Do Good.

Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good. Learning-Grace.com

This is long overdue. It’s just taken me awhile to get this one together.

2015 came to a close with the feeling that evil was running rampant. Peruse my blog a bit and you’ll see my thoughts on the goings on of the world these last few months. Then, just days after Christmas I learned from a childhood friend that her sister (also close to me in childhood) lost her battle with depression, leaving her family, her three young children bereft. In the current culture of mud slinging and blame, hate and bigotry, it certainly feels like evil is getting the upper hand. And while I know that this is not true in the end, it is easy to be overwhelmed.

Then, the other morning I read this: “Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21, NLT).

Do good. That’s it. There’s no grand gesture required to overcome evil, just to do good. And so alongside my word for the year, discipline, this has become my prayer for this year: God, help me to do good.

As the mother of two small children I can’t just drop and volunteer, I don’t have tons of money to donate, but I can seek opportunities to do good. I can help a friend who needs childcare in a pinch, send a note of encouragement, stop and hold the door, just pay it forward. I’m not naïve. This will not bring an end to institutionalized racism. It will not bring ISIS to its knees. It will not make Donald Trump humble and speechless. It will draw me closer to my neighbor and it may help them to do likewise.

And really, that’s all we can do—seek opportunity to do good and go from there. The people who spearhead charities and start programs and ministries that make incredible impacts on their community and the world —you know, the ones featured in documentaries and movies—all began with someone looking for an opportunity to do good and then following through with it.

Visit the website of your favorite charity and check out the history and you’ll see it. Feeding America is an organization of 200 food banks, the first of which was started by a retired business man who, while volunteering at a soup kitchen in the 1960s listened to the suggestion of a woman struggling to feed her children to organize the food grocery stores throw out so that others can use it. Save the Children, which is active in 120 countries, began after World War I when Eglantyne Jebb was arrested for handing out leaflets showing how children were suffering in blockaded countries. The judge was so impressed with her mission that he paid her fine, which Jebb turned into the first donation to help starving children in Europe. And the stories could go on. These were regular people who just had their eyes open for ways they could do good for others.

Go forth and do good. It may not change the world overnight. But you won’t know until you try.

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The Choices We Make: Moms and Careers

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made. Learning-Grace.com

A mom friend recently posted on a parents Facebook group, asking fellow parents how they knew when it was time to go back to work after having kids and if they returned to their former careers. A very long, honest, and beautiful conversation flowed from that post about the choices we, particularly women, have to make, what we wish we knew, and how can we be there for our kids.

More than one woman wrote that she wished someone had told her that you really can’t do it all when motherhood enters the picture. Some really hard choices have to be made.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s many of us cut our teeth on the idea that we could be anything we wanted to be: entrepreneur, businesswoman, doctor, lawyer, scientist, with the assumption that we could have a family life, too. We were not tied to the same gender roles of our mothers. The world is a better place for it. But, many of us didn’t realize the impact of the mommy track until it was too late.

One comment on that Facebook thread read:

I wish instead of my mom telling me to go for my dreams and I can do anything a man can do. I wish she would have told me one day I may have a family and the juggle is hard so maybe focus on a career with flexibility—no one told me this. And I did not anticipate it at all and was smacked in the face HARD with this reality when going back full-time.

We were told that we could have it all: rewarding career, family, health, wealth, happiness. We were given the idea that as women we could do it all, too.

We can’t.

Psst, it’s not just you—no one can.

We all know we have to make choices in life, but this is one that so many of us never expected to make. When you work hard to climb the corporate ladder, establish yourself in your field; when you feel like you have this thing that is all yours—your career, your reputation, your professional niche—it is heartbreaking to watch it slip through your fingers because you made another beautiful choice—to have children, to become a mother.

We all deal with it differently. I left the traditional workforce when I had a good opportunity to start my own freelancing business, knowing my current occupation just was not compatible with family life. The vast majority of my coworkers (men and women) were either single, like myself, or married with no children or with grown children. The job was all-consuming and, while extremely rewarding, required one to make work the first priority. And so, when I realized that I might be starting a family in the near future, I stepped away as gracefully as possible. Do I miss it? Yes, terribly sometimes. But when I calculate the personal toll of returning to this line of work, I decide to stay put and work on my own businesses until I see something that feels right for all of us.

