Invitation to the Table

A year or so ago our church invited Nikki Lerner, a culture coach, diversity teacher, and amazing musician, to talk to our staff and worship team.  She spent the day talking to our staff members about multiculturalism in the church and that evening, some of our worship team gathered together to hear her speak about multiculturalism in worship.

I was a part of the team that gathered that evening.  We started off in a small conference room, sitting around a table and eating desserts.  There weren’t enough chairs around the table so when I saw Nikki and some other leaders enter the room, I got up and stood so she could take my seat.

Later after a beautiful, holy moment of worship, Nikki laughed ironically about how she had been talking to the staff all day about how churches often stick to the majority race and don’t cater to other cultures. Then she showed up this evening and there literally wasn’t a seat at the table for her.

Table 082316Without thinking I said, “I got up so you could have my chair.” To which she replied, “I didn’t see you.”

I regretted immediately saying anything.  I talk a lot, but I usually don’t want to bring any attention to myself.  I ruminate over things I say for days.  My heart still pounds when I think about the last post I wrote on racism. Can I use the word black in that context? Was I not considerate enough of other people’s feelings?  Who am I to say these things or make these assumptions or to stand up for things I don’t understand?

No one.  I’m no one.  But I’m not going to wait until I understand everything and live perfectly before I start standing with my black friends and family.

I learned a valuable lesson that night.

Imagine you were in a room full of people.  There is one empty seat at the table and 10 people standing around waiting for a seat, but you were the only one in the room of your race, or gender, or religion.  It is likely that you wouldn’t take that last seat unless someone offered it to you, right?  I wouldn’t.  I probably would still decline after an invitation. But that’s me.

Leaving an empty chair at a table full of white people is not enough.  It’s time that we, as white people extend an invitation to our friends of color.  Invite people in the minority to the table.

Being kind is not enough.  The one thing that will change the world between races is relationship.  (<– Click this.)

 

 

When I saw him from afar, I thought he was a monster.

When he got closer, I thought he was just an animal.

When he got closer, I recognized that he was a human.

When we were face to face, I realized that he was my brother.

-African Proverb

 

10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a field.

I have been a parent for almost 100,000 hours.  About 98,526 hours as of this moment.  Subtract an average of 8 hours a day for sleep (though new parents know you don’t ever get that much sleep!) and the time that I’ve had both kids in school and that’s still 51,062 hours I have been consciously and physically parenting. So, I guess I’m gonna call that mastered.  Bam. That’s Gold Medal level parenting right there.

 

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Just don’t google the “10,000 hour rule” and read the titles to all of the articles there discounting that it’s even a thing.  And don’t pay any attention to the fact that as your kid changes you have to change your parenting.  Or that the parenting that works for one kid doesn’t for the other.  Or that what used to be a good parenting practice, is now considered inappropriate according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And don’t even think about how I’ve had an amazing partner doing a good portion of the work, or that I’m not even very good at math, so I may be completely wrong about how long I’ve been parenting… You know what, never mind.

My oldest

Isaac faces 2008-2015
Isaac: 2006, 2015

 

Today is this kid’s birthday.

They always said don’t blink.

I laughed. I cried. I yelled. I hugged. I kissed boo boos and cheeks. I tucked in. I read. I sang. I played. I held. I high-fived. I listened. I taught. I sent him off and welcomed him home.

I prayed.

I loved.

And I blinked.

And 10 years went by.

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Happy Birthday

Here’s to 2015

I just put Christmas away.

 I just vacuumed up the very last pine needle.  Not a speck of glitter is left on the floor.  And I felt like the Grinch leaving not a morsel of Christmas cheer left to be seen in the house.  This is the Christmas hangover.

 The tree is on the curb.  The ornaments nestled snug in their Rubbermaid boxes. The fireplace bare once again.  The advent calendar is rolled up and stored away until next year. The Christmas gifts we received are already forgotten, some lost, and some already damaged.  A few gifts will be cherished, but more so… the memories made over the last month will be remembered.

