Friday, January 25, 2013

more than

productivity kills creativity- Amy Sullivan

Christianity without arrogance-

25 point manifesto for sanity in 2013-the ever wise Ann Voskamp

the cynic and the circle maker- How to Talk Evangelical

the scandal of the evangelical heart-Rachel Held Evans

For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Luke 12.23 

I love this little verse and it occurs to me that maybe this is why I blog- what I am trying to sort out or understand or proclaim by writing here. That life is more than food, the body is more than clothes . . . that everything we do is more than what we think it is, this realm that we move in more than we can see or name- that in Jesus life is wildly precious and meaningful and secure. May we continue to look to the ravens and lilies and discover the kingdom.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12.32

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

children online

This morning my house is bursting with the joyful sounds little girls. An animal rescue shelter has been set-up in a closet, and stuffed animals are strewn from one end of the house to another. I am folding laundry and listening to their chatter, and I just want to wrap myself in their innocence, in the sweetness of words free from guile and the purity of fresh minds. Now as I type the littlest comes to stand beside me. She lays her head on my lap waiting to be picked up, and when I do she nuzzles her nose into my neck and I breathe in her hair and think, O God how will I ever protect these children from our evil world?
Evil has always twisted our world, I have no illusions about that. Every generation has seen its own darkness, has feared its own fears. But I don’t know that evil has always leaned so close, or been so accessible.
This week I learned a terrible thing. I wonder how even to write about the subject without a filter, but no filter can be given, and parents, we cannot hide from this issue. This week a friend discovered that her seven year old child has been viewing pornography on the internet.
Don’t tsk tsk. These parents could have been you or I. They are you and I. And their child could be any of our children.
First, understand the kind of parents we are talking about. Concerned. Involved. Protective. Super involved in their church. They are shocked, as any of us would be, and deeply sad and reeling from this discovery. I know these parents and they cannot be accused of neglecting their kids. Their tragic error in all of this is something that most of us have done, and do, on a regular basis: they handed their child the ipad. The same could happen on a parent’s phone, or any gadget that connects to the internet.
I look at my ipad: Bugs and Buttons. Peekaboo Barn. The Wheels on the Bus. PBS kids. These are the apps I assume my children are playing when they are on the ipad, I have no reason to think that evil lurks just under their fingertips, right?
This mother believes it began with one of the games downloaded for children, she thinks it was Angry Birds. Somehow the games can connect you to videos on youtube about the game. Innocent enough. As anyone who has spent any time at all on youtube knows, however, those little videos connect you to other videos, and any of us, five years old or eighty-five, are only one intentional or unintentional finger-touch away from images that no one should see. This parent believes that the child first happened upon the videos by accident, but then learned how to search for them in Safari. It is quite easy to click off a screen when a parent peeks over a shoulder.
The very fact that five, six, seven year old children can access this material, right in our own living rooms, right under the very watchful and protective eye of their parents, is infuriating. I cannot bear to think of it, the innocence of babes being shattered at this early age, children who care about rescuing stuffed animals and leaning on their mamas venturing, without warning, into dark worlds.
Parents, please, if your home is connected to the internet there are some very simple things you can do to protect your kids. On your ipad go to Settings> General > Restrictions and turn off Safari. You may need to turn off YouTube separately. If the child must for some reason connect to the internet, software can be downloaded to block inappropriate content. I would caution you to actually see for yourself how comprehensively it blocks adult material. A version of youtube on our ipad is meant to be safe for children, but a few basic keyword searches easily brought up pornographic videos.

The internet is a new world and we are the first generation of parents who must grapple with how to protect our children, how to guard their innocence and childhood. We cannot be too vigilant. If we choose to do nothing, the question is not if our children will stumble upon inappropriate content, but when. And it will probably happen much sooner than we ever would expect.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

room for more

Last night some friends came over for dinner. I made a pot of soup and someone brought bread, someone brought dessert. We don't have enough chairs so the kids ate first and then the adults sat down together, I don’t have enough plates so we had to wash a few when the kids were done.
I love nothing more on these long cold winter nights than to gather. Bring your children, your store-bought pie, your frazzled and weary week and come, take your coat off, sit a while. We’ll light candles, the children will be too loud and the table too small but we will come together anyway, and in the friction and rub of our passing plates and conversations over the cutting board, of elbows bumping at the table and children running, we will kindle together a warmth of friendship to sustain us another long dark week.
It is in these cold grey days that my mind wanders to the tropical streets of Haiti. To go anywhere in Haiti requires hailing a tap-tap- a small truck- scrambling onto the back with the help of outstretched arms. Always too many, the truck groaning and swaying, you settled in for the ride perched onto the knees and laps of strangers, arranging yourself clumsily around baskets of mangos, a chicken in the lap. The sweaty air of humanity. Always there was warmth and greeting, smiles and laughter. And you would swear that truck had reached capacity ten people prior, but it would come to a screeching halt anyway, more and more people waiting to get on, more hands reaching to pull them, no room but always room for one more.  

