Friday, January 28, 2011

Art or Virtue?

I just finished reading Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan.  The themes of this book are very familiar, but good and necessary to study again.  I'll do a review of it sometime, but today I want to focus on one little paragraph in the book that I disagree with, it's something fairly insignificant and yet for me it reflects a significant shift in my thinking in the past few years.

He is referring to his wife's grandmother, a woman who he says loved Jesus more than anyone he'd ever met.  They are sitting together with some of his wife's relatives, watching a play.  During intermission he asked the grandmother if she was enjoying the play, and she said, "Oh honey, I really don't want to be here right now.  I just don't know if this is where I want to be when Christ returns.  I'd rather be helping someone or on my knees praying.  I don't want him to return and find me sitting in a theater."

I am familiar with this way of thinking.  I do not question this woman's sincere love for Christ, but I disagree with the belief that watching a play- or reading books or playing sports (no, sports somehow are acceptable but I'm not sure why?) or . . . anything other than praying and helping people is unspiritual.  The way that I have seen this perspective play out is faith that is often brittle, pragmatic . . . without elegance or loveliness . . . typically with underlying judgment toward people who do these other things.   People who think this way don't plant trees or study literature or hike the Appalachian Trail.  Education is purely practical and vocation is only a means to an end. Basically, anything that is not praying or helping people- in their narrowly defined form prayer and help- is unspiritual.

(I remember asking my art professor if he felt it was okay to make art and spend so much money on paint when there are so many hungry people in the world, and how clearly annoyed he was with the question!)

I can't really give a chapter and verse, except that I no longer believe that life can be divided.  Everything in life can and should be offered as praise to God- whether you are praying in church or acting in a play or just getting dressed in the morning.

I don't think the play has to somehow have the Roman's Road worked into it, either, only that the art is true.  This is why Christian "art" is so tragically lacking- the narrow definition of what is spiritual has produced some of the most tasteless, meaningless, "untrue" art.

In Bright Evening Star, Madeleine L'Engle makes a comment about the way her friend was raised:
"It was far more important that you live a virtuous Christian life than that you might write Beethovan's Ninth Symphony." 
I have thought a lot about this comment.  Yes, it is the religion I was raised with, too, and it is difficult to break out of this way of thinking.  Does it have to be virtue "or" art?  Can't a life given to praise value- and create- both?

Has anyone else ever struggled with this dichotomy?

Monday, January 17, 2011

a very long story

Written 7/1/10:

Late last night a stranger came to the door
a gold chain and bloodshot eyes
we were waiting for him
and with quiet voices
under one stark light we huddled
around the kitchen table so he could explain to us the contract
read us our rights
and we signed
and signed
and yes and yes
initial here
date here
quietly we accepted

I observed the scene as though removed from it
like watching the trailer for a thriller
(the spy receiving his orders)
or a climactic chapter of a tragedy . . . 
or, simply the beginning of a very long story
which it was

Last night we finalized the purchase of the home we have been living in,


and this is where the poem stopped, mid-sentence, just like that
I thought I knew the rest of the story
the man, his wife, the small town
three little girls in kneesocks, climbing the hill to their elementary school
But the story, as stories do, took an unexpected turn
and what seemed like the rest of the story
was only the beginning
when yesterday we sat at the very table
and signed
and signed again
Yes, and yes 
date here
initial here
just like that the chapter ended
and then we ate pasta 
with tomatoes
harvested in August
reserved for some significant occasion
and this kitchen table
The tomatoes had probably accepted their fate
never expecting
to see

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quick Takes-1/14


I took the For Sale sign out of our yard yesterday and we are supposed to sign papers with a buyer tomorrow, a sweet young family with children.  I am so happy that there will be kids to enjoy the Biggest Loser swingset.  (We think it's actually gonna sell this time- but I haven't started packing yet).

As is my typical approach to change: I wish, I complain, I long for it . . . and then I step up to the ledge and suddenly would like everything to just stay the same, thank-you.


We've been going to swimming lessons on Friday mornings.
This involves three kids: 
fed+dressed+hats+coats+shoes on and in the car
out of the car, out of the hats+coats+shoes+clothes
into the pool
out of the pool
showered (while keeping the baby out of the shower)
dressed+hats+coats+shoes+back in the car.

During the lessons,
one child cries
one simply refuses to get in the pool
one  crawls over wet, dirty floors

I get to sit and talk to my friends for 45 minutes while enjoying (very expensive) babysitting=
worth it.

