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. 

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.

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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.

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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. 

on turning thirty

Every year on April 12, I perform a series of adult birthday rituals.

I call someone who sent me something that I somehow misplaced, a document which contains information I need to finish filing my taxes. I vow to be more organized next year, and to do taxes in February. I text message my friends about how much I should bill the government for the time it took me to get everything pulled together. I submit the returns and take myself out for happy-birthday-done-with-taxes-starbucks. I revel in my newfound freedom from the IRS and think about what it means to be another year older. And I usually hack out a quick blog post. It’s kind of become my routine.

This year I am thirty, which is KIND OF A BIG DEAL. I’m more tired than excited about most things, which makes me feel a little old. This year may have been the most intense and best one yet. I am still not ready to think about upcoming goals, necessarily, but both of my children are magically napping at the same time, and I have been thinking about the things I’ve learned in the last few years.

– Plenty of good advice does not apply to me. Maybe I’m reading different books, maybe blog articles have changed, maybe I’m giving other people a better picture of life when I ask them a question? Those are possible, but I also think I’m much quicker to discern when something that could be right for someone else is not going to work out for me. I don’t feel guilty if so-and-so advised me to take one path and I do something else.
I have to work with my personality, not against it. The first time I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, I was 17 years old and told an adult what I had learned: Of the sixteen personality types profiled in their system, I was an  “ENFP” – I liked keeping lots of friends, working with people, having deep conversations, creativity, dreaming about possibilities, starting new things (and struggling to finish them), and I was driven to find meaning in the world around me. Reading the description was like reading my own diary! The person I was sharing this with told me that sounded like a celebration of immaturity more than an explanation of who I was. (I don’t think they meant to be hurtful. And like I said, I’m not taking bad advice personally anymore.) Every time I’ve taken one of those MBTI tests since then it has told me I’m … an ENFP. After thirteen years, I don’t think this is something I’m going to grow out of. Most of the frustrating circumstances I’ve faced in my adult life have been magnified because I considered my personality a hindrance. Yes, I have to finish projects, and yes, I have to handle details even when I would rather find meaning in the world around me. But I’m also seeing now that I’m going to accomplish a lot more by embracing who I am, even if it’s a little more all-over-the-place than whatever standard of personal maturity I’m measuring myself against.
It is very possible that I was born 30 years old. Other people talk about the shows they’re watching on Netflix, but Aaron and I have nothing to say: we have accepted that we strongly lean towards the WW2 documentaries. (Every so often I tell him I know the good guys win, but I can’t handle any more Hitler and we watch space exploration documentaries, which are also fairly depressing.) Other than that, waking up to hot coffee is my idea of a good morning. I have Birkenstocks and a minivan. I kind of feel like I’m living the high life.
Real life is changing my reading preferences. My favorite genre in high school and college was utopian/dystopian fiction. Talking about the subtle nuances between those two terms for a few hours would be my idea of a good time. I’ve read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World at least six times. I had portions of George Orwell’s 1984 memorized for a while. I took a college class where we surveyed Utopian fiction throughout history and considered it the most fascinating experience of my life. I was thrilled that so many people read the Hunger Games because I could finally talk to other people about an alternate reality world. Maybe growing up means becoming more in tune with reality? I wonder, because we really branched out from our WW2 documentaries and watched V for Vendetta this month. Instead of being fascinated, I kind of felt like I was watching the news.
Politically-oriented talk radio is a terrible way to fill your brain. Even if the majority of the facts are correct, the way something is communicated matters. Consuming rants and inflammatory programming appeals to pride and our desire to be right, but often costs us our ability to disagree respectably.
– It’s not always worth it to save money. Do I need to be cutting edge on everything? No. But savings is not the highest goal in life, and many of the cost-cutting measures we have utilized in the past 8 years have cost us in other ways more than we saved financially.
– Better to admit I’m wrong later than to wish I’d said something true sooner. I can trace my own fear of being wrong as the source of many tough situations in the last few years, and (humbly) going out on a wing to say something unpopular or new has always been worth it. Sitting on something I feel strongly about usually means it just blows up later because yes, things were unwell, but I’m not even in a great position to recover well because I KNEW IT and I HAVE BEEN RIGHT ALL THIS TIME, when speaking up sooner probably would have saved going down a bad road in the first place.
– Loving someone is never wasted. With moving so much, it can be easy to see how much it has cost me to love other people and wonder if it was actually worth it, especially in relationships that drop off when we aren’t close by. It is hard, but good, to trust that God is accomplishing his purposes through friendships that are short, stilted, and interrupted, even when it seems like it might have been pointless.

