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.

Top 12 things to do in the New Year to get you healthier and fitter that don’t include deprivation or hours in the gym

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As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor I get excited for January. Every year I see new faces and meet great new people excited about taking their health into their own hands. The energy in the gym is palpable, even the annoyance of the veteran gym goers can’t overpower it.

And then April comes, or sometimes even March, and the energy has died. Most of the January rush has disappeared with only a few strong-willed health seekers continuing on. On social media my new clients or participants in my classes have gone from posting their accomplishments in the gym or in the kitchen to posting pictures of their nightly cocktail or their Netflix binge.

Having been in the industry for over a decade, none of this surprises me. Even in high school and college when I didn’t know any of this academically but just had a legit metabolism and participated in year-round sports, I had friends come to me for advice on how to get active and lose weight. I’ve wrestled with getting healthy, eating healthy and losing weight just like everyone else on planet Earth it seems so some of this advice is stuff I’ve learned personally and others are what I’ve observed from being in the fitness industry.

So here are some secrets to getting healthy in the new year. Some of these you’ve heard and some of these you haven’t because personal trainers keep them to themselves unless you pay the premium to work with us. None of these tips will seem like rocket science and that’s because finding health that’s sustainable is actually not rocket science (training for a fitness competition-rocket science. Training for professional sports-rocket science. Learning how to find and sustain a healthy weight — NOT rocket science.) Accept these with the no judgement and no expectations with which they were written.

Learn Self Love

There’s a reason this is #1 y’all. If you’re starting the new year in the gym because you hate your belly or you hate your flabby arms you will never, ever, ever make it to April. Very few people hate parts of their bodies enough to push through the pain and discomfort that comes with a new exercise routine. If, however, you are starting the new year in the gym because you realize your life is worth more than getting winded going up stairs or sitting on the couch while your kids play basketball outside-you will stick with it. I promise. This rule might require you seeing a therapist or developing a daily journal reminding you of what you mean to the world but it’s essential if you want to genuinely find health in the new year. Even if I don’t know you personally I’m here to tell you that you are loved beyond reason. And that anytime spent exercising or cooking healthier foods is not selfish. I can guarantee you, your family will get more from you when you feel good mind, body and spirit than when you don’t. You are worth it, promise.

Develop a Mindfulness Routine

I’ve already lost some of you, right? I don’t mean this has to involve you sitting on a meditation pillow for 20 minutes in the morning (but take it from me-that’s the very best way to start your day!) This can be taking two minutes while your coffee is made to just sit in silence and breathe. You don’t have to chant or block out mental distractions if you don’t want to but just become aware of your breath for a few minutes. Try to do it first thing in the morning otherwise it’ll continue to be pushed back to make room for seemingly more pressing to-do items. How does this little few minutes make you healthier? It’s scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, boost immune function, decrease pain and decrease inflammation at the cellular level, amongst many other reasons. Go here for some of the studies. The biggest thing that has come from my meditation practice is compassion for myself and for those around me. Remember #1? Meditation has been the biggest thing to teach me how to do #1 relatively effortlessly. Try it. (If you’re looking for help, try the app Headspace. It’s a 10 minute daily practice but I love the guy’s voice and his direct approach to mindfulness.)

Eat More Fiber

Want to lose weight? There you go. This is a little secret I usually reserve for clients. There has been some push back on the benefits of fiber but for me the proof is in the pudding-or in this case-the weight loss. All of my clients who make a pointed effort to incorporate more fiber in their diets lose more weight than the ones who don’t make such a concerted effort. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut in a way that carbs, proteins and fats can’t because they are absorbed by the bloodstream before making it to the large intestines. Changing gut flora is a big deal, one in which I’ll go into next, but for now focus on fiber. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes is where you’ll find your fiber. Try to go by the 1, 2, 3 Rule if you can. One fruit and veg for breakfast, two for lunch and three for dinner. Most days I add a few for my morning and evening snack just for good measure.