It has been a cozy, snowy week and I have loved snuggling indoors with only one complaint:
that Mom Guilt that says I should be outdoors playing with my kids in the snow.
I love snow- from the inside.  
I have tried bundling the big girls up and sending them out- sans Mama, but it never works.
So my guilt gets the best of me and I stuff arms and legs into snowsuits and find hats and gloves . . . 
and then I (literally) tackle the baby.
Have you ever tried putting snow pants on a baby?
She hates it- I hate it- 
we are both flopping around on the kitchen floor for at least ten minutes trying to get the darn things on.
Finally, we get outside and what do they want?
To go inside.

Can't we just sip hot cocoa and read books?

Maybe this week we'll stay indoors and try a few of these Ideas to Beat Cabin Fever and Winter Blues.

Speaking of Winter Blues, every year about his time it creeps up on me.  
My blues usually comes in the form of insecurity.  For others it may be jealousy, sadness, anxiety, but I think these are all a form of depression.  
This year I am having a little bit more success at battling it, and though I would like to think that it is because I have finally conquered the Beast, I think that it has more to do with being aware of my potential to fall this time of year, and doing a few things to help myself:
-I have a babysitter two times a week so I can go to an exercise class.
-I plan things to get us out of the house and around friends, at least once a week.
-I read books.
-I try to stay creative: try new recipes, learn something new, do fun things with the girls.
-As much as they wear me out, my kids keep me laughing, keep me healthier, happier, saner.

  I loved this quote from Heidi at Mt. Hope Chronicles:

"If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of the day."

~W. Beran Wolfe

Quick Takes are hosted at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


One year ago I was at my parents' home in Florida.  We had likely come home from the beach or the park and were preparing dinner.  I was reading the Help.  The news was on t.v.

First came the news about an earthquake in Haiti, and as I jumped on facebook in hopes of making sure my friends were okay, I told myself that it was probably just a small one . . . but there was this growing anxiety in me.

The earthquake was far worse than anyone could have imagined.

One year ago today 300,000 people lost their lives.

Today, things are not better in Haiti.

There are no explanations, no words . . .  at the end of our understanding, the end of our vocabulary, we can only bring this huge sorrow to God and long for the day when all shall be well.

Please remember, today, to pray for Haiti.

Plow Monday (on a Wednesday)

Last week the New Year found me still struggling to know how to think about the new year, unsure of what to name the year, still waiting and looking.  And so I gave myself until Plough Monday, the traditional start of the agricultural year, to regain my focus and determine my intentions for the year.  

It was difficult to find the right word for the themes that were running through my head about this year, until it finally occurred to me: Plow.  The idea of a farmer plowing his field is the perfect metaphor for my goals this year:

-at it's most basic, plowing is about moving ahead, do the next thing.  Perseverance.  It is very likely that taking up my plow each day this year will include many ordinary days made up of the basic, ordinary work at hand.  I want to do my work faithfully and without complaining.

-plowing is related to seasons, and one of the things I am learning this year is the Church year and liturgical seasons.   I want to pay attention to my own rhythms and seasons, to live in balance.

-plowing a monotonous, laborious task, but it's essence is in the miraculous: sowing dead seeds and cultivating miraculous life.  I want to notice the holy in the ordinary, the miracles everywhere.

-I hope to faithfully seek to cultivate the hearts and minds of my children to help them become the most alive and healthy little people.  (Spiritually, educationally, emotionally, etc.)

-Plowing is to dig, to look and live beneath the surface.

-To plow is to remove rocks- I want to avoid wasting time, and avoid anything that robs rather than gives life this year.  I am cutting back on facebook and other things that take more life out of me than they give back.  

-Plow deep trust in my God, wait in hope and expectation, looking always to the giver of Life.

- Plowing makes good use of boundaries, I need to keep margins in my life; to know when to say yes and when to say no.

-plowing is deliberate, and unhurried.  This year I want to work on being fully present, not rushing, not attempting to multitask every minute of the day.

-Along with plowing there is the quiet waiting.  I want to cultivate quiet this year.

- Plowing may not appear as risky, and yet what you choose to give your life and time to is your greatest risk.  I am reevaluating all areas of my life to be sure that I am sowing the seeds that I most want to produce, that the soil of my heart is prepared to receive God's word, that the paths I am walking in are leading me to where I want to go.

-Ploughing requires vision.  There is nothing before you but bare earth, but a farmer knows what that dirt is capable of.  I hope to look for the impossible possibilities before me, and give my life to that vision.

