God & GMOs: What is a GMO?

(Welcome to Part 2 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction or Part 1: The Gospel and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (3)

After reviewing the foundation of the gospel and arming ourselves with some important Biblical truths, it’s time to start asking questions about science. What is a GMO? How is it made? Are GMOs safe for eating? Why do we need GMOs when we have other ways to breed crops? These are great questions, and I’m glad people ask them. 

There are lots of different people talking about GMOs, but there are also lots of ideas about what makes something a GMO (or not). Different countries and different international research groups use slightly different definitions, and this is one of the many reasons this conversation is so hard.

The shorthand “GMO” means “Genetically Modified Organism.” It sounds weird, but the most important thing you need to know is that a GMO is a fruit, vegetable, or grain. It’s planted in the ground and grown like any other crop. The “genetic modification” for a GMO crop happens before planting, when a seed or crop line is developed in a laboratory using biotechnology for a cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer to improve the genetic code. It makes perfect sense, right? …maybe not. Basically, scientists have figured out how to precisely combine one or two portions of DNA into a plant genome in order to produce a plant that has a specific desired trait. (Here’s a video explanation of the process to make GMO papaya, if you want a visual aid!) Sometimes this happens with genes from two plants that could be conventionally bred (which is called a “cisgenic modification”), and sometimes it happens between genes that wouldn’t combine in nature (or “transgenic modification”). Sometimes scientists can “silence” or “delete” a gene within a single plant, and though this uses some of the same biotechnology tools, those aren’t always considered GMO.

Why make GMO crops?
Scientists like genetic engineering because it’s more precise than traditional crop breeding, since it takes just the exact DNA that it needs for the resulting plant without having to account for other DNA crosses that would happen in typical breeding. Even though it’s still a lot of work, these tools can produce the desired plant traits in about half the time of older methods, so it’s quicker, too.

What is the purpose of GMO crops?

GMO crops are developed for many different reasons, including drought tolerance (so a farmer can still provide food even if it doesn’t rain much), resistance to pesticide or herbicide so a farmer can more effectively manage the field, expressing genes that will make the plant naturally undesirable to pests to avoid using chemical applications, increased yield, or improved nutrition. In the field, they tend to produce more food per acre and do so with less chemical applications than their non-GMO siblings. (In recent years it still looks like GMO crop fields’ overall toxicity screens remained similar or lower than non-GMO fields.) 

Are GMO crops safe?
Despite the claims of naysayers, GMO crops have been rigorously tested for safety in animal and human consumption for as long as I’ve been alive, and the full counsel of multiple studies is that GMO crops are as safe or safer than non-GMO crops for human consumption.

What is the difference between GMO crops and non-GMO crops?
While it’s developed differently from a “conventional” plant, the final GMO product is usually indistinguishable from it’s non-GMO sibling. The FDA considers them “substantially equivalent,” but the precision and purpose of genetic modification means that if there’s a difference in nutrition or quality, the GMO has the upper hand.

What GMO crops are available for sale in the US?
The GMO products available in the US today are limited to corn, soybeans, cotton, alfalfa (for animal feed, not those sprouts for the top of your salad), sugar beets, canola, papaya, potato, and squash. Pretty soon we’ll be able to buy GMO apples that won’t brown quite so quickly after you cut them open. (Source: FDA Consumer Info about Food from Genetically Engineered Plants) 

Can GMO technology benefit threatened plants and croplines? 
Because it is so precise and so much faster than traditional breeding, GMO technology can preserve plant lines that would otherwise be destroyed, even to the point of extinction, by natural factors (stemming from that curse on the ground in Genesis 3), like disease, drought, and destructive predators. If you watched the earlier video, you’ll note that papaya was genetically modified to resist ringspot virus, which essentially saved papaya from extinction in Hawaii. There are significant concerns today about various problems facing the American Chestnut tree, bananas, cassava, and citrus (Florida citrus production is at a 50-year low due to citrus greening), among others, and scientists are frantically trying to get ahead in enough time to preserve these foods for the benefit of farmers and consumers alike.

Can GMO technology work on anything besides crops?
The technology that makes GMO crops is also used to develop medicine with virtually no controversy (insulin, extremely promising cancer treatments to replace and supplement traditional chemotherapy, etc.). Research is also happening using genetic modification in human embryos with shockingly less controversy, in my observation, among Christians than the general uproar over GMO crops.

Aren’t GMOs “unnatural”? Why not use traditional breeding methods? 
GMOs are not the only big (and “unnatural”) improvement in crop development
. Farmers and scientists (and sometimes even just nature, in ways we don’t always understand) have been improving the crops that we eat since the beginning of time. (Doesn’t this sound like that “Cultural Mandate” to tend the earth and establish ways of life?) Some of the other crop development techniques used today include cross-breeding, mutagenesis, polyploidy, and protoplast fusion. Do you know what those are, off the top of your head? Probably not. (I wouldn’t, either.) There isn’t a lot of uproar about those things, even though they are also fairly “unnatural.” To an untrained scientist like me, their definitions seem just as unnerving: Induced chromosomal manipulation? That’s polyploidy breeding. Blasting a group of parent plants with radiation and then breeding whichever plants mutate into the desirable traits for the next generation, which ends up on our plates? That’s mutagenesis. These crops are subject to the same rigorous safety testing, which demonstrates we can eat these foods with just as much confidence. No one’s stirring up anti-mutagenesis sentiment in modern consumers, as far as I can tell, even though that one (which is allowed within the framework of the USDA Organic program) seems the freakiest to me. Still, “cisgenic or transgenic DNA transfer” sounds a little bit less concerning if you set it up next to those things. (Source: The Genetic Literacy Project “How does Genetic Engineering differ from Conventional Breeding?)

Should we identify GMO foods?
We’ll discuss the facets of GMO labeling requirements in a post later. But it’s important to note that we don’t define any other produce by their breeding or development process. If you eat delicious grapefruit every February and March like I do, you’re very likely eating a “mutagenesized organism.” Have you ever seen a grapefruit with a “mutagenesis” (or “non-mutagenesis”) label? When you compare this to the other ways we develop crops, it seems that calling genetically modified food “GMO” is very much a cultural construct and not a scientific one. 

I’ve purposefully left many points for later discussion and I’m sure more will come up as the series continues, but I’ll end here for now. We’ll be talking about the scientific method, what constitutes a “scientific study” for publication, and discerning reliable sources next. If you’re interested in doing some more reading before the next entry, we suggest the following items to tide you over. Thanks for reading, friends!

