Friday, November 13, 2015

New Website

I've bumped my blog over to, so please hop over to to follow along. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Food Anxiety

God of Paleo eating, forgive me for I have sinned.

About four years ago, Brandon and I embarked on a month of Whole 30 eating in an effort to figure out what was destroying his digestive system. The Whole 30 cuts all added sugar, alcohol, grains, beans and legumes, soy, and dairy products for 30 days. For 30 days, you eat only fruits, vegetables, seeds, tree nuts, oils, and meat. After just a few days, we noticed amazing results - we lost weight, sinus issues disappeared, complexion cleared up, snoring ended, acid reflux disappeared, indigestion gone, major digestive issues for Brandon disappeared, afternoon lethargy disappeared, and we both were sleeping like rocks. We felt amazing.

After we finished the Whole 30 Challenge, we said good riddance to soy and grains. Adios, sandwiches! Goodbye, pasta! You get the idea. It has been our goal in the weeks and months and years since that first Whole 30 to stick as close to that strict diet as possible - all whole foods, no processed or pre-packaged junk. When we slide back into eating pizza and ice cream on a habitual basis, we all notice the difference. When we consciously cut those things that we know will make us sick out of our diets again, we feel better again.

For the most part this has worked really well for us. Cutting out all of the pre-packaged and processed stuff has made for significant changes in how we feel. Participating in the Whole 30 was a powerful, eye opening experience to how much diet affects the way our bodies operate.

But Brandon's digestive issues continue to spike, and so we try to cut out other parts of our diets that might be culprits. Chickens who are fed soy, for instance. Chickens who are fed soy that lay soy-fed eggs. Nitrates. Red meat.

The general progression of our dietary habits has looked something like this:
  • We tried the Whole 30 in 2012 and felt overwhelmed, but figured it out.
  • We switched to Paleo eating and felt overwhelmed, but figured it out.
  • We watched Forks Over Knives and felt overwhelmed.
  • We heard about Grain Brain and reinforced our anti-grain sentiments.
  • We launched Whole 30 challenges again in 2013 and 2014 and made A Case For and Against Detox
  • We learned how too much protein in your diet can affect your kidney health and started to cut back on meat.
  • We learned from the World Health Organization that red meat is a carcinogen.
  • I signed up for a plant-based diet wellness class at work taught by the Esselstyns of Reverse and Prevent Heart Disease fame who say, no animal anything, no dairy, no oils, no added sugars, just fruits, vegetables (lots of leafy greens especially), whole grains, beans and legumes, and today I'm beginning a seven-day plant-based diet challenge.
I am afraid to buy bread. And pasta. And rice. And cereal. The other day I bought a package of whole wheat spaghetti and felt a surge of shame.

I believe I suffer from FAD - Food Anxiety Disorder. I don't think it's a real thing but I bet it will become one soon, because of this:


There are plenty of recommended, modified, reduced, reorganized, This Is The Way diets I could reference. These are the two that are front of mind for us right now.

Eat meat.

Don't eat meat.

Don't eat grains.

Eat grains.

Don't eat beans and legumes.

Eat as many beans and legumes as you want.


I should not feel anxiety about buying a food product that most of the world subsists on, right? I want to live the healthiest, most joyful life I can and provide strong guidelines for lifelong health for my kids. The world is against me in this mission. School wants a sweet treat, a salty treat, a juice drink, a goodie bag, and a healthy snack for the Halloween party. Church hosts a donut hour every Sunday and dessert at every cheese- and meat-based potluck. Restaurants offer three vegetarian, cheese-smothered entrees and four salads, one without meat, with cheese. Butter, cheese, white bread, and meat, everywhere!

I wouldn't care about any of this if I hadn't done that Whole 30 Challenge four years ago, stripping away the staples of the American diet, cutting my addiction to sugar cold turkey, and discovering all of the benefits of eating for health, not eating to satisfy my desires. We have evangelized for Paleo eating and now I find myself eyeing another model, another option, wanting the very best for my body and my family's bodies for the long haul, wondering about all of that meat we've been eating and what it might be doing to our kidneys, our cells, our overall health.

And so I bought a bag of whole wheat pasta and a can of pasta sauce. I stirred in some spinach. My kids sung the praises of noodles over dinner and we Googled how much sugar is in one box of raisins (25 grams) and how much the average adult woman should eat each day (25 grams). We talked about eating well, about maybe even eating sandwiches again (SINNERS!!!!).

I wish I didn't care about any of this because it's just plain exhausting pushing against our cultural norms of cheese cheese cheese and meat meat meat. Countries all over the world and families in our own nation are malnourished and starving, anxious about where they are going to get their next meal and their next meal and their next meal. Here in the Fifty Nifty United States, we are anxious about consuming too much food and the wrong types of food. We eat junk and pay for it now and later. It's a money-making industry of diet plans and pharmaceuticals.

Last night at dinner, Brandon and I scanned the menu and tried to decide what to eat.

"You're making me freak out about meat," Brandon said as we looked in vain for a non-meat, non-cheese dish.

"Don't freak out," I said, "Order whatever you want. I don't want to be a slave to our diets, but I also want to feel good and be healthy." I took my own advice and ordered sea scallops (They are of the animalia kingdom, folks. I was secretly hoping they could be considered plants.)

That's the bottom line. Anxiety about food is not feeling good. It is not healthy. I need to remember that food is not an idol. Learning more about what foods are good for you and what foods may have negative impacts on your long-term health is good education and an important framework for making healthy decisions. I feel better when I don't eat added sugars. I feel better when I don't eat dairy. I feel better when I eat healthy grains. I feel better when I don't eat red meat.

I especially feel better when I remember that I have to eat for the rest of my life, and life is a journey of successes and failures, of gaining more knowledge and growing in wisdom and discernment. I can choose into health or I can choose to indulge, and both choices are mine to make, consequences on either side.

Those sea scallops were delicious. I don't regret them.

Monday, November 2, 2015


We spent the evening with friends of ours discussing the aches and opportunities of the church we're attending, and while our kids ran around their living room and up the stairs, and I scratched the ears of one of their pups, I said the thing I keep saying about this church community: I laugh every time I think about where we're at and how it doesn't make any sense, but here we are, filled with peace and joy for this place in spite of what would make more sense. Something has bound us here for the time being, for such a time as this, and that mystery and misty hope keeps me coming back, excited to see what's next.

The opposite is true for me with my mom and her health right now: wrapped up in that is fear and anxiety, worry and stress, uncertainty about what the holidays hold, what next year holds, what the future holds. It feels dangerous to plan for the future, even as God says he knows the plans he has for us, plans to give a hope and a future. It is much harder for me to trust that mystery in the face of the realities of disease - dis-ease - it is much harder to hang on to hope.

But that is what we have, isn't it, what we must have, what we say we have when we say we love Jesus and God loves us, we say we have hope. Joy. Peace.

