Thursday, August 20, 2015

{pretty, happy, funny, real}: finding contentment during sleeplessness

| a weekly capturing the contentment in everyday life |

I haven't been sleeping well lately.  It's pretty typical this time of year when all of my kids are flung hither and yon, getting situated into new places for the fall.  Ticking one more year off the calendar of parenthood unsettles me, interrupts my sleep, makes me restless, sad, and, often, anxious. And it's our baby's last year of high school.  My last year to send a child to high school.  And our son is getting married in less than 5 months.  All joyful things, but seriously messing with my mama mojo.

There are other things going on, too.  As Brian nears ordination, we're ready to think about what's next, maybe even where's next. This is definitely unsettling in a way that's hard to put into words.  Literally.  Every time Brian and I try to have a heart-to-heart conversation about planning our future we end up sputtering half-finished sentences, unable to conclude anything.  I end up near tears, and then we can't speak again for hours.  The question feels impossible to answer. So, yes, I'm losing a bit of sleep these days.

My daughter brought us gifts from her summer in NY, books that seem to match us each perfectly (thank you Broome County Public Library book sale!).  For me, she chose Garrison Keillor's selection of Good Poems for Hard Times.  Last night, awake around 4am, I read this unseasonal, but completely recognizable lament from a favorite poet:
Ice Storm
Jane Kenyon

For the hemlocks and broad-leafed evergreens
a beautiful and precarious state of being. . . .
Here in the suburbs of New Haven
nature, unrestrained, lops the weaker limbs
of shrubs and trees with a sense of aesthetics
that is practical and sinister. . . .

I am the guest in this house.
On the bedside table Good Housekeeping, and
A Nietzsche Reader. . . . The others are still asleep.
The most painful longing comes over me.
A longing not of the body. . . .

It could be for beauty-
I mean what Keats was panting after,
for which I love and honor him;
it could be for the promises of God,
or for oblivion, nada; or some condition even more
extreme, which I intuit, but can't quite name.

I lose sleep unable to name what's next, and who I will be next.  What's my role in our future?  We'll celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary this fall, Brian's ordination to the priesthood, our son's marriage & college graduation, our youngest child's high school graduation -- just to name a few milestones ahead of us in the coming months. I am deeply longing for something I can't quite name.  

While I lose sleep at night, I feebly practice contentment each day. Here's a few snapshots of the past couple of weeks.

| pretty |

estate sale goodness

Can you believe my luck?  I could have purchased several more! I figure if I'm going to paw through some dearly passed lady's stuff, the least I can do is rescue (and read!) her books.   

| happy |

boys' lunch
a day on South Congress with Elayna
Sabbath dinner with our godson Emmett (and his sweet sister, Lucy!)

a trip to NYC with his girls

Brian and his kids this summer

I gathered a few snapshots from a some of the moments Brian got to spend with "his kids" this summer. He is so good at giving them his time and care.  I love this about him.

| funny |

new talent at open mic

Andrew hosts a weekly open mic in Austin.  He had a request for a time slot from one of Austin's newest comics.  Of course we couldn't miss her set!  You can watch it, too, at this link.  (spoiler alert:  She kills it!)

| real(ly?!?)|

our 4th anniversary in Austin

It's hard to believe, but it's true.  August 11th marked our arrival to Austin four years ago.  Here's a reflection I wrote on our one -year anniversary and one I wrote on our two-year anniversary.  Also, I never get tired of reading the posts the whole family pitched in to write back in 2011, during our week trip from upstate NY to our new home: Murphys Take Austin (Tamara-Day 1Days 2&3,  Days 3&4Andrew-Saying Goodbye, Brian-Day 5Kendra-Day 6, Alex-Day 7Natalie-Settling In onday morning thoughts: dancing bear act, crash helmets and a Doxology

Have you captured any contentment this week? 
 I'd love to hear about it!

| Join in at P,H,F,R to see other wonderful people practicing contentment. |

Friday, August 14, 2015

7 quick takes on 7 links I can't stop thinking about this week

Truth is there are links of things -- unspeakable things being spoken all over this world -- that I'm thinking a whole lot about these days.  I just can't.  I can't link them here.  If you're online at all (which, presumably, you are since you're reading this post) you've already seen unspeakable posted in headlines linking all across the internet -- right next to videos of cute baby elephants and photos of the beautiful cups of coffee and homemade pies. 