Other mom friends go back at two to three months after having their babies. They struggle mightily with this. They endure their coworkers’ sideway glances when they leave at 5:00 on the dot to pick up their little ones from daycare, or close their ears to gossip about their extra breaks to pump milk. They are passed over for deserved promotions because they are seen as less committed for taking care of their families. Some friends have changed to jobs that have fewer rewards but greater flexibility to try and find the middle ground. All of us career-women-turned-moms fear our years of hard work, education, and skill building will be lost if we take too much of a break—that we’ll lose our worth.

And that is nothing more than a lie.

Our worth cannot be found in what we are to other people: a worker, a professional, a caretaker, a provider. Our worth is in who we are: loving and compassionate; caring and committed. At home or at the office, know your worth. It is far more than you can imagine.

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Discipline

It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work. Learning-Grace.com

Discipline. It’s not a fun word. In fact, discipline is not fun at all. But it is the key to a lot of life’s rewards. To be truly good at anything, it requires discipline: disciplined eating, disciplined exercise, disciplined learning, disciplined practice. It’s only through discipline that things become truly fun and enjoyable. But first comes the work.

This is why discipline is my word for 2016. There are so many things that I want to accomplish, but haven’t for lack of discipline. I’m kicking it off with disciplined eating. I’m currently on day 20 of the Whole30. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a 30-day eating plan to change your relationship with food—no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol, no sugar (even honey or maple syrup), and here’s the kicker: no snacking. And, I need to change my relationship with food. I love it a bit too much and I treat myself way too often. I’m so thankful that Ken decided to do this with me, for the most part. It’s helped a ton to have some extra support. And we’re reaping great rewards for our discipline. As we near the end of our 30 days, we’re thinking of what parts of this do we want to keep and what parts do we want to change.

In February, I’m going to work to keep the healthy eating going while adding getting up at least 30 minutes earlier (and going to bed earlier, too!) to my list. I need some time to pull myself together before the kids wake up. This is also when my creative brain is at its best, and when I do this I have a much more productive day. So, I need to make this a habit. March will be exercise. I don’t know what April will bring. This is as far as I’ve gotten.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m all for reflection. And as I barely survived the marathon that is December and thought about what needs to change so I can begin accomplishing all that unfinished business that I feel like is out there, I realized that my biggest stumbling block is discipline. I can excuse myself out of almost anything and it’s time for me to get it together and start making some changes. So, now that I’ve told you, you can hold me to it.

Discipline. It feels like a drag, but I know it’s going to open a door to some incredible freedom.

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I have no words. by Michelle Okabayashi www.learning-grace.com

I have no words.

I have no words; I have too many words. And so I have said nothing.
Parisians. Lebanese. Kenyans. Iraqis. Syrians.
All crafted by the same God.
They bleed the same blood. They weep the same tears.

While others draw lines in the sand.

Hate. Love. Fear. Intermingled, confused.
The enemy and the victim look the same—to some.

Whom do you embrace?
Whom do you shun?
Who is worth the risk?

I am grieved.
I am moved.
Plunged deep beyond an anchor’s reach.

The hate scares me most: irrational and dangerous.
A torch waving too close to the tinder.

When fear overcomes love.
When “Christians” cower and spew hate.
Is this how we were created to be? Is this our witness?

Oh God, let it be not so.
Let your truth rise above.
Let it drown out the cacophony of hate.

Let your love surround. Heal. Forgive.
Shore up those whose lives have been burst.

Send your ambassadors, the ones with your word engraved on their hearts.
Rise up the fearless ones who know your perfect love is the necessary balm.

 

© 2015 Michelle Okabayashi. All rights reserved.

Sophomore Parent

If you ever feel like you know something for certain, your child will soon inform you otherwise. It seems to be best to approach every situation with a good helping of humility. learning-grace.com

Many of us have heard the saying: Freshman think they know but they don’t. Sophomores know they don’t know. Juniors don’t know that they know. And seniors, well, seniors know.

I think parents never get past the sophomore level. There are freshmen parents and there are sophomore parents and that’s it. And, frankly the freshmen parents are the ones that give most of us a bad name. If you ever feel like you know something for certain, your child will soon inform you otherwise. It seems to be best to approach every situation with a good helping of humility.

I’m a member of several online parenting communities and I see this dynamic a lot. Earlier this year while potty training S I hit a wall. I was using the same tactics I used with J, but she is a different child and they just weren’t going to work for her. She had firmly given up diapers, but she wanted nothing to do with the potty. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I turned to one of my online mommy groups for some advice. What I got instead was a pile of mommy shame: I was giving S M&Ms as a reward. (She’s highly motivated by chocolate like her mother.) I was told that was my problem. I was told she was too young, that this could be emotionally damaging. I was told that I clearly wasn’t showing enough enthusiasm to get her excited about the potty. I was told … oh you name it.