Get Your Gut Flora

Perhaps the least sexiest thing to discuss when talking about weight loss and health for the new year but more and more science is coming out on this so it’s got me all kinds of excited. First, I want to urge you to listen to this podcast about gut flora with Doctor Robynne Chutkan, MD. Or check out her book at your local library. There was a study that took the feces from an overweight mouse and deposited it in a normal weight mouse and vice versa. Changing nothing else, the overweight mouse became normal weight and the normal weight mouse became overweight. Why? The gut flora. You may think that your brain controls your sugar cravings and your salt cravings but science proves it’s actually your gut flora. If you want to lose weight-you need to start with changing that. How do you do it? By feeding the gut flora nutrient dense foods as often as you can. The more you feed it healthy, nutrient rich foods the more it craves those and not foods that are bad for you. This doesn’t require you to stop eating sugar or salty foods altogether-though that would make the gut flora change quicker to be sure-this just requires small adjustments on your plate. A quick personal note: I used to be a huge sugar addict. Since learning about the gut flora and making small adjustments to our meals-I no longer crave the stuff at all. And since I cook the majority of the meals, that means I’ve changed the gut flora in my kids and guess what? We made batches and batches of cookies and breads for Christmas and I currently have a few bags left in the pantry as well as chocolates people had gifted to us. My kids don’t even ask for it. Gut flora may be unsexy to talk about but their ain’t nothin' sexier than healthy gut flora. You heard it here first.

Move

If your goal is to get a six pack and deltoids like LeBron it’s going to require more movement than if your goal is to get down to a healthy weight and be able to play with your kids on the regular. Let’s first address movement for health. Start with walking 15 minutes every day. I live in Michigan where the temps can get down to single digits so I understand how you might think this isn’t possible. Well it is. Bundle up and do it. Make it a family event and go after dinner to stimulate digestion. Also, stop making your house so convenient. If you’re enjoying coffee on the porch or at the table, don’t bring the pot to you. Make yourself get up to grab another cup. Same thing for dinner. Don’t bring everything to the table where you can help yourselves to seconds and thirds, keep it at the stove so that you have to physically get up. This small act can be enough to make you realize you aren’t actually hungry for another round. The reason so many of the fitness trackers (FitBit, Jawbone, etc) have a programmable alarm to remind you to get up is because it’s been proven that the people who live the longest just move more. Most of the time these people aren’t doing any kind of exercise routine but they live in areas that require them to get up and out to the garden to bring in their meals. They’ve DE-convienienced their lives. We Americans could take a lessen from them.

Find a Workout You Like Doing

This is for those of you who might want to find some kind of muscle definition in 2018. I’ve put this at 6 because if you don’t do the previous 5, I can almost guarantee that you won’t find any abs or triceps by the end of 2018. Harsh? Maybe. But if you’ve listened to me on the podcast or ever had me as a trainer, a friend, a partner or a mother you know that I’m not great at holding back knowledge when you’ve come to me for advice. You will read articles in the coming weeks that tell you CrossFit is the only way to get fit in 2018, you will also read articles that tell you that running will be the key to unveiling the abs you’ve always desired. You have heard me go on and on about Les Mills fitness classes and how they’ve gotten me in the best shape of my life (which is true). None of that matters if you don’t like doing it. Les Mills classes have gotten me in the best shape of my life because I freaking love doing them. I love the music, I love the moves and I love the people I’ve met through the classes who do them all the time too. This is why CrossFit works for some folks and why people will talk your ear off about their run group. But do not listen to anyone. You need to find what works for you which means trying everything under the darn sun. Spend a little money and time to discover it. And give them time, a few weeks a least to grow on you. You’ll need to push past the soreness and the awkwardness that comes with developing muscle memory to be able to actually gauge if you like the activity or not. NOTHING will be 100% fun at first because it will probably hurt and be too confusing initially. Give yourself a little grace and get back in the saddle as quickly as possible. Once you find what you love doing, stopping no longer really feels like an option.

Be Patient

For God’s sake be patient. Nothing is harder to hear than “I don’t think it’s working, I haven’t seen results.” after 2 weeks of trying something. You guys, it can take 8-12 weeks. You might feel your jeans loosen by week 2 or get a few comments by week 3 but for the real “ah ha” kind of physical results, settle in for a grip. Here’s what I want you to do differently in 2018 than you ever have before. Notice how you feel. You will feel differently right away. The first day you feed your body nourishing foods instead of pre-packaged junk, you will feel so good. Check your energy levels, do you notice how easily you got up and out of bed? Notice how much easier it was to go to sleep? What’s going on with your poop? Yup, check that too. Maybe you’ll notice your constipation is gone and your BMs take that ever-lusted after S shape. Good on ya buddy, that right there is results. This is another secret to sustainable weight loss and health-if you can start to feel good mentally and emotionally, the physical takes care of itself. Why? Because you have the energy to try new things and for longer. Plus, you start to notice that when you don’t exercise or move-you feel pretty dumpy mentally too. Once you’ve hooked into that mind/body connection you are good as gold. Welcome to the healthiest you have ever been.