A farmer sets out into his fields with intention, faith, and imagination.  I hope this year to grow in all of these ways.

Friday, January 7, 2011

some battles aren't worth fighting

I laughed, looking through our 2010 recap, at how coordinated my kids are in every picture.  Just to keep it real, I thought I'd share a picture of my kids on a typical day . . .

This is the outfit Annie chose today:

Fashion sense seems to run in the family.
(I didn't say the sense was good).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

aliens were texting me last night I am not even kidding

Is anyone else slightly weirded out by the dead birds falling out of the sky?

Well I guess it was on my mind when I fell asleep last night, because in the middle of the night I woke up to a soft, low-frequency humming sound, and I knew exactly what it was.


I lay very still, listening and waiting- for what?
blinking lights?
dead birds falling on the roof?
It sounded like a very quiet vibration, and so finally I got up to check my phone to see if the noise was somehow coming from there.  I noticed that I had an unread text message from a number I didn't recognize.  This is what it said:
"Look first at the base of their skulls and behind their ears.  We're free of them now, but it's been a rough week." 
(I could not make this up). 
I froze.  
Obviously, the English-speaking aliens were communicating, and the message was somehow transmitted to my phone!

I got up and crept from room to room, peering out the blinds, looking for signs of extra terrestrials.

I debated who to call:
the police?
surely Brian Williams would want to know?

As I was thinking I happened to see that I had only read the second part of a text.  The first part read:

Just to let you know, (our son) got lice.  You should check your kids for nits . .. 

 I still don't know what the buzzing noise was, but I am going to stop eating chocolate before I go to bed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the wide white empty

Today the earth is pressed against this wide white emptiness and there is still this gap in me, this hesitation.

I've been thinking about painting.  

I remember in college making the best art when given many rules.  
The still life was constructed.  The lighting already determined. 
 Stand here.  Paint that.  
And so I did.

My fear was the blank canvas and nothing to paint.  
No model, no instructions.  
A painting.  
I'd cringe.  
I still do.

I think that I tend to live my life way, feeling for the boundary.  
Just tell me what to do and I'll do it, I'll find a way to make it mine. 
Whatever it is- make the best of it.  
Bloom where you are planted.

I like limits.

I love the nights when I haven't bought groceries in weeks and our pantry is nearly bare and I see that we have potatoes and I think, ah, potato soup .. . and then I remember I still have a little bacon in the freezer, and a hunk of cheese, and I'll bake bread, and there is that cake mix I need to use, and frozen peaches, and suddenly this is sounding like the best meal all year.

But I can walk through the grocery store unable to think of one thing to make for dinner.

This is Art- 
This is Life:
you find your materials:
the still life of junk-
the ugly sweater-
the lump of clay-
the useless, the forgotten, the awkward, the ordinary- 
the lonely-
 and you work, and rework, and see, and see again, and change directions and look, and turn it upside down and step back and see again . . . you get a cup of coffee and find a new cd and sit down and stand up and look and wait and see . . . and then you dip your brush and your hand is shaking just a little but you're getting a little bit excited too because you're thinking that maybe you've found something- and you keep digging, you keep painting- aware now that you are the magician, redeemer, the fairy godmother . . . releasing, liberating the thing, it's up to you . . . but you're sure now that it's in there . .. the beauty . . . now it's all you can see . . . and you keep painting, or sculpting, or writing, or maybe just waking up every day with all of the life that is in you and trying,
again . . . 
until the beauty comes.

(Picasso- Tomato Plant)

Tonight I am still sitting and looking.  

It is the hardest part: the waiting, the empty canvas . . .
 the search for beauty in what is not beautiful, meaning in what feels meaningless.  
There is no lonelier place than before a blank canvas.

It is an act of faith, 
this making art- 
this making a life.
A long and usually lonely process of waiting,
and looking.

Of believing
and seeing again-
the beauty finds you.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
-Wendell Berry

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

don't take it with you- what the start of a new year really needs

My son goes down in the orchard to incinerate
Burning the day's trash, the accumulation
Of old letters, empty toilet-paper rolls, a paper plate,
Marketing lists, discarded manuscript, on occasion
Used cartons of bird seek, dog biscuit.  The fire
Rises and sinks; he stirs the ashes till the flames expire.

Burn, too, old sins, bedraggled virtues, tarnished
Dreams, remembered unrealities, the gross
Should-haves, would-haves, the unvarnished
Errors of the day, burn, burn the loss
Of intentions, recurring failures, turn
Them all to ash.  Incinerate the dross.  Burn.  Burn.

