into something good

“blessing the boats” by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)
may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

I started watching The Fosters on Netflix and if you like teen ABC Family dramas then I insist you start immediately. It is lovely and sweet.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

This book tells the story of what went down at Memorial Hospital during and after Hurricane Katrina, specifically focused on the accusations of euthanizing patients and the trial that followed. I don’t see how anyone could say that Fink is unbiased, because she clearly believes that Dr. Pou did inject patients with drugs intending to kill them. And you know what, Fink convinced me. I doubt we will ever know for sure what happened, but she makes a compelling case that there was intent to kill and that public opinion was just not willing to convict a doctor who worked during Katrina. The flaw for me was that Fink had put together the book in such a way that it is incomprehensible that Dr. Pou would not be held accountable for what she did, so when Dr. Pou was allowed to go free, I wondered what information might be missing. I tried to do some reading about the other side but the main site that is offered as a rebuttal to the book reads like the ramblings of a conspiracy theory nut. Dr. Pou has not done a lot of interviews or put out much information (Fink implies this is because of her guilt).

I should also say that this book made it clear that I would never survive an apocalypse. The situation in the hospital was beyond horrible and there is no doubt that the people in the hospital were not supported like they should have been. I think everyone in America needs to read more about Katrina and its devastating effects. It has been too easy for those of us who weren’t there to move on.

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A little Simon and Garfunkel to send you into the weekend.

scandal by lola ridge (because thursdays are for scandal).

“Scandal” by Lola Ridge

Aren’t there bigger things to talk about
Than a window in Greenwich Village
And hyacinths sprouting
Like little puce poems out of a sick soul?
Some cosmic hearsay—
As to whom—it can’t be Mars! put the moon—that way….
Or what winds do to canyons
Under the tall stars…
Or even
How that old roué, Neptune,
Cranes over his bald-head moons
At the twinkling heel of a sky-scraper.

living with questions (a review of living the questions by david felten and jeff procter-murphy).

In my early 20s, I reveled in books and songs about the questions of faith. One book in particular that I loved was called Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends. (I was a hard-core Carolyn Arends fan, you guys. I quoted her in my valedictorian speech. Of course I bought her book.) At that time, it felt to me that being a person of faith meant that you had to have a lot of answers, so her warm and friendly book about a messy faith that includes questions was a balm to my soul.

Except for the end. Because at the end of the book, she quoted her husband saying that maybe none of these questions will matter when we get to heaven, because all we will be doing is singing Holy holy holy. I don’t know if that’s what Carolyn Arends really believes or whether the publisher made her have a nicer ending all tied up in a bow, but it was a deep blow to my heart. Apparently you can wrestle and create art from your questions, but the answer is always the same: God is awesome, God is in control, God’s ways are not our ways, God is outside of our understanding.

I pulled that book off the shelf the other day (oh, yes, I still have my copy), and it seems apparent to me that it’s about her journey living with questions, which is a little bit different. We do all have to make space in our hearts for the realization that we are not going to understand everything. I’m not here to argue with anyone who finds that a reasonably helpful answer. I’m glad it worked out for you, but I found it limiting and disempowering. It made me feel as if there was nothing I could do to be more a part of my faith. I just had to passively accept what was going on around me.

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It’s been a long time since I read that book, and (despite the ending) I think it did for me what Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown did for a lot of other people, making it much less lonely to engage my faith. In the years since then, I have embraced the idea that a life of faith has much less to do with having all the right beliefs and much more to do with the way that those beliefs are lived out. That’s one reason I enjoyed this other very different book with the same title, Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity by David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy. Instead of being about internal wrestling, this is a book about action. It presents a progressive approach to topics as varied as the rapture, compassion, and atonement and then offers a discussion of how those beliefs might affect the ways that we choose to live. There are a lot of topics, and it’s definitely not an in-depth approach, but there’s a good bibliography if you are looking to expand on any one chapter in particular. The strength of the book is clearly in the ways that it pulls together material from many different authors, making it a book with quotes I wanted to write down on almost every page.

For a long time, I thought that I just had to figure out the right answers and then I would be set for life as a person of strong faith and belief. Thank God that we are given the gift of an understanding and expression of faith that changes and grows over time. Thank God we are given space to ask questions, to live with them, and to live them out with purpose.

I got a free copy of Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity from Speakeasy and I was not required to write anything nice about it. My church did part of the video series this summer and I didn’t go, but I heard positive things. The book, also, is perfect for a Sunday School or small group to discuss.

I paid for my copy of Living the Questions by Carolyn Arends way back in the days when I worked for a Christian bookstore and I used my employee discount. I’m not friends with Carolyn Arends but how cool would that be?! (Call me, Carolyn Arends!)

in praise of zig zags (a poem for the math teachers).