birthday flowers

[birthday flowers from my sister]

Thirty is a big milestone, but it’s good. I’m grateful for the growth from these lessons, and others left unshared. My life is full of more grace and laughter because of them. “I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” – Charles Dickens. 

ordained beauty

…Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

The past two years have been… a little crazy. I think we are still coming to terms with our Minnesota stint and, while Aaron really likes his job and Thomas arrived safely, we have been managing a never-ending parade of crises ever since moving here and the paperwork burden of registering vehicles, buying a house, and having a baby the day before insurance activates is gargantuan. Despite the tough aspects of moving, we’re excited to have another house we really like with a very short commute for Aaron. (It has come in very handy when I have needed him to meet me at Urgent Care ASAP. Like I said – there have been lots of crises.) The best part of this third house is the huge backyard, which has a pond and lots of trees that just hit their autumn color peak. I think we are really going to enjoy living here.

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anne toddles around the new house, taking in the majestic views. (14 months)

There are things about Minnesota that I will really miss, but Aaron’s research position was really tough on us. If we had to move away eventually, it was good to rip off the bandaid and get it over with. Even though this new job is going really well and I’m excited about the educational options for the kids here, coming to St. Louis with the intention to stick around for good brought some hard realities to light:

Leaving Minnesota means we have to start all over on everything again. 
We don’t live close to our families in Michigan.
We’re not moving back to Iowa.

Staying put or going to a more familiar place would have been welcome adventures, and it’s a little sad to let those hopes go. Even though so much of St. Louis is like “the first day of the rest of our lives,” it’s also closing the door on other beautiful dreams, and that’s hard.

I’ve been thinking about how the colors during the fall we left Iowa seemed particularly idyllic to me, and I remember watching those leaves out of the windows during piano lessons, trying not to dwell on how badly I wished everything about our life could be different. Those vibrant trees stood in silent declaration that God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of endings and loss. There was a lot of sadness in losing another baby and leaving so many people we loved that fall, and that pain certainly sharpens my perspective on the good things going on right now.

I never imagined how much would happen in the following two years, but it is really fabulous to look out at a new backyard full of more vibrant colors through a sliding glass door covered in prints of Max’s nose and Annie’s darling toddler hands while cuddling Thomas. There are going to be hard things here, of course, and this fall has really been a knockout in many ways, but it’s encouraging to know that this beauty has been established for the griefs and “endings” of moving, and it gives hope for the good things here, too.

Be still, my soul; Thy Jesus can repay
From his own fullness all he takes away.

— Be Still, My Soul, Catharina von Schlegel

welcome, little thomas!

hummel family

Thomas Ephraim Hummel, Sept 8, 2015

Because, of course, on the day I’m supposed to run a bunch of errands to settle a contract for a new house we’re supposed to buy, and then get a little fix made on our new van, and then take a deep breath about dodging the COBRA health insurance paperwork bullet because the new health insurance from Aaron’s job starts the next day… This baby, who I’m assuming is probably one of the most eager individuals on the planet, would decide to be born and nearly redefine the idea of a “precipitous birth” in the process. Every little bit of his existence over the last 9-10 months so far can be summed up with the phrase, “He’s not Annie.” After plenty of discussion over nearly every name used for  men in the English-speaking world, he is named after our favorite apostle Thomas and the second-born son of Joseph, Ephraim (“fruitful”), because we share his blessing: “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Genesis 41:52)

annie and Thomas

Annie and Thomas

These two dear children are full of many little needs, and our “babymoon” this time around has included: horrendous world-class chigger attack recovery (Aaron), nasty cold/sore throats (Aaron and Annie, just a little one for me), lots of paperwork and inspections and decisions in house-purchasing (Aaron and me), more struggles with eating (Thomas), and not enough space, privacy, or peace with all of us and Max in our echo-y 700 sq.ft. apartment. This is a little nuts, and absolutely no detail of this summer and fall is what we expected at the start of this year! This move, Aaron’s new job, and especially this little boy are good, good gifts we would not have dreamed of even asking for or expecting this year. And it’s a little crazy to say this, but with one-and-a-half days of Daddy being back at work with me at home, my growing suspicion is that doing the newborn/toddler/dog care during the day when Aaron works regular hours is going to be less stressful than managing the newborn/puppy care while he was gone 15 hours every day in Minnesota. thomas sleeping!

