40 BAGS IN 40 DAYS

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During my college years, 20s, and early 30s, I gave up chocolate, candy, coffee, soda, or the like in observance of Lent. Recently, however, I have gravitated away from “giving up” in favor of “adding in”. I have also looked for opportunities to broaden my and my family’s horizons, simplify our lives, and/or improve the lives of those in our community. Along these lines, a few years ago I decided to take on the “40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge”.

The challenge was originally created to coincide with Lent – however there is no reason it must – and involves cleaning out the clutter that keeps us from being able to truly enjoy and appreciate our lives. The focus is on letting go of stuff, but also on making small sacrifices. According to the Simply Catholic blog, “it should hurt – not a lot, but a bit. There should be some small sense of having to sacrifice or maybe some small bit of contrition at how much we hold onto things” (when we could redirect that time and energy elsewhere). An added benefit to the Challenge is that at the end of the 40 days you should have 40 or so bags of clothing, toys, books, and household items to donate to a family in need or a local nonprofit organization.

If you visit the Mama Bear Dares blog regularly, you may recall a post I wrote a few months back about making New Month’s Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I made this shift back in September, and since then have tackled quite a few different kinds of resolutions, from setting a reasonable bedtime for myself and reading aloud to my children every night to drinking more water and writing daily in my gratitude journal.

In January I resolved to clean out all of the closets in my house, and in February I added cleaning out all of my cupboards. As I tackled these projects, I flashed back to the 40 Bags Challenge. I recalled how empowered and refreshed I felt when I completed it the first time, and an online search for why I felt this way led me to an article on the website Bustle. In a way that helped me better understand the benefits of decluttering, this short but informative piece summarized the results of a number of scientific studies and advice from professionals in related fields:

  • Better concentration. A study by Princeton University neuroscientists found that whether we realize it or not, clutter forces our brains to multitask. “Physical clutter…competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress."
  • Increased creativity. This one seems up for debate as some creative types swear by a messy desk or workspace, but the same idea as above applies: for most people, “dividing attention between multiple stimuli…often results in increased stress and decreased creativity and productivity”.
  • Better sleep. A sleep study out of St. Lawrence University found a connection between messy bedrooms and sleeping problems; cluttered bedrooms can contribute to sleeping problems like “trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances”.
  • Improved mood. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that “clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem, especially for women”. They discovered a direct relationship between the density of household objects and the stress hormone cortisol: higher density of objects translates to higher levels of stress.
  • Ability to let go of the past. I found this benefit particularly interesting. Feng Shui experts explain that determining an item’s status as clutter has to do with how it feels – or makes you feel – rather than how it looks. “…Get rid of anything that drags you down” to avoid unpleasant memories or becoming dragged down by emotional baggage.
  • Clearer focus. This one is most relevant to me personally. “We hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame.” The article suggests keeping only items that bring inspiration or motivation.

I won’t necessarily complete the 40 Bags in 40 Day Challenge during Lent, but in search of the benefits list above, I will take on the Challenge this spring. If you would like to join me, check out the printables and instructions on White House Black Shutters. Organizing Moms also shared a few great links for those who would like more information about decluttering in general and/or a simpler, smaller-scale version of the 40 Bags Challenge called 40 Items in 40 Days.

Williams Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” What a beautiful sentiment to help us embrace the idea that sometimes, caring for ourselves is about caring for the spaces in which we exist.


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

Mothers, Daughters, Subversive Tea Towels and Being “Seen”

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Last fall, I had made plans to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak in Dubuque, IA. This just happened to coincide with a trip my mom was making to see us in Iowa. At the risk of wondering what she might think, I invited her along. I guess I worried how mom might fare with Nadia – her expansive, sometimes unorthodox, theology, her radical, post-modern imagining of the church, and, you know, her embrace of the F-bomb. But then I thought of other things I’ve asked mom to take me to, and I relaxed.

As a kid I was excited about The Nightmare Before Christmas, an animated Tim Burton musical about a bunch of ghouls and ghosts who are always prepared for Halloween but then one day become fascinated with Christmas. Mom didn’t get it, but she took me to see it anyway. When I turned seventeen, my sister got me tickets to Tori Amos for my birthday, but then she couldn’t go. Once again, not her thing, but mom took me. And now, here I was embarking on a mini road trip with my mom and a carload of UCC clergywomen, to hear my favorite writer and theologian talk about her journey from recovering addict and stand-up comedian to being called by God to become an ELCA Pastor.