“In Praise of Zigzags” by Jane O. Wayne

For a Girl Failing Geometry

Maybe she does her homework
the way she does her chores.
She moves quickly when she vacuums,
forgetting corners in the living room,
repeating others,
zigzags recklessly across the carpet,
raising those pale tracks
behind her in the wool, crossing
and recrossing them. And not once
does geometry cross her mind.
Outside she wanders aimlessly
behind the lawnmower,
rolls toward the middle of the lawn
then doubles back.
For a while, she’ll follow straight lines–
the fence, the hedge, the walk–
then go off on a tangent, spiraling
around the birch or the maple.
When she finishes,
she leaves the lawnmower out, leaves
a trail of unmown strips and crisscrosses,
her scribbling on the lawn
like a line of thought that’s hard to follow.
As far as she’s concerned
the shortest distance between two points
is confining.

this world by mary oliver.

April is National Poetry Month. Get ready, y’all. I am posting a poem every day because it was so much fun last year.

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“This World” by Mary Oliver

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold.

a love letter to giving.

hope

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of extra money for things like eating out or brand-new name-brand jeans (I had some but they came from the thrift store if you must know). My mom stayed at home when we were small and then went back to teaching (spoiler alert: teaching is not a lucrative career). My dad was an entrepreneur, and starting a small business means having big dreams but not as much cash.

And yet, throughout my childhood, my parents sponsored children through World Vision. My dad, recognizing that I was already in the habit of writing long letters to my friends (because I couldn’t pay for the long-distance calls but I could afford a stamp) (long-distance was a real thing, kids, look it up), asked me to write to one in particular, a girl who was a few years older than I. Her name was Temsemula. I studied her name with interest, wondering how to pronounce it, and wrote some awkward lines to her once or twice. Though we didn’t develop a deep relationship, I enjoyed thinking that we were connected to her. I understood that my parents were telling us that it was more important to help a kid get an education than it was for me to be dressed in head-to-toe Guess.

I thought of Temsemula last week, not for the first time. I periodically search for her on Facebook and Google but I haven’t found her yet. That is the part I find so mystifying about thousands of people cancelling their sponsorships of children last week—did they not love those children? I still think of Temsemula, someone I never met. I am able to pray for her, even now, which is such a beautiful mystery. I carry her in my heart because my family made her a priority. These days, Mike and I sponsor a boy named Stephen through Compassion because, once I got my own household, I modeled what my parents had taught me by making a regular space in our lives for giving. I don’t write to him as often as I should, but I am always excited to hear from him and to see his updates.

I don’t really care if you sponsor kids through World Vision or Compassion or the Christian Children’s Fund. Maybe you support community building through Heifer International or Watering Malawi. Maybe you like microloans through Kiva or helping classrooms through Donors Choose. Maybe you donate somewhere else – a local organization that helps feed hungry kids in your community. Or maybe you’re like my dad and sometimes you just cook up hotdogs and pass them out to people who need food. Wherever you give, whatever you do, make helping other people a priority. It can be risky to commit to giving your money to someone, let alone promising to write letters or show up face-to-face. But I think that watching my parents provide for others taught me about more than just careful budgeting. It was a gift to see them live what they believed.

When I saw my mom on Saturday, I mentioned that I had been thinking about the kids we used to sponsor and wondering if there was a way to find out what happened to them. We didn’t talk about World Vision last week while all that was going down, but I guess she was thinking about those kids, too, because she said she went and found an old picture of Temsemula and put her back up on the refrigerator. It shouldn’t be a secret, but maybe it is so I will tell you: opening our hearts to other people is a gift, one that we could all do with a little more of.

choose life.

(I can’t quite get the formatting right on this one, so click on over to see it.)

“Choose Life” by André Breton

Choose life instead of those prisms with no depth even if their colors are purer
Instead of this hour always hidden instead of these terrible vehicles of cold flame
Instead of these overripe stones
Choose this heart with its safety catch
Instead of that murmuring pool
And that white fabric singing in the air and the earth at the same time
Instead of that marriage blessing joining my forehead to total vanity’s
Choose life

Choose life with its conspiratorial sheets
Its scars from escapes
Choose life choose that rose window on my tomb
The life of being here nothing but being here
Where one voice says Are you there where another answers Are you there
I’m hardly here at all alas
And even when we might be making fun of what we kill
Choose life

Choose life choose life venerable Childhood
The ribbon coming out of a fakir
Resembles the playground slide of the world
Though the sun is only a shipwreck
Insofar as a woman’s body resembles it
You dream contemplating the whole length of its trajectory
Or only while closing your eyes on the adorable storm named your hand
Choose life

Choose life with its waiting rooms
When you know you’ll never be shown in
Choose life instead of those health spas
Where you’re served by drudges
Choose life unfavorable and long
When the books close again here on less gentle shelves
And when over there the weather would be better than better it would be free yes
Choose life

Choose life as the pit of scorn
With that head beautiful enough
Like the antidote to that perfection it summons and it fears
Life the makeup on God’s face
Life like a virgin passport
A little town like Pont-á-Mousson
And since everything’s already been said
Choose life instead

what I have been reading (march edition).