The fact is no one knows what’s going on in a two-year-old’s mind—or really in any child’s mind. Parenting is a delicate balance of love and discipline. We have to be a model of authority, setting limits, providing guidance and humility, while also recognizing and honoring the autonomy of the little person before us. If this gets out of balance, we’re sunk.

And so, in my quest to get S out of diapers (well, she had already decided she was done with them) and using the toilet, I went looking for others who might have experienced a similar circumstance to see what worked for them. There’s a great sense of community as well as alot of wisdom and experience in these groups, and the wonder that is social media brought us together. But there’s also a lot of room for these forums to be used for something else: a place to make yourself feel superior, to push for one way of being and doing, to criticize or harass.

And it’s not just on social media, I run into this on the playground, in playgroups, and other places.

It is easier and may even feel more rewarding to be the one with all the answers, or at least seem like it. God knows I have played this role far too often in my life. It’s much more comfortable for me to appear in the know, invulnerable. My tendency is to keep my cards close to my chest. I feel safe that way. However,  it’s not rewarding the long run. It may feel good today, but it’s when you acknowledge your need for other people that community is built and wisdom is gained. It’s in the asking, the searching together that community develops.

Parenting is forcing me out of my safe role because my kids challenge me beyond what I could possibly know each and every day. It does take a village to raise a child and no one is an island, and all those pithy phrases. They are born out of truth. We need each other. One person’s wisdom is never enough.

So, I need to remember that I’m not only a sophomore parent, I’m also a sophomore in life—always aware that there is so much more to learn and a community to learn it from.

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Inside Out

Inside Out

Sometimes when we’re walking, Ken and the kids run ahead and I just stop and watch the three of them, my heart beating wildly. They are pieces of me, my heart, out there in the open.

I feel inside out.

What was once on the inside, protected within me is now out, running free down the sidewalk where God knows what could happen. I didn’t know having a family could do this to me. I didn’t know it was possible to love so much that I actually do feel as if I could burst.

J and S run,  laughing and playing their sibling games. They fall down and bounce right back up. They don’t know I’m constantly scanning the driveways, watching for things that may cause them to trip, or broken glass on the sidewalk. That every time they fall I catch my breath for a second while I figure out if it’s major or minor. They just are filled with joie de vivre. I’m not all worry and woe. They make me run, laugh, and love in ways I never considered. They bring out my best parts. (And sometimes the worst ones, too—but we’re not talking about that, today.)

And this is where I have to pause and remember that we are grounded and we are raising our kids to be the same. We have roots that will tether us when hardship comes. Oh God, I hope they will.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

This passage has been my tether in many a storm. We do have a future with a hope. And I love to see it bounding down the street.

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Real Food for Real Families

Why we eat unprocessed food and why I became a Pampered Chef consultant. www.learning-grace.com

I became a Pampered Chef consultant this month. If someone told me I’d be doing this even six months ago, I’d probably tell my friend to shut up. All our journeys take surprising turns that make sense in retrospect. So, here’s the backstory:

Ken and I enjoy food and I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I’m also very interested in how what we eat affects us. In the fall of 2013, around the time J was diagnosed with autism, I began seriously looking into various diets and how they could help. I have seen how diets like Feingold can be game changers for some kids. So, after quite a bit of research we decided to cut as much processed food from our diet as we could. I started reading labels. I did a lot of research. I felt really overwhelmed, so I just took it one step at a time. The blog 100 Days of Real Food helped me a lot.

I started with our baked goods (stop right now and go read the side of your bread bag, that’s a long list, isn’t it?). I figured out how to make our own 100% whole wheat bread and tortillas, I’ve even made bagels. And then I moved on to change other things. Over time, we ditched just about everything that comes from a box. I admit—a few items have made tBagel-making is fun! If I can do it, you can do it, too. www.learning-grace.comheir way back into our lives lately. It’s a constant balancing act.

The differences we saw in J’s behavior and especially his eating habits amazed us. Before we eliminated processed foods, he would only eat about five or six foods. I hesitated to make the switch to whole, unprocessed foods because I didn’t know what he’d eat. But we tried it out, anyway. We were amazed to see how his palate changed in about a week. Suddenly he was eating a wider variety of healthier foods. Even today, if we go on vacation and the kids eat lot of processed foods, they’ll become super picky until I get us back on track.