I was both young enough and idealistic enough to find this the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced.

I was not worthy of Haiti, I came home. It is ten years now and what can I do but remember; red, green, yellow, tropical blue swaying in the sunlight, the lovely brown skin and laughing eyes, hands pulling and shifting to make room for one more; always, always room for one more.
It is painful now, to think of Haiti from my cozy three-bedroom American home with a garage and two vehicles, two cars which easily would carry dozens and dozens of people but they are reserved rather for three carseats, a gaggle of stuffed animals, leaking sippy cups and the litter of granola bars and fruit snacks. God forgive us.
What can I do? I ask myself all the time. How embarrassing it is! To be so rich and still so empty, so powerless, my money a drop in a bucket, a grain of rice spilled on the sultry city street. All I can offer Haiti is my humility, my lack, my unfading love however unrequited.
There is one more thing I can do, that I try to do, and fail, but keep trying and that is to make room. There is always room for one more. I want to live this. If I can offer anything at all to the world, my love letter to Haiti, it is that I will make room, there is always room for one more.
It is the God I serve, who feeds five thousand and it is the call of motherhood, to make room for life. I hope I will remember to live this, keeping room at our table or in our home, hopefully more in our hearts and spirits. This is the poverty that Christ calls blessed; for this is the kingdom of Heaven.

Updated: 1/23/13

Please read this article via Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town: Letter From Haiti: Life in the Ruins

Saturday, January 19, 2013

saturday midwinter

Here's the Soup for this chilly midwinter Saturday . . .


I wanted to mention in some way the three-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti last weekend, but didn't. It's a week overdue, but please read Ruth's post reflecting on grief and Haiti three years later, and also her poem, This Quilt.

Church Words: Member at Deeper Church
I wonder what would happen if rather than viewing our churches as institutions where we plop down and pay taxes, we entered with the understanding that our mere presence means we are joining a membership, a living order where bad sermons and good pot-lucks, wise pastors and grumpy pew-mates, dry seasons and fits of joy all contribute to the long narrative, the long membership. This membership is not a means to some other vision; it is itself the good work, the beautiful narrative enacted by the gracious amalgamation of misfit souls.
Brave Moms Raise Brave Kids- Jen Hatmaker  I completely agree, but I'd like to not have to be brave for a few more years. . . please?

Why We're Doing This, Part Ten at Across the Page
So what keeps us at it?
Simply this: the most valuable education is happening at the edges and in the cracks, in the experience of togetherness. By that, I don’t mean that throwing out curriculum and pedagogy and focusing on warm feelings of affection are all that matter in a child’s education. I mean that, as with other aspects of life, perspective is everything.

Arty Kids:  Family Portrait Collage I think we will do this for Jim for his birthday this week, super cute and a nice way to use all those great Melissa & Doug boxes that I can't bring myself to throw out.

In the Kitchen: I haven't posted about our Christmas dinner, so thought I would do so now even though it's a few weeks late. We alternate years with families for the holidays, but Jim's family is far away and this year it so happened that most of my family wouldn't be going anywhere on Christmas, so we invited everyone to Christmas at our house. It was so much fun. Here was the menu:

First a cheese board based on Ina Garten's Ploughman's Lunch, with roasted brussel sprouts, radishes, and roasted beets with feta.

For dessert Jim made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guiness Cake 

And I made one of our favorite dishes, Chicken, Mushroom, and Leek Fricassee for dinner. Simple and delicious. Here's the recipe:
Need: 2 lg chicken breasts, cut into 1"pieces, 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, 8 oz sliced mushrooms, 1 small leek, 2 tsp fresh tarragon or 1 tsp dried, 1/3 c. dry white wine, 1/3 c. whipping cream
Sprinkle chicken with salt & pepper. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, leek, and tarragon. Saute 8 min. Add wine and cream. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 2 min. Uncover, simmer until mushrooms and leek are tender and sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon, about 2 min. Season with salt and pepper. Round out with rice and steamed asparagus.
I used an idea from The Splendid Table for the tablecloth: brown butcher paper with places drawn for each person, set-out markers for doodling and later (much later, as I still haven't), cut-out and mail each guest's place to them as a memory of the dinner. For "luxurious" napkins, she suggests cutting pieces of material very generously, (mine were maybe 24 x 30?) leaving the ends frayed. I happened to have a big stack of Christmas-y flannel and this worked perfectly.