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir Questlove Thompson (from the public library)

Goodreads kept suggesting this book to me and I have to be honest, I don’t know anything about The Roots except watching them on Jimmy Fallon. He knows a lot (A LOT) about music, but it mostly went over my head because I don’t listen to soul or hip hop or rap very much. Reading it made me realize that there’s this whole world I don’t know anything about, which is always a cool experience. Questlove was a pretty good guide – smart and trustworthy. Recommended for: people who like The Roots, music nerds, people from Philly.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (via NetGalley)

Basically all I have to say about this book is that it was a cute little romance. Very cute. If you need a cute fluffy teen read, this would fit the bill. I enjoyed it like cotton candy and it didn’t even make me feel bad afterwards. Recommended for: beach reading, airplane reading, bathtub reading.

New Life, No Instructions by Gail Caldwell (via NetGalley)

Ok, first I have to say that I don’t think I ever talked about Let’s Take the Long Way Home, which was Caldwell’s story of her relationship with her best friend, Caroline, and Caroline’s subsequent death. I read it in 2012 and it has stayed with me. I highly recommend that one – beautiful story, great writing. This one did not speak to me quite as much, mostly because it was about things I’m not as interested in, namely dogs and hip replacement surgery. But credit must go to Caldwell because I enjoyed the book despite the fact that I am decidedly not a dog person, and her description of having had polio as a child (the ultimate cause of her hip replacement) was compelling. I’m afraid I’m selling it short a little bit, because the book is about loneliness and community more than it’s about dogs, and I am a big fan of Caldwell and her writing. Recommended for: dog people, people who live alone, readers of her other work.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (from the public library)

If the title doesn’t sound sad enough for you, the premise definitely will. And it’s a true story, so be warned. Will and his mom Mary Anne talk about books as a way to have conversations during her last months of life as she succumbs to pancreatic cancer. It’s less about the books and more about the conversations the books generate. Mary Anne is portrayed as a passionate, strong woman whose faith and family and work (social justice causes) are important to her, but she honestly seemed a little bit too good to be true. Because of that, the story didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it might. Recommended for: book clubs.

Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy (via NetGalley)

I read this book with a growing sense of dread because I could sense what was coming. I wasn’t raised Mormon, but the messages that Nicole Hardy was sent about women are similar to those in evangelical Christian culture. So what is a smart single childless woman supposed to do when she is told that her worth in the church centers around the ideas of marriage and family (and, by extension, purity)? She leaves, of course. And what other choice did she have? It reminds me of some of the responses to the World Vision decision this week (and then the reversal), people realizing that there’s no longer a place for them in the faith in which they were raised. Despite the dread, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, both because I don’t know much about Mormonism and because I saw myself and some of my friends in parts of her story. The shedding of the confining rules and acceptance of herself is beautiful to behold. Recommended for: people who were raised in purity culture, people interested in Mormonism, people with single friends in their 30s, people who are single in their 30s.

I got some of these books from NetGalley but my opinions are my own.

the path before you.

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On Palm Sunday, I am going to be running a half marathon. (I am just as surprised as you are.)

I dealt with the extremely intimidating idea of training by putting my plan into my calendar so that it would show up each morning and then just doing whatever it said. There’s a basic rhythm to the plan (short runs on Mondays and Thursdays, a medium run on Wednesday, and a long run on Saturday) but I never look ahead to see what’s coming up. If I did that, I am sure I would believe that I couldn’t do it. I would despair at the number of miles and worry about my own strength. And so, very early on, I resolved to take each number as it appeared on my phone and do that next thing.

It has also helped me to run the loop at our local park, which is about a mile and a half. I don’t have to think much about what comes next (except that the recent ice storm knocked down a lot of trees that are still blocking parts of the path), I just listen to Beyonce and put one foot in front of the other.

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Running 11 miles, as I did on Saturday, is very different than walking a labyrinth, but the things that I have learned from my training are similar: don’t look too far ahead, stay in the moment, follow the path.

Perhaps that is why I recognized the echo of the labyrinth in my cousin Tara’s words before she mentioned the labyrinth in her recent post. She quoted a friend who reminded her, “Of course you are on the right path. Whose other path could you be on?” I thought about those words during my long run on Saturday, about the things that seem to take us off track. The job that didn’t work out. The friends who moved away. Cancer and infertility and death. But there is only the path before us as it unfolds, and there is always the presence of God holding us fast.