We've made the unspeakable not only printable, but viral.  And we are such liars -- no matter what our ideas are about life and death and flourishing and human rights for the ones we deem human and death for the ones we deem unworthy -- we lie.  We celebrate life and death, seemingly on a whim.  We lie with our double standards and our own propped-up notions of being gods in this universe that rains down meteors declaring the glory of God while we scroll headlines about unspeakable things. 

That's really what I'm thinking about this week, but the following list is a close second.  May the peace of Christ our King (who only speaks Truth) rule over your own minds and hearts this weekend.

| 1 | Superheroes, Just for Each Other by Peter S. Goodman at The New York Times
"I am no superhero. Neither is my wife. But we have a bond that somehow enables us to save each other from basic human weakness. This is its own kind of superpower."
I've been thinking about the definition of marriage a lot lately -- and not for only the reasons you might think.  Brian and I will be celebrating our 25th anniversary in a few months and I've been contemplating a blog series on the subject.  We'll see about that.  In the meantime, this is a sweet essay about the mutuality of strength in marriage.

| 2 | Instead of Facebook, a book of faces my post for Think Christian
"Christians, after all, live in a story of delight and deformity, every mark a reminder of what was and is and is to come. We follow the God who became disfigured to heal our disfigurement. Artists like Bruce Gilden push against the fallen instinct to shield ourselves from the uncomfortable realities around us and within us. The subjects in Face give us a gift by exposing - up close and in full color - their vulnerability. To meet them is to know their stories, raw and unfiltered."
I was grateful for this assignment from the editor at Think Christian.  Bruce Gilden's work challenged my (unintentional) preoccupation with a filtered image-driven world.

"Don’t get me wrong—sometimes shopping for the right thing, the thing you need, can be a fun endeavor. I’m down with that. But I’ll also venture to say that shopping for the heck of it, to stave off boredom when nothing is needed, and to add it to the clutter at home, really is a first-world diversion.
Super helpful information during the season of back-to-school shopping.

| 4 | Hope for when you regret the past. Tell Auntie Leila. at Like Mother, Like Daughter
"Not that there isn’t always much to be grateful for, and for sure many are suffering much worse things than I (or you, even) … it’s just… the defeat of it all… way back when; some of which may not have been our fault. Sometimes we suffer misfortune, and what could be termed crop failures of the soul, if not the actual physical farm. Floods and droughts, real and metaphorical, events not necessarily of our own making. 
And some things very much of our own making. 
And sometimes the bitterness is hard to overcome. Especially when we get to that place where we see that things might have worked out, if we had known then what we know now!" 
I was mentioning to a friend the other day how few blogs I've found written by women who have done this hard work of mothering for long enough to write from a long view. I am so thankful for the Like Mother, Like Daughter blog. In a season of watching my chicks fly the coop, I confess I've read just about every post. If you only get to read one post, though, read this one.

| 5 | 
How to read "Go Set A Watchman" at Modern Mrs. Darcy

"If you choose to skip this book, I understand that decision. I do think that serious students of writing or literature will be enthralled by the ties between the two works. The comparisons are rich, and many."
 Will you or won't you read it?  This is the question I've been asking my book-loving friends.  The answers are mixed.  I think I'll wait a couple of years at least -- let the dust settle a bit. When the time comes, though, I'll definitely be taking Anne's advice.   

| 6 |  Editing Suburbia by Jenni Simmons at The Curator
"After reading Saverin’s Atlantic piece, I don’t love Pilgrim at Tinker Creek any less—it is still some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read—but I do look at the book differently. Now I know that part of Dillard’s story is missing. It would be more compelling to know that a housewife wrote such a phenomenal book, admitting her suburban reality instead of the typical dismissal of suburbia, deeming such a common life boring or uncool."
I didn't realize this little bit of creative omission in one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.  I'm so glad I first learned of it through Jenni's gracious insight.  

| 7 | Top 10 Online Recordings to celebrate Wendell Berry's 80th birthday at Englewood Review of Books & Wendell Berry Earns Highest Humanities Award, Lectures on Economy and Imagination at & A polite disagreement with Jayber Crow and the Mad Farmer my post for Art House America blog

So many good things about the Mad Farmer this month -- and, yes, I'm including the bit written by yours truly. A good and contrary man.  America is blessed to have him.


Hoping for a good and content weekend for us all, friends.