“Unhealthy Fixation” by William Saleten for Slate. 
“Pushing Boundaries in Agriculture” TedX talk by Rob Saik (20-minute video) 
GMO FAQ from the Genetic Literacy Project
(We have been impressed with the reliability of this site and they have LOTS of pictures and infographics if that is more your style!)
GMO series by Greg Peterson at the Peterson Farm Brothers (You’ll want to click on the little “next” button at the top to see the rest of the entries.)

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God & GMOs: The Gospel

(Welcome to Part 1 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t read much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (2)

To kick off this series about God & GMO’s, I want to start with looking at the Bible. Christian teachers often speak of the Bible’s big story (or “Metanarrative”), which proposes that all biblical passages are connected to the full gospel story: God’s Creation of the earth and mankind, The Fall of Man into sin, Christ’s Redemption on the cross, and the final Restoration of God’s order for eternity. Don’t we need to get on to science? to economics? to agriculture? to ethics? Yes. But I’m mostly burdened to communicate specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters here. Before we start looking at some of that stuff, I’d like to review these points because we can’t really move forward in charged conversations without a common understanding of our spiritual foundation. (If this part doesn’t concern or interest you, I’ll have some helpful links and explanations about GMOs, research standards, and the scientific method coming up soon!)

CREATION
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15)
Mankind was created for life in a beautiful, lush garden, that was full of enough food for everyone. No one would get sick, and no one would die. In that perfect paradise, we were created to tend the plants and animals with freedom to eat from all but one tree. Mankind’s original purpose was stewarding the earth and everything in it, bearing fruit by having children and by establishing ways of life for the coming generations. (Sometimes this is called the “Cultural Mandate.”) We love beautiful plants, enjoying the outdoors, hiking, lakes, fresh food, tending gardens and animals, and “agrarian visions” of idyllic farms because that’s what we were originally made for. Everything in us was made for Eden, and I think most of us don’t realize how desperate we are to get back there.

God created the earth, plants, and animals, and called them all “good.” He created men and women uniquely in his own image, (Gen 1:26-27) and called his image bearers living in that world “very good.” This is an important way God emphasizes the dignity of all people.
(Genesis 1:1-2:24)

FALL
“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) 

The original people in the Garden, Adam and Eve, ate from the one tree God forbade. The fall into sin means mankind and nature are both broken, which are connected in devastating ways. God explicitly says the ground itself is cursed, and that drawing out enough food to survive will be the lifelong toil of man. We listen to the Songs for Saplings catechism CD’s with our kids and find ourselves humming the song that goes along with this point – pain and toil, pain and toil, thorns and thistles, thorns and thistles – with amazement that this is still happening every single day. Aaron experiences this when he spends himself for the projects he manages for developing crops all day, and again when he comes home to see that the germination rate of our summer garden is abysmal. Farmers here and around the world live this out even more so as they work harder than most of us can imagine. This is a huge part of my life, too, in some ways. I’m in charge of the meals and eating at our house. Even though we garden and I have every grocery store I could want (and a farmers market) within a mile or so, and always enough money to get whatever we want (not just need),  I’m constantly planning meals, shopping, preparing them, serving them, or cleaning up after them while I set up for the next one.

This fall into sin also means that relationships are broken. The primary break and conflict is between man and God, which is not fixed until Jesus’ crucifixion, but this fractures our thinking and our relationships with other people as well. In many ways we are all looking out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Because of our fallen nature, we look for fulfillment in many different ways,  all outside of our standing with God.
 (Genesis 3)
[I discussed this at greater length for Christ and Pop Culture last summer as well.]

REDEMPTION
“…through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Colossians 1:20-23)
The only full redemption of the curse of sin in the fall is through Jesus, who restores our right relationship with God by dying in our place. While there are healthy and unhealthy choices we can make about eating, there are no particular kinds of foods or agricultural developments that are always sinful, and, as 1 Corinthians 8:8 says plainly, “food will not commend us to God.” The food that really matters for our spiritual state is Jesus’ body, offered in the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 15:10-20, 1 Corinthians 8, John 6, Matthew 26:26-29)  

After Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, we have the promise of his return, but we are still living under the effects of sin and death on our bodies and on the earth. We are not to live our lives in fear of death, but instead look with hope for God’s promised restoration of all things.  (Hebrews 2:14-15

We also have the Holy Spirit for this age between Christ’s ascension and return. It is the Holy Spirit who develops us in unique, personal ways with spiritual gifts to build up the church and the kingdom of God in love until Jesus returns. (1 Corinthians 12-13, John 14:25-30, Ephesians 1:13-14

RESTORATION
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
The Bible tells us the earth (and the generations of people in it) will be sustained in it’s fallen state and then restored fully with Jesus’ future return. While Christians often talk about “going up to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” the real promise of Restoration is much bigger than that. Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation talk about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 also talk about the resurrection being for creation as well as people. In the restored kingdom, or heaven, our resurrected life will be filled with food and feasting, without hunger, sickness, or death. When this happens, there will be sowing and reaping, but it will not require the toil that we’ve had since Genesis 3.
(Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Isaiah 25:6-9

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Now, Christians can (and obviously do) disagree about dietary choices and genetic engineering, but as we go on, I hope you’ll see the gospel story provides ample room for the way biotechnology is advancing modern agriculture. I also hope you can learn about GMO foods and scientific progress with the firm foundation of the gospel offering hope instead of trying to figure it out from a place of fear or confusion. I’ll touch on these (and many other) parts of scripture later, too. 

God & GMOs: An Introduction

Guess what? We’re going to turn a little corner and talk about GMO crops here for the next little bit.

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It’s not a secret that I am not much of a scientist. I’m more artsy and relational and feely; my gifts include teaching and communicating. In many ways it’s a powerful blend of gifts that I write and my husband Aaron is a scientist. For anyone who doesn’t know us, he’s a Christian plant biotechnologist (with a PhD in molecular biology) who firmly believes he develops crops using complicated biotechnology (sometimes “GMO” and sometimes not) for the glory of God. We’re both proud that he’s part of the production side of modern agriculture, including using biotech for GMO crops, and we gratefully eat “genetically modified” food all the time. He’s shared about this for The Gospel Coalition and I’ve written a longer think-piece-ish article for Christ and Pop Culture. We’ve also chatted with some of our friends about this on a Vernacular podcast episode and just finished recording an interview with our friend Abigail Murrish for her current podcast series Our Midwestern Life. But talking about science often feels like speaking another language. We have realized we spend a lot of time in our nerdy head-spaces about this, and that is not always helpful for most other people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many scientists engaging this topic with Christian culture, and the misinformation fed by social media and “mommy bloggers” is deafeningly loud. We have both sensed an urgent need to open this discussion in more accessible ways that we’ve done before. 