Even on this rock life finds a way to keep on living.
Tonight I am warm, held in the majesty of love and communion with my family and with my friends. My husband is strumming his guitar. I spent 30 minutes holding my daughter, talking about sex and marriage and belly button lint and how the Earth was made and how babies are made. She asked whether Grandma Rose is feeling better and we talked about cancer and upcoming doctor's appointments and God's love, and Lydia said, even if she dies (oh God, oh God, oh God) it will be okay because we will see her in heaven again with Great Pop and Pop-O.

We are all made of dust, made of the stuff of Earth, all of which was made by the hands of God. We are held. We are held in this warmth and love, and it is this love--capital-L Love--that delivers joy. Peace. Hope.

I will say I love you and you are loved a thousand times in as many ways as I possibly can to every person I come in contact with every day because it is the only thing proven to conquer death and fear of death. It is the only thing that carries me over this chasm of fear and anxiety. It is holding my daughter who is holding me and it holds my mom, even now, even in her anxiety and my anxiety, in her worry and my worry, in all of the unknowns about tomorrow that are always there but strikingly clear now. What a gift to be reminded that today is all we know for certain? So, love.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Neither death nor life. Neither death nor life. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Love, love, love. I wish to stay right here, replicate tonight in its hope and vision for the future, extend that faith and hope and love out for all my days. No more fear. No more anxiety. Just peace and love and being held.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

You Should Read This, and This, and This

I'm now working from home two days a week--which is fabulous--but it is impeding the pace at which I get through my audiobooks. Cry me a river. The things I have to give up for work-life balance, I tell you what.

The balance of being in the office three days a week and out two is just about perfect for this introverted managing editor writer person. I swear traffic is getting worse headed into downtown Cleveland. People, stop living in the suburbs and taking jobs in the city! That's only for me to do. The rest of you should relocate to one of those swanky lakefront apartments and clear up I-77 between 7 and 8:30 every morning.

My hour and fifteen in the car every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday morning still gives me plenty of time to get through almost an audiobook a week, depending on the length and reading style of the author/narrator. I just finished Let's Discuss Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, which was hilarious. You should read it. Before that, I listened to Eve by Wm. Paul Young, the guy who wrote The Shack. It was a fascinating, magical, fanciful interpretation of the Creation story and the Fall. I wasn't as impressed with the writing as I was the imagination in this book. It was delightful and heartbreaking. You should read it.

Another book you should read is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which opens up the doorway for people to be creative. Creativity isn't just for the pros or the degreed or the academics, it's for everyone! Boom! So go read this for a little inspiration to get out there and be creative with your bad self.

I mentioned Love Wins by Rob Bell last time, but I'm bringing it up again because, you should read it.

And before that, I read Origins: 14 Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and you should only read it if you are okay not really understanding 2/3 of what is being said or you are an astrophysicist, in which case you won't have any trouble.

Before that, I read Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan, because he's also super funny, and sometimes you need to laugh the entire way to work. You should read it.

You should also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Also Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski. And Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.

Oh, heck, just read the books. Expand your world and read the books. Look up and out and in and through and read the books. Read the books you would never read. Read the books that might challenge the way you think. Read the books that will help you see yourself new. Read the books that will make you more whole. Read the books that will make you laugh. Read the books that will kick you in the pants. You will be a better person. You will be a changed person. You will understand other people better. You will have more compassion. You will love more, feel more, think more, dream more. Read the books, people. Read all the books.

Off The Page Update

I just started a new series of four posts for Off the Page last week. They all have something to do with faith and doubt, two things that belong together but aren't usually talked about together. You can catch my first post, Becoming a 7-Day Creation Biblical Literalist, and follow along the next three Thursdays.

Previously on OTP, I thought a lot about prayer's role in the face of sickness and disease, specifically my dear friend, Marilyn's battle with breast cancer, in With Wordless Groans. I should read this one over and over again daily. Lately it feels like sorrow and grief are on every corner. The only way I can battle back the sadness is through prayer, and even then it's begging for comfort and joy, comfort and joy, comfort and joy. Sad is okay. It is necessary. But Lord, bring peace swiftly.

I also thought about how we measure our worth and the contradictions we face when wrestling with ambition, humility, confidence, jobs, and more, in How Much Am I Worth?

I hope you'll follow along with the series on doubt. I'm excited about what God and I discussed together as I worked through the writing process. I grew from it, and for that I am grateful.
Lake Michigan, Writers Retreat

Speaking and Teaching, WUT?
October proved to be a month for kickstarting the writing and teaching side of myself. I filled in for a friend at the Cleveland Museum of Art to teach a workshop on ekphrastic poetry at the beginning of the month. I traveled to beautiful coastal Michigan a couple weekends ago to spend some delicious time with writer friends and get some work done on a new poetry manuscript. I also started a writers' group at work, and we had our first meeting two weeks ago. I'm excited for the possibilities of camaraderie and encouragement there. And next weekend, I'm off to the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference to talk about Vulnerability in Writing. If you aren't going around scaring people for Halloween, perhaps you want to join me in Indiana Oct. 30 and 31? Li-Young Lee and my pal Scott Russell Sanders along with a whole host of poet friends are going to be hanging out together. It'll be totes amazing. Wut? (I don't know either.)

In Hindsight...
2014: Breaking the Workaholic
2013: Bad People Go to Hell and Other Parental Panic Moments
2012: The Elliptical and Tonight's Work of Writing
2011: Creativity in Worship
2010: Twelve Apples and a Blog
2009: That Crazy Thang Called "Plans"
2008: Baked Apples, Green Ogres, and Snuggles

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Stretch, bend, snap and bind: like-mindedness and marriage and a few other meandering thoughts

My husband is playing the guitar on the other side of the room, and I keep opening and closing browser tabs trying to decide what I have to say here right now or whether I have anything to say at all, or whether to close the whole thing down and play Candy Crush. I've almost done that twice now.

But as satisfying as passing level 216 of Candy Crush would be, nothing beats jotting down a few words. It's the thing that wakes me up, even when I'm cross-eyed tired.

Last light. Hang on, green. Things are about to get crazy in your world.
Two days ago, Brandon and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. He's playing "True Companion" by Marc Cohn right now, the song we danced to on our wedding night to launch us into the years that have done (and will likely continue to do) their "irreparable harm." Gratefully, "I can see us slowly walking arm in arm" my husband and Marc Cohn continue, "just like that couple on the corner do. Girl, I will always be in love with you." This weekend, I get to tag along to Columbia, SC, and while he works, I will also work--on essays and poems and blog posts for Off the Page--and the kids will stay back and destroy the house for us while we're gone. I'm really excited about going away with him for the weekend, because, as predicted last time, I've already found myself sobbing on the couch with my laptop and wine several nights this season waiting waiting waiting for my husband to come home.

It's hard, marriage.

So, Columbia will be glorious. Even if it is supposed to rain all weekend.

Tonight I started listening to Love Wins by Rob Bell and had one of those fluttery heartbeat feelings. This guy gets it, I kept thinking. I walked into the house after my commute still buzzing and blubbering a bit about Rob Bell and heaven and how YOU HAVE TO READ THIS ROB BELL BOOK IT'S FREAKING AWESOME.