Welcome to this chaos, Thomas. Our family will never be the same and we are so in love you, little boy!

Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” …Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face; and behold, God has let me see your offspring also.” Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim, who was the younger. … And he blessed Joseph and said:

“May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
— May He bless these boys.
May they be called by the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly upon this earth.”
Genesis 48. 

to love that well

…This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
– Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare. 

pic 17

Our soon-to-be-former backyard, with the vegetable garden from which we will not eat (much) produce.

 

We have fallen forward into a lot of big, different things this year already. And moving right now? It feels like falling so far forward that we’re swinging back around and ending up behind. Only not really, but in some ways, yes, that’s how it feels. (I have a lot of feelings right now, and I’m confused, too.) This year Aaron has been working really, really hard with very long hours, and I’ve been home with a baby and a puppy and the concern/exhaustion/nausea of a new pregnancy, and we’ve been doing a lot of work on our house, yard and garden. It’s not so much that having a job, dog, baby, or house is awful, but this has been an intense year on all fronts. While this all made selling the house a breeze, as long as all the paperwork continues to process appropriately, it’s frustrating that we sacrificed so much in working so hard and really don’t get to enjoy the fruits of these labors in a tangible sense right now.

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Because of that, we read this passage in church on Sunday and groaned because it seems exactly opposite of what this is like for us right now. After more rounds of brutal decluttering, since we mostly have old junky stuff from thrift stores and are paying per sq. ft. of moving trailer space, and watching our tomato plants get bigger and bigger with delicious food we won’t eat… Living with houses full of stuff we didn’t have to acquire with food we didn’t have to plant? That definitely sounds like the Promised Land. Those Israelites may have had it made.

There is grace in it, but moving is still really hard, and I am very aware of this. I have lots of packing to do when I want to just delight in the last days with Annie on her own and take lots of third-trimester naps. Preparations for moving are really taxing, and we’re determined to be significantly more minimalistic and organized than we were coming here, which requires more brain power than I want to give anything right now. Still, we’re making a point to sink in and enjoy every moment we have with what is here: a beautiful home, friends, mild summer weather, Lake Superior, a girl in the most amazing stages of interacting and action, and the wonder of anticipating a little boy coming at a time that clearly points to a greater plan than we would have made. These are gifts we can maximize by loving well even though it is all so very temporary.

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(These couches are not coming with us, which I am extremely happy about, and we decided it’s OK for Max to lay on them for the time being. He doesn’t sit on other couches so we’ll just teach him to stay off new furniture in St. Louis, but right now it’s like he can tell this is his temporary pleasure, too.)

reading round-up (5.15.15)

Both of our Minnesota springs to date have negated the adage “April Showers bring May Flowers” for different reasons. Last year, it was because there was too much snow for too long. This year winter ended at a reasonable time, but we just haven’t had much rain. Now in May, it is finally coming down and our grass is finally coming up. (Aaron far prefers working outside, so he is glad to be done with the new floor and seeing progress in our lawn and garden!) This year we’re just doing tomatoes and green beans.

Both of our Minnesota springs have included excitement about other kinds of growth, too. We’re ecstatic and humbled by another healthy pregnancy! This one means welcoming a baby boy to our family this fall, and by some sweet mercy, the first half of pregnancy has been significantly easier (physically and mentally) than the first half of my pregnancy with Annie. I’m especially grateful for an easier pregnancy while managing an adventurous nine-month-old, and I’m still blown away to think we’ll have two children. I spent a long time wondering if I would ever have any kids, and this
really feels like winning the lottery twice.

Parenting
I thought there were some great thoughts in 8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder, especially the encouragement to “Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good. ” It’s easy to get bogged down with the idea that we could possibly be really ruining some aspect of our kids’ lives, and I’m grateful for the reminder that we’re also in the position to be the greatest instrument of goodness and blessing for them, too.