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this series for a very, very long time, but it’s a big topic and I find myself both overwhelmed by the material (which is out of my depth in the technical realm), and resenting the potential for social blowback. A new friend just asked me if I struggled with an unhealthy desire to please others and I had to chuckle a little bit. A Pew Study in 2015 reported that more than half of Christians think genetically modified foods (“GMOs”) are unsafe, and even more think scientists are unclear about the health effects of GM foods. Numbers for the general public’s opinions are similar, but if anything, I was surprised the disapproval rates weren’t higher. This means anytime I tell a new friend what my husband does for a living, I’m more likely to be talking to someone who thinks he’s harming the environment and our food supply than not. Personal responses to this news have ranged between supportive (which is rare, but appreciated), neutral, skeptical, and even hostile. Pleasing people? It usually feels like that ship has sailed. Still, as I prepare these posts, I wonder how this could impact relationships. I checked in with some staff at my church to find out if this might bring up any particular challenges within our congregation. When I close my eyes I can visualize the faces of people I dearly love, people I fear alienating because I know they disagree. Will Thanksgiving be weird if our GMO-skeptic family members don’t like what I say here? Is it possible to just remove some of my email followers for a while and add them back later? Should I block a few people on facebook so they don’t get an immediate notification about this? Would someone who really needs to hear what I shared about my miscarriages be turned off by my discussion about GMOs and food production?  

An important part of critical thinking is not just asking questions about a given topic, but knowing what kinds of questions to ask. It’s fair for me to wonder about those things, but I also have to consider a host of ideas from the other side. There are risks involved in not speaking plainly about this. The more that I read and discuss my numerous resulting questions with the Hummel family Scientist in Residence, I grow increasingly convinced that skepticism and hostility towards biotech in farming (even when it comes from well-meaning sources) feeds shame, anxiety, and conflict in communities around me. I’m even more concerned that this keeps lifesaving technology out of the hands (and hungry bellies) of people around the world who desperately need it to survive. If I serve the God who so loved the world that he offered up his only son, can I also love the world enough to risk opening challenging conversations with my community? Can I model gracious discussion so that Christians are equipped to make decisions about feeding themselves and their families with faith instead of fear? As science advances at a breakneck pace while we lack articulate voices explaining a Christian ethical framework for it all, will I look back at this time and wish I had spoken up sooner? I can’t help but face that the negative repercussions of anti-GMO sentiments, especially in churches around me, are not going to reverse until people like me are willing to turn the conversation around.

In sharing these upcoming posts, please know that I am pledging to offer the best information I can find, explaining it in ways that are clear and gracious. If you’re reading along, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or if you have any topic or specific angle you’d like to see addressed. (You can reach me in the comment box on this site or through the email address I have listed in the “contact” field on the site menu.)

Thanks, friends. Whether you consider yourself pro-, neutral-, skeptical- or anti- GMO, I hope you’ll stick around!  

31: memento mori & memento videre

Turning thirty-one offers a little relief in settling into true adulthood. Part of this means that if my idea of a good time is talking about latin catchphrases on my blog while my children “nap” (today this means “alternately fuss in their respective beds for an hour or so”), I can do that. I’m an adult now.

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these grew in my yard. happy birthday to me! 

So, memento mori and memento vivere are the words that come to me when I think about this past year.  “Remember your death” and “Remember to live.” Especially during Lent and Holy Week, I see how inseparable these are, kind of like twin mottos that uphold each other. Most of the lessons and highlights for this year fit neatly into this intersection.

Memento Mori & Household Stuff.
Around my birthday last year, my mom and her siblings moved my grandfather into a nursing home and sold their big iconic family house in the woods. I morbidly joked to Aaron that meant he wasn’t allowed to die in the near future because my early widowhood backup plan (raising the kids in that house) was now off the table. But a big part of that process, which I followed from afar, was clearing out the basement and closets, sorting trunks full of unlabeled pictures, and nearly continual donation trips to the neighborhood Goodwill. I’m pretty sure my mom still has loads of this stuff in her own basement now because it’s hard to sort through things when you’re so emotional. My grandparents were not hoarders by any stretch, just upper middle class Americans who had lived in the same house for 45 years. (Which is to say, the ideal best case scenario for my end of days, too.) I’d read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo before we moved here and implemented what I could from her discarding plan (especially the “joy spark” question) as we packed and unpacked, but I’ve been challenged to continually tackle the clutter battle as a way of life. Because really, memento mori: I’m going to die someday, and I’d rather have my kids talk about their memories of me or the words I left them than know they will be sighing about cleaning out my basement, which I am quite sure was just sighed over and cleaned out by the children of this home’s previous elderly owners before I bought it, too. With this in mind I passed out all the kid toys that made annoying sounds, recycled 80% of the professional photo prints from my wedding (no one is ever going to look at them!), and donated a whole extra van load worth of household stuff… And you know? There’s a lot more living in our home when there’s less picking up, so it’s worth decluttering in the spirit of memento vivere, too.

Memento Mori & Projects
I am always, always up for planning a new project. The number of possibilities (household! Diy! education! reading! church! writing! handcrafts! start five podcasts!)  rolling around in my head is absurd, and I’m humbled every time I open my binder of family recipes, because I see a note in my Grandma’s handwriting. “This is the first edition of the long awaited Niemi cookbook – more to follow.”

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Surprise! There were no later additions to this collection. And it’s not just because she got sick. It’s because life is what happens within limits and you can’t do absolutely everything. This is true for all the ideas in my head, too, and memento mori here means making peace with unstarted and unfinished projects (which are legion), because I’m going to leave a bunch of things undone when I die anyway. Abandoning ideas more quickly, even ones that already made it to a mid-project stage, doesn’t mean that perseverance and completion are unimportant. It just means I can have a clearer head to discern and finish the ones that do matter.