Despite my unnecessary anxieties, mom enjoyed herself; the company, the presentation, the theology. And when it was over, she bought two books and got them signed.

A few weeks passed, and my mom was busy creating things in her sewing room; truly, her sanctuary and prayer chamber. “I’d like to embroider you some towels that say ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ or something like that.” It was a kind gesture, but I admitted to mom that that sentiment wasn’t really my thing. “What if they said things like: ‘But First, Coffee’ or ‘I Mom So Hard’? Or ‘Speak Truth to Stupid’?” — a saying we both heard for the first time at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s lecture.

I could almost hear her bewilderment over the phone, but being a mom who loves her unusual daughter, to my sheer delight she fulfilled my request. She sent me four of the plushest towels I’ll ever dry dishes with, embroidered beautifully with those phrases. And yes. Even Nadia Bolz-Weber’s: “Speak Truth to Stupid.”

A few more weeks passed and I learned that Nadia Bolz-Weber would be here, in our own Quad Cities, speaking as a part of Augustana College’s “Symposium Day.” Knowing I already had all her books signed, I knew just what to do. After Nadia’s riveting presentation on our need for a sexual reformation in the church, I hightailed it to the book-signing line, with no book in hand. Instead, I had my “Speak Truth to Stupid” tea towel, trimmed with leopard print and lace, tucked away in a Ziplock bag under my arm.

My body buzzed with adrenaline and espresso as I approached Nadia’s place at the book-signing table where she was sitting with an intense look on her face. I almost got skipped in line because I didn’t have a book, but I pushed myself forward and thrust my parcel at her. I told her the story of how my mom wanted to embroider me towels that said ‘Kendra’s Kitchen,’ but that that wasn’t really my jam. I asked her to inscribe something else on the towels, and that’s when Nadia looked down to see her own words, craftily adorning my kitchen linens.

I stood back and watched as the intense writer and pastor flung her head back and let out the most joyful laugh. (My friend Stephanie captured the above picture.) As I walked away from the table, Nadia waved to me and said, “See ya, Kendra.”

You know, it is a deeply holy experience when you feel like you’ve actually been “seen.” That’s what that day was for me. Not just that a theologian-writer-pastor “saw” me or even that my friends understood this wacky desire to have a towel signed. But truly, it was the trifecta of those two encounters and my mom taking the time to accompany me to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber, one hundred miles from home, and then investing time and energy into making me some deeply meaningful tea towels, one that is now even autographed.

Yes, it is a joy to be known and to be seen. Thanks, mom.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

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I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

#momtheology: Grace & Skressin’, A Mom’s Travelogue (Part I)

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My family and I have been away from home for six weeks now. Mostly we’ve been relaxing, traveling, hosting friends and family at our cabin in the North Woods of Wisconsin.

Yesterday, two weeks from returning to Iowa, felt like the perfect vacation day. Not perfect because it was without glitches, but perfect in its wholeness. Perfect because I embraced my inner mom wisdom, prepared the kids’ bag sparingly yet smartly, and most importantly, was able to go with the flow; compromising on lunch plans, nap schedules, and planned activities for the day. It has taken me almost our entire vacation to learn these skills.

In these past many weeks, I’ve messed up, learned some things the hard way, even documented a few folk wisdom gems. What I’ll share with you is that vacationing with small children involves graciousness….and skressin. They are the yin and yang of the traveling mom, for sure.

Perhaps I should define my terms. Grace, as I understand it theologically—and as it goes with library book returns—is that strand of forgiveness that can sometimes be described as undeserved. Can we give that grace to our children? Our spouses? Ourselves? As for ‘skressin’ I guess I could have just called it ‘stress’ but this is kind of my new favorite word. According to Urban Dictionary, Skressin is like stressin, but somehow being chill about it. And how can you even attempt that without grace?