I love finding those people whose spirits align with mine, like we're really all in this expansive universe together. When Brandon and I met, we were at that perfect place where ideologies and hopes for the future aligned. Somehow, over the last 13 years, we have stretched and bent and sometimes snapped, moved ahead of each other or lagged behind the other on our respective journeys. We have warned each other about giving the devil a foothold. We have gone door to door together and separately for varying causes and political campaigns. These days, our conversations about faith and politics, peace and love find more common ground than not, and I love this space between us. I love that we are like-minded. I love that right now, in our relationship, we are partners in this space. It makes the times when circumstances of life grind a little more tolerable.

It's really touchy-feely and I apologize for that but man, I just love it. Love it love it love it. I've felt that way a lot lately about people and places where I've landed, connected to like-minded people, united in common causes, gathering in a "sharing everything in common" Acts 2:42 way. Richard Rohr and Rob Bell don't know it, but we're totally breaking bread together. Same with Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed and and and makes me feel like we can all take on the trouble and pain of the world and deliver light. Together.

Don't forget to pack your crazy eyes!
Last week, I was depressed about the husband-on-the-road. I think it was one of those deadly swings of hormones and circumstances spiraling like they do for me, and when I get in that haze, I lose sight of hope. The world narrows and all I see is want. Grief. Loneliness.

How is it that one week later the world is light and life and heaven-on-earth? Is it because of Rob Bell? Is it because Brandon is home and I'm going on the road with him next week? Is it circumstantial only, and if so why am I so short-sighted, blinded by this fog? When will it descend again? Will it?

I don't know, but the surge of energy, the need to engage with the rest of humanity, the drive to do the thing that I was made to do, whatever that looks like, blossomed out of the chaos again. Maybe it's coincidence. Maybe it's hormonal. Maybe it's human touch. Maybe it's that recognition of a common vision. Maybe it's hope.

Anyway, here I am. Writing a wandering blog post, anticipating the weekend and the good work ahead. Grateful. It only seems right to end my blathering blog post tonight with what has become a mantra for me these last few years:

Sow your seeds in the morning, and at night let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. - Ecclesiastes 11:6

Back When:
2014: The In-Between
2013: Most Memorable Moment: Ten Years Later
2012: That Isn't on My 30th Year Goal List
2011: Anniversary
2010: I'm Going Pro-Joy
2009: Posting Poems
2008: You Can't Have It All

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Next Thing and the Next Thing

Summer is coming to a close, which means the children go back to school, Henry starts preschool three days a week, and football season begins. Now that we're done with this thing, onto the next thing. The clouds are racing and changing across the sky, moving the weather and the seasons along, and now it's almost fall. Would ya look at that.

Who am I kidding? I'll be whining all fall
about this guy being on the road.
This might be the first year I am not overcome by anxiety about Brandon's travel each weekend. Maybe it's because nobody in our family is playing soccer, so I don't have any Saturday morning, standing in the cold and rain, cranky spectator obligations. Maybe it's because the kids are getting older and more manageable on my own. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and able to occasionally recognize the lonely Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights without Brandon around after the kids go to bed for what they are, or can be: my weekly writer's retreat, my silence, my repose. Maybe I'm just at a really steady and secure place, not overwhelmed by job decisions or graduate school or babies, just... here.

Don't hold your breath, though; I will probably find myself sitting in our living room a night not too far in the future, alone with my laptop, pouring tears and capital letters into this blog, waiting waiting waiting for my husband to come home.

Voted "Most Powerful" for the Ashland University
MFA Class of 2015
Keeping in the spirit of weekly writer's retreats, though, I am very excited about this fall. I finished my MFA at Ashland University this summer, and I spent the last few weeks reorganizing and writing a few additional pages towards my manuscript, American Honey. I am really pleased with this final draft... or at least this I-think-I'm-ready-to-send-to-agents-and-editors draft, and my plan this fall is to send it out into the world of agents and editors. If you are by some magical coincidence an agent or editor reading this now who sees the need for a collection of memoiristic essays about the first decade of marriage, temptation, desire, and love, well, ahem, I'm available by email, phone, or post. I can even access a fax machine.

One of the essays in the manuscript was just published online by the litmag Full Grown People, "Careful Intimacies." To me, it captures the spirit and tension throughout this collection. That essay I linked to above about soccer, "The Worst Soccer Mom," is also included.

I'm also continuing as a regular contributor to Off the Page, a ministry of Our Daily Bread, and I'm loving that monthly exercise. I write twice a month for them. It's where I've been going to hash out the things I think about on the way to work, listening to audiobooks, the matters of faith that matter most to me right now. Here are a few of my most recent posts:

Today: Sabbath Afternoon - "If you haven’t done so lately, it’s time to grab a picnic blanket before the warm days slip away and the evening sun skitters over the horizon in the hurry of new autumn notebooks..."

August 5: Know Thyself - "One of the things I love about this world (and there are many of them) is the synchronous connections that happen throughout the whole body of knowledge. I was reminded of this again recently..."

July 22: At Least Ten Best Things about Girl Friends - "Greeting Cards We are called to encourage each other, and so we buy and send and give them on a whim. Thinking of you! we say. Hang in there! we say. You and me, we’re..."

July 8: Gas Station Evangelism - "An older woman pulled up behind me the other morning as I was pumping gas. She got out, walked straight over with her Bible in her hand, and said she had a verse for..."

This Day in History:
2013 - Just Call Me Sarah "All Heart" Wells (oh Lord, what a day at church this was.)
2011 - Soccer Mom Fail (the origins of "The Worst Soccer Mom" essay)
2008 - Seconds from Shaken Baby (the good ol' days... ugh)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Basement After-Dinner Theater

Our kids have taken to putting on shows for us in our basement. They take turns choosing the plot, often involving a pirate queen, the Incredible Hulk, and either a cowboy or sheriff or good pirate or Star Wars character (take your pick). There is always some battle involved and there is always some mid-scene break from character during which one of my children will protest or give another child their next line. 

Lydia is loud and uses a gravelly pirate voice to announce each character, including herself. Elvis is the director and producer. Beware taking any liberties with his script; he has in mind exactly what is supposed to happen next. Henry generally just wants to smash and tackle things. Take a guess which character he is.

Last night, they introduced commercial breaks between scenes, which were solo performances by Lydia, singing along to a band called One Girl Nation. We hear her yell-singing the lyrics in the basement through the floorboards throughout the day.

"Okay, commercial time!" Lydia shouted, in her gravelly pirate voice. The boys skittered off to change costumes. Lydia pressed play on her CD player and stood on her mini-trampoline, pigtails in her hair, hairbrush microphone in hand.
You heard me say my first words
Watched me crawl before I walked
I grinned and wept, of course.

"Bahhh, bahhh, bahhh, bahhh," Elvis and Henry chanted.