Memento Vivere & the St. Louis Climate
Maybe you have heard of “hygge,” the Scandanavian lifestyle ethos that is trending everywhere these days? It’s all about the quality of being cozy and hospitable, and as a knitter, a candle-lighter, a true woman of the north, I want to embrace this. I feel silly complaining about warm weather after experiencing two of the most brutal winters on record during the short time we lived in Minnesota. But man, it’s unbearably hot and steamy for four or five months out of the year here, and I’m not paying to join the neighborhood pool until the kids learn to swim. We’re going to be trapped inside for much of the summer as long as we live here. So I’m doing my best to memento vivere and ignore the siren call of the Hygge life during winter, embracing every sunny day we can get out for a zoo trip and bundling the kids for playground time now. Winter here is for living, not hibernating. This means we can fully embrace the vibrant splash pad scene here when it warms up. Maybe order some fun inside activity gear. Buy Tazo Passion Tea in bulk to DIY my favorite coffeeshop summer treat. And save excessive movie watching for August, as backwards as it seems.

Memento Vivere & Motherhood 
If my life is a memoir, the chapter I’m living right now is titled “Everyone Is Crying.” There are a lot of good days with the kids, especially now that nearly all outings are possible with both kids on my own, but it’s amazing how easy it is to slip into the belief that life is what will happen next – When they can procure their own breakfast so I can hide in the basement and write every morning until Aaron leaves for work; when we finally get the house projects done so I can get a piano again; kindergarten, glory.

But if I wasn’t waiting to start my life until the kids were born, I’m not waiting to start it now. I really don’t have enough time to do the things I want (and even need, really) to do for my own peace of mind, but remembering to live means figuring out how to fight for even a glimpse of peace in the middle of all this hustle. So maybe spending mornings at a gym with a nursery isn’t an option, but I can still grab the stroller for a walk or turn up fun music to have a “dance party” with the kids. (In doing this I have learned toddler interpretations of the lyrics to basically all my desired workout songs are definitely “explicit.”) Maybe I can’t sit down and write like I’d want, but I can play hard with the kids in the morning and let them watch a few shows after their nap so I can spend an afternoon lost in a book even when there are not enough solo hours to craft paragraphs myself. A little extra screentime isn’t as damaging as growing up with a crazy mom, you know.

This year memento vivere means that anything worth doing is worth doing even a little bit. Because if I have to wait until I can spend an hour at the gym or drink hot coffee alone or sit still long enough to create something beautiful in my journal or on a set of knitting needles to really live, I’m not going to be able to live contentedly with what God has given me. And that’s no life at all.

 

 

 

Is the Bible Good for Women? (book review & personal recommendation)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, sometime in that second half when we already knew she was a girl, we heard a culmination of flippant, derogatory comments about women from a church community. The teaching wasn’t just “unpopular” or politically incorrect while remaining faithful to God’s word – it was wrong. It painful and embarrassing to hear: that girls should be raised to have “wife and mother” as their sole vocational aim; that a woman who earns money is a shame to her husband; that a wife should only read books pre-approved by her pastor or husband; that it is not appropriate to leave an abusive marriage. (Every single one of these things takes marriage for granted, subversively shaming single women as well.) Beyond the turmoil it caused us to hear those things, my pregnancy made this rhetoric stand up in a new sense. I sighed to Aaron that I was afraid about how hard church might be for our baby when she grew up. As time went on (in other churches, obviously, and not that one), this was a concern I didn’t quickly shake.

We’re Christians and we’re raising our kids in a definitively Christian home. They may or may not become Christians themselves, but there is none of this “feel your own way to your spirit leader when you’re old enough to want something religious” business happening here. Part of this means that some of our values aren’t going to reflect culture, and there will be things we hope to instill in our kids that will seem weird or offensive to others. As a Christian, I read the Bible that esteems women in cultures that demean them, inherently values them as God’s image-bearers instead of as child-bearers, and establishes churches and families to most fully celebrate the God-given dignity of each person. But brokenness is pervasive, and navigating theologically conservative churches as a, um, “woman with thoughts” has been harder than it should be. Though we’re in a wonderful church now, no one can deny how much harm poor theology can inflict on women and families. Some teachers I have known and loved otherwise become pharisaical and legalistic on this topic, placing restrictive guidelines for women that mimic affluent white families in 1950’s America more than any family the Bible talked about. 

In this I felt a heavy burden: conflict between what I saw in the Bible and how that could be twisted into derogative rhetoric wasn’t just a personal issue now. It was a maternal one, too. It’s one thing to set some of my own cognitive dissonance aside, but it’s another to assume my child could be quick to do the same.  Could I expect her to trust me when I teach her God’s word is good but then quickly excuse some of the inappropriate teaching we’ve heard? How would I talk her through some of these hateful or dismissive comments in a way that wouldn’t shake her understanding of a Savior who repeatedly demonstrated his personal love for and engagement with women, even to the shock of religious leaders around him? What was I going to tell her about the straightforward stuff that I still find hard to swallow sometimes?

And beyond this, how on earth would I deal with the really nasty stuff in there? You know, that the Hall-of-Faith father-of-nations Abraham and the man-after-God’s-own-heart King David start looking like sexual predators when you read their stories as an adult? Or the horrendous story of the concubine ripped in twelve pieces from the book of Judges? (And maybe the fact that concubines are even a thing? Hello, King Solomon. I mean, the Old Testament stories are really not lining up with ANY talks I heard at youth group about Christian sexual ethics.)

These are all good questions, and they are things any pastor or scholar should expect a thoughtful Christian to confront. I want to take my bible study seriously, and I generally find the teachings on the liberal end of the theological spectrum seem to be more serious about various agendas than about the scripture or about God Himself, which I cannot share. (This is not to say that my friends who align there are flippant about their faith.) But even though we give lip service to “being good Bereans” and wrestling with scripture ourselves, my more conservative evangelical circles tend to consider these questions more antagonistic than anything else. This is not how it should be. (And as we settle in to a new church, I’m glad to see it is not always this way!) In this turmoil, I found myself extremely grateful for the wise work from Wendy Alsup, “Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture.”

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see? even Max likes it.

 

 This book isn’t specifically about parenting, but if I’m honest, I can’t even say it was primarily about women, either. It’s about Jesus and how God’s plan for salvation is evident on every page of Scripture. Alsup shows how turning just to those “feminine” passages in the Bible (the ones that show up if you search “women” in a concordance) perpetuates a disjointed and hurtful view of the human race. Reducing problems so often to “gender role differences” damages men and women alike, though it usually hits women more immediately. Upholding the Bible as the greatest commentary on itself, she tackles the hard questions about faith and femininity using the lens of Christ to understand God’s goodness to women.