It was a crazy month.  Workloads were doubled to get ready for the time off.  Parties were had, and thrown.  So many cookies were made and my belly now resembles one of the many round peanut butter balls I’ve eaten.

We made gifts.  We wrapped gifts.  We gave gifts.  My boys thoroughly enjoyed dressing up like Santa and ding dong ditching houses as we left gifts on the porch because we didn’t have time to sit down and enjoy giving the gifts to everyone we wanted to.

I am tired.  I am worn out.  And tomorrow is Monday again.  Not just a regular Monday, but a January Monday.  A “Mostly-Cloudy-20-Degrees-But-Feels-Like-11-Degrees” Monday.  An “Alarm-Set-For-6:15-AM” Monday.  A “Work-School-Homework-Eat-Taekwondo-Brush-Your-Teeth –WITH-Toothpaste- Go-To-Bed-And-Then-Do-It-All-Over-Again” Monday… Sigh….

I have come to relish the end of each day when I get to cross it off of the calendar.  Not because I’m one day closer to the weekend, just because I survived and that day… is now… over.

To be honest, each day in the Christmas season wasn’t very different.  I found myself asking Randall if we were going to make it every night.

 

“Randall?  Are we gonna make it?”

“I don’t know, Emily.  Ask me when we’re on our way to Oklahoma.”

 

I asked again in Oklahoma.

“Randall?  Are we gonna make it?”

“I don’t know, Emily.  Ask me on Sunday when I’m done with my last talk.”

 

Today is Sunday, but I didn’t ask him again today.  I was too busy picking pine needles out of my red, shag rug.

We’re gonna make it.  I know we are.  We will survive each day.  On most days I will get my work done.  I will put dinner on the table.  I will tuck my boys in at night and whisper, “I love you” in their ears.  I will eventually lay my head down on my pillow and toss and turn in a restless sleep and wake up in the morning and do it all again…

But I want more than that.

Randall asked us in his sermon last week if we could describe 2014 in one word or phrase.  He said his word was “Change.”  I said that I would describe it as an “Invitation for Change.”  From January until December, God was speaking clearly to me.  In the beginning of the year as I prepared to teach a class I’ve taught for the past six years, I heard God telling me that it was time to change the class.  As I struggled with what that would look like, I heard God telling me that it was time to work together with my husband in ministry.  As we wrestled with what that meant, I heard God telling me that in order to change, I’d have to figure out how to make that change, while everything else stayed the same.

What I wanted was to move to a completely different state and start anew.

What I wanted was to quit my job and focus on my passion.

What God told me was no.

What God did was invite me into a bigger story.

What I heard was “Get your s*** together.”

I just merely survived 2014.  I had a lot of fun.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have some absolutely amazing memories.  Things I will never forget.

Including this invitation… it lingers.  Though not much has changed, still it entices.

God is constantly inviting us into the story.  All of us.  He created a magnificent world and is inviting us to create alongside him.  What we did to that magnificent world was to destroy it, but God is inviting us to pick up the broken pieces and help to put things back together.

 

~*~

 

My philosophy in life has always been, “If given the chance, I will always say yes.”

I think this philosophy started when the Ninja roller coaster came to our Six Flags.  I was a kid and I loved roller coasters, but when we drove into the parking lot and my dad pointed out the red track that looped upside down, I decided I would not ride this coaster.  I was scared.  But scared wasn’t allowed and my dad said I had to try it.  “If it weren’t safe, they wouldn’t put it in an amusement park for thousands of kids to ride every day.”  I trusted my dad.  I trusted 6 Flags.  I rode the ride and loved it (until my head started hurting from banging back and forth between the orange restraints).  But maybe it was that day that I decided that when given the opportunity, I would always take it, no matter the risk.

I think about my philosophy when I hear stories like the one my pastor tells about the time he and his family went swimming with sharks.  It’s not something I would ever want to do.  It’s not something I would make a special trip for, but if I was invited to go swim with sharks, I’d accept.

I recently read about Bob Goff’s family being invited to Bulgaria, and to meet 28 other heads of the country.  I’m with him: If given the invitation, I’d have to go.

Or at least, I’d want to go.  I usually think about my philosophy when I hear about exuberant invitations.  Oh, I’d go to the moon if given the chance!  But I forget that I’m offered invitations every day.  To do more.   To love more.  To create.  To move.

I just can’t hear those invitations when I’m perusing Facebook.  I miss those invitations when I’m listening to my Serial podcast.  Sometimes I hear them when I’m quietly reading.  I almost always hear them when I’m sitting and soaking up his word at church.  But in the hustle of getting coats on kids and out the door I forget the invitation.

I fear the more I ignore the invitation, the less I will hear it at all.

So I guess tonight, as I pick the pine needles out of my hair and pockets, I’m going to remind myself of all the invitations he’s offered this past year.  And I’m going to remember my philosophy… I’m gonna have to take him up on those.

Here’s to loving more.

Here’s to creating more.

Here’s to change in the midst of the same.

Here’s to not just making it… but making it count.

Here’s to 2015.

Shout

Last semester at school was rough for our family.  I have no idea what happened but we turned a corner in Isaac’s education.  Isaac started testing his teachers.  He refused to participate in certain activities. His teachers stepped up to the plate.  They were not going to tolerate these new facets to Isaac’s character on top of his natural tendency to live in his own imagination rather than focus on the project at hand.

It was clear to us that Isaac needed some discipline in his life.  We had a very clear routine in our household, but Isaac needed more.  So we signed him and Asher up for Tae Kwon Do at Randall’s boxing gym.

The very first class, the instructor pulled me aside and handed me two sheets of paper.  “These are the rules for the dojang and these are the rules for home and school.  If your boys have any problems following these rules here or at home, you let me know and they can be demoted here.  I can take away the belts they earn like that!”  He snapped.  I immediately loved the place.

The second visit to Tae Kwon Do the instructor made our boys stand completely still in joon bi (ready position) for 5 whole minutes. The room was silent except when the instructor would notice a smile creeping on one of the students’ faces.  Isaac (my boy named Laughter) is always tempted to smile.  Asher is always serious with a furrowed brow.

Six months and two belts later, I couldn’t sit back and watch anymore.  I joined Tae Kwon Do myself.  Let me tell you: It is humbling to sit Indian style at the end of a line behind your six and eight year old boys who out rank you.  They are very helpful in teaching me my form and the Korean terms I need to know.  I am a fast learner (just got my yellow belt!) but I have much to learn from them.

One thing that I really suck at is my kihap, my yell.  In Tae Kwon Do you are taught how to defend yourself and protect your body from attack.  One of the best ways to give yourself more power, shock an opponent, and protect your abdomen is to yell as you punch and block.

As easy as it is for me to yell out of anger, I am so embarrassed to yell in our dojang.  My kihap is lower in volume and in pitch than is appropriate for an adult woman.  I don’t know what it is about me, I just don’t want people to hear me yell.

 

 

In church a while back, our pastor preached from Psalm 95, “Come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.”  Our pastor actually asked us to stand up and shout out the reason that we praise God.

I absolutely love God.  I am in complete and utter awe of His greatness, His creativity, His mercy, and His love for me.  I feel like I could tell the world hundreds of reasons why I praise Him.  I am not ashamed of God.  But I am ashamed to yell.  I seem to remember that I stood, face flushed in the congregation that weekend and said in a loudish voice “FAM” followed by a whispered “ily.”  It certainly wasn’t a shout.

Maybe people in the Bible times had to shout their praise so everyone could hear because they didn’t have things like microphones.  But we don’t need to do that anymore.  We have the internet.  The whole world can know what I believe if I just post this online.  There is no need for shouting anymore!

Is there?

Or can I learn from the ancient Korean art of “hand and foot” (literally Tae Kwon Do) that shouting joyfully can protect your fragile insides and give you more power against your opponent?

 

Come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come to him with thanksgiving.
Let us sing psalms of praise to him.
For the Lord is a great God,
a great King above all gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
and the mightiest mountains.
The sea belongs to him, for he made it.
His hands formed the dry land, too.

Come, let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before the Lord our maker,
    for he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
the flock under his care.

Maybe this week when I kihap in the dojang, it will be a good practice for when I need to shout joyfully to the Rock of my salvation.

 

Or maybe right now, before I wait any longer, I need to honor the most artful hands that hold the depths of the earth and the beautiful scarred feet of my Savior.

 

 

 

Psalm 65:8: From where the sun rises to where it sets, you inspire shouts of joy.

Psalm 40:16: May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The Lord is great!”

Psalm 71:23: I will shout for joy and sing your praises, for you have ransomed me.

Psalm 84:2: With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.

 

My Favorite Season

Just a quick update of pictures from Fall 2013.

Fall always starts with the Balloon Glow for me.  It’s just magical.

We went apple picking and pumpkin picking and played a lot of football in between.  We even went to the OU/KU football game.  Asher wasn’t sure who he should root for.

Finally I inserted our Halloween costumes.  Asher was the green ninja (Lloyd) from Ninjago (a lego series) and Isaac was Harry Potter.

 

I miss updating and I know I’ve gotten some complaints about my lack of picture sharing.  So this was just a quick post.  But man… look how big my boys are getting!!!

My heart just broke a little thinking about it…

A picture is worth 1,000 words but…

The very few people who read this blog have mentioned that the thing they miss the most since I quit posting is the pictures.  My family and friends kept waiting for me to post pictures of our trip to Italy and the boys’ first day of school.

I’d love to update you on what’s been going on in the Littleton household.  I know I could just shlopp up a few pictures to catch you up, because a picture paints a thousand words and all that…

It’s true.  A picture says a lot.  But it doesn’t say it all.

Like I could post a picture of Randall and me in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.

But that’s not worth a thousand words.  That’s worth about seven: “Emily and Randall in St. Mark’s Square.”  You don’t know about the hundreds of pigeons that were hopping around our feet at the time of this picture.  You don’t know that I had just seen a mom wiping pigeon poo off her little boy’s shirt because they thought it’d be fun to let the birds eat crumbs off of his arms.

You can’t see from this picture that seconds earlier, in the middle of this beautiful square an 8 foot bronze man had just rang a bell eight times.  An orchestra played familiar symphonies as people sat and listened and soaked up the beauty of Venice, the smell of the sea, and the amazing breeze through the square.

I watched as a woman felt the music in her bones and started to dance.  She reached out for her husband to join her in a waltz. He batted her hand away and chose to remain behind the camera lens and take pictures of filthy birds as his wife swayed by herself a second or two and then stopped.  What a missed moment.  I don’t want to miss those moments anymore.

I’ll show you the pictures but I’ll tell you the stories as well.

In time…

Called Out

When my kids were little-er I read a lot of parenting books and websites and blogs.  I wanted to know all about how to parent them well.  I read a lot of good advice and a lot of weird advice.  I took some, I left some, I laughed at some, I rolled my eyes at some.

One piece of advice I learned before I had kids of my own was to call out the good in people, not just the bad.  You need to discipline your kids and correct them when they’re wrong, but they also need to hear you praise them.  Praise them way more often than you correct them. I’ve been attempting to do that since they were born.  I hope they will remember the good things I’ve called out in them.

Today, I got a taste of how important that nugget of advice is. I’m an adult and no one is parenting me like I’m parenting my kids, so no one is consciously trying to call out good in me–or bad.  You forget that you need that kind of encouragement and constructive criticism in your life just as much as your kids do. Well today, someone called something out in me. Or maybe I should say, they called something out to me.

I was walking down Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis (my favorite city, you know) when a car passed and a young man unrolled the window and told me I was beautiful.

Well, that’s not exactly how it happened.  He may have driven past at 35 miles per hour and yelled out the window “[Four letter word]! Look at those pretty ladies!”

I guess I should also acknowledge that I was walking next to these beauties and I was furthest from the street… but I’ll take it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like I said, I need to hear encouraging words… It doesn’t take much…

My sisters and I took my mom to the London Tea Room this afternoon.  We dressed up in our cutest summer dresses, sat and talked, ate and sipped tea out of china tea cups for hours in this little restaurant.  It was a lovely afternoon.  It wasn’t until I had left the girls and was on my way to church when I looked down and saw the tag of my dress sticking out in front of my chest.  My dress had been on backwards the whole day!  And no one said anything!

 

But I still got holla’d at!

 

(Yep… Still got it…)

I went in to church and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I headed straight for the bathroom to switch my dress around.  But it wasn’t the wardrobe blunder that called out something negative in me.

No, it was a few minutes later.  I sat down in the auditorium next to my husband on the front row before the service started.  The musicians were taking their places on the stage and I was chatting with the people around me when Randall said something snarky.  I took my program and swatted him on the arm just as the music started playing. It made a rather loud “snap” but I was pretty sure it didn’t do much damage. The worship leader stepped up with his mic in hand.

“Emily, I saw that.  You can’t get away with that in here.”  His voice echoed through the auditorium.

My jaw dropped.  My cheeks flushed.  Are you talking to me?!  Are you reprimanding me in front of the Church?!  You PUNK!”  I thought to myself, though my face remained unchanged, pink cheeked and mouth agape for the first half of the first song.

At least my dress was on the right way when the congregation looked at me as I was publicly scolded.

Ok, those are silly examples, but I really was encouraged today.  I walked down Washington with a smile on my face.  And I really was corrected today.  I won’t ever hit my husband again (in church).

 

In all seriousness, I was also reminded this week that I need to take better care of myself.  It was humbling but I needed to hear it.

I was also encouraged just tonight by someone sending me a note to tell me how much I impacted them in the past.  That was humbling, too. And I needed to hear it!

It’s okay to correct your kids.  You need to do that.  It’s okay to correct your friends.  You should.  In truth and love. But don’t forget to praise your kids, too. Praise your friends.  Praise your spouse.  Praise the cute girl walking down the street. We all need to be called out once in a while.

 

 

 

 

 

Snippets

A lot of time has passed and a lot of exciting things have happened that I’d love to write about but I just can’t find the time these days.  So for the next few posts, I’m just going to give you little snippets of things that have been going on in my life these days.  So, uh… here you go…

 

 

I put the boys to bed one night, a while back.  We had our normal routine of books, prayers and hugs and kisses.  I laid Asher into his bed and pulled the covers up and he started to cry.

Asher doesn’t cry in a normal whiney kid way.  He either slowly melts into a silent, ugly cry or he furiously wipes away tears in embarrassment of his own emotion.  This night, he did the latter.

“Mom, can I sleep with you for a little bit tonight?”

“Why?  Are you okay?”

“I just don’t want to die tonight,” he said as he restrained a sob.

My heart broke, “Oh, baby!  You are not going to die tonight!” I assured him.

I lay down next to him on his bed and asked him why he thought he was going to die.  He didn’t know.  I asked if he had talked about something at church that night or if Isaac had said anything to him.  He said no.

I asked if he was feeling okay.  He shook his head “No.”  He said his throat kinda hurts.  I told him that no one had ever died because their throat kinda hurt.  I told him that people die when their heads get chopped off (ugh. I am my father’s daughter).  “Do you think your head is going to get chopped off tonight?” I asked in comic relief.

He laughed and said no.

I told Asher that he didn’t need to be afraid of anything.  That God is always with him and even if he did die, he would go to heaven to be with Jesus and there is NOTHING to be afraid about in heaven.  I told him that Grandpa Bill would be up in heaven and he could see him there.  I don’t think he was convinced that dying was a good thing.

I told him that I would always protect him and daddy would be home soon to do the same.

He hugged me tightly over and over.  He kissed my shoulder over and over.  That sweet boy has my heart!  I reassured him over and over that there was nothing to be afraid of.

In the car last Saturday our family talked about which super power we would choose if we could make ourselves super heroes.  Randall chose the power to read minds.  I told him that was an awful choice and I do NOT want to know what people are thinking.

Except for in moments like these…