Lydia turned to them in exasperation and tried to keep singing.
People say I have your eyes
But I've always wanted to have your heart
"Bahhh, bahhh, bahhh, bahhh," the boys continued. To be fair, it was right to the beat.

"Guys, stop," I pleaded.

"We're singing along!" Elvis giggled.

"You're ruining it!" Lydia cried, near tears, turning off the CD player.

Sigh. On to the next scene.

It takes so long to learn how to love each other well, doesn't it? How to cooperate, to lead, to follow, to serve, to take direction, to give over the spotlight, to discover our roles and how they work with everyone else's, to take turns on the stage, to make space for each other in your basement theater. I know my role down there: I am the audience. I throw my bouquets of bravos, my kisses, my applause, and cheer my three actors on in their beautiful roles. Become who you are made to become, darlings.

Me, I couldn't handle much more of One Girl Nation's song, "Daddy's Girl," sung with such sincerity and passion by my sweet daughter. My cup overfloweth, and with all this rain we've been getting lately, I don't think our basement sump pump could handle all of the overfloweth coming from my cup.

My three thespians

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Things We Love

I am hanging out in the bright afternoon heat. Our kids have found other kids to be this afternoon's best friends. My husband is in a baseball uniform and catcher's gear, waiting for his next at-bat. It's Father's Day, and there's nowhere else I'd rather be, around this dusty diamond, squinting in the light.

There's nothing hotter than the person you love doing the thing that he loves. My husband loves baseball. He loves coaching it and playing it. He comes alive. He is the fullest and best version of himself here. I imagine when he plays he must feel the way I do in the grip of writing or reading, energized and deeply satisfied, even when it doesn't go well.

I think this is partly what it means to love someone - to be able to recognize who a person is and encourage them in the things they are passionate about. It can go so wrong. What would have happened to our marriage if Brandon said, "I don't like you writing about our lives"? What would have happened to our marriage if I had said, "you really need to stop this coaching and playing business." We would have strangled each other's lifeblood and become hollow shells of ourselves. How can we love fully and live fully when we have to deny an essential part of our being?

So here we are. Brandon just shouted, "Two, boys!" from behind home plate. My boys are playing dinosaurs and learning for themselves daily what makes their hearts beat, and I am writing on my phone in the sunshine. Finding the holy in our every day loves.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two Herons

Can't shake the sadness over the shooting in Charleston, SC this morning.

My muse of late has been a heron I look for every morning on my drive to work. This morning there were two. Here's a poem that hopes to capture the conflict in me when I hear about these kinds of acts of violence.

Two Herons

Good morning, heron on my right,
who lifted in flight as I drove by,
who glided above still black waters
for a time. I think we met
eye for eye. You were there
with me, my speeding
my needing heart my
furrowed brow. Good
morning, heron on my left,
the one I expect each morning,
upright and erect, how are you
undisturbed this morning, this
mourning, this morning’s news,
how do you not lift and turn
away, how do you keep facing
this day, how do you stand
and pray and not take flight,
or fight, my heron, my heron.
Heron on my right, lift high
your sorrow, your indignation,
your praise, and I will rise
with your wings. Heron on my left,
how do you stay, why do you
stay. Please stay. I will
follow you to that place
on that log in the dark wake,
and try to be still, and try
to be calm.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Desire to Be Desired

A couple of weeks ago was the River Teeth Nonfiction Conference, and leading up to that were lots of long nights getting ready. I've been feeling frustrated with my ability to make time for writing, here or anywhere else, but now that the conference is over and I've given my brain a little break from evening writing duties, I am ever hopeful that I can return to writing. I guess it's a season of scribbling notes on my iPhone notepad to get to later.

Well, I am writing, two blog posts a month for Off the Page, and I have a series of heron poems that keep coming to me like little mercies. I've been enjoying the blog posts I'm writing for Off the Page, but it is a different kind of writing than essaying. It's the essaying I miss right now. When I was whining about this to my friend Tania a couple weeks before the conference, she told me, "What, you can't write for the next 14 days? Big deal!" and grant yourself the space and permission not to write for now. I'm pretty sure that's what she said. So, okay, stop whining. There are worse things in the world than not writing for a small stretch of time.

Watching the Cavs game
In other news, it's SUMMER and baseball season. We spend a solid four to five nights a week at someone's baseball or softball game right now, and I loooooove it. There's nothing like sitting outside in late summer afternoons, the pace of a ballgame, an excuse to do nothing but enjoy the evening... ah. I love it. Have I mentioned that I love it?

We're also letting the kids - especially Elvis and Lydia - stay up a bit later now that it's summer, and they've been staying up to at least the half for the Cavs games the last two weeks. It's been fun spending that additional downtime with the two of them, even though it's intruding on my alone time with Brandon, which is always so guarded. Lydia sat on my lap last night for part of the game and now stretches out almost as long as I am. They are amazing people.

What I've been listening to:
I just finished up two books by Bill Bryson - At Home and In a Sunburned Country. I almost started One Summer and then changed my mind. There's only so much of the same voice reading to you that you can take. I loved both books. They were engaging and funny and informative. Before that I listened to Small Victories by Anne Lamott and LOVED it. I'll probably go back to Lamott again soon because she's so funny and tear-inducing, and I like that kind of writing.

I shifted gears and started listening to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. For some reason it isn't at all what I thought it would be, but I also don't know exactly what I was expecting, so there's that. I'm really enjoying the switch to fiction for a spell, and I love the narrator's voice, the epistolary nature of the writing, and the gradual unfolding of the story. It's no wonder it won a Pulitzer.

What I've been up to:

If you are into Jo Ann Beard or you want to be, you might enjoy the presentation that Jill Christman and I did at the River Teeth Conference: "Negotiating the Plasmapause: Patterned Images, Delayed Revelation, and Sheer Awesomeness in Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth"

The series for Off the Page I mentioned in my last post, The Desire to Be Desired, has wrapped up. Here they are in summary with links to the full posts:

The Desire to Be Desired
I ran as fast as I could through the wood chips and up the wooden steps and beckoned from the highest point of the playground equipment. “You can’t catch me!” I shouted, grinning and staring down into the faces of Nick Germano and Jason Ream, and when they motioned for the steps, I squealed and giggled, sliding half-way down the stainless steel slide, its hot metal burning my hands and thighs. I stopped and waited to see which way they chose to go so I could make my break-away run, away from my chasers.

So went every day on the playground in first grade, then second, then third, sometimes different boys, eventually new playgrounds, but always the same game. Tag, freeze tag, TV tag, hide-and-go-seek tag, You can’t catch me! No one wanted to be caught, not really, anyway. What would you do when you were caught? That was the end of the game, the end of the chase. The thrill was in the running, the pursuit, the simple and potent knowledge that someone sought to catch you. Read More...

What Good Guys Do
One night, my husband and I were out at a country line-dancing bar. He got up to pay our tab and I watched the couples waltz on the floor.

“Hey, how ya doin’?” a voice came up from behind. I turned on my barstool and grinned at a guy obviously looking for a dance partner.