“Is the Bible Good for Women?” is not just written to theologians and church leaders, it’s for skeptics, too. The answers aren’t always easy. She says, for instance, that the highest levels of church leadership are still reserved for men and my progressive friends probably wouldn’t change their minds here. I sensed in a few spots that my renewed parenting-induced panic meant I was the skeptic she wrote for, but I suspect this book would not make them immediately want to punch someone. I have loved enough people on both “sides” of Christian gender discussions to recognize this is a significant accomplishment. From the initial charge to read the Bible as commentary on itself through to the fascinating concluding analysis of the apostle Peter’s character development as a study in leadership and maturity, Wendy Alsup demonstrates a firm faithfulness to God’s good word and humility in these difficult topics. This is a gracious entry into a deeply divided discussion, and I hope to see further conversations on this topic continue in the Christ-oriented and compassionate direction she leads with this book. 

There’s a fascinating relationship between math and formal logic, and the author’s formal training in mathematics education is evident in the systematic flow of argument and the careful presentation of facts. But it’s still personal, and the discussion often touches deep nerves. From Dinah’s rape (Genesis 34) and the Levite’s dismembered concubine (Judges 19), she shows God’s faithfulness to avenge those who abuse women. From the Law’s description of capital punishment for adultery (Deuteronomy 22), she points to the perfect fulfillment Jesus made to protect women where the Law was insufficient (particularly in John 8). From confusing and seemingly oppressive passages in the New Testament epistles, she demonstrates God’s extravagant goodness, too. Where women are forbidden to teach (1 Timothy 2), we see God equipping all women with gifts for the good of all people. Where Paul discusses head covering (1 Corinthians 11), we see God’s disgust for slavery and sexual oppression. Where wives are commanded to be subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5), we see more of the God who laid down his life and all earthly power for the sake of his bride, the Church. All this exalts the God who created all humans bearing his image, called us “good” then, and has given us his Word and Himself only for our good ever since then.


This book was a blessing to me and I expect it would be encouraging to most other readers! If I haven’t exactly convinced you to read this yet, you can also read an excerpt published in Christianity Today, listen to the  Mortification of Spin podcast with Wendy here , or consider this shorter review from the Gospel Coalition. And then you can buy it for yourself!

mercy every morning || (part 2)

[the wormwood & the gall(stones) || part 1] 

I’ve never understood why some people hate making New Year’s resolutions. Even if they come to a fail, you can always try. And at least an effort toward your goal is totally worth it, right? Not trying seems like the worst kind of failure to me. Relinquishing my usual practice of claiming a huge and completely unrealistic batch of resolutions in 2016 felt like a huge sacrifice. With limited support and two small children, especially that baby who didn’t read those books about how much babies should sleep, choosing a survive-every-day plan was the right thing to do. The circumstances forced me to live in the tension of believing that raising a child is one of the most productive endeavors and that it can also feel like you’re wasting your life. Yes, the children need more of me than I thought possible and that matters, but how could I have basically no other direction for my hopes and dreams in life? Did I not want to get anything done or become My Very Best Self Ever? Honestly, it was almost embarrassing. 

If you don’t like New Years Resolutions, you’re probably shaking your head at all of this. But really, whether you have an overly optimistic series of goals or don’t resolve for anything (and I guess whether February finds you powering through or in despair over broken resolutions), the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is not that some of us think too much of January as a “fresh start.” It’s really that all of us don’t think highly enough of the mercy God makes new for every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5

Creation poetry might be my favorite part of scripture. I love the consistent whisper of hope: there was evening and then there was morning! The first day. There was evening and then there was morning! The second day. It happened again! And again! God’s specific and general self-display all confirms this: Light comes out over dark. Then day comes out over night, plants come out over dirt, order comes out over the void, all pointing to the truest poem of the resurrection, when life comes out over death. This is breathtaking, but it almost seems ironic for me: these days, mornings can be very hard. For a long, long time we lived in the tension of desires to consistently train the kids to stay in bed until a reasonable hour and not let that morning’s protester (because you KNOW they trade off like that) scream long enough to wake the other one. So when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with our kids most nights, that line “early in the morning/ our song shall rise to Thee” is a little haunting. Every time, I wonder: exactly how early are we talking here? And is this just once, or many different times? Just as those little people start sleeping more consistently at night, they develop the ability to crawl out of their cribs and the morning training takes a whole new set of strategies.

Mornings can be hard for other reasons, too. It’s a gift that in sleep, you are removed from whatever hardship you’re facing. This is true of daily tasks and difficulty alike. In sleep we are all leveled the same. But then eyes open, you remember where you are, and the task of the day comes over you.
My body is dirty and my belly is empty.
My child is poking my eye and the baby is crying.
My job is waiting, where I must face my own inadequacy or pour myself out for someone else’s benefit. Also, my boss is a jerk.
My relationship is broken – either I am in the wrong or I must forgive someone, or both.
Maybe my dream is crushed, or someone I love is gone, or whatever.
In waking we must eat, shower, tend, work, reconcile, grieve. Even the very best mornings, especially with my small children who can’t do any of this themselves, require a lot of faithful making: make the coffee, make the bed, make an effort to write, make the eggs. This year’s resolutions, even when I rejoiced to make them, have a way of condemning me with my failure to produce, and I think about that in the morning these days, too. It is in these early re-rememberings that God shows he is also in the business of faithful making, with new mercies that come every morning afresh.