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I offer these purloined words as a benediction for you as well: “Of course you are on the right path. Whose other path could you be on?” May you trust your strength and the steady love of God as you take the next step, and then the next one after that.

in the evening of life we shall be judged on love.

This is what I thought of when I heard that Fred Phelps is on his deathbed.

We have much to be judged on when he comes, slums and battlefields and insane asylums, but these are the symptoms of our illness, and the results of our failures in love. In the evening of life we shall be judged on love, and not one of us is going to come off very well, and were it not for my absolute faith in the loving forgiveness of my Lord I could not call on him to come.

But his love is greater than all our hate, and he will not rest until Judas has turned to him, until Satan has turned to him, until the dark has turned to him; until we can all, all of us without exception, freely return his look of love with love in our own eyes and hearts. And then, healed, whole, complete but not finished, we will know the joy of being co-creators with the one to whom we call.

Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus. -Madeleine L’Engle (the closing paragraphs of The Irrational Season)

I am grateful to believe that Mr. Phelps will soon be entering into a deeper understanding of the relentless love of God.

a poem for sunday

Every time I run across an Anne Porter poem I haven’t read before, I am delighted.

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“An Altogether Different Language” by Anne Porter

There was a church in Umbria, Little Portion,
Already old eight hundred years ago.
It was abandoned and in disrepair
But it was called St. Mary of the Angels
For it was known to be the haunt of angels,
Often at night the country people
Could hear them singing there.

What was it like, to listen to the angels,
To hear those mountain-fresh, those simple voices
Poured out on the bare stones of Little Portion
In hymns of joy?
No one has told us.
Perhaps it needs another language
That we have still to learn,
An altogether different language.

I’m into something good.

For a while I have been semi-regularly posting on Fridays about what is saving my life this week, but I think it is time to retire that category. In its place I want to make space to share some things I am into lately that maybe don’t deserve their own posts. And it might not be on Fridays. It’s a little unformed. But here are things I am thinking about this week.

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Cutie and the Boxer

My cousin edited this movie so I was of course in the bag for it already, but I was surprised at how much it spoke to me about partnership and equality in marriage. The arc of the movie shows how Cutie gains confidence as she expresses herself as an artist. I am sure that the story (which was masterfully edited, obviously) was simplified for the sake of moviemaking, but it was encouraging to me as a reminder of the importance of pursuing your interests as a wife and a mother. Watch it on Netflix!

Scandal

My coworkers always talk about Scandal and I got tired of being left out so I watched all of it in about three weeks. I’m not going to say that it is good but it is fun and I am enjoying the craziness. But last night there was supposed to be something crazy in the last ten seconds and I fell asleep in the last ten minutes and I have yet to find a legal way to watch it this morning. Scandal!

Ashley Nicole

I am a little bit out of the loop on breastfeeding news these days but I consider myself a breastfeeding advocate so of course my hackles were raised when I heard that there was a recent breastfeeding photo kerfuffle. You can see the photo here that caused the controversy - she is a much more glamorous mom than I am but I think it’s sweet that she was dressed up to go out and yet she dropped everything to nurse her baby. I scrolled through her Instagram and related so much to her pictures of her pumped milk. I hate that anyone would be condemned for normalizing breastfeeding, and I have to admit that I am a little bit concerned that none of the parenting sites I follow (which are mostly by white moms) mentioned this controversy. Thanks, Ashley Nicole, for being another voice in the breastfeeding conversation! Our lives are pretty different but it is cool that we have that in common. I hope you know that lots of us support you.

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

When a little girl asks her mom for a pet, the mom promises she can get one if it doesn’t have to be walked, bathed, or fed. The school librarian helps her figure out the perfect pet – a sloth she names Sparky. The only problem is that Sparky doesn’t do much of anything. But I still kind of want a sloth of my own. How great would it be to snuggle with a sloth all day?! I could be the school librarian who carries around a sloth.

Lent Madness

I love voting! I love reading about the saints! I love silly things. Lent Madness is my favorite thing that has happened this Lent. I am still mad about Christina the Astonishing being defeated.

Ok, those are some things that I have been into lately. What about you? Any recommendations?

who can bend the ball like beckham?

Atticus had his first soccer practice on Monday night. Despite our careful preparations to build his excitement, it was kind of a disaster. I’m going to put a big part of that blame on the YMCA, because it was disorganized and our actual coach didn’t even show up. The people who were there were very nice, but didn’t seem quite prepared to work with three-year-olds. I’m mad about it but I am giving it one more week before I drop a rage bomb on anybody. Also I am scared of looking like that super intense mom who needs a perfect experience for her special snowflake when in fact I just wanted someone to notice that he kept wandering off.