“I’m fine!” I said cheerily. He glanced down at my hand resting on the bar.

“Oh, you’re married!” he said, his arms flinging up in the air into the “I surrender” position. “I’m sorry!”

I nodded, still grinning as he walked away and Brandon came back. They exchanged glances, the guy smiling meekly and my husband giving him a nod of acknowledgement.

“Ready to go, Tiny Dancer?” Brandon asked.

“That guy was trying to hit on me!” I said with astonishment.

“Yeah, I figured,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist and guiding me toward the door. I continued grinning, the warmth of admiration and the heat of my husband’s palm on the small of my back making me glow faintly on the way to the car. Read More...

Empty Houses
It has been three years since I sat in a dark bar on the dark side of town alone with a colleague, out for a drink to talk about writing and family and his failing marriage. It has been three years since he confessed to having a crush, his hand flitting like a fly on and off of my thigh. Three years since I laughed and blushed, stunned to be so openly admired by someone other than my husband. I didn’t know how to handle this advance, how to stand and stare down disaster before it could take root.

Instead, I wanted to be nice. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My “no” was mushy and clouded with desire—not for this other man but for this other man’s words, this other man’s advances, the unabashed expression of his desire for me. Me! Goofy and ridiculous me, flabby around the middle me, mother of three, me! “But I love my husband,” I said, again and again, with a grin, because I also loved to hear how beautiful this other man found me, how lovely, how smart, how good.

I would like to say that I stood up and slapped him. After all, he had just shook hands with my husband in our living room, just stood in the presence of all our wedding pictures and smiling faces of our children. I would like to say that I insisted he drive me home, immediately. I would like to say that every email conversation and text message from there on was strictly professional and never slid slyly into flirtatious, that I reported his advances to my supervisor and ended it, ended the confusing, terrifying, anxiety-inducing friendship and work relationship. But I didn’t. Read More...

The Directions Desire Can Take Us
It’s tempting to conclude this series on desire with the pattest of pat answers: If I were truly holy and pursuing God, this fire would be quenched and I would never again face the dichotomy of flesh and spirit, as if my body is evil and my spirit is good.

Except God made me, body and spirit. Adam needed a helpmate and so he was given Eve, before the Fall, before separation from God. Sarah needs a helpmate and so she is given Brandon.

We are made for connection, with God and with others. This connection is rooted in two things: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

If God is love and we learn to love God by watching Jesus, then loving our neighbors as ourselves is one of the only ways we can express and experience that love for ourselves. It’s a give-and-get kind of relationship, a pay it forward, a pouring out to be filled again and again. Read More...

Back then --
2014: Holiday Greetings from Nine-Month-Contract Land
2013: Why Do We Need Men?
2012: Corrective Lenses and Parenting
2011: In the Center Ring: Motherhood vs. Work
2010: Maybe She's Born With It...
2009: Potty Training Adventures

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tackling Transitions

Next week, a new series of blog posts will begin to be published on the site Off The Page, a ministry of Our Daily Bread. I am excited about this opportunity to reach a larger audience and hope that the posts are engaging, inspiring, and thought provoking-- sincere and maybe even a little funny now and then.

My first series with Off The Page was about transitions and what it's like to change jobs, change communities, and change churches. Here are a few excerpts:

Changing Directions
I recently did one of those things you do in your twenties and thirties: I changed jobs. The job change was a package deal and included a new town, a new commute, a new house, and a new school district for my kids.

I wasn’t really looking to change jobs. It’s rare to think that you’ve found the job you are made for when you are twenty-five, but I was certain I had: administering a graduate writing program, managing a small press and literary journal at the university I had graduated from four years earlier, working with faculty members who had mentored me when I was an undergraduate … I was in happy spreadsheet, literature, and poetry heaven.

Everything had fallen into place to make it happen too. My husband, Brandon, and I had prayed through the job offer and acceptance, the house sale and moving plans, the birth of our second child … every single little detail that summer. And it was good. Read More...

Church Hunting
I hate trying to find a church.

The last time we moved, Brandon and I fell by mercy into a community of believers that met our deep need for friendship and community. We only visited one other church in the land-of-a-thousand churches before we found 5 Stones Community Church.

5 Stones is filled with people who praise Jesus for his extravagant grace, make no claims of perfection but aspire to become the truest versions of themselves, and drape other people in that same outpouring of mercy and forgiveness. For realz, I know that was a lot of church-y talk and all, but I’m serious. Like all churches that exist here on earth, it has its battles and bruises, its history and its weaknesses. It’s made of a bunch of broken people covered by God’s grace, so that’s to be expected. Read More...

Life Together
I started the new year feeling a need for some meaty inspirational reading, so I picked up a book that’s been sitting on our shelves for a while now, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Hangin’ out with other believers and talking about Jesus is one of my favorite things to do, but deep and sustaining relationships in the church are sometimes hard to come by. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Christians can be kind of judgmental and easily offended. Whaaaaaat?! I know. Crazy. Because of this and my incapacity for small talk, I don’t find it easy to jump right into faith communities. I’m not always sure if they’re going to get me, and I don’t want to offend them by my sarcasm, self-deprecation, wide laugh, and loud grace.

Bringing the Word
You should know that I didn’t grow up reading the Bible—though we did have a basic illustrated Bible stories book floating around among the Dr. Seusses.

One Thanksgiving Day, I paged through a King James Bible looking for the section on Thanksgiving prayers, resolved that I would provide the most eloquent of blessings on our meal. This made perfect sense to me; after all, I had found the proper formal place setting arrangements for Thanksgiving in the cookbook. Surely there would be an index of holiday prayers in the Bible.

Later still, my mom bought me a red-letter, black, leather-bound, New International Version study Bible for Christmas. I was sixteen, and the hunger and curiosity from internal and external sources burned. I wanted to know: Is there a God? Is he real? Who is he? How do I reconcile all I’ve learned in sixteen years with this book? Can I?

I started reading at the beginning, like you do with most books. Genesis wasn’t so bad, and the start of Exodus is eventful, but then you get Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy all up in there, and my interest waned. Read More...

Tune in beginning May 13 for the next series on Off The Page: The Desire to Be Desired.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

April in Books and Birds

I finished listening to two books in the last couple of days, The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, both of which I highly recommend. 

I'm really into figuring out structure of books lately and thinking about the ways that authors assemble their thoughts, especially in nonfiction, and the image that came to mind for Solnit's book is a french braid. The entire book does this incredible job of weaving in apricots, Alzheimer's, loss, Frankenstein, Iceland and Icelandic tales, storytelling, meaning, and more. Each chapter introduces a new strand without leaving the previous strands behind, delivering an overarching gift of interconnectedness. I listened to the book on my commute, and while I really loved it, I don't think I'd recommend listening to the audiobook-- this is the kind of book that deserves a more attentive reading, a pencil, a glass of wine, and the time and space to set it down, think about it, pick it up again, and think some more.

