that they feel the same way or understand what I’m saying. So thank you, empathizers and affirmers of the world. I appreciate you.

When you are stuck in the middle of chaos and confusion and you feel like it’s impossible to be your best self or do the right things, it’s easy to slide swiftly in the other direction–facing your worst self, feeling greasy and smelly and unable to get out of bed. I know it’s not completely bleak. There are moments of relief and glimpses of grace. Then they seem to disappear again and you’re awake at 2am wondering how to make the next day better.

I’ve been taking for granted all the things I love to do that involve being surrounded by strangers. Hearing live music and singing along with people you’ve never met but who find meaning in the same songs that you do. Seeing a movie and laughing or crying along with everyone else who is laughing or crying. Eating delicious food at your favorite restaurant, noticing everyone else satisfying their craving for that same food. Exploring a museum, learning something new, being inspired, wondering how the exhibit is speaking to those around you. Going to the beach and watching people fly kites and build sandcastles and splash and swim and throw frisbees and soak up vitamin D. Being at church and listening to a sermon that might be preached just for you and also for hundreds of other souls searching for ways to make sense of the world, and lighting candles, and praying and meditating together, and holding hands and agreeing to help each other be a force for good in the world.

Even reading, which you might think of as a solitary activity, often involves strangers. I love going to the library–helping my kids pick out books and finding something for myself. And in Arlington I almost always run into someone I know at any library. Browsing in bookstores, which is as much a sensory experience as an intellectual one. I’m one of those people who likes to feel the covers of the books and inhale the scent of paper and ink. At my favorite bookstores there are post-it notes or little notecards taped to the shelves explaining which books are recommended by which of their booksellers and why. I love discovering wonderful things to read thanks to mysterious other readers who are humans rather than algorithms. This month I had planned to go with three good friends to hear Glennon Doyle read from and talk about her new book, Untamed. I would’ve been in the audience at the Lisner Auditorium with thousands of other fans, mostly middle-aged moms like me, feeling intense sisterly solidarity. I was also excited to go with one of my best friends to see one of my all-time favorite authors Ann Patchett speak at a local middle school. Being in a room with strangers and knowing they have all read the same books you’ve read and have been moved by them too is heady.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past 13 years at playgrounds, which are usually lively and well-populated. Around here, if you spend more than 10 minutes at a playground, you’re likely to hear families speaking in at least a couple languages besides English. It’s always fun for me to guess what language they’re speaking and where they might be from. I haven’t heard any languages besides English (random French, Spanish, or German phrases thrown around by my family notwithstanding) in a couple weeks now. Even when we’ve been out on hiking trails in Northern Virginia, I feel like I hear mostly English. We see a lot of white guys in their teens and 20s, some of them talking on their bluetooth earpieces, looking like they’re training for something big.

Just before coronavirus exploded in the US (fortuitously), I had the opportunity to be part of literacy activities at both my kids’ schools. At Zoe’s middle school, I coordinated Booktopia, where invited all 1,100 students to come to the gym (not all at once) to pick out a book to keep. Any book they wanted (that we had)! This involved a lot of volunteers who helped me sort, organize, and restock the books, then sell the leftovers at the used book sale at the school a few days later. Booktopia involved conversations with students and teachers and touching a lot of books that a lot of people had touched. I didn’t think too much about that at the time. The book fair at Zeke’s school was held the same week. This year the book fair was presented by one of my new favorite Arlington organizations–READ (Read Early and Daily). READ’s mission is “ensuring babies and young children have new, quality, culturally relevant books of their own that are mirrors and windows into their everyday lives and communities.” One of the ways READ funds its book giveaways is by running school book fairs. One of the best things about this set-up is that our school book fair had the most spectacular selection of books with diverse characters by diverse authors that I have ever encountered. And since I had just spent several months ordering books for Booktopia that featured diverse (in every possible way) characters written by diverse authors, I was super impressed. The point here is that book fairs are another occasion where many kids and teachers and parents are swirling around. I love helping kids pick out books. I love reading with kids. Now when I think about that I just think about all the possibility for transmission of germs.