Stare at yourself in the mirror. Naked.

The first time I told a client to do this she started crying. She told me that it was her very worst nightmare. And look, I get it. I spent far too many years avoiding the mirror myself. But you know when you’re laying in bed and have this weird fear that you left the door unlocked and are convinced someone is going to come in and do something terrible to your family? You know how if you continue to stay in bed because the sheets are warm and it’s bedtime how you can’t go to sleep because you convince yourself it’s legit going to happen and then you’re going to never forgive yourself because you knew it and did nothing to stop it? But if you go and check the door you’ll realize that 1) it’s locked or 2) it’s not locked but hasn’t been all week and you’ve all been just fine. It’s the same with the mirror. You need to just face the music, sister. I promise if you do you’ll notice your belly isn’t nearly as big as you imagined it was in your head. You’ll also probably notice your breasts are quite beautiful and that you actually have a pretty well defined quad. So just do it today after your shower. Take 5 minutes to just check every inch of you out. I will no longer allow you to be your own monster lurking in the corner. If you tell me you want to lose belly fat I want you to be able to describe in vivid detail what your belly looks like because if you don’t know then you’re just running from the imaginary monster. Running from anything won’t get you the health you seek, running towards something will. So instead of losing fat around our triceps we are going to chase arms that allow us to throw up our grandkids when we’re well into our 60s. Instead of losing weight in your thighs so that they stop rubbing together (thighs are meant to rub together. Just enough already with that nonsense.) we’re going to chase legs that have us going on hikes or walking the streets of Paris for hours without complaint. We’re going to face who we are head on so that we can have a better picture of what we actually want to change and not what we think needs to change just because we’ve been too scared to look.

Stop Dieting

I have no earthly understanding of why we are still doing this when every bit of science and anecdotal evidence proves it does nothing in the way of sustainable health and weight loss. Here’s what you do instead: throw away all the crap in your cupboards. Commit to not buying chips, cookies or processed food for 1 week. Your kids do not need macaroni and cheese. Your kids do not need chicken nuggets. There is not a human on earth who needs that so just get rid of it. Buy bread for sandwiches (Ezekiel bread is my personal recommendation. My kids eat it too. Don’t make excuses for your kids. Have them eat it and change their gut flora too. Soon enough they won’t like the sugary, processed breads they were used to eating. Promise.) and as much fruit as you possible can fit in your cart. This way when you’re tempted for something quick and easy the only thing at your disposal is fruit and sandwiches. Once you’ve successfully made it to one week without processed foods in the house, stretch it to two weeks and so on. I don’t care how dedicated you are-we all have days when we’ve been working, the kids are crazy and we’ve been fighting with our spouse and the last thing we want to do is cook a healthy, nutritious meal for us all so we throw in a few frozen pizzas and call it a day. This doesn’t make you weak or lazy it makes you human. If you don’t have access to frozen pizzas, however, you have no choice but to make something healthier. Want to know what I do? I make large batches of rice and quinoa and keep them in the fridge. On days when I have 0 effs to give I make it a “Chipotle” night and throw some black beans in a pan and some cilantro in the rice. I grab our salsa and guacamole and done. It takes me all of 4 minutes which if you’re keeping track is actually quicker than frozen pizzas anyway. Don’t buy the crap food and you can’t eat the crap food. See? Not rocket science.

