at capacity

Several months ago, I realized anyone who compared the things I claim to value to the things my calendar claimed I valued would think I was crazy. I probably was. It definitely felt like it. So I had to do some cutting back, getting rid of good things that I wanted to do, and the only rationalization was that they were (innocently) choking the life out of the things that were necessary. This was the hardest and wisest thing I have done yet this year, and I’ve seen much good come out of it. (I found this post on marriage encouraging during the process of schedule-culling.)

saturday am

One of the things that I was a little embarrassed to protect in the revised Spring schedule was times like this one. I really need some time for hot coffee and morning reading built into my weekend schedule. Nothing else works if I don’t get this in before the weekly grind spills over into the rest of my weekend. Really, there is no good reason for a Christian to feel bad about putting non-negotiable boundaries around their practice of a sabbath rest, but these things always make more sense when you look at it in retrospect.

I started this morning feeling disappointed, used up, exhausted, uncertain, and fully inadequate for the tasks ahead of me, nagged by the thought that this shouldn’t be happening because I have all the skills necessary to tackle my responsibilities. My relationship with Oswald Chambers ebbs and flows, but I find myself invariably turning back to this old copy of My Utmost for His Highest when I am frustrated or wanting something that isn’t happening. I read it every day the year Aaron was in Iraq and it feels comforting to revisit the graces that sustained me then.

saturday am promises

“We must not measure our spiritual capacity by education or by intellect; our capacity in spiritual things is measured by the promises of God. …When it is a question of God’s Almighty Spirit, never say “I can’t.” …Never forget that our capacity in spiritual matters is measured by the promises of God. Is God able to fulfill His promises?” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 20.

The other thing at capacity in our lives? Our chicken ownership. We had just the right amount for our coop, but Aaron succumbed to the cuteness of baby chicks and brought a few more home. He came up from the garage mid-day last week when I had a break in piano lessons and said something like, “I just want you to think about how much you love me… and how much you love things that are little and soft before you go down to the laundry room.”

sunny chick

Surprise! Though the timing was close, I’m not letting him pass this off as a birthday present. And unfortunately, this isn’t an exotic colored breed; that purple mark is just from a Farmer’s marker.

It’s hard to get or stay mad at someone who brought you home some baby chicks. It seems that Space Dad is becoming a total softie. And if you don’t hear from us for a while, please check in and make sure we’re not accidentally becoming chicken farmers.

“Don’t you wish your Bible was ecumenical like mine?”

My April to-do lists are pretty crazy. Trying to make lots of people happy is never a great way to avoid busyness and stress, but it’s a necessary evil of my self-employment. Additionally, there are taxes to finish up, there is an impromptu bathroom remodel to tackle, there are classes to direct and piano students to teach. Weekends aren’t really weekends for the next few weeks. I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there is a lot of working and not a lot of sleeping going on at our house!

As an anti-insanity measure, I squeezed in a walk in our park this weekend when the weather finally became warm and sunny. A no-cell-phone-so-no-one-can-bug-me kind of walk. And then I even had some outside Bible study on a beach chair in sandals. (I feel like there should be some exclamation points in that sentence.)  ecumenicalI found this Bible during a recent visit to my parent’s house. My maiden name is written inside the cover, and I vaguely remember having it at some point for some College class or something. And by some strange happening, there are notes all over the generous margins in my handwriting and I have absolutely no recollection of studying from this volume. It’s huge, about 3x the size of my usual leatherbound NIV, possibly because it contains the Apocrypha, which I always mean to read and research but never do, but also because of the generous cross references at the bottom of each page. It’s been fun to discover (or really rediscover, I suppose…) these resources. I still want to learn Greek, but in the meantime, it’s nice to have so many study aids available in English.

Psalm 38. I don't know why I underlined this; good to know it's still true!

Psalm 38. I don’t know why I underlined this; good to know it’s still true!