Given the lack of organization and clear directions, it’s not surprising that Atticus kind of did his own thing. Sometimes that meant kicking a random ball into a random goal while everybody else was doing something else, but mostly it meant wandering off and playing in the dirt. The whole thing reminded me of the Calvin and Hobbes storyline where Calvin joins the baseball team at recess.

left field

left field 2

In the afternoon light, Atticus’s hair looks like a puffy dandelion. It’s hard not to worry that he might get trampled on the soccer field and whether he was made for somewhere a little more weedy. While he looked lost between the white lines, he was clearly thrilled, as always, to make tracks in the dirt. Honestly, I am not sure how to feel about his lack of interest. At school they say he doesn’t participate in the classroom morning dance session because it is too loud. When he plays with his friends, he likes to direct what is happening. Is he independent or is he bad at listening to other people or is it just stubbornness? (Okay, it’s definitely stubbornness. But what else is going on?)

In the spirit of enjoying every possible second of the springtime weather, we went to the park yesterday after school. Atticus played on the playground equipment for about five minutes but then spent the rest of the hour sitting in the dirt, dumping dirt on his trucks, gathering sticks, throwing sticks into the water, and picking up rocks. As we meandered home while examining all the rocks and sticks and cracks along the way, I wondered if we should sign him up for science camp instead. I want him to be challenged but I also want him to have fun. Helping him find his place and his interests is satisfying and challenging for us, but it is hard to see him flounder.

We’re crossing our fingers for a more positive experience for him on Monday, for better organization on their end and a willingness to try again on his. And if it doesn’t work out, we’re not above bribing him with fast food. I may not know if he is going to be an athlete, but I definitely know how he feels about chicken nuggets.

soccer

what I have been reading (spring please come soon edition).

sparkle jar

Incognito: Lost and Found at Harvard Divinity School by Andrea Raynor (via NetGalley)

I enjoyed the divinity school part of this book quite a lot but was less interested in the dating/relationship parts of her story. I have been reading a Henri Nouwen book for Sunday School, so it was fun to read about what he was like as one of her professors at Harvard. I also enjoyed reading about her work with the homeless. Overall, enjoyable and interesting story of a woman moving into her vocation. Recommended for: people who like reading books about divinity school, which is why I picked it up.

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine by Tim Hanley (via NetGalley)

The beginning and the end were strong but the middle read mostly as a discussion of female characters and feminism in comic books rather than specifically being about Wonder Woman. I think I would have enjoyed a long piece just about Wonder Woman more. Is there just not enough to say about Wonder Woman for a whole book? That makes me sad. Recommended for: hardcore Wonder Woman fans, comic book feminists.

Notes to Boys (and Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public) by Pamela Ribon (via NetGalley)

Pam (of Pamie.com) shares her teenage journals and notes and stories with commentary from her current self. Little Pam wrote a lot of notes to boys, and she saved all her first drafts, which are funny and sad and very very (squirm in your seat) awkward. Pam unflinchingly shares the intense feelings and words of Little Pam with great affection and gratitude for the things that she has learned since these tumultuous times, and that’s what gives the book such heart. I would love to give Notes to Boys to high school girls so that they could see that they are not alone in the intensity of their feelings and also to remind them to hang in there because life after high school is very different. I think I would have loved a book like this in high school. It’s not targeted as specifically young adult or new adult but I think it will find a lot of fans there. I also recommend it for anyone who works with teenagers or remembers their teen years as being particularly rough.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (via the public library)

I don’t think I liked this one. Overall I thought that Leonard was less crazy quirky annoying to me than Quick’s other main characters but I couldn’t get into it. (Side note: I am starting to wonder about Quick’s ability to write female characters because they never feel fleshed out to me.) About 3/4 of the way through, I felt like it should have been more than one book. As a school librarian, it was hard/scary for me to read about a kid carrying a gun in his backpack all day long, so perhaps that explains some of my resistance to the book and why I was so troubled by the ambiguous ending. I have been working my way through Quick’s books for a project and only had one (his newest, which is for adults) left to read. I ended up passing on it because I just couldn’t read another one of his after this one. He is just not my thing, unfortunately.