Bird by Bird, on the other hand, was a great car listen, and since it's a bit shorter (four hours to listen, I think), it would be good for those who have a shorter commute. I'll admit that there wasn't a whole lot I hadn't heard before in terms of authorly advice, but that doesn't matter, because writing wisdom is like Bible verses: it doesn't matter how simple the concepts are, it's the doing that's the hard part, and any additional encouragement and companionship along the way helps.

Speaking of birds, I wrote two whole poems this month! This is up from zero the last year, so please, round of applause. They are both inspired by birds. It felt so fun to write new things about birds that I have something of a poetic project in mind with them. I have a secret ambition to write a poem a day in the month of May, but shhh. If it doesn't happen it, no big deal.

In other April-related news, I spent four days in Minneapolis for the AWP Conference, where I presented on a panel called Bravery and Bearing Witness: Vulnerability in Writing, and I think we knocked that panel's socks off. All of the panelists brought wonderful perspective and insight, but who's surprised by that, since they were Bonnie Rough, Kate Hopper, Brenda Miller, and Marilyn Bousquin? You just can't go wrong with that line-up. I also spent loads of time with my community of writers of faith, and that always fills the soul (and belly) like nothing else for me.

Brandon and I went to the John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett concert this past Sunday, together, alone. Date night reminds us both that we're funny and goofy and obnoxious and sexy and that we quite like each other as human beings, actually. Sometimes that's forgotten in the daily shuffle, eh? The concert, for me, put the lid back on my Pandora's box of insecurities, and from this side of the box, I stare in disbelief at that sad, hollow person who couldn't imagine ever escaping the spiral. I dislike the ebb and flow of these seasons... except for the growth and reminders of grace and mercy that come along with them.

I don't know much else, except that I will have a series of blog posts on Off the Page in the next few weeks, I think, on the desire to be desired, so hang on tight.

Back then --
2011: Explaining Easter (poem)
2009: Thunder (poem on top of a photo... blech)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Poems - Last Words

Copyright 2010, Matt Durbin
For the next week, poems I wrote in response to the last seven things Jesus is recorded as saying are being shared as part of Jody Thomae's Create-a-Day Virtual Art-Walk. These poems, for me, were entrance into verses in Scripture that for me began to feel worn down by ritual and repetition. I wanted to experience these moments anew, for myself.

The poems are paired with artwork by Matt Durbin, who painted them in response to the verses as well.

I hope you will follow along!

Virtual Art-Walk Day 1
Virtual Art-Walk Day 2

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

War and Peace and Devotion and David and Goliath

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to read 12 books in 2015. That's one a month - totally reasonable, I figured. I like to read.

That was before I discovered audiobooks.

I finished two books yesterday - Devotion by Dani Shapiro and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I've always wanted to read Russian novels but never took a Russian lit class where they were required, and the heft and weight of books like War and Peace intimidated me. Who has time to read War and Peace, and how good is it really? War, after all. I don't like war.

I loved War and Peace. I loved its characters and its ebb and flow between scene and dialogue and essayistic reflections on war and human nature, I loved Tolstoy's astute assessments of character and the inner workings of men and women, I loved the relationships and the interactions and the "tragic humor" of Russians, I loved it soo much I didn't want to get out of the car after my commute to and from work. I am so happy for the characters in the novel and so sad that it's over.

I started listening to Devotion by Dani Shapiro when for two whole days, I couldn't renew War and Peace. I also loved Devotion, which is not a Russian novel, but we can't ALL be Leo Tolstoy, amIright or amIright? I loved Devotion for its honesty and self-exploration, for its wrestling with matters of faith and its resolution without resolution, for Shapiro's sincerity of pursuit and her desire to comprehend matters of faith and devotion in the midst of suffering and uncertainty.

This morning, I began listening to David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, and I am loving that, too, already. I love books. Books books books, all day, reading reading reading. With my usual hour or so commute, plus a ten minute walk to and from my car during which I continue listening to whatever I'm listening to currently, I get in a solid 140 minutes of "reading" a day.

This gives me about 700 minutes a week of reading time, a little under 11 hours each week. Gladwell and Shapiro's books are each about 7 hours long, which means I could conceivably finish at least a book a week this year, so long as I don't sign up for many more Russian novels (the unabridged War and Peace clocked in at a mere 61 hours).

Twelve books in 2015. Psha.

What I love about books - all books, whether novel or self-help or spiritual or nonfiction or poetry - is the power they have to make me a different person. By reading these stories and listening to these people share their personal accounts or fictitious accounts or contemporary assessments of life, I discover with every book yet another sliver of humanity. Another example of the connectedness of our species. Another witness to the fact that we are all wrestling, we are all stretching, we are all striving for understanding. We are not alone, and behind each book is a person telling us so, sharing part of his or her story. We are built out of story and live through story, we find meaning through story. Sharing our stories with each other defines who we are. Reading other people's stories shows us humanity.

Also, I can't stand morning radio talk shows.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

That Time of the Month

There have been a grand total of about 36 months of my adult life (let's say, after 17 or so) that I have not worried about, wondered if, hoped for, stressed over, prayed for or prayed against being pregnant. My reproductive history is such that I get pregnant when I don't want to be pregnant, don't get pregnant when I want to be pregnant, and put up reproductive barriers to avoid getting pregnant only for one persistent little ovum and eager little sperm to unite anyway, so any time things are running a few days behind my anticipated "schedule," I freak out a little bit. Okay, a lot.

What if I'm pregnant? WHAT IF I'M PREGNANT?!

I've had a tubal, even, and we are officially, officially done with the baby-making business. Please tell me I'm not alone in this matter, girlfriends. I realize probably the combination of a tubal and this fear catapult me into a whole other category of neurotic, but surely you've been there. The monthly "friend," as we call her, is not a very reliable visitor. She's all tied up to other hormonal functions I don't quite understand, so I don't really want her to just go away. It seems extreme to have a tubal and to take birth control just to regulate that crazy girl, especially when those pills destroyed my complexion and altered my moods.

Add to her irregular visitations and my irrational fear of pregnancy the unfair fact that for about two or three days each month I turn into a needy, anxious, sensitive, sad little girl who only wants to be adored and complimented because she can't imagine ever feeling beautiful or happy again, so please just love me love me love me. And when that time passes, and I emerge on the other side, I look back at that sad, anxious person and wonder what the heck was wrong with her, how could I ever feel like that, who is she, anyway?

The temptation, during those angry, sad, and anxious days preceding That Time of the Month, is to say, "Oh, it's just PMS." But it's still two or three sad and anxious days (or longer, sometimes) a month, completely out of my control, that spin me in a thousand directions of feeling needy, then feeling angry that no one is filling my emotional gulf, then feeling ashamed at my neediness, then feeling bitter that I'm still sad and needy, then asking why no one loves me the way I need to be loved right this instant, then asking am I worthy of love, and then WHAT IF I'M PREGNANT?! and so on in a slow death spiral that ruins my psychological state of being for two or three days a month. Just two or three days a month. But... two or three whole days a month!