After dinner my aunt took the kids upstairs to prepare for their Nativity play, complete with uncles as donkeys. Love my family.

mid winter
I love the middle of January. Love. It. I need to remember this- the middle two weeks of January are the calmest weeks of the year. December is a blur, and the first week of January every single year is a disaster. The kids crash from too much sugar and excitement, every year they get sick, and don't sleep, and the house is a wreck. Finally, by the second week we've begun to recover. The house is refreshingly empty with the decorations taken down, and blessed calm settles over everyone.

This week the little ones played quietly together for hours, Hours!, while Sam and I did school, and Josie took long naps and they all slept at night. We have been playing games, making art and reading books, and snuggling under blankets, with very little on the agenda, and for right now, for just a few weeks, that is just perfect.

Have a calm + restful weekend, friends.

May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love 
and Christ's perseverance. 
2 Thes 3:5

Thursday, January 17, 2013

what I'm reading in January

Give a mom a goal . . .
say, a book to write,
or a thousand-ish ideas for blog posts- so many that it crosses her mind to begin a new blog dedicated purely to the subject . . .
this is what will happen:

her computer will need fixed. this will take three days.
one child will get sick.
another will get an ear infection.
her internet will go down.
the next available repair appointment is in three days.

she will run out of coffee.
(yes. repeat three times).

this mother will be forced to watch The Bachelor at night and question the meaning of her existence.

at the same time,
she will experience one of the most peaceful weeks in all of motherhood,
and as she sits sipping her tea it will occur to her
that maybe living offline is nice
but she really needs that cup of coffee.


So the food and travel series won't be happening consecutively in January as I'd originally thought, but I do hope to blog on the subject and I would love to read your thoughts and stories about these experiences. If you have a blog post related to the experience of food or travel, send me a link at any time for a link-up.


#1The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

I really like Tim Keller and this book was very readable, I would recommend this to anyone attempting to understand what the Bible says about marriage. The chapter written by his wife Kathy on gender roles was excellent especially for anyone who may have a negative assumption of the Biblical view of submission and authority. I found the first section of the book especially good as Keller attempts to describe what marriage is and what it is not, as modern people have either "cosmically impossible expectations" or deep ambivalence toward marriage.
The reason that marriage is so painful and wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God's saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God's mercy and grace.
However. Maybe it is because I grew up in the church, but I did not find the rest of the book to be anything I was not already quite familiar with. And like I said, for anyone who does not already have a Scriptural basis for marriage, this book is the best place to start. But that's what the book is- theological, and it left me wishing, as most theology does, for something more. (This came close to being redeemed however by the fact that he quoted both Jane Eyre and Wendell Berry).

#2 Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

The subtitle to this book is, What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? and yes, Thomas goes to great lengths to make his case that God's purpose for marriage is to help us deepen our relationship with God and to make us more like Christ. (But like a friend said, it doesn't sound like much fun! heh) He takes more of a heart approach than Keller to navigating the "long conversation" of marriage, and makes some interesting parallels between marriage and our relationship with God. I was challenged throughout the book especially how marriage teaches us to love, and in living with an eternal perspective.

My complaint is that I have a hard time believing anyone who cannot offer personal examples. The greatest failure he was willing to describe was that on his wife's birthday the first year they were married he only bought her three books, not knowing that she doesn't like books as much as he does. (Really? Wow.) Another time he describes a stressful morning before church when he had to preach four times, and had to break up a fight with his kids and when he got to church was really frazzled and asked some people to pray for him so he could preach. (I give up). Because his own marriage seems so rosy, it makes it difficult to buy his premise that marriage is not also about happiness.

Whew. And now I am in need of some fiction.