I definitely get a huge nerdy kick out of opening up this scriptural monstrocity, but it’s really spooky to find notes I have no memory of making, especially when they are helpful and insightful. The real world may be dulling my senses, because these notes definitely indicate I was a lot smarter in college. Or at least I had more insights concerning the Minor Prophets than I would these days…

it takes courage

I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, really. A musician, an artist, a creator? Yes, but not much of a writer.  During my senior year of high school I had a tutor for my college entrance essay assignments, and I remember confessing this frustration during an editing session. Nearly every other form of creative expression came easily for me. I could write a song, arrange a collage, perform a piano solo, lead in a musical, knit a scarf, or decorate a room with confidence, but every time I tried to write, I questioned myself and was consistently unhappy with the results of my hard work. She listened patiently, and then suggested that frustration about my challenges as a writer might actually be a cover for the fear that my ideas weren’t valuable. Writing doesn’t have to come naturally to matter, she assured me, and good things are worth working for. I didn’t really understand what she meant for several years, and I rarely thought of this conversation after it happened. (I can recount this now because, in a move that is admittedly ironic, I recorded her comments in my journal, which is my long-standing habit after all thought-provoking conversations.)

Though I got plenty of challenging writing assignments once I started college (thank you, Dr. Freeh, et al!), I spent most of those years surrounded by absolute geniuses in every variety of written communication – literature analysts, poets, journalists, scriptural exegetes, curriculum editors, and columnists of every sort. I’m sure my writing competence sharpened significantly during this time, but I never felt like I was even close to average abilities. My insecurity might make even more sense if you know that I was tight with these writers: I married a scholarship-winning journalist, one of my wedding bridesmaids has now published a book, and several other friends from that life are in graduate school or regularly writing things read by people they don’t know. Spending my life with people who were beyond my own mastery in this one area was a fertile breeding ground for that long-held fear of inadequacy, the nagging sense that I just didn’t have much to say. I didn’t realize this was exactly what my tutor meant yet by then, or even in the following years when I would escape boredom at work by maintaining frighteningly voluminous email correspondence.

I finally remembered the admonition about writing-insecurity hiding my idea-insecurity again at the end of our recent Michigan vacation when I was packing up a box of my belongings from my old bedroom in my parents’ house. It’s been four years since I “officially” moved out after graduating from college and marrying Aaron, and we own our home so I don’t have many things left there. This final load was a collection of my journals, now chronicling over half of my life. There were twenty-five notebooks that I brought home, with dates stretching back to 1998. I was twelve years old then.

After arriving back in Iowa, I organized this small library by date and added my other recent journals, which brings the total number to thirty-four. While setting things in order, I thumbed through a few books and recalled God’s kindness and my growth with laughter and cringing. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to middle school… or high school, for that matter!

And maybe it’s a sign of that same kindness and growth that in the middle of this project (besides wondering where on earth I am actually going to keep these) I couldn’t help but think: It’s probably time to stop pretending I don’t write. And I should stop being afraid of my ideas, too.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
– e. e. cummings.

Recent Reads

We’ve had our first rhubarb harvest, every other dinner’s salad is fresh from the garden, and last night’s bike ride included nine bunny sightings. It’s not that warm yet, but summer has definitely started! One of the best parts of summer is… Well, who can pick just one? I like it all! But right now I’m excited about summer reading. I just finished a great Bible Study program that ran through the school year, so my regular book reading diminished drastically since September. This summer my work load is decreased a bit, and while I hope to maintain consistent study of scripture, I’m excited about extra time for real books, too. So I can’t say I’ve been reading two books a month like I did last year, but I’m going to blog about the past year’s worth of literary edification now in case you want to pick anything up for your own summer reading list. My natural bent is towards devotional, historical, nerdy, or “self-help”-ish books, but I have been richly rewarded by some intentional fiction reading, so I’m hoping to be more balanced with reading stories and “real life” in the future.
(These are listed here alphabetically by author.)