When I finally moved beyond PMS to That Time of the Month earlier this week, balanced hormonally and back in the beautiful and happy place, Lydia asked me why my stomach hurt. I decided, for some reason, that it was time to introduce the Period. I told her that it happens to all women. I told her she probably won't need to worry about it happening until she's around 12 or so, since that's when my period started. When she asked about what you have to do I told her about pads. When she asked why, I told her that it's related to having babies, and that women are the miracle bearers of carrying children, and that the menstrual cycle is the releasing of an egg that holds the potential to become a child, every month, the potential to become a child, and that led into the Dad's role and WOAH PEOPLE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT SEX NOW, that most intimate of acts, and I am blushing, and she thinks it's so weird but okay, whatever, Mom, I'm going to my softball evaluation.

Whew. That's over. Not really, though - we have entered the age of talking about sex, gradually, discussing body parts and what they do and why they do them. We all have bodies. Our bodies are different. They do different things. They make babies together. I don't want this to be weird and awkward, and the best way to remove fear and awkwardness is to talk about it until it isn't awkward anymore.

That Time of the Month--after I am through it and back in the beautiful, happy place--amazes me. This thing that happens to me each month is the very beginnings of human life. It is my most intimate tie to the Creator of the universe. It is my most intimate tie to the earth and the moon with its strange gravitational pull on our bodies that moves a woman's seed into cycle or body into labor. It is my most intimate tie to my husband, that urge to become one with another human being, to love and to be loved, to create new life yes but also to maintain a deep and mysterious connectedness unique to this marriage relationship, tied bodily and emotionally and spiritually and legally, all expressed by this giving and receiving of each other.

The fear that shakes me in those days preceding my period exists because all of these other things are real and true. I fear that I may be pregnant because God has done crazier things in history to bring about a baby (e.g., Jesus). I fear that I may be pregnant because the body and its systems are mysterious functions of breaking and healing and more bizarre odds have been beaten before when people have tried to stop having children. I fear that I may be pregnant because I know that my husband would freak out, that it would change our lives, again, that it would be scary and risky given my three c-sections. I fear that I may be pregnant because I have three people we've created together already who are beautiful strange amazing miracles and, wow, can you imagine another beautiful strange amazing miracle? This last is my secret awe, my secret fear--that I might defy all odds and rationale and medical exactitude and be pregnant again, that my body insists upon it, that I might get to bear this miracle again.

I used to just want to know, God, give me the exact times and dates of my children's births, the exact days numbered out for me, but nothing has ever gone the way I thought it would. The more I seek to know the more I see is mystery. It is the mystery of God and the mysteries of life that propel me forward in awe and wonder, propel out of fear and into love.

Eventually this cycle and potential for life creation will end and with it will come a whole other host of life changes I can't even imagine and have no desire to research right now. There will be certainty: no, no more children. There is no chance you will conceive again. This little bug of uncertainty that flickers about around me those few days before That Time of the Month will burn out. I wish for it and I don't wish for it.

The body is a crazy and mysterious creature, Lydia. Be afraid and don't be afraid.

Back in Time:
2014: I Don't Read Postcards from Hell
2013: Instructions for Crazy
2012: First World Problems: An Encounter with Infomercials
2011: Mercy Me, It's Broccoli
2010: Size Six...
2009: Homecoming

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Writers, Just Do It

Since switching jobs this fall, I've thought a lot about the writing life and how you go about making time to write. Writers bemoan the lack of time they have to dedicate to their craft more than any other group of people aspiring to something. There are dozens of articles written-- by writers who apparently can find the time to do it-- about how to succeed as a writer. It's easier if you have a spouse that can support you, they say. It's easier if you are a man, they say. You are more likely to succeed if you have only one kid or no kids, or you have a tenure-track job instead of an adjunct position, or you have a non-creative arts job or a creative arts job, a non-writing job or a writing job, no job at all or job security.

Writers everywhere are looking over the fences and assessing each other's grass to determine who has it better or easier or worse or harder in some frenetic attempt to assess one's position relative to the rest of the writing world. Hmmm, looks like she has blue fescue and I only have Kentucky bluegrass, and his lawn is all crabgrass but look how freakin' productive he is in spite of his weedy lawn. The nerve.

So much energy and emotion is wasted in this comparative analysis. Pride and envy get blended with a little navel-gazing until we're just exhausted. Look at all of those other writers, those successful writers, writing all of the time, in spite of or because of their circumstances. It's not fair.

"Oh, if I only had more time to golf," my husband says. So he makes more time to golf.

Just do it. Just go out there and write. Do it. Resolve to, whether you have children or don't, whether you are married or not, whether you are working or unemployed, whether you love or hate your job, if you want to write, just write. Just do it. You want to write, so do the thing. It is not so painful. You are writing words on pages, you are opening your heart and your mind. Write something playful if the painful is too painful. Write something other if the self is too vulnerable. Open a notebook or a Word doc or a journal and write already. You will only find time to write if you find time to write, so find time to write, in the crevices of your day, when you are idling at a stoplight, write in your head or in your phone's notes app or on a legal pad, write while you fold laundry or in between flipping pancakes in the morning, write after the kids go to sleep or the dog goes to sleep, write instead of watching another episode of American Idol, don't idle, write instead of scrolling through Facebook, write while you are on Facebook or Twitter, make each tweet you send out into the world a poem a sentence the briefest fiction the most succinct piece of prose you could compose today and then kiss it on its way into the world, write, write, write, log the thought away until the sun sets or until you need a coffee break or while you eat your lunch, write while your kids do their homework or on a pocket notepad in between waiting on tables, write on napkins, write on a schedule, write when inspiration hits, write for fifteen minutes before you leave for the rest of your day, make your day your poem your prose your composition pad, live your life so your writing is rich with the stuff of life and not the self-pity of envying other's successes and your apparent failures, write because you want to, because you need to, because you have an itch to scratch a thought to develop a ponder to wonder upon until it's pushed to its limit in your life, write, write, write.

Just do it.

Looking Back
2014: Westbound and Down, Rollin' Up and Truckin'
2013: Visiting Ghosts: Writing about the Past
2012: Praying for Enemies
2011: The Weekend
2010: Season of Productivity
2009: A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reading the Bible with My Kids

We started reading the first book of the Bible, Genesis, with our kids this month. Up until now, besides praying with them and the occasional aside about God's love and being kind and other such directives throughout the day, we've left the Bible up to their Sunday school classes. Illustrated pictures and crafts are easier to handle, and really, I don't think our kids were ready to hear and make any sense out of the Bible. Now that we've moved and aren't part of a traditional church currently, I felt like we should be doing something.

I also read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to kick off the new year with some what I assumed would be butt-kicking spiritual writing, and I was right on that part. I didn't expect the how-tos of living in community to be as direct about daily readings with your family, even with young children. If you are looking for a simple, clear and inspiring account of what Christian community can look like and how to get there, read Life Together.