 

Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:23-25


Mercy is interesting, especially when you’re thinking about hardship and restarts, because I don’t know if we always talk about it rightly. I’ve heard the word used many different ways lately: “Traveling mercies.” The mercy of a quick death.  The severe mercy of loss. The mercy of a parent passing over a child’s punishment. Sometimes mercy is supposed to mean divine protection, or healing, or sovereign guidance. I always think about the older translation of Psalm 23: “Surely thy lovingkindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and the dictionary tells me it’s a compassionate forbearance usually shown towards an offender. Let’s be really frank here: Compassion sounds great, but it means “Suffering-with” when we would rather pretend like hard things aren’t there. And then mercy meaning that compassionate forbearance there is “towards an offender”? I don’t like the implications of that last little part very well, either. But this is God’s solution to affliction. It’s not that we can ignore it or that he will necessarily remove it. We have to call hardship what it is to know the fullness of God’s love for us, because maybe this is how we know it doesn’t interrupt His care for us. Fresh mercy for every day means that in any state of sin or sorrow, whatever hits me when my eyes open each morning, God meets me there – no holding back, no matter what. It means I have to show up to whatever difficulty comes to me or I’m going to miss what God is doing for me in it. And it means that in any state of disarray, from my bed to my brokenness, God is faithfully making these messy and hard things new. 

the wormwood & the gall(bladder) || part 1

With over a year of living in Missouri, it’s fair to say this has been a move no one would ever want to relive. Though it came with so many good things, like a new job and a baby, moving is an unpredictable mix of gift and loss. Leaving and remaking home is hard anyway, but many of the details of this move and the rest of our lives this year have been notably challenging. When I was coordinating my recent gallbladder removal surgery (because amid this all I was having painful gallbladder attacks, of course), Aaron kept saying, “This has to be the last thing, right? No more emergencies for a while.” Two weeks later we were stranded with the kids in busy traffic when our van overheated. If this is irreparable, it will require a third vehicle purchase in less than eighteen months.

I am the man who has seen affliction … Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:1, 21-23

With physical ailments all around, expensive home repairs and neighborhood problems, and a long haul in cultivating new friendships and community, much of this has been affliction. But it’s also wandering, which feels like wasting, uncertainty, aimlessness, and disconnection – an affliction of it’s own sort, really. Our Minnesota theme was we didn’t see that one coming. So far Missouri’s is we can’t get a break or as thine income, thine emergencies shall be in measure. I said settling in here was going to be full of unknowns, full of newness. That has definitely been the case. 

These new things are hard, but there is also always, always good there, and it has been my practice to keep a gratitude list, recounting God’s gifts in all things. There is something particularly sacred about training our eyes on the way beauty and grace come through in all of life, but there is a difference between talking about redemption through hardship and ignoring hardship all together. 

I could easily share how God’s grace flamed so fiercely in this, and maybe I should, but I’m also starting to think there would be some spiritual benefit to keeping track of the bad stuff in life, just as much as the good. Why memorialize the wormwood and the gall, the bitter and bile? Scripture does so all the time, I find. Still, I have been fighting this since it seems to conflict with (among other things, like not wanting to sound whiny) my very-present concern for those souls stranded or running for their lives in the war-torn Middle East. We’re not under siege or refugees, so we’re okay, right? Things aren’t that bad. I’m a secure stay-home mom with living children, great health care, and food in the fridge, which alone means I have many, many circumstances “better” than others. People around the world risk their lives every day pursuing a small portion of these comforts and freedoms. But this mostly-empty empathy is more pride than gratitude. My help in life is not in being generally safe from ISIS coming to my front door, or comfortably feeding and staying home with my kids during a season when they need so much of me. My help in this, and everything, comes from the Lord, Psalm 121 says, under the heading “a song of ascents.” What is an ascent but climbing from lowliness to height? With the right perspective, with our hearts grounded in God’s mercy, recounting hardship is part of gaining a humble perspective. Brushing difficulty off because “it’s not as bad as someone else” is not always a sign of a content heart; sometimes it comes from a heart that doesn’t want to be needy.

I didn’t even realize this part of it until I started groaning every time I saw the negative consequences of my exhaustion, which has been just an undercurrent of these overall afflictions. This looked like lots of grumbling, but little praying, and a fair share of disappointment against other people. These are not the responses of seeing-grace-in-the-hard; this is evidence of resentment when others need me or I need something, and ignoring neediness, maybe hoping it will go away.  Acknowledging hardship admits a lack of control. Given full autonomy, who would choose difficulty or incapacity? Yet this is precisely why Christianity is not a point of achievement but a constant path of growing smaller: We are the backwards people, and our journey of ascent starts out being bowed down in neediness. Lamentations doesn’t tell us the wormwood and gall are to bend us down forever, but it does show that hoping in God and recounting his mercies starts from a place of honesty and humility about that affliction. 

I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2

[I don’t think I’m copying her ideas directly in anything here, but my thoughts on humility have been very much formed by Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Humble Roots. It’s definitely recommended reading!]

2016 wrap up (& what I read)

The year of Baptism By Fire and Newness of Life has come to a close, and for supposed “recovery” from such upheaval in 2015, it still felt very fast and very full. I didn’t sleep much. My family changed a lot – my grandpa died, but we welcomed a brother-in-law and two nephews. The daily needs of my children still feel constant, but these little kids are breathtakingly bigger and even more dear with each passing day. (Usually.) The presidential election found me casting my ballot for a third-party candidate for the first time in history, which I pledged to do without fear, but I cried quite a bit when the election results came in and it has been much, much harder to remain hopeful than I first expected.

we just saw Rogue One. these are our "excited" faces.

here we are after seeing Rogue One. we really liked it. these are our respective “excited” faces.

One of my few hopes for the year was to get the whole upstairs of the new house painted and appropriately furnished, which did not happen, but I did muster the self-control to avoid spoilers for this year’s Star Wars movie before seeing it in theaters, so I’m calling my goal-fulfillment a draw. I also didn’t blog much, but I wasn’t sure if I would. I’ve had a few projects simmering in the background and I was glad to contribute elsewhere (like Christ and Pop Culture, Risen Motherhood podcast, This Village Blog, and Vernacular Pocast), but I’m itching to get more thoughts out. I’m reorganizing a few things in my schedule in order to write over here and elsewhere more often!  During this year of writer’s hibernation, I’ve been able to do more reading than I expected, which has been great. Here’s most of what I read:

Theology & Christian Living 
You Are What You Love by James K.A. Smith. Very much a fresh articulation of Augustinian thought (“It was foul – and I loved it” … “Late have I loved Thee”), the genius of this book is that it is profound and yet not just for nerds who want to talk about St. Augustine. In fact, it’s arguing that even for people like me who like to just think about every single angle of something, being human means we are still shaped much more by our loves than our thoughts. This is a great look at how much culture shapes our hearts and our worship, and an important corrective to those who tend to equate spiritual maturity with studying theology (or, as I have seen it said tongue-in-cheek elsewhere, the idea that “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy reading theology books forever.”)