It’s taken a lot of learning and kitchen experiments to find a liveable balance for us. I don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen, and we don’t have a huge grocery budget. (We are also New Yorkers and don’t have a car, so our shopping choices are limited.) You will find some convenience foods in our kitchen, but I’d say our diet is probably 80–90% unprocessed foods.

During this time, I’ve found myself talking to others struggling with some of the same things: how to provide their families with whole healthful meals with limited time and money. And I’ve found that helping others make these same changes is a passion of mine. But, I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or chef. I’m just someone who’s read and tried a lot of different approaches. I’ve thought about a bunch of different ways to incorporate food into the next iteration of my career, but all of them require a large up-front investment of time and money, both of which are in short supply these days.

Then, a couple of months ago I was invited to a Pampered Chef party, and it clicked. I love Pampered Chef products—they are truly innovative and help make cooking easier. The quality is also great—I have some Pampered Chef stoneware that’s old enough to vote, and I use it every week. Being a Pampered Chef consultant would also provide a way for me to talk about eating real whole foods and how to make it possible for everyday families, while getting some good tools in their hands to make this leap feasible.

So, here I am a new Pampered Chef consultant, having parties and learning the ropes! I started a Facebook Page, if you want to follow this particular journey of mine.

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Being Present

There are a lot of times when I should let go and enjoy the moment. I get too caught up on the end result or what’s next, to remember where I am.

After an exciting weekend of breaking in a new scooter, waffles from his favorite restaurant, a kid’s play, the farmer’s market, and a trip to a really cool playground, I asked J what was his favorite thing from the weekend. He replied, “cutting carrots with mommy.”

We had made applesauce carrot muffins together in what I thought was a near disaster (as cooking with toddlers always is). I was impatient and losing my cool as S and J threw flour and fought about who could stir. They took turns putting carrots into the food processor (in the chute, while it was off). J ran away every time I pushed the button to shred them because he didn’t like the sound. That 20 minutes with a half-crazy mommy somehow trumped all the wonderful stuff we did that weekend.

It was humbling, to say the least.

I should have relaxed a bit and enjoyed that moment. There are a lot of times when I should just let go, enjoy, and be present. I get too caught up on the end result or what’s next, to remember where I am. I miss out on the magnificent cherry blossom display overhead because I’m staring at my phone. I’m rushing the kids while they stop to inspect an ant on the way to the grocery store. I’m sitting on the couch, holding hands with my husband after the kids have gone to bed thinking about the dishes in sink. I rush through so many experiences that could have been so much more meaningful because I am too focused on something other than the present moment.

 If I had known that this was going to be the highlight of J’s weekend, I would have found a few more carrots (and maybe some zucchini) to toss into the food processor.

Thinking back, I remember S and J having fun while throwing carrots down the food processor chute, but I didn’t really stop to enjoy it with them. I was concentrating on getting to the end of the muffin making so I could move on to something else. I can’t even remember what it was right now—that’s how important it was.
Maybe we’ll cut some more this afternoon.

Our constant connectivity to people and events that are elsewhere takes us away from what’s right in front of us. I know saying this is nothing new, it’s just something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. I think I’m going to make “cutting carrots” my new mantra to help me remember to stop thinking about where I’m not and just be where I’m at.

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What I want to tell my kids about #Baltimore

What I want to tell my kids about Baltimore

My kids are too young to understand and ask questions about what’s happened in Baltimore, but know the day will come and it will be here sooner than I think.

Right now, my sphere of influence is small, but my job is big. I have these two little people who will one day be adults in the world. How can I teach them so they will be ready for it? I want them to be a part of the solution that stops this spinning wheel of oppression and violence, instead of mindlessly pushing it down the road as it has been for far too long.

I know that as biracial kids, they are going to experience the world very differently than me. These are some things I plan to tell them about injustice when the time comes, because institutional racism still prevails and it will continue for as long as sin is in the world. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will be misjudged, mishandled and killed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore is not the first city to burn, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. I know this will not be one conversation, but a lifetime of them.

I’m going to tell them that this is sin being played out on the world stage. We are not listening to God; we are not living as God created us to live. We have forgotten that we are all made in God’s image. We are all worthy of love and respect and dignity. The person next to you needs it as much as you do (and possibly more).

People forget that there’s enough to go around and so they instead look to put someone else down to lift themselves up. People are afraid of being less-than. They forget that we are all more-than because we are redeemed. We are God’s and we are called to a high standard.