Make the Commitment for Your Whole Family

Here’s a little secret I’ve learned in my time as a personal trainer: I can tell you with 100% certainty whether you’ll reach your goals or not with one question. How does your family feels about you getting healthier? If the significant other “is supportive but wants no part of it him/herself” Nope. If the kids “will keep eating what they always do and I’ll make myself the healthier meals.” Nope. I don’t know how else to say this-if getting healthier is important to you this year then you need to make it important to your significant others as well. Because otherwise no matter how sweet, caring and kind your family is they will end up becoming saboteurs. They will take a family vote one night and go out for pizza. And then the night after that they’ll all decide that what you cooked just wasn’t enough and they’ll go out for ice cream. This doesn’t make them terrible people, it makes them human. But I know you, mama, because you are me and I am you. You want your kids to outlive you and you want to be doing fun and adventurous stuff with your partner well into your 80s. You cannot do that if you’re all unhealthy. Oh. Heartbreaking words to hear. But true words. So have a family meeting or sit down with your partner. Don’t make the conversation about weight because who gives an eff about the weight on your scale. Tell them your goals for the future and ask them theirs. Really evaluate if those are possible with the way you’re currently going. If they are-awesome, if not-time to change as a family. This generation of kids is the first generation predicted to have a shorter life span than their parent’s generation because of obesity. What a horrifying truth. You getting healthy isn’t selfish anymore-it’s a gift to your family and to your friends. We can do hard things. And for our families? We can do seemingly impossible things. I believe in you.

Engulf Yourself in the Health and Wellness Community

Don’t buy Shape magazine or any magazine that even hints that your self worth is at all tied to your waistline. Instead invest in magazines and books that encourage you to learn more about your passion or your mindfulness practice. My husband is obsessed with Outside magazine. He went on his own health journey in 2015 and I’m so proud of him. His excitement about Outside magazine is one of the things to which I attribute his success. There are so many great articles on movement and health in general that have peaked his curiosity and led him to try new and different ways of getting healthy. I’m a big podcast listener and I’ve found that when I’m feeling “eh” about eating healthy or exercising, listening to one of my health and wellness podcasts always re-inspires me. The reason I like magazines is because it’s a monthly dose of inspiration that often comes just when you need it. Most libraries have a decent amount of magazines you can peruse before you commit to the monthly subscription so try a few out first. Or even better, once you’ve found the workout that’s got you feeling some kind of way-google “magazines great for runners, weight lifters, cyclers, dancers”, etc and go from there. Even though my day job is literally to exercise, I still have days or weeks that I just don’t feel up to it-cough, all of November-cough. Immersing myself in these knowledge-based communities is easily the best way to re-invigorate me.

Don’t Wait Until You Find a “Workout Buddy” to Start

I guarantee this is a piece of advice you will hear every day for the next few months but I’ve found it to be wholly untrue. Here’s more typically what happens: a few women or men come to the gym together. Typically one is more passionate about being there than the other. After a few weeks, the less passionate one stops coming and a few weeks after that so does the one who was so ready for a change. Here’s what you do instead: just begin. If you’re joining a new gym just head on into that weight room or group fitness room. If you’re wanting to try running, try joining an already established running group. Every run group I know has runners from novice to expert so you won’t be the only newbie. Instead of starting with a gym buddy, just start! Your workout buddy will be found when you are doing what you love doing. They will hold you accountable and be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up. The people you find once you’ve already started are also already committed so you won’t have to be convincing yourself and your best friend. This way you can just focus on you-the rest takes care of itself. I just did some quick math in my head and realized that every great friend I’ve made after college has been made in the gym. There might be a few exceptions to that but not many. We aren’t some hulking, roided out group of protein shakin' women—we come in all shapes, sizes and abilities. You will find your people when you start to get healthy. And they will be awesome. Just like you.

A quick hard truth about your health journey: Not all of your friends or family members are going to be supportive. Man, this is tough. If you continue to allow negative thought patterns and negative friends to have a say in your life your life will be exactly the same as it is now. This doesn’t mean you have to write nasty notes or say hurtful things to any friends that don’t support you. The further you get in your journey, the more you will see there’s nothing wrong with them, they are just at a different place. If you are serious about your health, make sure you evaluate who you are letting into your heart space just as much as you are evaluating what you are letting onto your plate. It can have an even bigger impact so this little piece is a vital step. It’s a hard step and will feel impossible at times. But anyone who doesn’t embrace, support and encourage you when you’re trying to be better than you were yesterday just isn’t ready to handle your light. Find the ones who are wielding their own light instead of hiding in the darkness, they’ll be the ones who will celebrate your success and remind you that your failures don’t define you. That’s exactly what you need always, but now even more so.

I come to you as someone who vividly remembers being unhealthy and unmotivated. I can’t believe how much better of a mom, wife, friend and human I am when I’m healthy (still acknowledging I muck it up on the daily). At times I’ve been fit enough to see my abs and quads but I can tell you honestly that it didn’t make me any happier than I am when I’m simply at a healthy weight eating healthy food and associating with positive people. I totally get it if your goal is shredded arms but my hope is that you hook into health first. Because being in the fitness industry I’ve seen my fair share of shredded arms and abs on people who are just unhappy and unhealthy.