Then there’s substituting as a co-oper at Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool, which I have enjoyed doing on occasion since my kids graduated from there. Turns out it’s much less stressful to co-op when A) you’re not required to do it but you’re getting paid for it and B) your own child is not demanding your attention when you’re supposed to be helping with the whole class. The bad news is that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are pretty indiscriminate about who or what they touch and when and it doesn’t matter where their hands have been. The good news is that AUCP is really into good handwashing. Every kid and every adult washes their hands before snack and after snack and after the playground and before lunch and after lunch and of course after diaper changes and using the potty. One of the lines I always remember from the many parent orientation sessions we attended there was the preschool’s fabulous director Susan Parker saying, “I suggest you invest in a good hand cream because you will be washing your hands all day long.” All that hand washing practice has paid off! So many adults have had to come up with creative ways to remember how to wash their hands properly, but I guarantee you that the five and under set at AUCP have it down already.

Next Monday would’ve been the first game of the soccer season with my amazing women’s team Ice & Ibuprofen. We have cool new jerseys for the season, with a new logo. I don’t know when we’ll have a chance to wear them. Soccer involves a lot of contact with other people. You could kick a ball back and forth while standing six feet apart, but you couldn’t play a game. I know a lot of my teammates know each other because they live in the same neighborhood and their kids go to school together, but I only see them on the field. We had tickets for our family to see the Washington Spirit play their season opener at Audi Field for my birthday. Randy has season tickets to DC United. There are few things as thrilling as cheering on your favorite players and teams in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of other fans. No matter how big your TV is, it’s not the same watching from your couch.

Even though we’re going a little stir-crazy, my family is fine. We have more than enough stimulating and fun activities to do in the house. And we’ve been hiking. We’ve been FaceTiming and Zooming with friends and family. All that is absolutely saving our sanity and keeping our brains engaged. But there’s something about being out in the world, surrounded by strangers, doing something you love and they love too, that I am missing deeply.

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

Zoe’s English teacher announced this week the prospect of a new challenge–write at least 100 words each day for 100 days, beginning today, March 1. Apparently if you write every day for 100 days you become a Writing Centurion and you get to choose a t-shirt from Woot! Shirt. I can safely say this is the first time this school year that I have wished I were in sixth grade. Writing and t-shirts–two of my favorite things! So when Zoe said she was accepting her teacher’s invitation, I immediately said I would join her. This means you will be seeing a lot more words from me over the next 100 days. Maybe if you like what I write, you’ll buy me a punny t-shirt too!

March also happens to be National Reading Month, and reading is one of my other favorite things, up there with writing and t-shirts, so I am lined up to volunteer at both of my kids’ schools doing book-related activities. At Zeke’s school on Monday I am going to be a guest reader in his kindergarten class. I think I will read Mo Willems’ Nanette’s Baguette, which may not have the name recognition that Elephant and Piggie or the Pigeon do, but it is hilarious and reading it makes me so happy. I hope Zeke’s classmates share my feelings about Nanette and her baguette. (As an aside, I am ecstatic that Mo Willems was recently named the Kennedy Center’s first Education Artist in Residence, meaning we will have the opportunity to see some of his characters come to life at the Kennedy Center and perhaps meet him sometime over the next two years. He is, in my humble opinion, a creative genius.)

After I read to Zeke’s class, I will skip down the hall to the library to volunteer at the book fair. It should be obvious that book fairs are another thing that I love. I volunteered at the book fair at Zoe’s elementary school for all six of her years there and enjoyed every minute of it. Zoe’s librarian was marvelous and she and I exchanged book recommendations every time we saw each other. At the book fair I would often help kids look for good books and write down their wish lists, or help teachers or parents who were browsing. And between classes I would read books myself, and buy a few. And come back the next day. And buy a few. And then the kids would come in with me and they would choose books and we would buy a few. Book fairs are dangerous for me. But so satisfying. So I have high hopes for Zeke’s school book fair. Since this is his first year at the school I don’t know many teachers or kids besides the ones in his class, but hopefully I will get to know some in the library. For a few weeks I have been reading for an hour a week with some first graders at his school, so I’ll know them too. In any case, I will have the opportunity to walk around and look at and touch all those beautiful books.

On Tuesday I will be at Zoe’s school bright and early to help set up Booktopia, a day-long book giveaway where we will lay out 1,500 books on tables all over the gym (which we sorted by genre and boxed last week) and invite every reading and English class in the school to come in browse. Each student can choose a book and take it home for free. The PTA started this event when they discovered that many students at the school couldn’t afford to buy full-price books at the book fair, and that the book fair didn’t always have books that reflected the diversity of the student body. So the books we will give away at Booktopia will include a wide variety of new and used books selected to appeal to a wide variety of kids of all reading abilities and backgrounds. In middle school, parents definitely don’t have as much opportunity to hang out at school as in elementary school, so I’m looking forward to this chance to observe all the teachers and all the classes and hopefully connect some kids with some books they will love.