My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer (via NetGalley)

It must be difficult to write about sharing a life with a person from another faith without seeming insensitive. Bremer, an American, is married to Ismail, a Muslim who was born in Libya. She writes movingly about her difficulties understanding some of their cultural and religious differences. I teared up unexpectedly as she wrestled with Libyan expectations for pregnant and nursing mothers (quoting Gaddafi of all people) versus American expectations which, frankly, can wear a woman out. The end, which shows how her daughter is getting older and coming into her own identity, will stay with me for a while. My two complaints about the book are that the beginning was a bit slow and that she makes herself out to be the difficult one and her husband to be more calm and saintly (which was a problem I also noted in Saffron Cross by J. Dana Trent). Like I said, I know it must be hard to write with sensitivity about relationships that cross these cultural and religious lines, but I wished for a little bit more balance. On Goodreads I gave it four stars – I would probably have given it three except I liked the ending so much. (Check out Krista’s essay in The Sun with the same name to see if you might like this one.)

City of God by Sara Miles (via NetGalley)

I have read this twice already, and enjoyed it even more the second time. It’s the story of Sara giving “ashes to go” on Ash Wednesday in the Mission in San Francisco. As she recounts her experiences administering the ashes, she offers reflections on life and death as well as the things that living in the Mission District have taught her about the kingdom (the holy city) of God. The Mission District sounds like it has a lot of families who were originally from Mexico and South America who have Catholic influences. It made me wonder what it might be like to administer ashes here in the South where the high church rituals are less known. Recommended for: Lenten reading. (For a different take on administering ashes to go, check out my friend Gawain’s thoughts on administering ashes at the train station yesterday.)

NetGalley provided me with copies of some of these books but my opinions are my own.

as lent approaches.

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Growing up, I heard a lot of talk about searching our hearts and examining our motives. We hid God’s word in our hearts to protect us from our sinful inclinations. We studied the Bible so we could learn how to live and we were encouraged to share the things that we were struggling with. If we couldn’t think of anything, we prayed for God to open our eyes to our shortcomings, because thinking that we were doing okay was surely the sin of pride. There was a lot of reflecting but, as I reflect upon it now, I think that maybe it was not a great idea for someone who was already shy and too much in her own head to get the idea that she should turn even more inside herself and seek out all the wrong things hiding there. I cycled through feeling okay and feeling wretched because I sometimes felt jealous of my classmates.

I value reflection. Right now I am writing about my feelings on the internet. But all this searching and hiding gave me the impression that a big part of Christianity was about struggle. I carried those ideas with me as I started learning about the church calendar in college, especially to the practice of Lent. I thought that Lent was to be like a flashlight that I could shine in the dark corners of my heart, rooting out my hidden transgressions. I didn’t believe that praying in the car rather than listening to music and giving up emotional eating was helping me join in the suffering of Jesus. I just hoped it was helping me get rid of myself.

Giving up something for Lent is not required of Christians, and I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to practice it. I have done different things over the years, both adding things in and giving up habits I would like to break. At this point in my life, it is helpful to see the seasons of the church calendar as part of a long conversation that I am having with God. My spiritual practices don’t include constantly searching my heart for dark things, which paradoxically makes it easier for me to identify areas of my life where I would like to make space for change. I don’t have to worry about making that change happen all by myself (or at all), but I have to be honest with myself about the fact that my practices, good and bad, affect other people.

I like the way that Marcus Borg put it in his post here:

Ash Wednesday, Lent. Holy Week and Christianity itself are about following Jesus on the path that leads through death to resurrection. They are about dying and rising with Christ. We are to follow him to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection. That is what the journey of Lent is about.

That journey intrinsically involves repentance. But repentance is not primarily about feeling guilty about our sins, or about doing penance (think of the common practice of “giving up” something during Lent – whether meat or chocolate or alcohol or shopping, and so forth). The biblical meanings of repenting are primarily twofold. On the one hand, it means to “return” to God, to “reconnect” with God. On the other hand, it means “to go beyond the mind that we have” – minds shaped by our socialization and enculturation.

The result: dying to an old way of seeing and being and living and identity, and being born, raised, into a new way of seeing and being and living and identity. Ash Wednesday, as we are marked for death, is the annual ritual enactment of the beginning of that journey.

In December, I had the opportunity to read City of God by Sara Miles. Her book Take This Bread, about how feeding people connects her to the body and blood of Christ, was transformative for me, so, you know, no pressure, Sara. City of God is about her experiences over several years on Ash Wednesday, adding another layer to her ideas about embodied faith. I promised myself that I would read it again closer to Lent, so I picked it up over the weekend.

Though the Bible describes people trying to demonstrate their sorrow before God through rituals like fasting, wearing sackcloth, and pouring ashes on their heads, prophets like the ones we read aloud on Ash Wednesday insist these acts do not constitute repentance unless there’s a real change of behavior.