My wish for you in 2018 is that you find that sweet spot where you like how you look in your jeans but you love how you feel even more. Get in touch if you have any questions or just need someone to give you that initial “You can do it!” Because you can, and you will. I totally believe in you.

#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.

Meeting Mama Bear: Liz Josie

Liz Josie is a busy, stay-at-home mom of four young kids. She’s a native of Utah, teaches piano lessons, and tries to put one foot in front of the other while managing her family. Liz recently discovered the full power of her Mama Bear.

Liz saw a local doctor give a troubling talk about the Syrian refugees crisis. He spoke about the millions of Syrian refugees who have had to flee their country with nothing. What struck Liz was how the people he spoke of her so much like herself and the people she knew: they worked, they had homes, they had prized possessions, and they didn’t ask to have to flee everything they had known. Liz left the community forum feeling overwhelmed and was unsure how she could make an impact. She was physically ill and prayed for an inspiration to propel her forward.

Liz’s former neighbor, the head of her area's Kids Against Hunger Chapter, was mentioned in the presentation for a meal packaging event that had recently sent meals to Iraq. When the two connected shortly after the presentation, Liz felt the nudge of her activated Mama Bear. She decided to take a leap of faith and put together a start-to-finish packaging event to help the refugees who weighed so heavily on her mind.

Through some connections on Facebook, Liz reached out to Helping Hands of Relief and Development (HHRD) who helped her locate a refugee camp in Lebanon that desperately needed the meals Liz knew she could deliver. HHRD let Liz know that all aid is required to be shipped in a 40-foot crate. This crate would need to be filled entirely with meals—enough to feed the entire camp for a month.

At that point, all numbers became staggering. A 40-foot crate holds 1,188 boxes. Each box holds 36 bags. Therefore, 42,768 bags would be sent. Each bag contains six meals. So while Liz was staring down potentially providing 256,608 meals to people in desperate need, she was unsure of how to make this event come together. She realized she needed to raise $70,000 to fund the project AND then find 800+ volunteers to package the food thing. Mama Bear stirred.

Liz could have stopped as she became overwhelmed by the numbers of such a giant project, but she didn’t. The more Liz thought about it, the more at peace she felt and the more compelled she was to continue. She knew these meals would help very real and very hurting people. Her mantra was simple: “FORGET YOURSELF AND GET TO WORK.” The families in these refugee camps deserve the help, the food, and the support.

In reaching out to local friends, Liz found immediate support. Even with the daunting task of fundraising, people were eager to help. A committee was formed—all moms in varying stages of parenting with kids of all ages. Each woman brought unique talents and gifts and, amazingly, everything started to come together. When a need arose, someone stepped up and the need was filled.

Liz now knows that one person can do more than they ever dream possible … but not everything. It truly takes a team to step up and accomplish big things to make a difference in the world. As Liz and her team worked, the project miraculously fell into place. Local businesses stepped in with donations for the primary fundraiser, the local museum allowed the use of their space, and the local doctor that sent Liz on this initial journey agreed to speak again.

At the end of the fundraising event, Liz, who is not prone to tears, cried freely when it was announced the group’s $70,000 goal was met. What started as a sick feeling and the question “What can I actually do to help?” led to a group of women celebrating what can happen when everyone comes together for good. While Liz’s thoughts have shifted to the packaging event to make this dream come full circle, her heart is at peace knowing that it will all come together.  Thanks to this tribe of Mama Bears, 256,608 meals will be on their way to hungry sisters and brothers in Lebanon.

For those local to the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), visit www.qcrefugeeproject.com for more information on how to volunteer for the packaging event to be held June 3, 2017. Email refugeeprojectqc@gmail.com with any questions.

Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.

Mama Bear Self Care: Bake for the Health of It

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

Photos and baking wizardry by Erin Ferris.

I learned my way around the kitchen under my mother’s wing. Wearing an apron that hung nearly to my ankles and standing precariously on a wooden stool, I inched closer and closer until I all but crowded her out of the head chef’s place at the counter. As we created salads, soups, and casseroles, she taught me the formal techniques I would one day use to feed my family as well how to express my creativity in the kitchen and the art of preparing and presenting food with love.