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

{pretty, happy, funny, real}: a couple weeks late but contentment all the same!

| a weekly capturing the contentment in everyday life |

For some reason I forgot to post this a couple Thursdays back.  It's semi-old news, but still full of contentment!

| pretty |


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can't stop talking about our CSA veggies.  I mean, have you seen anything prettier than this? 

| happy |

we're having a wedding!

It's getting real. This just showed up in our mailbox, and I'm pretty sure we'll be available January 2nd (just kidding). It's been pretty fun to be a fly on the wall this summer while Alex and Rebekah dream and scheme all sorts of wedding plans.   

| fun(ny) |

this girl's camp skills

We miss her, but we're so happy that she's living in her element all summer.  Each morning I scour the daily photos posted by Mapleridge Ranch.  Every once in awhile I get a delightful glimpse of our girl doing what she does best.  

| real |

weekly worship at Christ Church
"Might flames of fire actually fall from the sky and transport us into a new dimension of intimacy with Father, Son and Spirit -- and please, God -- with each other in the room -- and Lord, have mercy -- with hurting, desperate neighbors so in need of miraculous healing, let diseases and demons and death be gone.  And the silence is a sort of time outside of time in which we anticipate and imagine and listen for our orders.  And, hearing no new instructions, we take up again the mantle of praise and we sing -- what our Church mothers and fathers taught us -- the truth that we did not make, but instead makes us:   
  1. Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
  1. Praise Him, all creatures here below;
  1. Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
  1. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
A reflection I wrote a few  weeks back on real (vs. idealized) worship services:  Monday morning thoughts: dancing bear act, crash helmets and a Doxology

Have you captured any contentment this week? 
 I'd love to hear about it!

| Join in at P,H,F,R to see other wonderful people practicing contentment. |

A Polite Disagreement with Jayber Crow and the Mad Farmer [sharing at Art House America blog this week]

Art House America produces one of my all-time favorite blogs.  I admire the founders, I follow the contributors and I embrace the topics of conversation.  What a joy for me, then, to be able to add to the conversation with this essay last week.  

If you've followed my blog for a while, the post might sound familiar, but this is the new and improved version thanks to the feedback of a band of writer friends (and to Central Market's pinot grigio and sweet potato fries which we all shared ravenously, editing pens in hand to edit out extra words like "ravenously").  

My friend, Katie, asked me "Have you considered that Wendell Berry might actually read this?"  Well, we all laughed at the image of Mr. Berry checking his blog reader, and then considered he might actually have some friend or intern who does that for him.  So, Mr. Berry, if you do happen to read this, I would be honored, sir.  

read the entire article at Art House America 

Photograph by Genta Mochizawa

"When I read Wendell Berry's poems, I find it easy to believe that he and I share a kindred spirit. I too care about resurrection and preserving the good and true and beautiful in a hell-bent civilization. But when I read Berry's fiction, I begin to suspect he would not much approve of me. As I read, I find myself constantly refuting, "Yeah, but . . .” to the author's scrupulous definition of the good life and general dismissal of anyone who'd wander off the narrow path. I can be contrarian too, Mr. Berry. 
I read about the Coulters, the Proudfoots, the Branches, and Mr. Crow as if I know them personally, and I find them to be not representing themselves altogether truthfully. Both sides of my family going back several generations come from Port William-type villages in New York state. As I’ve matured, I've begun to blend the good with the bad in that heritage — the almost visceral knowing of the beauty of a creek bed, for example. When Mr. Crow moves to his final home, living out the rest of his life on a riverbank, I feel like he's speaking my family dialect. I know exactly the "substantial sound" of a boat line plunking into the wooden bottom and echoing across a quiet morning. I comprehend the language of a single fish slurping from the surface of still water. I know it because, by the grace of God and kindly grandparents, I've spent countless childhood days on a quiet waterfront. But I also think I know it because it's buried in my genes from generations before me.   
My earliest memory involves a cow pasture, a barbed wire fence, a lazy brook, a picnic lunch, and a homemade fishing pole. This was the location for my first caught fish, I’m told. I’m pretty sure it was my first and only. The pasture and the brook ran the edge of my great-grandfather's family town. He spent many early days wandering in that place, and — in some mysterious way — passed that knowing down to my generation. 
In the quiet moments with Wendell Berry's farmers and town folk, I imagine myself accepted as one of them. I've known them — in my own family tree, in the contrarian churchgoers my father, a pastor, attracted for most of my childhood, and in the lives of my best friends still sharing family land with several generations of kinfolk. 
Other moments I am angry. Mr. Berry's body of work lauds the unadulterated; how does he reconcile glossing over (or at least hiding from view) the ugly dysfunctions that prosper alongside the natural beauty of such villages and pasturelands? I've seen firsthand not only the ornery nature of such characters — wishing to deny, for example, a decent salary to their pastor who does not make a living with his hands — but also the ingrown, incestuous thinking that tends to breed in rural places. Eventually, my paternal great-grandfather brought his family to town, and he drank away the family income. I guess Mr. Berry might argue that moving into town, working for the man across the desk rather than staying close to the family land, they introduced their own demise. 
I'd ask: What were they running from?"