Teach Us To Want by Jen Pollock Michel I read this alongside You Are What You Love and felt the combination was a little bit redundant. She says some beautiful things about desire, ambition, and the life of faith, so I don’t not recommend this, but if you are interested in the topic I would start with the Smith book first. I might try to re-read this and see if it works better as a standalone, but I’m really glad I bought it even if just for the gorgeous red apples on the cover. (Her narrative tone and our common experiences of moving frequently makes me excited to read her upcoming book about the meaning of home, Keeping Place.)

Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson I was excited to start this book because I am a huge fan of the author (remember the year I only read two books? Her first book Made for More was one of them and also earned my high praise); I knew she would give voice to the words already at the tip of my tongue to help correct a lot of people I know who really struggle with pride. Then I read it, and the words rolling off my tongue were significantly more confessional than I ever expected. Shame about the size of your jeans or dwelling  on the numbers you wish to see on the scale? Pride. Overwhelmed and emotional because you always have too much to do that never gets done? Pride. That comfortable feeling of wearing your slippers and drinking hot coffee before your little kids wake up? Thankfully, that one is NOT PRIDE as far as I can tell. This theology is beautifully biblical and strong, and the application is inviting and gracious. This is a great read for anyone who “has a friend” that might need to bring themselves down a notch or two.

Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill. This book starts off pretty cerebral, so it gets lots of nerd points, which I love, but it is profoundly practical and encouraging by the second half. It also confirms some things I’ve been wondering about, like my growing suspicion about over-emphasis of family in the American church that devastates the lonely people among us. The Christian gospel, Hill argues, transforms our personal relationships and elevates deeper and profound friendships in ways that fulfill more of Jesus’ prayer, “that they might all be one.” I’m definitely going to be referring back to this book often (and exploring his other writings on celibacy and the gospel, too.)

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield In language that is beautiful without being sappy and hardy without being brash, Mayfield shows us God’s grace in the hardest, loneliest stories from her 10-year mission to refugees in Portland and Minneapolis. Current political issues make this message even more timely and I am truly grateful for this author and her work. You’ll read it and weep, and hope.

Parenting & Life Management 
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne Reading this book was very self-affirming for me: he says the typical middle-upper class American family lifestyle is basically destroying children with its excess of toys, sports, activities, screentime, and clutter, and I may have loved this mainly because it confirmed what I already thought about raising kids. Still, there were great suggestions throughout and many  Simplicity Parenting – inspired rhythms have been life-giving for us. I even wrote about how this book inspired me to cull the “words” in our music and radio listening for my friend Mary’s blog over the summer. After reading several Christian parenting books, I found it refreshing to read some decidedly non-religious advice as well. (Maybe it just felt good that he wasn’t pretending his advice is the only way to honor God as a parent?) I didn’t agree with everything, but would recommend this to most parents alongside Jen Wilkin’s talk “Raising an Alien Child.”  (And I will admit I’m typing this while my kids watch pirated-YouTube copies of a Disney movie on a 43-inch screen, so we aren’t fully committed here.)

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen  The pages of this book begins with commendations, including this from Peter Kreeft: “A worthy successor to C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man,” which is double praise. Esolen’s witty book expounds on similar principles of Simplicity Parenting, expressing them through the lens of his Christian faith and setting them against much of today’s modern western educational philosophy. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one as we start to make further decisions about the kids’ education.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. While, honestly, all self-help productivity books seem to say the same things… I read this one in just the right window of time this fall and was able to clearly identify some ways that I was “being productive in the wrong direction” and “robbing other people of their problems at great cost to myself.” We will see how further application towards my goal of more writing goes this year!

Kids Books We Loved
Iggy Peck, Architect and Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beatty. Engaging poetry, hilarious pictures, characters with gifts in science and technology? WINNERS all around. Both kids sit in rapt attention for both of these (which are labeled for ages 4 and up), and we’ll need to get the third book about Rosie Revere, Engineer.
Time for Bed by Mem Fox. So enchanting. I will miss this one when the kids outgrow it.
Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field. Annie has this one memorized, which saves me because I just choke up at the page that says “Bless other children far and near, and keep them safe and free from fear.” We love the gorgeous swedish cabin setting for the pictures and reciting the sweet rhymes before bed.
Woolies for the Winter by Betsy Howard and Laura Kern. In a world of inane drivel for the preliterate, this charming rhyme and watercolor is most welcome; I can hardly wait for their other three season-themed books to print!

What’s On My List for 2017 
A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty (started, need to finish)
What Grieving People Wish You Knew by Nancy Guthrie (started, need to finish)
Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance 
Is The Bible Good for Women? by Wendy Alsup
Comfort Detox by Erin Straza 
More Fiction, TBD (I am up for suggestions here! Perhaps the Kirstin Lavransdatter trilogy??)
None Like Him by Jen Wilkin
Good News For Weary Women by Elyse Fitzpatrick (If nothing else, I’ll read this because I already bought it and I am weary of it taunting me from the bookshelf since June.)

Happy New Year, friends!

Sisu, sleeplessness, and the marriage supper

When my Grandma died last year, we experienced fully the forethought of grief, where you get to hang on to the tension and dread of a protracted, agonizing death. Sometimes it is like that. But sometimes death just happens, and all you can do is try to keep breathing when someone you love isn’t. The forethought of grief was not an option with my grandpa. The phone calls came quickly and suddenly this time: Falls. Heart murmurs. Bed sores. Hospice. Long naps. Soon. Maybe tomorrow? No, today.

And all of the sudden, Poppa is gone. This was expected because, of course, we’re mortals, and he’s an old man with heart defects and Alzheimer’s, ailed by who knows what host of other problems he couldn’t describe due to his memory problems. But it feels too fast, too soon, and too wrong. I suppose it never feels right to hear that news. Death is always a loss, always cutting against the grain of our eternity-bound hearts.

A robin flies into my window the next day, and the thump against my house drops it back dead on the porch. Seizing the opportunity to practice a hard teaching moment, I point out the front window and explain the bird’s death to my little daughter. She can’t understand it yet, can she? Still shy of her second birthday, she proudly tells her baby brother Thomas about this as soon as his nap ends: “Tho’as! Bird. Nap. S’eepy outside. No wake up. Dead. Icky. ‘ook, Tho’as.”

We need to walk past the bird to get in the van, to get to the mall for new black funeral shoes. Old shovel in hand, I swallow hard and can’t get the edge under the bird; I don’t really have the gumption to take control of the dead bird situation. When my scooping efforts fail, I let the bird slide off the porch into the flower bed. It lands between two overgrown boxwood, right next to a new bush Aaron planted. He’s so much like Poppa, with curious joy in watching new life spring forth from the earth. He can move the bird away later, and it won’t hurt us in the meantime. Still disconcerted by the sight of this poor robin in the bushes, I take the children around the back door anyway.