When Zoe’s school year started, I was surprised to learn that she had a reading class as well as an English class. Reading is mandatory for sixth graders, and I was skeptical because Zoe was already a great reader. But I soon realized that the class was not offering remedial help (although it does for those who need it) but pushing her and her classmates to read compelling and intriguing texts by amazing authors, and read critically and think about what she’s reading at a higher level. I have been incredibly impressed with the books she’s read in reading class, including Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, The 57 Bus, Amal Unbound, and Child Soldier. Pretty much every time Zoe finishes a book, she brings it to me and says, “You’ve GOT to read this.” And I do the same with her, at least with young adult novels I read.

So when Zoe’s school announced a read-a-thon that kicked off today, I was all over it. I am so excited to support her in her reading and help her raise money for literacy programs at her school. If I had not become a writer, I definitely could have been a children’s librarian. I did spend several glorious months right out of college working at Barnes & Noble, which was unbelievably fun. I got to be around books all day! I got to tell people what books I thought they should read! (also we had to clean the toilets at closing time, but the books!).

Right now I’m reading a YA book called Saints and Misfits, about a Muslim girl who feels pulled between her secular friends and her Muslim community. She wears a hijab like her Mom, but her Dad (divorced from her mom and remarried) disapproves. It’s fascinating and beautifully written.

Zoe is eager to read my Day 1/100 sample, and I am pretty sure I’ve exceeded my 100 word requirement. I better save some of my words for the next 99 days.

Today was the final Sunday of our November theme of abundance at UUCA. I led worship, along with my friends Bob and Kendra. You can watch a video of the service here: http://www.uucava.org/livestream/.

You can read my meditation and prayer here:

I encourage you to put your feet on the floor. Feel your seat beneath you and observe the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Notice your breath. Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in comfort. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in strength. Breathe out generosity. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Spirit of life, we come together here today after having been scattered near and far during the past week. Some of us are refreshed and rejuvenated by time off from work and reunions with beloved family and friends. Some of us are weary from tense and difficult moments and feelings of obligation rather than joy. Some of us labored, some of us were served. Some of us were surrounded by love, some of us were lonely.

Whoever we are, may we find refuge here.

Spirit of life, as we begin again today, we ask for another chance. An opportunity to be kind to ourselves. To truly love ourselves so we can better love others. We seek relief and ease because some of us are Just. So. Tired. We seek clarity when facing an uncertain diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, in the midst of debilitating symptoms. We seek reassurance as we endeavor to do right by our children when parenting can be so stressful. When we are young and when we are old, we seek acknowledgment. We want to know that we matter. At every age, we wish to be heard and understood. We seek grace along the path that is littered with our mistakes. We seek courage to be bold and step onto a new, unfamiliar path. We wish for the strength to unclench our fists and let the anxieties, the fears, the old hurts be carried away on the winds, leaving our hands and our hearts free. We long for the freedom to laugh and to cry with abandon. We seek release.

Whatever we seek, may we glimpse it today in this place, and claim it for our own.

 

And here’s my reflection:

FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE

I have a contentious relationship with time. I am always running late, always composing an apology in my head. I promise it’s not because I don’t respect you or value our relationship. It’s because I am overly optimistic. I always think I have time to do one more thing before I go. Write one more sentence, put away one more load of laundry, cross one more thing off my to-do list. I am wildly unrealistic about how much time something is going to take. You would think that by this point in my life I would’ve figured this out, but no.

My family is so often late that we’ve invented a game called the good excuse bad excuse game. Note that we do not play this in the exact moment when we’re tumbling out of the house and into the minivan, because I would be way too flustered. But in a moment of calm, we can play. Here’s how it works. One person says, “sorry I was late, I decided I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but eventually I did.” Everyone responds, BAD EXCUSE! Another person says, “Sorry I was late, I was rescuing 100 puppies from a burning building.” GOOD EXCUSE! And we continue to come up with the most pathetic or most heroic excuses we can think of.