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
I’ve had Wendell Berry on the radar for years. In college I frequently babysat for the children of a Berry scholar (as in, wrote a real book about it), and sometimes I thumbed through the books on their shelf. But I didn’t get anything read start-to-finish until now, and I am kicking myself for taking half a decade to get around to it. This author is gently profound, and his prose beautifully marries an understanding of God’s dual revelation (in scripture and nature) with an uncanny knack for describing the human condition. Berry “gets” God, and he “gets” man. I will say that I found it especially intriguing that a confessing Baptist would write a story where the main character spends much of his life in confusion about faith and veers sharply off the path of orthodox Christian belief at the end, but I would still highly recommend this book as a story about loss, grief, growth and redemption.

“This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. In a strange way, it added to me what I had lost. I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. … I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. …The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.” -Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.

***
When God Talks Back by  T.M. Luhrmann.
This is a huge volume based on an anthropologist’s report of spending years in two different Vineyard churches throughout the country. I feel like I’m cheating because I actually returned this to the library before I finished it, but I would like to finish it sometime, and I still recommend this to anyone who is intrigued by anthropology or curious about the psychological study of prayer. Which would be… probably no one. I’m okay with being a little nerdy here: I thought it was really interesting. And I truly appreciated that a non-believing author managed to write a book about evangelical prayer without an overwhelming air of cynicism. Though I don’t necessarily agree with some of her conclusions, I appreciated that she took people seriously and wanted to figure out how the human side of prayer works. My biggest beef with what I’ve read so far is that Luhrmann keeps using the word “evangelical,” while most evangelicals probably wouldn’t call the churches she visited mainstream. But, whatever. The evangelical Christian movement is almost impossible to narrowly define, even in a book that’s 300+ pages like this one.

***
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is a beautiful story, told in letters from an elderly minister near death to his seven-year-old miracle son. (While every child is a miracle, one who is seven when his father dies of old age is more likely to be referenced as such, I suppose.) The San Francisco Chronicle said Gilead “explores big ideas while telling a good story,” and I would recommend this for anyone who has thought about God’s will, singleness, marriage, childlessness, parenting, grief, disappointment, ministry, or the meaning of life. Which means, everyone. I liked this so much that I listened to the audio CD a few weeks after reading the book, and I was so excited to share this novel with some friends that I recommended it to several people right away. Then I found out most of them had read it already. So I feel like I was late to the party, but you should read it now, because this is one of those things that isn’t worth missing!

“I don’t know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.” -Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.

***
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner

I have loved several of Lauren Winner’s other books, especially her conversion memoir “Girl Meets God,” so I was very curious about “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis.” Written out of the spiritual torment she faced grieving her mother’s death and doubting her faith in a difficult marriage resulting in an (admittedly) unjustifiable divorce, Winner tells her raw story of doubt and faith. Many times, it seemed that her “journal-entryish” writing (like CS Lewis’ “A Grief Observed,” but a bit more organized) left me feeling emotionally brutalized along with her – doubt is a painful thing, and it hurt to read about, too. In both knowing personally that Christian marriage is not all picnics and rainbows, and walking alongside a dear friend in the aftermath of marital dissolution, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the trauma Winner faced after leaving her husband. I don’t know the whole story behind that, but I do know she reflected on those grave choices with honesty and renewed faith. It’s not as though she can go back and change it, and I am grateful God meets us where we are instead of where we should be. In many ways, this book reminds us that life is tough and God, though sometimes hard to understand, is good. Winner writes with a haunting narrative voice and her words are thought-provoking in some ways I didn’t expect. For that reason I think it deserves mention here.

“The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since the baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God’s closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone. …And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. … I doubt; I am uncertain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of holy keep interrupting my gaze.” (‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ John 6:68, esv.) – Still, by Lauren F. WInner.

I have a few things on my summer reading list already (Eric Metatexas’ Bonhoeffer biography is in progress, Return of the King by Tolkien, the Huger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, and Great Expectations by Dickens), but I’d love to hear more suggestions if you have any to offer!