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,” God demands, in Isaiah’s account, “one day for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

Repentance means turning toward other human beings, our own flesh and blood, whenever they’re oppressed, hungry, or imprisoned; it means acting with compassion instead of indifference. It means turning away, “fasting,” from any of the little and big things that can keep us from God–drugs, religion, busy-ness, video games, lies–and accepting the divine embrace with all our hearts. Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own. -City of God by Sara Miles

This repentance, it is not meant to turn you inward. Over and over, we hear this message from the church and her practices: You cannot–should not–go it alone. As we move from this season of light into one of repentance, may your Lenten journey be one of grace rather than of struggle, and may your reflections help you to see the need around you rather than creating more need within yourself.

Readings I recommend for Lent:

-City of God by Sara Miles (copy provided by Netgalley but I am buying my own)
-The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan
-Still by Lauren Winner
-My favorite prayer books are The Divine Hours, The Book of Common Prayer, and Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro
-“For Lent, 1966″ by Madeleine L’Engle

seeking a friend for a walk to the park.

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If you ask Atticus who his best friend is, he will smirk and say, “Joe Biden.” Way back during the 2012 campaign, we taught him that Joe Biden is President Obama’s best friend, and I guess we’re a little hazy on the concept of “best friend” because now he thinks that Joe Biden is everyone’s best friend. The good news is that I think Joe Biden would like it that way. (Fingerguns!)

At school, they say he plays best with people who have the same interests he does–namely pouring dirt onto trucks. He told us the other day that he doesn’t like a certain little girl in his class because she doesn’t play with trucks. I am not totally sure what to make of that, so I mildly commented that everyone has different interests and left it at that.

What surprised me the most about the report from school is that at home he plays better with friends who are different. When they both want to play trucks or act like turtles or be pirates, then someone has the better toy or someone is doing it wrong or someone doesn’t want to share the pirate sword that he just bought with a gift card from his Nana because it is too special. Mostly what works is running around outside and giggling.

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Atticus is especially lucky to have a friend his age just two houses away. They play together most days, but sharing is hard, especially in the afternoons. The park is better. When the weather is nice, we trek down to the swingset and wander over to the lake. There’s usually a meltdown on the way home. I’m told that’s how it goes with three-year-olds, so we try to take it in stride.

When I say Atticus is lucky, I mean that all of us are. We feel fortunate to have people to walk with us in this stage of life. I think I will look back on these days and remember the slant of the afternoon sun as we steadily pushed our strollers in the direction of the park.

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the walk of shame.

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When I was pregnant with Atticus, I felt close to Mother Mary, she who had walked those same steps (or rode them on a donkey, if you prefer). But I am not finding a lot of biblical models for parenting a toddler. There’s Hannah, who dropped her toddler off with Eli and went home to put her feet up. Later in life, Jesus basically runs a daycare with the slogan “let the little children come to me.” I hope these stories mean that the Bible is big on moms getting some rest.

There are no stories, though, of Jesus’ toddlerhood. Do you think that’s because there was nothing much to report or because the dudes who wrote the Bible weren’t big on childrearing? I’m just saying: That Jesus fellow seems pretty stubborn to me. Go ahead and imagine him at the age of three. Do you really think Jesus never asserted his will, causing Mary a walk of shame out of the Nazareth equivalent of a Target? Learning how to be human causes some conflict.

Speaking of the walk of shame, I had a situation this week where I had to take Atticus out of church. Let me fall all over myself to say that he was not being bad. He said that he wanted to stay in big church with me and so he was, per my request, quietly playing with his car on the floor under the pew. And then in the aisle. And then he was lying on the floor and driving it on the wall and I was a little squirmy about it but I was hanging in. But when he wanted to stand up and drive his car on the wall of the sanctuary during the deacon ordination, I had to intervene.

When I told him I needed him to sit down, he gave me that look, you know the one. The smirk that indicates that he is going to do what he wants and he does not care for your concerns regarding the deacons or the congregation and you are welcome to watch him as he defies you because it’s nap time and snacks have been eaten and go ahead, make my day, mama. (He’s an expressive fellow.)

I took him out. We went home.

And I cried about it because I don’t know how quiet I should ask him to be in church and I don’t know if I should let him drive his car on the wall even if he’s lying on the floor. I don’t want him to bother other people but I also want him to see church as a place where all of him is welcome. I cried until I decided to quit church forever. Forever, I told Mike. I am not going back. We can be a family who worships in pajamas. At our own house. Amen.
Before I fully quit church, I posted on facebook about my frustrations. You might know this already, but the question of children’s behavior in church is one where everybody has a lot of opinions. I was hoping for some good tips and for people to be gentle with me. What I did not expect was the outpouring of love and encouragement from my friends and family. There were a lot of kind words about wanting Atticus in church for the long haul which means starting now. There were some suggestions about things that worked for others in the past. And there was one comment in particular that simply said, “It is all part of the promise we all made during Atticus’s dedication.”