I’m going to tell my children that when people are oppressed for a long period of time, they can be like popcorn. It just takes some heat and they explode. We don’t know what’s been going on inside that kernel, for we can’t fully know another’s experience. But it has been packed too tight for too long and in the right conditions it can’t stay that way anymore.

There are people who have been bullied because their parents were bullied and their parent’s parents were bullied. They’ve been bullied so long and so badly that they have been pushed to the margins. They can’t find jobs to feed their families. They don’t have good homes to live in and their kids don’t have nice schools. But they see people every day who have the things they have been denied. It makes them angry and sad, rightfully so.

Some people have just been bullied so long and pushed aside, that bulling them seems like the right thing to do. It’s not. Just because something has been one way for a long time does not make it right.

Sometimes the only way we think we can be heard is to yell and throw a tantrum. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the attention you want or need. There are right ways and wrong ways to get attention. We can get so frustrated that we forget about right and wrong, because we just want to be heard.

People may look and speak differently, they live in different neighborhoods or types of homes, but they are really just like you and me. They love their children. They want to provide for their families. They want to work and be productive, but it is very hard because other people keep thinking the worst of them.

That’s not how God sees them. We need to listen to God. We need to try our hardest to love like God. God made all of us: black, white, brown. And God wants the best for us. The best way for us to do this is to treat everyone with love and look out for those who are not treated as well as others. Just as we need to go out of our way to speak up for a friend who is getting bullied on the playground and show extra kindness to him or her, we need to do the same for our neighbors who may be experiencing the same thing in life.

I want to tell them that police officers are like us, too. They have a lot of power because they enforce the rules, keep our community orderly and safe, and they carry guns that should be used very rarely (if at all). There are all kinds of people who are police officers. Most are good people. They have been given an important job to protect us and keep our communities orderly and safe. They are the ones who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve the communities where they work. However, like with any group of people there are a few who do not do their job well or abuse their power to bully other people. They need to be held accountable for their actions, like everyone else.

I know these notes only scratch the surface. Even as I write, I struggle with the right words that give respect and love where they are due and where they have been sorely lacking for far too long. We leave a legacy to our kids—for better and for worse—let’s teach them so they don’t repeat our mistakes and so they can leave a better legacy for the generation that follows.

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Pizza, Love, and Marriage

 Making Pizza is our thing.

Pizza helps keep us together. Seriously. We both love it. We started making it for ourselves at some point in our dating relationship. It soon became a Sunday night ritual that we keep to this day. If we miss our pizza night, we feel “off” as a couple. Making pizza is our thing. Certainly, more than pizza holds us together. (One would hope!) Cooking together helps us reconnect and remember ourselves in the midst of the madness that is life.

Our study of pizza has been quite extensive. We’ve eaten everything from dollar slices to historic pies to gourmet.

We’ve taken Scott’s Pizza Tours, which is still one of the best tours I’ve taken since living in New York. If you ever get the opportunity to take one of his tours . . . do it. Scott the only person I’ve met who loves pizza more than we do. 

We’ve watched YouTube videos and read cookbooks and even taken a class from The Brooklyn Kitchen, which gave us some mad pizza skillz.

Around 4:00 on Sunday I make the dough and then the kids’ dinner. Right before bedtime, I fire up the oven. While I’m singing good night songs to the kids, Ken makes the sauce and preps the toppings. Then, once the kids are snug in their beds, we get to work.

I’m not very good at using the peel to slide the pizza onto our little circular stone (which is how you’re supposed to do it), so we’ve come up with a compromise. We preheat the stone for about 30 minutes and then we get everything ready. I pull out the hot stone and we assemble the pizza as fast as possible before putting it back in the oven to cook. Our fastest assembly time is just under three minutes.

Pizza making is a dance and we each know our parts:

  1. I pull the stone out of the oven.
  2. Ken scatters cornmeal.
  3. I put down the dough.
  4. Ken spreads the sauce.
  5. We add the toppings (about three), taking turns.
  6. Ken adds the cheese.
  7. I put it in the oven.
  8. Ken sets the timer.
  9. We set the table and pour the wine.
  10. I pull the pizza out of the oven.
  11. Ken cuts it and serves.

We’re a pizza making team, and we work together effortlessly. I can’t explain it, but somehow this weekly ritual grounds us and helps us to reconnect, even in some of the most stressful times. Maybe it’s the reminder that even when we feel like we’re stepping on each other’s toes at every turn, we’ve still got it.

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