So as a member of the mom crowd, and a fellow traveler on the road of life (as well as summer destinations) here’s what I’ve learned:

a)     When traveling with a recently potty-trained toddler, learn his, ahem, “rhythms.” Seek out the non-scary bathrooms…preferably without Dyson hand dryers, which basically contain the fear factor of all Disney villains combined in one awful sound. Automatic toilets are out, too. At least for us. They add to the “skress.”

b)     Buy a good stain-remover, and don’t give up. It can be tempting to throw away a tee shirt because the spaghetti or jam or both make your child’s clothes look like evidence from a Law and Order rerun, but even stain remover can be a means of grace. Soak the shirt and take a deep breath, mom. It happens to all of us.  

c)     If you are having a moment of doubt, but still wonder, “Is my suitcase overweight?” IT IS. Borrow a duffle and check a second bag. Spend the money you’ve saved, by not checking an overweight bag, on a good massage.

d)     Let go – at least temporarily - of your former self who used to bike ten miles at elevation, hike to tree line, kayak first thing in the morning. This you will return, but while your children are small, enjoy what they are able to do. Do the things that you used to roll your eyes at as a single person on vacation. Trust me. Just give into it.

e)     Lastly, as you lean into being gentle with yourself, at the risk of sometimes appearing creepy, commend other traveling parents on their small victories. You’ll see them sometimes, refereeing toddler fights over French fries, exhibiting saint-like patience in public restrooms, hauling tantrum-entranced youngsters out of national parks and museums. Applaud their efforts, however unnoticeable they may seem. Acknowledge these feats because you know what it feels like to have your own wisdom and graciousness recognized.


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.

#momtheology: My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness, O God! (And My Hands Prepare PBJ Sandwiches)

 "Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

"Madonna of the Laptop" by Ashley Norwood Cooper

 A Mom’s Daily Office

It’s nine o’clock p.m., so I wonder: what prayer of the daily office goes with putting my one-year-old to bed, for the third time?

This is the way my mind works, at least lately, as I try and groove with interruptions that are just the normal parts of mom life. I could be mad about them, and sometimes I am, but when I am able to chill and roll with it, I try to see these moments as sacred pauses, holy in and of themselves.

If I were a Benedictine nun, part of my calling would involve pausing throughout the day to pray, to sit in silence, read scripture, and worship God with my sisters. If I were a Trappist monk, maybe I’d up the ante and sleep on a cushionless board on the floor or wear a humble habit to remind me of my commitment to servitude.

But I am neither of these. I am a mom.

Even so, I am trying to see a connection between the sacred calling of the cloistered life and the blessed vocation of motherhood. When I can remain here, in this healthy and calm perspective, I engage in something the monks and nuns do: I pray the daily office.

What is it exactly?

For those in sacred orders, they rehearse the “liturgy of the hours” pausing to pray six or seven times throughout the day.

I have yet to complete the full schedule in the span of twenty-four hours, but find myself asking throughout the day—especially times of stress or challenge, but also moments of joy—"I wonder which prayer is happening right now?"

And then, thanks to the lovely internet, I look them up so I can pray with my monastic brothers and sisters even as I sit here at my own dining room table.

And because I am who I am—a millennial pastor who can’t seem to keep her fidgety fingers off social media—sometimes I tweet my prayers. Here are some examples:

(Early A.M.)          “May what is false within us

                               Before your truth give way

                               That we may live untroubled

                               With quiet hearts this day.”

                               -Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal #morningprayer

 

(Morning)              My soul proclaims your greatness, O God!

(And my hands prepare pbj sandwiches.)

#feastofascension #morning prayer

 

(Afternoon)           In the spirit of Psalm 119 & in

thanksgiving for a nap: Revive me, O God,

& restore this fridge full of decay,

too, please. #afternoonprayer

 

(Evening)               Great River Nut Brown, Psalm 91,

& Today’s Hottest Country, WLLR.

#nightprayer

 

(Dawn)                   Baby back to sleep, Psalm 51, silent house.

#dawnprayer

As a mother, life is going to include interruptions. Disturbances of sleep, for me, are the hardest. So when I have to rise at dawn to console a restless child, I also try to calm my own restless mind with prayer.

 


Kendra Thompson is a part-time minister and full-time mom living in Davenport, Iowa. In her spare time, when she's not at the mall, she blogs at Cry Laugh Snort.