--- bonus feature ---

Chasing geese with my cousin on my uncle's farm in the rural Northeast, circa 1972?

Monday, August 03, 2015

what I read in June & July [from the book pile: 2015]

Sometimes when you're really trying to finish a book and you're also really tired,
you have to take extreme measures.

what I read in June & July

-- 1 --

16  Blow Out the Moon by Libby Koponen (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006. 224 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book your mother loves

I read this and Nancy Drew #8: Nancy's Mysterious Letter (Reading challenge category: a book from your childhood) tucked away under the eaves in my mother's bedroom on our visit in June.  Easy-breezy, just-for-fun, summer reading.

-- 2 --

17  Image Journal issue #85:  Evolution and the Imago Dei

Reading challenge category*:  a book of short stories

Still my favorite literary  journal (and my favorite treadmill companion).  I rarely agree completely with the variety of perspectives on theology represented in the contributors, but I always enjoy the beauty of reading every single page.

-- 3 --

18  Housekeeping: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson (Bantam Books, 1980. 219 pages.)

Reading challenge category*:  a book with a one-word title

Heartbreakingly beautiful.  I can read Marilynne Robinson's fiction all day long.  The grasp her words have on the ache of motherless-ness for the story's main character never lets up from the first page to the last, even when we glimpse hope and beauty, the ache is understatedly there.  Not in words as much as in the story.  Masterful.  

Here's an example: 
"...Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, 'Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we ill pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it.' Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire."

-- 4 --

19  Slow Church: Cultivating community in the patient way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison ( InterVarsity Press, 2014. 230 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book with antonyms in the title

I chose the reading challenge category for this book in jest.  But only a little bit.  The very title "Slow Church" is what caught my attention when I chose to read it.  Brian and I have always been advocates for slower living.  We haven't always practiced it well, but it's a value we always return to when we get disoriented. We ran against the status quo with the number of activities our kids were involved in at school, for example.  

In Brian's ordination process we keep discussing together how that value can apply more deeply at the ministry-level.  By the title, it seemed like Smith and Pattison's book would give us greater insight into solving the dilemma of busy, overscheduled church life.  

Ironically (or perhaps, not?) it took us about 2 years to read this out loud together.  Mostly because we were too busy to find time to read at the same time (!), but -- if I'm being honest -- it's also because we were pretty disappointed with the book.

It's really the title (or, rather our hope of what the title meant) that kept us determined to finish the book.  On our 60-hour road trip to the Northeast and back home again, we finally managed to muscle through.  

I'm not saying that there wasn't a lot of great content in Slow Church -- the premise ("inviting us out of franchise faith and back into the kingdom of God, where people know each other well and love one another as Christ loved the church") is spot on and important to our conversations about how to be the Church and how to do ministry.

What frustrated us (and, frankly, disappointed us) was a frequent use of sloppy rhetoric.  For example, on an important chapter about the church's role in environmental care, the authors quote Greenpeace.  Really?  There's no other data available to encourage us to pay attention to caring for creation than an organization that employs terrorist-style methods?  Why would the authors have chosen this?  A quick Google search to support a point they wanted to make?

Occasionally, their interpretation of the Scripture was equally sloppy (prompting great outcries from my seminarian husband).  

With those caveats, I'd still probably recommend this book to those who care about a sustainable, integrated approach to ministry that worships and serves in holistic ways.  Brian and I would especially point out the chapter about the Ecology of Abundance (vs. scarcity) for church's struggling to make budgetary ends meet.  
"When it comes to generating income, churches need to think outside the offering plate. Do we, like the early Christians in jerusalem, believe our resources are held in common? Do we make them available when needs and opportunities arise? Churches can leverage the resources they already have to generate continuing income -- from the familiar (preschools, bookstores, coffee shops) to the peculiar (farming, coffee roasting, apartment rental). Many churches are finding creative ways to use the skills of their members and the resources of their neighborhoods to generate income"

-- 5 --

20  Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis (Crossway, 2012. 161 pages)

Reading challenge category*:  a book you started but never finished

I made an agreement with myself to not use the public library this summer, but to read through the 20+ unread books that had gathered in stacks around my house the last couple of years.  Several of the unread books -- like this title -- fall under the category of "how to be the Church now that no one goes to church", which I typically approach with a fair amount of skepticism and a dash of hope.