Huh.

I have said this to other people, that their children are part of our congregation and that they are not bothering me. I have made promises at dedications and promises at baptisms and promises when people joined the church. But I have to tell you, I really needed the reminder that Mike and I are not doing this alone. We made these promises to do this together, and we have to keep showing up so we can do our part.

So, I guess I am going to return to church at some point (although I will probably be a little bit shy about it because I know for real that everybody will be watching me and my kid). We will pass snacks down the pew and draw pictures and dole out quiet toys as slowly as we can. We will be thankful for the songs because we can stand up and make a little noise. And if we don’t make it the whole service, we will reject shame and remember love because we are still learning how to do this thing.

On Sunday afternoon, after I had quit and then rejoined church, I took Atticus to our neighbors’ house. He pulled a book off their shelf, opened it up, and put it on the piano. Then he sat down and started playing just like he saw in church.

another poem for valentine’s week.

Turns out I’m kind of a romantic.

“Credo” by Matthew Rohrer

I believe there is something else

entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,
so we fall in love.

It could also be true that what we use
everyday to open cans was something
much nobler, that we’ll never recognize.

I believe the woman sleeping beside me
doesn’t care about what’s going on
outside, and her body is warm
with trust
which is a great beginning.

faith, mama style (a review of found by micha boyett).

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I pray in fits and starts these days, mostly using prayer books to guide me. This is not because I don’t believe that prayer is valuable, but because I don’t always know exactly what I am asking when I pray for people who are sick or hurting. I am still trying to figure out whether I believe in miracles. And so I stick to the words of my prayer books, a communal script that feels safe and vulnerable at the same time.

There was one night last week when I was curled on Atticus’s bed as he was falling asleep. I listened to his breathing as it slowed and steadied, and as I stroked his forehead, I felt the urge to pray for him. We say prayers with him every night, but I have never related much to the stories of mamas who spend their middle-of-the-night nursing hours in prayer for their children. I spent my middle-of-the-night nursing hours in a lot of different ways: marveling at him, reading twitter, resentful that I was not sleeping. And there were certainly ways that I felt, as I rocked my baby, that the presence of God was near and sustained me. It wasn’t prayer in any traditional sense of the word, but neither did I feel the need to spell out what I was thinking and feeling. The love in my heart and the laughter on my lips and the pain when he is acting out, these are all prayers to me.

But I felt called–no matter how uncomfortable I am with that word–to pray for him the other night, and so I tucked myself in behind him and said things to God in my heart about how much help we need and what kind and the people I hope we three can grow to be. It felt good, releasing those thoughts in a deliberate way.

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The next day I started a book by Micha Boyett, whose blog I discovered when Atticus was small. At the time, she was writing about the Rule of St. Benedict and how it related to parenting, which is of course right in my wheelhouse. Her book Found is about faith and prayer and feeling lost in motherhood. She comes from a place of big questions about God and sin the meaning of life, questions I have asked myself at different points on my journey. Is God mad at me? Is it possible like the preacher said to live an entire day without sinning? Am I supposed to be doing something more important than wiping noses and butts?

When I was approaching motherhood, I was so afraid of losing myself. For me, that mostly meant I was afraid of not having time for reading and spending time with Mike. Micha was anxious that she would lose herself in motherhood because she thrives on reflective time with God (which she was too tired for) and because she was afraid of an angry God. As she struggled again and again with the difficulties of waking up early to pray, I wanted to go and force her to get back in bed, because getting up early to pray when my baby was small never crossed my mind. In those blurry days, sleeping was my prayer, and making milk, and surviving. Micha and I were in very different places spiritually, but what we have both discovered is the way that relationships, like the seasons of the church calendar, can cycle. There are times to wait and hope and times to lament and times that are ordinary. There are times for prayer books and times to call out for help from the depths of your soul. I am coming back around to spontaneous prayer, and that feels right, too. We can be found in all of those places, just as we can find God in new ways as we change and grow with the years.

This is my story, the life to which I testify. I thought I was lost, but always, I was found.

Two quick notes. First, I loved that I have read Micha’s blog for many years but that the content of this book was not recycled from those posts. Instead, it seemed like the blog was practice and research for the book. Second, and I want to phrase this carefully, it can be hard to talk about being a woman who struggles with anxiety when you come from a place of stability and comfort, but I thought Micha did a great job sharing her story without coming across as self-centered. Recommended for: new parents who struggle with anxiety, people who are considering parenthood, people who like monkish things. Pairs well with: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and Cracking Up by Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

(Netgalley provided me with a copy of this book but my thoughts as always are my own.)

a poem for valentine’s week.

“The Promise” by Jane Hirshfield

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,
Always.