Fifteen years later and as a newly-relocated (read: friendless) newlywed whose other half worked 14 hours a day, I decided to build on what my mother taught me and improve my baking skills. I told myself I took on the project for the sake of our future children, who would of course someday need me to contribute to their schools’ bake sales … honestly, I really just wanted an excuse to lick the bowl and indulge in a few sweet treats myself.

As I whipped up banana bread, brownies, lemon bars, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, I realized that each recipe – even halved – produced more than my little family could consume. Rather than dump the extras into the trash, I started sending them to work with my husband or taking them to my office. My husband’s graduate students sent thank-you emails for the homemade cookies. My coworkers’ faces lit up when they found trays of cupcakes on the break room counter. And with that, a cycle began: I baked, my baked goods made other people happy, I felt happy, and I baked again.

I didn’t always love the process, or the cleanup, or the frustration that crept in when I attempted to tweak recipes with disastrous results, but I kept baking because it made me feel good about myself.

The cycle continues today, another 15 years later. Despite my family doubling in size and my time commitments doubling in number, I still bake for my husband, kids, friends, and friends’ kids. For sporting events. For school functions. For Fridays. At times my inability to turn down a request for baked goods – no matter how full my schedule – baffles me.

And then last month I came across this article. As the choir sang “Alleluia,” the heavens parted and a beam of light illuminated my stove like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Suddenly it all became clear.

Should your busy schedule keep you from reading the article in its entirety, here’s a summary: making other people happy makes us happy, and when we care for others, we care for ourselves.

  • Baking provides a creative outlet. Research has found an inverse relationship between creative expression and stress, meaning the more we express ourselves creatively, the lower our stress levels.
  • Baking provides a way to communicate feelings and emotions. When we struggle to express how we feel, food can help us share our message. Explains Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, “In many cultures, and in many countries, food…is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we can all relate to.”
  • Baking promotes mindfulness, which has been connected to increased happiness and decreased stress. Because baking requires physical and mental focus and attention to detail, it requires us to be present in the moment. Ohana also explains that baking promotes balancing the moment against the bigger picture, something that can be difficult to master.
  • Baking with the intent to gift the finished product is altruistic. Donna Pincus, an Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, describes the cycle I mentioned above in more detail: “Baking for others can increase a feeling of wellbeing, contribute to stress relief and make you feel like you’ve done something good for the world, which perhaps increases your meaning in life and connection with other people.”

Of course these benefits to baking apply only if you feel comfortable in the kitchen. If baking causes you stress, steer clear…but then find your gift and put it to use in the same way many of us use baking. A friend of mine is an incredible knitter and she loves to make scarves and hats and mittens for friends. Another friend creates beautiful leather bookmarks and pops them into books when she lends her favorites. These Mama Bears enjoy their personal creative outlets and appreciate the feelings of accomplishment and happiness that come from caring for others.

Though I didn’t realize it until last month, for 30+ years I have measured, mixed, and decorated as a way to work out my creative energy, let others know how I feel, and spend time alone with my thoughts. Now that I know the benefits, I anticipate another 30+ years of the same.

Perhaps we should talk about exercise next month…


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.

#momtheology: Mother's Day and the Myth of St. Mom

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from  Mother  by  Judy Olausen

 Mother with Thorns and Turkey from Mother by  Judy Olausen

When I was growing up, there weren’t many women from the Bible elevated in sermons. Yet I could always count on the Mother’s Day service to include a reading from Proverbs Chapter 31 followed by an oration praising the noble wife presented and extolling her domestic perfection.

Because of this yearly tradition, there was a season of my young adulthood in which I resented the proverbial “perfect woman.” She seemed to have all the qualities I lacked. She was an early riser, a tidy housekeeper, and the bearer of many children. She mystified me, I guess. Was she a spokeswoman to represent the important work of womanhood? Or was she an unrealistic figure of excellence who would haunt me forever?

I have since come to see her as both. She is at once an exemplary, model woman and an exaggerated, mythical creature.

When I say "myth" I am not disrespecting sacred scripture, nor downplaying this figure’s power. Karen Armstrong, author and religious scholar, calls something a "myth" if it happened once and also happens all the time. [1] I find this definition fitting for our heroine, the Proverbs 31 Wife, because she was likely a composite made up of real traits that existed long ago … and her characteristics also echo now into our contemporary day and age.