I had special hope for this book because I had so much enjoyed Tim Chester's A Meal With Jesus back when we first moved to Austin in 2011.  And it's not to say that I didn't like Everyday Church; it's just that I didn't find it especially unique or illuminating.  

If this category of books is new to you, and you care deeply about being the Church in your everyday, walking-around, going-to-work life, then you'll probably enjoy this book and will certainly find good and helpful encouragement.

-- 6 --

21  The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches Are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight J. Friesen (InterVarsity Press, 2014. 190 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book by an author you've never read before

Of the three "ministry" books I read this month, this one was the best by far.  It's another book that I started over a year ago and never completed.  The New Parish and Slow Church could be considered partners in the conversation (both books released by the same publisher around the same time and both reference each other, if I remember correctly), but the book by Sparks, Soerens and Friesen has the feel of being the wiser mentor to Smith & Pattinson's.  A couple of reasons, among several: It's more carefully stated and covers a broader range of anecdotes.

I found the outlines and vocabulary more helpful, as well. (why do we need a new parish, what is the new parish, how do we practice the new parish).  A curt contrast between the two might be that Slow Church theorized (occasionally, harped) on what we should avoid ("franchised faith") while The New Parish gave us a framework of what we need to embrace (faithful, holistic presence of diverse church expressions rooted in a specific geographical place).

-- 7 --

22  The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1951. 101 pages.)

Reading challenge category*: a book chosen based on its cover

Another book from my neglected book pile.  Even though I'd always meant to read it because Abraham Joshua Heschel is quoted by almost every author I've ever read (usually from this book), I'll admit it was seeing an image of the cover art that finally got me to purchase the book.  The prints of wood engravings by Ilya Schor on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter provide an elegance to Heschel's graceful words about the beauty of Sabbath time to Jewish faith and life.  Heschel's words are poetic (at times, even, mythical) which I found captivating enough, but especially so when paired with his daughter's prologue to the book which explained in more day-to-day (week-to-week, rather) terms of what a Sabbath practice looked like in her father's home.


In a fit of reading ADD, I reading this book alongside The New Parish (see above).  Literally, I read one chapter in one book, put it down, picked up the other and read the next chapter and so on.  I found the contrast to be deepening and enlightening.  Just a little literary serendipity.  One book would be talking about the weakness of ministry life driven by techniques and the other would be talking about how life goes wrong when we live by the power of technical civilization above all else. 

In another contrast, The New Parish would be talking about the importance of rooting in place and then The Sabbath would be telling a legend about Rabbis quarrelling about the transience of space and the immortality of time.  
"There is a mass of cryptic meaning in this silent, solitary story of one who, outraged by the scandal of desecrated time, refused to celebrate the splendor of civilized space. It symbolically describes how Rabbi Shimeon ben Yohai and his son went from exasperation and disgust with this world, which resulted in their actually trying to destroy those who were engaged in worldly activities, to a reconciliation with this world."
In the concluding chapter of The New Parish the authors quote C.S. Lewis:  "It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between."  I'm not sure C.S. Lewis or the author meant at the same time, but it sure worked for me!

One last, exquisite excerpt from concluding paragraphs of The Sabbath:

"...All week long we are called upon to sanctify life through employing things of space. On the Sabbath it is given us to share in the holiness that is in the heart of time. Even when the soul is seared, even when no prayer can come out of our tightened throats, the clean, silent rest of the Sabbath leads us to a realm of endless peace, or to the beginning of an awareness of what eternity means. There are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath. Aeons hence, when of many of our cherished theories only shreds will remain, that cosmic tapestry continue to shine. 

Eternity utters a day."

*This year, I'm using a fun challenge checklist with a Facebook group of friends (and sisters!).  You can find the checklist here:  Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge  If you'd like to join our Reading Challenge 2015 group on Facebook, let me know and I'll send you an invite! *

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2014 and previous years.

What are you reading right now?

*Linking up with Rachel today

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