-Madeleine L'Engle

2010 book wrap-up

Book 24: The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

My first impression of this book was that it was too slow moving and sappy, but the story grew on me and I eventually decided that I liked the book a lot.  It is a rare and impossible love story that you want to believe is true.  Even though the obvious time traveling part is far from logical- but isn't there an element of the unexplainable in all true love?

Book 25:  A Literary Christmas

I didn't finish this book, but it was a great one to read at Christmas for just a story or two at night, when I didn't have time to do a lot of reading anyway.

Book 26:  Grace Based Parenting
This is my favorite Christian parenting book.  It's all about parenting the way God parents us- with tons of grace and second chances.  Highly recommend!

Book 27: How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way
I borrowed this from Sami's preschool.  A good, easy to understand overview of Montessori with solid, practical ways to apply it in the home.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 word of the year: Love

It is the first Monday of the new year, the day to begin with purpose, for launching forward toward new goals. But today I find myself avoiding a new year and new goals.  In 2010, goals were clear- I staggered beneath them.  I would have a baby.  My goals were home and mothering and all that came with it.  

The word I chose for the year was Love: pursuing, learning, and growing in Love; and though I still have such a long way to go in living out love, the year was one long lesson in loving and at the end I am more aware than ever of my lack of love but also perhaps more practiced in loving, hopefully a little less selfish and a little more ready to love.  Although I didn’t intend for family to be the sole focus of this word for the year, they are the daily, constant school for learning the hard work, creativity, and sacrifice that true love requires.  Loving isn’t about feeling good or loving those who love me back, and this year I hope to continue to grow in this area.

These were my other goals for 2010:

In 2010 I hope to . . .
Write everyday I didn’t write every day, but I am satisfied given the circumstances.
Read more books Yes.
Begin to homeschool Sami in a montessori tradition Yes, this goal continues.  I hope to blog about what I am learning about Montessori education.
Decorate/cozy-up our home  a little, but things were put on hold when we learned we’d be moving.
Have baby #3 YES!
Cloth diaper yes (not 100%of the time, but most)
Babywear yes (again, not always but as it worked for us)
Plant a garden yes (it was small, but just right for this year)
Can a few things, especially salsa and tomato sauce no canning- did freezer jam, corn, and a few jars of sauce
Jim to pass his P.E. Exam Yes
Find a way to move overseas. no, but we are moving to Cleveland.

Highlights of 2010:

In January we went to Florida.  We were there when the earthquake happened in Haiti, and my heart this year has been so heavy for Haiti. 

I was very pregnant.  
Greatly pregnant. 
Hugely, shockingly, illogically pregnant.

After we got home it snowed and snowed and snowed and I didn't leave the house for two months.
I have never been more thankful to be snowed in.
They were sweet, gentle days with my oldest two as we waited for the baby, and it is a season I will fondly remember.

This year I have been tired, but I will take sleep-deprived tired over pregnant sick and tired any. day.
We started to go a little bit crazy.

March 11, we were so overjoyed and thankful to Welcome Josie Bloom!

Summer was all of the things summer is meant to be- 
friends and vacations and gardens and family reunions,
and getting to know one sweet baby girl.
We were happy to learn that Jim passed his P.E. Exam.

In August Ginny and I met and decided that it was time to let tuscMom go . . . it was the night before Jim's interview, and I left thinking "we are moving to Cleveland."
Sure enough, he got the job and we began preparing to leave the country and move to the city.

In the fall, Sami began to attend preschool.
One Southern Belle turned 5 and Minnie Mouse turned 3.  
The cat fussed.
We sold our house twice.  Then didn't.

I don't write often about my parents on this blog, but they are very much a part of our lives and make everything happier.  We will miss being so close to them when we move.

We had one of our nicest Christmases ever,
and maybe the best week of the year last week spending time with good friends in town.

Looking back over 2010 I am amazed and silenced with gratitude for God's goodness, and mostly His Presence with us, over and under, behind and before us.
2010 was a devastating, heartbreaking year for so many,
but for us there was so much joy and I do not know what to do with that, where to put the contradiction, how to be both weeping and rejoicing . .. 
and yet I am.  We do.  
I pray for mercy.  I give thanks.
Maybe this is love.
The paradox- weeping in one hand, rejoicing in the other-
being present in both, and all that is between.

As I begin going forward into 2011 I am a bit unsure where to start, what to expect for the coming year-
a part of me wondering who I am now, in this new season--
still considering what my word of the year will be,
what goals to set . . .
looking forward anyway.