The trick with all things that seem clear and simple is implementation. "Love God and love one another" is so simple and yet here we are, wars, terrorism, greed, selfishness, murder, violence, etc.

I expected resistance from the kids and instead found anticipation. At dinner time, they remind me that we haven't read from the Bible yet today, and so I open it up and dive in.

The strangest truths come out of my mouth as I'm reading. Not so much the text itself, although they are fascinated by it, but my midrash of it. Beyond just reading what is on the page, midrash is a practice in Judaism of interpreting and analyzing the text, filling in the gaps where details are only hinted at. For instance, one might extrapolate "the beasts of the field and the birds of the air" to include the wallaby and the peacock, the platypus and the jellyfish.

We are only four chapters in to Genesis, and a lot has happened already. There was creation, to start. That was something. Then you've got the temptation and deception in the garden, the discovery of shame, sex and babies, murder, lying, pride, arrogance, and bigamy. That's a lot going on up in here. Without any kind of guidance or extrapolation, how are they to know what to take away from this book?

I've discovered by reading this to them for the first time a renewed energy and excitement over biblical texts. I am remembering why I read the Bible, how this book is sacred because it tells us about God's faithfulness even when we royally screw up. In this way, the bulk of the Bible is not "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth," but one of the biggest soap operas of all time interwoven with the most faithful and true love story in history.

I tell my kids, "Every time we read the Bible, God's spirit speaks a new truth or conviction into the heart of the listener." We are talking about reading the Bible over ice cream at Sweet Henrie's. "It's the only book I read over and over again."

It is a living and breathing book because we are inhaling and exhaling it together with the Holy Spirit, bringing new human knowledge and information from all across the universe to expand upon a text that was written thousands of years ago. This combination of general revelation and divine revelation expand awe and wonder rather than deflate it. The narratives and poetry teach us how God relates to us and how we can relate to him. It gives us a common reference point in a world of stories, all of which seem to me to be mini-gospels, mini-Bibles of people pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in its many colors and iterations against a backdrop of darkness.

I tend to find slivers of God in everything, even when the other person didn't intend for him to show up. We are walking Bibles with our own bruises and injustices, arrogance and pride, our own stories of how God has intersected our lives and when we have heard him and when we have not and when we've outright ignored him. The Bible gives us access to common stories across the ages we can relate to (or not relate to) in order to see God's grace.

These strange truths leak out as we're reading stories that are on the page confusing and odd, but I have the benefit of decades over my kids, years spent reading and being taught by others, and so I can explain bigamy in the Bible. I can talk about cultural differences. I can show them God's protection and provision over Adam and Eve and Cain and beyond. I can talk about how just like in science our understanding and knowledge of God is an ever-expanding universe of detail and depth and size, and even in our sacred texts we can see our own knowledge of God unfolding. It isn't God but our understanding of God that unfolds, like a flower bud, over these thousands of years.

Yeah, I've imparted all of this wisdom on my kids four chapters into Genesis.

Their journey is just beginning, their capacity for understanding is just opening, and I am excited to be a part of that. I expect they will spin their own midrash in our readings and reveal other truths to me as well so that we can all grow together. This coupling of knowledge and wonder, this life together, it is wonderful.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Book of Knowledge and Wonder

When Steven Harvey was in his thirties, his grandmother gave him letters his own mother had written between 1945 and 1960. It wasn't until Steve turned 61 that he began to read the letters of his mother, who had committed suicide April 6, 1961, when Steve was eleven.

Most of Steve's memories of his mother were obliterated in her death, though some survived--dark, haunting memories that connected him only to the fact that she was gone, a shadow in his past. "Her suicide exploded in my life like the flash of a camera at close range, darkening everything around me and casting me into blindness, and when the light returned she was gone. She did not fade, or slowly walk away, or whisper goodbye. She was there and then she was not, and there was no getting her back. Ever."

Except there are these letters. "And then, when I was old enough to absorb the blows, I sat down with the letters, boxes of them, and attending to her voice over the course of several weeks, my memories, lying like ashes in me, were sparked. ... The letters unburied our past together."

Steve's memoir maneuvers through these letters, his own memories of his childhood, and what he knows now, decades later, about his family. Intertwined are excerpts from The Book of Knowledge, "ten hefty volumes bound in maroon leather each filled with questions from 'The Department of Wonder,'" which his parents had bought when Steve was three. The excerpts and their interaction with Steve's mother's life and death resonate together, unfolding the power of knowledge to bring understanding to the world while leaving space for the awe and wonder that keep the world precariously balanced. It is through exploring both the written recording of his mother's voice and the excerpts of The Book of Knowledge that Steve is able to discover his mother.

This memoir is a kind of resurrection, far more than just a suicide story. It is an effort to know someone deeply, and any time we seek to truly know someone, we almost can't help but find compassion, love, empathy, and intimacy with that person, discovering the ways we are similar, the ways we differ, and the powerful influence we have on each other.

While reading one particular letter, a memory returns to Steve of making animal shadows on the wall with his parents. Steve tries it again, decades later:

"Sometimes I forget that my mother gave me more than this handful of shadows I carry around in my genetic predisposition to dreams and nightmares, but this little trick of wings on the wall reminds me that the debt for much of who I am now runs deep in my childhood. I raise my hands so that the shadow will ascend the wall, but when I lift them to eye level it is my own hands I see, not the shadows, with thumbs linked, though the shadow brought them to light for me, and the wonder is that they are her hands, alive now in mine."

The Book of Knowledge and Wonder is not just a suicide story. It is a story of the power of knowledge to amplify wonder. It is a story of pursuing, and finding, love, where only shadows were thought to dwell. It is a beautiful story.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Goals and Resolutions in 2015

Given the new job/new house/new routine thing that transpired in 2014 and the lingering sinus congestion that is fogging up my head, my resolution/goal list for 2015 is feeling a bit unambitious and uninspired. However, there are a few things I know I want to aim for in 2015.

New Year's Resolutions 2015:
  • Read or listen to 12 books (I did it in 2014, I bet I can do it again in 2015.)
  • Give thanks and pray daily, find a study or routine to revitalize spiritual life
  • Finish my MFA (August 2015, baby!)
  • Start a garden at the Copley house
  • Read books 5 and 6 of the Harry Potter series with Lydia (Maybe 7? Dare I think we could finish those massive books together this year?)
  • Restart biweekly date night with Brandon
  • Establish an exercise routine in the new schedule - at least two days a week of some kind of intentional fitness activity
  • Write something. Anything. Whenever I can jam it in.
New Year's Hopes for 2015: These are things that are almost entirely out of my control but what I would love to see happen this year.
  • Sell the Ashland house
  • Get an agent or editor to love my book
Those aren't preposterous, right? It could happen.

A Look Back:

2014: Resolution Time! I failed at the blogging goal, but everything else, hurrah! Check marks!
2013: Resolutions - Walk Instead of Run
2012: My Thirtieth Year
2011: Harry and Henry
2010: Key West Bound and Lydia-isms
2009: Happy New Year