This “myth” language gives me permission to accept our ancient Wonder Woman not by dismissing her qualities, but by holding her lightly—playing, even, with the imagination of her, contemporized. I invite you to join me as I lift up motherhood with the help of biblical wisdom.

For instance, the writer of Proverbs praises "the capable wife" (verse 15) because she “rises while it is still night.” But I say unto you, Modern Mom: “Blessed are you who wakes at 3 a.m., 5 a.m., 5:30, 6:30 (and so on…), yet still adorns her fussy infant with affection come morning.”

Or as the biblical writer in verse 16 extols the woman who “considers a field and buys it” and “who plants a vineyard with her own hands.” Lo, I say unto you, Mom of 2017: “Praised be your name when, though you are ragged, you miraculously remember to pay your mortgage each month!” And, likewise: “Blessed are thy hands that succeed at feeding your toddler food of nutritional value!”

As I revisit Proverbs 31 now, I’ve noticed some things that didn’t stand out before. For example, it seems that the woman introduced is a woman of means. She considers investments, she has support staff to carry out her household chores. However, these are not the root of her fulfillment.  Instead, verses 26-28 remind us what gives mama her true wealth, her real power. The writer says of this amazing woman: “She opens her mouth with wisdom … her children rise up and call her happy.” What is her wisdom? What makes her happy? The answer stems from the things that cannot be bought or brokered; it rests in the realm of home and hearth, the community of wise women, and the support of a loving, faithful marriage.

And so, I second those words and I say unto you: Mothers, wherever you are, glory to you for the wisdom you share with one another, for the ways you tend to your children’s hearts so that they feel loved, safe, and secure, and for the times they catch you truly delighting in them, in yourself, and in your life ... and they rise to regard you as happy.                

[1] Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (New York, 2009) p. xi.

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.

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Lessons Learned From My First Months As Podcast Host

I was doing a little editing on the podcast that we will drop on Monday and I just was kind of stopped in my tracks a little bit. Tabitha, our guest, is full of wisdom and kindness and fierceness. She shares these traits with our other guests. It occurred to me that though 2016 has been a really hard year in many different ways (or maybe just a hard few final months—it’s hard to gain the perspective when it still feels like we are in it) I have learned and grown because of this podcast and the women I’ve been blessed to spend time with every week.

We’ve said it before on the podcast but it’s true, our culture tries telling us that as women we are to be in a constant state of competition with one another. That there is some destination that only allows one woman to have it all, this woman will of course reach this destination with the best style and most flawless face, hair, and nails. What a total bill of goods we are sold. Though the last handful of years have been full of examples in my own personal life about the actual truth being that when we help another woman succeed we are in turn paving the way for our own success—this podcast has proved it to be true every Monday and every Wednesday.

Leslie and I hope that by giving our guests a bigger platform we can help them succeed, whether it’s by selling more books or by garnering more donations for their non profit or whatever their pursuit. We also hope we can just make them feel successful for an hour at the very least. That we can give them the little confidence boost that comes when someone says, “You are worthy of our time.” And in turn our guests help the podcast. They tell their friends and family that they’ve recently sat down with a few women—one of whom laughs maybe a little too hard and too often (that’s me) and the other who is the epitome of style, class, and perfect English (that’s Leslie). Women helping women helping women.

For a long time I pictured the glass ceiling shattering around one woman with her fist raised, bold enough to climb the ladder and just crazy enough to believe she was worthy of constant ascension. Now I know better. Now I know that wherever a glass ceiling is shattered there too are the hundreds of women who made the moment possible. The ones who silently did more work than her male counterparts just to look competent. The ones who boldly stood up for herself against sexism and misogyny. The ones who promoted other women to higher echelons within the company or who pushed the ideas of women to the front of the business model. The moms who raised these women to believe in themselves, to stand up for themselves,and to nurture their female friendships. This podcast is a microcosm of that truth—we get where we’re going because of the millions before us and the millions still to come.

Thank you so much for joining this tribe of glass shatterers in 2016. My resolution for 2017 is to continue to bring you the stories of women who are inspiring a tide of other women to live joyfully and with great compassion, knowing that behind every great woman is a hundred more encouraging her and holding her accountable to her very best self.

Happy New Year, friends.

-Tesi