#3 Remembering by Wendell Berry

This wasn't my favorite Port William novel, but it was lovely as always. It tells the story of Andy Catlett who lost his hand in a farming accident a few months prior, and reminded me of my grandfather who lost his right arm in a very similar farming accident. Also in the book he drives between Columbus Ohio and Pittsburgh, along the way he stops and spends some time with an amish man with the last name of Troyer, likely around the area where I grew up. I could imagine him standing in my grandfather's fields and having this conversation, understanding his lament of "progress" and nostalgia for the simpler life. Although I don't think my grandfather was philosophical in his farming practices, I know that he was thoughtful and slow to change. This is a conversation I wish I'd had with my grandfather.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


i woke up thinking about rice.
sticky rice and sauces i cannot name
and the golden-grey dusk
of a town i cannot name because
we weren't quite sure where we were
only that we were hungry

there was one light
on a misty street
we went in
it could have been a cafe
or a birthday party
a twinkly-eyed grandmother's house
with tables and tables of relatives
either way they made room
parting the benches
rinsing their bowls for us
steaming ladles
dipped from the grass and sea and sediment
 of time
 offered with twinkling eyes
and secrets
and words we did not know
we seemed only a mild inconvenience
somehow expected

and were their eyes laughing
i've always wondered
as we offered coins we could not count
with thankful nods and smiles
these American visitors
who happened upon Heaven
and tasted
for only one meal
knowing we would go back
to our familiar streets
and towns
and time
hungering always
for something we cannot name

(the month of January has me thinking about food, travel, hospitality, heaven, and how they all mix together. I'll be writing more on these topics in January. Anyone care to travel with me? Leave a link in the comments to a post related to any of these- the experience of food, travel, or hospitality, and I will link you up).

Thursday, January 10, 2013

My word for the year this year is two: pay attention and I'm not quite sure yet what that means or how it will change me except that it seemed to sum up all of the other many words and goals I'd considered for this year.

I considered choosing the word Give, because I want to be more aware of what good I can do, but I realize that is simply about paying attention. I considered the word Whole, wanting to pursue health in body soul and spirit for myself and those around me, which means listening to my body and heart. And I want to learn to play the piano, and read more poetry and I want to write this year, which is just another word for paying attention. 

I don't know yet what I am hoping to find, by paying attention, or where to start or even how to pay more attention than I already do. 

When we moved to Cleveland two years ago we moved into an old house with many closets. In fact two closets in this house are completely empty (having much more to do with the number of closets than my minimalist achievements but still, isn't there some kind of door prize I could win for this?).  These many closets are Narnia to the children, every time kids come to our house to play they all dash upstairs to hide in the closets and come down wearing my shoes. 

Today the closets are an animal rescue shelter and a secret hideout and a small house.

I want to be like my kids who look for empty places and create worlds in them. I want to be like Josie who wears a fairy dress every day because living is holy, and calls us beautifulness and holds my hand while she eats dinner and does a huzzah dance after she goes on the potty. And like my kids who sob and cling and cannot give up or let go because living is that important. 

By paying attention I mean to pay attention not only to the beauty but the weight of it, too, the emptiness and mess, the longing and hurt and spaces that groan for redemption. And isn't there a certain beauty even here?

And I want to pray more this year, and to seek the Kingdom of God and to know God, but in all of these years of trying to do that I find it is simply to pay attention, because he is already here, behind and before, God with us. Epiphany.

I guess I don't know any more than that, what the year will hold but I don't think that I have any more goals than this; to look and listen, to make art, and to take good notes.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2013: pay attention

quiet + good

After blogging for nearly five years, it is no surprise that I would be reviewing 2012 partway through 2013.

Not only am I a chronically late blogger I am also a slow writer and even slower processor, and I can't seem to move on to a new year before first unpacking the year we leave behind.

Three years ago my word of the year was Love and two years ago it was Plow. Last year I chose the word seed as my word of the year.

Looking back the word Seed seems appropriate as this was the quietest, calmest year our family has experienced. We didn't move or have a baby, Jim didn't change jobs, there was very little transition, we didn't even travel this year. Everyone began to mostly sleep through the night, life became slowly steadier and more predictable and I felt very much the stillness of a seed; small, mostly dormant, rooting downward.

We surprised Jim for his 40th with two of his friends flying in for a guys weekend. 
It was so much fun to plan and we are so thankful for John and Tim and their families.

I'll be honest- the year was even a little boring. I find a certain restlessness in me when life is quiet for too long- isn't it about time for some kind of major life change? The word seed reminds me to be still, rooted in place, aware of my smallness, to choose the descending way.

In March we celebrated Josie turning two.
I believe the month of March is in need of a weekend-long party every year.