That night Aaron says he’s glad to hear the bird landed in the mulch. He needs to fertilize the new bush soon anyway. The best thing to do, he says, is just leave it. We go about our evening: My grandpa is dead, the bird is dead, and my children are miraculously full of even more life than usual after our trip to the mall. We sing cheerful songs before they sleep at night, because that dead bird monologue didn’t translate into actual understanding of my (and our) loss. Cheer and grief: what do I do with this dissonance?

The Lord liveth — though Poppa is dead.
Blessed be the Rock — since we are dust. 
Let the God of our salvation be exalted —
…while we lay someone low in the ground. 

The funeral, exactly a week before my sister’s wedding, finds me preparing to share a eulogy about Poppa’s humble beginnings, his love for the creation and the Creator, and his determined spirit. That sanctuary holds many special memories: My mom’s and aunt’s wedding pictures, my cousins’ baptisms, late Christmas Eve services, Grandma’s funeral last year. Poppa was there for all of these. We sing some of his favorite songs, like How Great Thou Art, and it’s hard to believe he’s not sitting in his row, belting it out alongside us. Since the minister’s homily covered most of my main points, I begin with a joke that my speech “got scooped.” Thankfully, a story as good as Poppa’s is worth telling twice. 

The tales of Poppa growing up as the child of unassimilated Finnish immigrants yet earning advanced degrees, serving in the Air Force, establishing elementary schools in Alaska and colleges in Michigan, traveling the world, and always, always gardening might seem disjointed, but their common thread is found in a little knowledge about his Finnish roots. My Poppa started elementary school speaking only Finnish and knowing just a few English words. I’m the opposite, because I just speak English, but the one Finnish word I know is sisu. It doesn’t fully translate to English, but it means grit, determination, valor, fortitude, sustained courage, and fighting with the will to win. Sisu is considered the true Spirit of Finland, and with this tenacity, Poppa’s life demonstrated that he kept the best of his Finnish heritage with a sisu drive for faithful effort in carefully chosen pursuits.

After talking about his life and the resurrection  – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again, Alleluia – we scoop potato salad onto our plates in the fellowship hall before moving outside to stand in the blazing sun, scooping earth over ashes. Grandma and Poppa are set there together, dust over dust. By their quiet faithfulness to the gospel and each other, my grandparents were, in so many ways, like trees planted by streams of water, like great Oaks of righteousness. We sow in tears, grieving that this is so final and awful and wrong. We sow in faith, believing boldly that God will reap them as His glorious harvest following the raising of Christ, the firstfruit of all who sleep.

When we have laid them to rest, we return to a full house since so many aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings stay for the week until Naomi’s wedding. We do not rest ourselves. No one ever wants to go to bed, and this is not just the kids cajoling for 5 more minutes. We’re adults who know we are dangerously exhausted, but still we turn on the movies and make snacks to procrastinate on our necessary wedding projects until the wee hours every day. Is it because we want to try keeping today long enough for a little more joy? Or because we know sleep is a mini-death? Maybe it’s because we want more time with Poppa, which we cannot have, so we hang on to every moment with these people who gives us a little bit of him and his memory.

Grief is exhausting because you just want to keep it at bay; if you keep busy, keep fighting to embrace what you have, maybe the memories of your loss will stay away longer. And you stay up late so you aren’t trying to will yourself to sleep with fewer defenses against the pain. You want to be too tired to pay attention to how bad it feels. If you lay there with any energy left, you will remember. It’s easier, in the short term, to fall apart from exhaustion than to be alert to what you have lost.

img_4078

Bill Niemi and Thomas Hummel. Poppa kept saying, “You can tell he really likes me!”

The Apostle Paul says that in death and resurrection, what is sown does not come to life unless it dies, planted like a bare kernel. Everyone who watched Poppa’s remains go into the earth (we who are now folding bulletins and altering bridesmaid dresses and spray painting table decor) also watched this happen in Poppa’s garden every summer. Just like we joyfully tasted the firstfruits of his garden labors, in ripe red tomatoes and long green beans and crisp cucumbers, we see the joyful fruit of his life among us. To say nothing of blessings among my cousins and the wider community of family and friends, my sisters and I all celebrate our new boys: I have Thomas, Beth is roundly pregnant with Ellis, Naomi is marrying Matt.  We live in the tension of loss and exponential increase this week especially, somehow starting to make peace with what we have heard and spoken about the resurrection: What God raises up out of death is greater than what existed naturally in the first place.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead:
what is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is never in vain.
– 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 58.

It makes a lot of sense that we spend our initial grief for Poppa in wedding coordinations, moving from funeral grief to marriage joy in that same church the next Saturday. We celebrate the seamless call of the gospel and the example of Poppa’s Finnish sisu, to abound and labor for good fruit by the finished work of Jesus. We persevere in preparations while Naomi and Matt open their hearts and arms to each other, in the shadow of Poppa’s life of diligence and devotion. We prepare to rejoice and feast in celebration of their new life together, echoing the eternal life Poppa revels in at the marriage supper of the lamb.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

wedding photos via  hello rose photography 

Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb! -Revelation 9:9

William Jacob Niemi, Jr., passed away on July 17, 2016, surrounded by family. 

Sharing Elsewhere: Risen Motherhood

RisenMotherhood Text Pics (15)

I’m really excited to be sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned through my miscarriages on the Risen Motherhood podcast this week! Hosts Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler discuss the way the gospel transforms a mom’s everyday life on this quick weekly show. Since neither of them have suffered miscarriage themselves, they asked if I would be willing to share a little bit from my journey as part of a back-to-back interview episode about miscarriage and the gospel. Most of what I shared won’t be completely new to friends or readers here, but I think you’ll enjoy hearing the complementary stories of God’s grace during the episode. This is a fabulous resource for women seeking hope and healing after losing a baby, and I’m grateful for the chance to be part of this beautiful ministry!

[ If you’re not already a faithful Risen Motherhood listener, you can always listen in on their website (www.RisenMotherhood.com). I also suggest connecting with them on Facebook and subscribing with your favorite podcast streaming site (maybe iTunes?) or app so you don’t miss an episode! ]