As silly as this might seem, the good excuse bad excuse game points to an unspoken truth. The most valuable use of your time is often when you are helping someone else, when you are sharing your abundance, just like in the story Kendra read earlier. But what are the abundances we have to share? How can we find them when we so often focus on what’s scarce in our lives?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may have sorted yourself into one of the Hogwarts houses. Is your abundance bravery, loyalty, intelligence, or ambition? Do you possess an abundance of patience in a world that prioritizes speed and multitasking? Are you able to bring presence into a culture of preoccupation? I know that I am awed by people who are able to be fully present with me, to make me feel like I am the only person in the world who matters at that moment. Yet this quality is not one of my abundances. For better or for worse, my mind is always tuned in to several channels at once. I can’t NOT hear a conversation happening across the room, or the oven timer going off, or notice that someone in the vicinity needs something. One of my abundances is an astute power of observation, but not focused presence.

Maybe your abundance is more practical, like agility with numbers and the ability to manage or make money. I interview a lot of people on behalf of one of my clients who say they became budget counselors because they always loved numbers. I have always felt like I am allergic to numbers. At the annual meeting at church, my eyes glaze over when they talk about the budget. I am terrible with money. I sometimes wish our currency were only in words instead of numbers. Then I could understand. This trouble with numbers often comes into conflict with another of my abundances, which is generosity. Are you raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, or orphans in Haiti, or school supplies for girls in Nigeria? I am guaranteed to donate, whether or not I can afford it.

In fact, one of my favorite holiday traditions, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been giving alternative gifts to nonprofits that I hand pick—and now my husband and children help choose—for all of our family members. We do this at an alternative gift fair, like those sponsored by Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington, or in Arlington, Gifts that Give Hope—which is hosting this year’s event on December 9 at Discovery Elementary. Or online through the Catalogue for Philanthropy. What these organizations do is bring together wonderful charitable groups and tell you what exactly your $10 or $20 or $50 donation would do for their beneficiaries. For example, a $5 donation to your local animal shelter would buy chew toys for a dog waiting to be adopted. A $25 donation to a nonprofit that serves single moms who are survivors of domestic violence would buy a week’s worth of diapers. A $50 donation would buy a bike for a young person in an African village to have the transportation needed to start a business. We take time to think about what kind of donations would be meaningful to each family member. Like the dog toys for Uncle Larry and Aunt Susan who have loved dozens of dogs and cats over the years. Cooking classes in honor of my aunt who taught me to make delicious food from scratch. You get the idea. On Christmas morning, we open these gifts along with all the others and read out loud where the charitable gift will be going. My family’s goal on Christmas morning is to make people laugh or cry, and often these gifts elicit tears. And they don’t take up room on anyone’s shelf, and they’re making the world a better place. These gifts also remind us of just how much abundance we have in our family and our community.

Going for the laugh is also fun, like when I got my mom an autographed 8×10 photo of Adam Levine because she’s a huge fan of the Voice. You have to balance things out.

The paradox about my contentious relationship with time is that time is what people want most from me. Time is what my kids want, time is what my parents want. My husband, my dog, my friends, my clients, the church. Even though it doesn’t feel like I have a lot of it, time is my most valuable abundance to give.

My parents have everything they could possibly want, and more. But my mom is thrilled if I give her a Christmas gift of a day where I help her clean out her closet and go to lunch. We take each other to concerts and plays and readings, where we share the gift of time spent together, sharing an experience. Seeing and hearing live music is one of the great joys that my husband and I share. When we devote so many hours to working and managing the house and taking care of our children and our dog, the simple act of making the time to be together and do something we both love can seem monumental, but it’s so important.

What Facebook has abundance of is memes, and many of them are silly, and some are annoying, and some are offensive. But some are really good reminders of what matters. One I remember said something like, “if you have a stack of dishes in your sink, it means you have enough food to eat. If you have a pile of laundry to fold, it means you have enough clothes to wear.” It’s easy in Arlington, or in Northern Virginia, or Greater Washington, to feel like we don’t have enough. We have plenty of first world problems. But we also have plenty of abundance. Abundant opportunities, abundant amusements, abundant things to see and people to meet. Abundant chances to serve. Abundant ways to receive.

As we close out our month of abundance, and our weekend of abundant food and company, and we look ahead to a month that may be filled with hope or anxiety, love or loneliness, generosity or uncertainty, or maybe all of these. Remember to take with you this month your inner abundance. Is it compassion? Vision? Wit? Steadiness? Creativity? Maybe you can’t name your inner abundance right now. If that’s the case, give yourself time to find it. And when you find it, give it away.

May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,174 other followers

Follow You Ask a Lot of Questions on WordPress.com

Listen to my podcast: Five Questions with Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

http://betsyrosso.podbean.com
%d bloggers like this: