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Confessions of an Idealist

July 10, 2013

She was brave until the meeting room filled up with loud, excited kids, some twice her age. When she met her Counselor, the reality of saying goodbye and spending 3 nights with these people, settled down heavy on her courage and bravado, smothering the strength visible just moments before.

Sophie on Bunk

She is seven. And I left her at camp.

Eagle Lake

I stole one last glance as parents were ushered out. She was squatting against a wall, face steeled against tears, body rigid with resistance. I saw on her face the Bruno determination. I will do this. I will be okay. It’s not an option.

Oh dear, what have we created? What have I done?

I think about the previous 48 hours. Thinking it would be fun to camp on the way, we packed tubs of gear, hauled my in-laws’ ATVs, shoved river tubes into crevices. Above the roof we piled the kids’ camp supplies and at our feet we layered what we would need for our 3 day getaway without them. At the time of planning, we thought all this would be more fun, cheaper, and easier than it all turned out to be.

On a stroll through a mountain town, in search of ice cream, I started to get paranoid. Why hadn’t I received any confirmation from their camp? Checking the website, I realized their physicals were due a month ago. We spent hours in panic, looking for a printer, an urgent care in the vicinity. The next morning, we struck camp and pulled out by 8:30. We were at Walgreens Clinic by 10am for 3 emergency physicals. I clearly have too much going on.

And then the car started to sputter.

Sunday morning my husband was surfing online under the covers on the floor of our hotel room, looking for an open mechanic. We had to get up the mountain to camp by 1:00. More anxiety.

So when we finally got our coffee in hand, 3 kids left at camp, car fixed, headed to our three-day getaway, we started to wonder…

Why do we always make things harder? Expect so much of ourselves and our children? Downplay the effort our plans require?

It’s not just vacations, but the story of our lives. We have traversed the world, with little guys in tow, and exhausted ourselves in the process. Simultaneously went to graduate school. Launched two non-profits the same year we moved across the country. And countless other decisions that seemed good at the time and we regretted in the midst and promptly forgot at the conclusion.

My name is Beth and I’m an idealist. And I’m married to an over achiever. It’s a scary combo.

While there may not be much hope for us, I am concerned about what we are transmitting to our children. Courage is one thing. Fear of failure or letting down the family is quite another. Do our kids feel the freedom to be weak? Do they feel pressured to live purpose driven, principle filled lives?

We had had a few months of wedded bliss when we wrote a mission statement for our marriage. It seemed right to codify who we were and what we were going to be about. Our mission statement expressed our desire for radical obedience to God and pointed to our need for adventure. It has defined our lives.

But when I think of my little girl, struggling not to cry and willing herself to be brave, shoved up against a sturdy and protective wall in a sea of screaming campers, I have to wonder if the intentionality of my life has a negative impact on hers. Is she free to be less determined? Is she free to be less ambitious? Less idealistic about what she is capable of doing?

The verdict is out. She is still at camp. As for me, I’m going to consider those all-inclusive vacations for next year and try to lower the bar of what I expect from my plans. When the balls start dropping, it’s a wake up call that my strengths have weakened me. And that’s okay.

Stamping out Stereotypes

June 28, 2013

Somehow I have failed.

Though he spent the first 7 years of his life living in another culture, friends with Koreans and Kiwis and Turks, my son has an awful habit of making gross generalizations about ethnic groups.

One might call him racist.

He used to think there were two languages in the world. I distinctly remember our first furlough in America and his encounter with Sesame Street. Hearing the unrecognizable conversations in Spanish, he spun around, wide-eyed curiosity staring right at me, pleading for me to make sense of this newfound discovery. He spent the rest of our furlough asking anyone who looked remotely different what language they spoke.

Nine years later he is embarrassingly, stubbornly Americentric: he thinks the English language is called American.

He also says things like “konichiwa” to all Asians, believes Ireland only has sheep and beer, and the British are all things sophisticated (including our friends who are NOT British, but DO have a chess table.)

When he got a data plan and Instagram became his life, he got worse. Much worse. Life became distilled into pithy phrases of reductionism. And, while he flushes red when corrected, his ignorance persists.

His ethnocentrism ignites my justice gland. It has become one of those kid things I’ve determined to tackle with a vengeance, not graduating him to adulthood until it has been rooted out and buried.

Here’s the plan, concocted in a moment of spontaneous brilliance and in front of his friend, an added bonus: every time he makes one of his stereotypical statements, he has to do research on that culture and report to the family. Perfect for the child who turns off his brain during summer, who loathes reading and writing. (I would choose differently for my girls, who do research on various things all the time out of an unquenchable desire for knowledge.)

Unfortunately, as every mother knows, as soon as you institute correction for a kid, they hold you accountable too. Which is how I found myself learning about New Jersey last week.

As it turns out, he gets a modicum of those ridiculous statements from me too. Shame.

We were eating pizza on Father’s Day, people watching from our sidewalk table. For the most part, there isn’t a whole lot of “stand-outs” in our Colorado town. Which is why this couple not only caught my eye, but made me smile. To my shame, New Jersey came to mind. I have since learned, Guido is what I meant, but that too would have been a stereotype, no?

I debated describing this couple, but that would only reinforce the stereotype. Needless to say, I made some comment about them not belonging and that they were probably from New Jersey. Bam! They were on me. All 3 kids exclaimed, “Research project!”

This morning I began typing New Jersey st…. and Google knew. Apparently, I am not alone.

Excuse me not. Because I just learned that not only are our chess-loving friends not British, he is from New Jersey!

Not to pardon myself, but I have done a little studying on this topic and have learned some differences between generalizations, made from data, norms, and not meant to malign, and stereotypes, made with the distinct purpose of harming and disparaging its subject.

While my son and I may not mean to denigrate New Jerseyans and Brits, there is a fine line in making sweeping statements of groups in general and speaking ignorantly about individuals.

Are all gay men flamboyantly marching in parades half-clothed?
Do all Christians refrain from dancing, cards, and alcohol?
Are all homeless persons using donations on cigarrettes and liquor?

John 7:24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge by what is right.”

To know what is right, we must treat each individual with the dignity and value they deserve as God’s creation. And that probably requires more than making a passing judgement based on Instagram, Twitter, and a couple strolling downtown.

Bread and Wine Anyone?

May 28, 2013
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Bread and WineToday I mourn the completion of Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, one of those books which makes me think the author should be my new best friend. I was sad to complete it, for I had become enraptured by Shauna’s voice and stories and recipes.

To be honest, it was a fitting theme for me to confront this month. Hospitality has been on my mind for a number of reasons. Though I am now banned from suggesting house projects inspired by Pinterest, I was able to sneak one big idea in this Spring. I convinced handy husband who owns no saw to build us patio seating, while I tackled my first ever sewing project- cushions.

They are charming, I must say! Scrap wood, old stain, recovered pillows from Re-Store. And they seat 9, maybe 12, bodies. Surrounded by our draped bistro lights, it is an inviting space for… guests. Yes. It is time to fill our home again.

Which brings me to the other thought spurring ideas of hospitality. Turkey. Several friends’ journeys related to Turkey have sent my heart back to memory-land. And as I have set memory to word, I have traveled to the many many nights our home was filled with laughter, eating, and celebrating. 

When we dragged the last cushion out back, I sat in the quiet and baked in the sun, making sacred the space I was committing to fill. I am ready to again host and serve and create meals out of ingredients, enjoying fellowship and conversation beneath our little bistro lights.

Shauna’s book was the final touch. The soul food I needed to make it so.

And so this holiday weekend, we enjoyed the company and feasting of new foods and new friends. With inspiration from Shauna’s recipes and hope for delightful conversation, we set about reclaiming the days when serving bread and wine seemed holy.

 

Thank you Shauna.

Spacious: More thoughts of the creative journey

May 16, 2013

There are times of insomnia, while I will myself to sleep, that my mind searches for moments of utter rest. Imagining places I’ve never been or experienced are not as peaceful to me as recalling with mind and body those snippets of memory I’ve lived…

Hours following the completion of a big event or project

Day 3 or 4 of a vacation

9:30am on a day with an empty schedule

Post – birth in a hospital bed

Moments I have felt spacious. Tranquil. At rest.

Why are they so few? And how do we purposefully carve out more?

to be kind to our self

to hear and see beneath the clutter

to experience the spiritual blessing of Sabbath… a right-ness with self, God, others, and the world

butterflies

In an effort to rediscover my voice, I have picked up Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way again. I remember working through it a decade ago and recall those days as feeling fully alive.

We were in Turkey then, leading younger grads, and I hosted people in my home constantly. I strived to cook elaborate meals from Turkish ingredients, recreate beauty for our holidays in the absence of store-bought decor, and craft a space for the women of care and vulnerability. That season was one of the most fully-purposed I have ever felt in life and ministry.

Somehow, in unison, my soul dried up with my creativity.

When I noticed it, my husband’s had also. And so, we left Turkey to begin a season of tending the soil, watering and replenishing, studying a different way of growing and producing life. I am ready to harvest.

But to do so requires a spacious soul. And that demands discipline. Or, at the very least, intention. 

So I avoid. Get distracted. Work on my lists first.

Julia Cameron suggests I might be afraid. She says, “Recognize this resistance as a fear of intimacy–  self- intimacy.”

And I know. She is right. I do not fear what I might find, I fear what I won’t.

I fear an absence of any creativity at all.

I fear that when I silence the chatter, I won’t hear anything.

But my soul remembers and it is the memory that keeps inching upward, refusing its dormancy.

 

Controversial Parenting: Counter-Cultural Decisions

May 10, 2013

Be yourself, your own person. Go against the flow. Stand up for what you believe. Cultural values, right? Haven’t I espoused these cliches to each of my kids at one point?

But why do we usually suffer for doing this very thing? 

I am in the midst of wanting to make an against-the-flow decision about the kids, prepared to suffer, but finding it so difficult to make!

It’s not the first time. We’ve made other unpopular decisions for the sake of what we deemed best for our kids, our family. Like breaking up our son’s relationship. Uh uh. Want advice on that one? Call me. Like making same son suffer 2 years of a “barbie flip phone” as two teachers referred to it, before we upgraded. And, refusing Halo or Modern Warfare or Call of Duty. Oh, and only allowing PBS until recently! I know, it’s torture here at our house.

This season we have entered the competitive sport decision and I have to confess, it is making me crazy.

Soccer

I have a problem spending as much on soccer as we will on braces.

I have a problem requiring so much time on one activity for one child to the exclusion of all else.

I have a problem asking my 10 year old to decide what her sport is going to be- for ever.

Because we aren’t going to over schedule her. We aren’t going to juggle 3 or 4 or (gasp!) 5 activities at the same time for one kid!

We value our kids’ sanity, our family dinners, an occasional weekend in the mountains, and have far too many other financial demands and desires of where our money might go. Workout uniforms for soccer do not rank high on that list. 

We’re talking about my writing club kid. The one we gave singing lessons to for her birthday. Same kid who burst into tears watching her sister’s first gymnastics lesson because “she has always wanted to be a gymnast in the Olympics!” The girl who started basketball this winter and is signed up for volleyball this summer.

And you think I dabble?

I’m supposed to expect her to know now, at this age, that she is so passionate about soccer that it is worth our investment of time and money to see her dream become a reality? To decide at this age that we’re shooting for a college scholarship?

I am confident there are kids who do know. I see families who are soccer families, music families, baseball families and they live into a shared passion with intensity and focus. I get that and it’s easier to understand the investment of time and money for such a passion.

But for all the other 10 year olds who are still discovering themselves, are they going to be left behind in all sports because they didn’t become competitive when all their peers did? By choosing to take our time in becoming intense, are we saying goodbye to soccer?

I really really want to make a stand on this one. What will the kids learn by our choosing less? Can we involve them in the financial conversation – where else we might spend that money? Might they appreciate our decision to go against the flow?

Do we have the courage to be different and then purposefully live it out? Fill the space of time and money with intentionality?

Honestly, I don’t know. Living cross-culturally is something I know all too well. It is hard and wearisome. And would be so much easier were just a few parents to join us in saying enough is enough.

Because it is enough, isn’t it?, to fill our afternoons and weekends year round with kid activities, making younger and younger advanced, elite, competitive athletes, spending more and more money instead of giving it away…

It is enough, isn’t it?

Abolitionist Mama

May 6, 2013

Refuse to do nothing

photo credit: doalittlegood.org

For months I have been recommending books on human trafficking. My passion and focus is on Sex Trafficking in the USA and as such, I frequently urge people to read Renting Lacy or Girls Like Us.

There are other great resources on the global issue… academic texts such as Sex Trafficking, memoirs like God in a Brothel or Somaly Mam’s Road of Lost Innocence, fiction works such as Sold or Priceless, and broad overviews like David Batstone’s Not for Sale and Kevin Bales Ending Slavery: How we free today’s slaves. I have read them all.

But I have longed for a book like Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim‘s Refuse to do Nothing: Finding your power to abolish modern-day slavery. Their’s is an easily digestible and tangible primer on human trafficking for the justice-aware woman wondering what she can do.

I appreciate the way they handle the face of local trafficking- Asian Massage businesses, strip clubs, and underage prostituted girls. But Moore and Yim also spend time on the various ways modern day slavery infiltrates our everyday lives from how to approach conflict minerals in our electronics to child labor in our chocolate. Each chapter contains doable action steps and convicting points of reflection.

The book concludes with an encouragement of our power to end this atrocity, paralleling the ways in which women abolitionists of the 19th century tackled slavery. I think this is the point at which so many women, especially Moms or retired activists, feel hindered. What can I do? Refuse to do nothing! This book will not let you get off the hook, make excuses, or feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. You will conclude with a plethora of achievable ideas and options to somehow work into the reality of your roles and responsibilities.

No legislative power is vested in us; we can do nothing to overthrow the system, even if we wished to do so. To this I reply, I know you do not make the laws, but I also know you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of those who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken. You can do much in every way: four things I will name. 1st. you can read on this subject. 2d. You can pray over this subject. 3d. You can speak on this subject. 4th. You can act on this subject. I have not placed reading before praying because I regard it more important, but because, in order to pray aright, we must understand what we are praying for.

Angelina Grimke (1836) Appeal to Christian Women of the South (Refuse to do Nothing, p. 170)

 

If you have felt paralyzed by the darkness and evil of human trafficking, wondering what you could possibly do you in your corner of the world, you can begin by picking up this book. You can refuse to do nothing. Start now. Start here.

Word-visions

May 2, 2013

Today’s mail was splayed across our table after my 6 year old proudly retrieved it from the mailbox and proceeded to tear open every envelope. We were flipping through the Valpak when I saw a photo I took last summer for an outdoor living business. Minutes later my other daughter was quoting the Google business coupon offers for two of my ventures and asked, “Mom, what’s the difference between A Face to Reframe and Beth Bruno Photography?” The World Vision letter was read next and unfortunately featured a photo of a malnourished African child: my son began recanting previous tirades I’ve made about ethical photography.

What tangible proof of the fragmentation of my passions! My poor children.

While this morning I ushered a teammate into my dining room, excusing the outdoor cushion sewing project and muttering something about getting bored with myself if I weren’t doing a variety of things, this afternoon I feel cluttered.

In my soul.

Cluttered and fragmented? 

There are days I feel purposed. Purposed for the life I lead and clear about my vision.

There are days I feel scattered and unable to decipher the thoughts swirling around up there, craving focus.

Writing. For instance. Or any creative endeavor, requires a vision. And I wonder, what makes a writer? One who enjoys playing with words the way, as a photographer, I play with light? But as a capturer of light, I have a vision for the image I am framing.

Barn Blog

Mustn’t I have a vision for what the words will become?

My writer-daughter flew into the kitchen earlier, breathlessly demanding lined paper. “I must write!” she declared. About what, I ask. Wolves. There is a story that has to come out. A topic. A word-vision.

And I wonder, today, who am I? Writer? Photographer? Activist?

As a new member of Redbud Writer’s Guild, I am choosing discipline in one of these various passions- the work of crafting a vision for writing that has focus and purpose, routine and structure. It is time to stop dabbling through “variety” and create word-visions.

How about you? Surely you share my feelings of being cluttered and fragmented. Have you found clarity in your purpose?