I wanted this year to focus on the heart of things- the smallest, most basic part that determines what a plant will become- my thoughts.
At no time of day or night are we not thinking about something. The only real question is, What is it? What do I choose to ruminate about in the interstices of the day, in the dark quiet of the night? Where does my mind go when there is nowhere specific defined for it to go?The question is an important one because its answer defines the kind of person we are choosing to become. ..  The fact is that we become what we think about. What we seed in our souls grows in us, forms us, becomes what drives us from moment to moment.  from The Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittester
I have a long way to go in this but I was helped along the way this fall by a women's Bible Study with our church as we studied Living Free by Beth Moore.

The goal of the study is the practice of "breathing Scripture" to find freedom in Christ. I could go on and on about the things God taught me.

Just as meaningful as the study itself was the weekly time spent with other women. One of the challenges of being a stay at home mom is that we spend so much time alone, in our own mind. I didn't realize how much I was craving- starving- for spiritual conversation. It was in this small group of women that I experienced grace spoken over me in powerful and life-giving ways.

This leads me to the very best of my 2012: people. The thing I am most thankful for every year is people, but this year glows with the gifts of beautiful friends, new and old.

I am thankful for my church family. I love our pastors, and my pastor-friend Nan is one of the most prayerful, genuine Jesus freaks I have ever met. I love the women of our church, young and old; so much wisdom and goodness gathered in one little church. I love the diversity, and the respect, and the way that Sunday School is spent asking questions, and that our children sit with us in church and are welcomed and known and loved on as a necessary part of the body. I love the grace I find in this community, the delicate blend of spirit + truth where art can safely bloom.

I loved getting to know these ladies at our women's retreat this spring.

I love our homeschool community, I don't know what I would do without them. We all look forward to getting together, it is so good to not be doing this alone.

I love the friends we have made in the neighborhood who I can drink tea with for hours while our kids swarm around us, foodie friends who have introduced us to some of Cleveland's culinary best while making lists of more left to try. I love our friends Jo and Larry, one of the unexpected gifts of blogging are these IRL friends of ours, who happened to move to Cleveland a few months ahead of us.

I love old friends who are life friends, I don't get to see them nearly enough but when we do it is always  so good good good. I love my friends who are family or who I think of as family, and the new members we keep adding to the family, the new sister-in-law I will be getting this spring.

I love the friends who I visit now only through their blogs or facebook, and those friends who were in my life only for a season but still a part of me. Truly, once again this year I look around and find that I am crazy-rich

When I count my richest blessings it has always been and will always be the people I know or have known.  I am crazy-rich. I have been thinking about how much these friends have blessed and continue to bless my life, of the ways that they unknowingly make me better or stronger . .. quiet, unsuspecting people who are simply living authentically and humbly, the best they can, before God . . . I have seen God and love Him more because of them.

And then there are the friends that are books. My favorite book this year was Gilead, and Marilynne Robinson became a much-admired friend.
I have been thinking about existence lately.  In fact, I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly. . . .
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on a world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again.  I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that.  There is a human beauty in it.  And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the world to us.  In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.  Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try. 
Also in 2012 . . ..

I began to write a novel and then quit writing. It was a seed planted, and I am opening the file again this year with the intention to keep planting, even if it never is published and takes fifty years.

stepped carefully back into technology after taking three months off.

I blogged about pms and what is annoying me and what is saving me; crayons and onions and mom bodies.

We decided to homeschool.

Hope seems to be a theme this year as I wrote about hopea lot.

Heaviest this year were the one two three funerals within the space of four months as we buried three grandparents. Each life allowed us to think hard about life and death and what we will do with this one wild and precious life. I think of this verse:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:24-25
My favorite quote this year:

We are at Jesus’ disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim His work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s alright, everything is alright. We must say, “I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.” 
And this … is our strength, and this is the joy of the Lord.
~ Mother Theresa

And of course I am deeply grateful for my little family, who put up with me and wear me out and make me laugh, who give me a thousand reasons a day to smile.

2012 was a quiet, good year. God is faithful and God is with us. I am humbled and thankful.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I would really like to write a blog post. 
I have been hoping for two weeks to write but I have been doing this instead...

 and some of this .. .

and a lot of this . ..

too much of this ...

And plenty of this . . .

We have to leave in twenty minutes for one last family reunion . . .
and nobody is dressed.
Be back soon with the best and worst of 2012,
and my #oneword for 2013.

Happy New Year!