I also really appreciated 9 Things Adult Daughters Want Their Mothers to Know. It resonated with me as a daughter and inspired me as a mother.

On the flipside, Raising Gentle Boys was good encouragement for thinking about the new baby. He’ll be himself in so many ways that are more about just being his own person and not necessarily about his gender, but since I don’t know anything about those other things yet… this is what I’ve got to think about: ultrasound technology reassures us that the baby seems to be developing normally and is, in fact, male.

Personality
This post on the benefits of knowing yourself was great. I’ve followed Kristin’s blog for a while and really appreciate so many of her reflections on frugality and family life. I remember the sense of relief that came when I decided I was done with “couponing” and then again in the last few months when I decided borrowing baby clothes was more stressful for me than it was worth, and her advice here resonated deeply for me:

“We don’t all have to be good at the same things, and we don’t all have to love the same things.
(No one can possibly be good at everything and love everything!)
The important thing is to live within your means and manage your money responsibly, and there are a zillion ways to do that well.”

If knowing yourself means identifying with a Myers-Briggs personality type, this Definition of Hell for Each Myers-Briggs Personality Type might extremely accurate. I am an ENFP, but just barely on to the extroverted side; I’m pretty sure Aaron is exactly the opposite, an ISTJ. Hell for an ENFP is essentially the description of the job I held for 3 years when Aaron and I first got married, and it was just nice to (again) be affirmed that I wasn’t being dramatic when I told people it was like a living hell.
For the ENFP:  Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks.
For the ISTJ: You are expected to complete a highly esteemed project with absolutely no guidance as to what’s expected of you.
In some ways, this describes both of our current occupations as well, which is particularly laughable. (I will say, the monotonous aspects of life as a stay-home mom are much more tolerable after living through some of the truly horrendous -for me- tasks in my old job. and both of these descriptions apply to quite a bit of parenting.)

Productivity 
Aaron has been reviewing different management and productivity materials for companies he is interested in working for… There’s a lot of interesting stuff out there! This Tedx Talk from David Allen (who wrote “Getting Things Done”) is an oldie-but-a-goodie. We were just talking about some of the stuff he says here, and I think it’s very much worth 22 minutes of your time. (Grab a notebook to take some notes and jot down some thoughts afterwards!) We were just saying we might need to review this together every few months… It’s not a bad idea.

Science
Another Ted presentation from Pamela Ronald talks about the intersection of “Organic” farming and GMO crops hits on some good points for lay discussions on agriculture and biotechnology.

Miscarriage 
This blog from Mandi covers a lot of great topics about recurring loss and pregnancy after miscarriages. In some ways she seems like my Catholic twin in reflecting on those topics and I think this blog is a great resource for interested parties.

Reading 
I recently rediscovered LibriVox, full of free audio books in the public domain, and I’m enjoying working through the Anne of Green Gables series again. I find that YA literature is just right for listening while I’m working around the house — it’s engaging but not so dense that I can’t get something else done, too.

Music
Annie recently discovered the joys of hitting things with a plastic spoon, so I gave her some tupperware to beat and turned on Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man. So much fun. So much proletariat ire. (Copeland was a phenomenal American composer with strong ties to progressive/socialist  politics. I’m linking to it’s performance at a 9/11 memorial to compensate on the other side, maybe?)
Musician mama side note: I really like showing her videos of musical performances where she can see the instruments!


We’re looking forward to a low-key weekend with a few little house projects, playing outside with Annie and Max, and lots of much-needed relaxing. Have a happy weekend, friends!

reading round-up (5.01.15)

After spending the first part of this year feeling like everything was askew with the entire upstairs ripped apart for our new floor project, which resulted in an unfortunate injury for Aaron and therefore took three times longer than we expected, it finally feels like we are at least a little bit on top of things at home. Last night I wiped off the counters and ran the dishwasher before bed, and we marveled at how nice it feels to have the illusion of a house that is under control. After four months of having every closet turned inside out and shuffling all the stuff upstairs from one room to the next, with plenty of construction materials, tools, and sawdust in the mix… Man-oh-man. The clear space makes it easier to breathe. A-lle-lu-ia.

And in case you were ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the pictures I just shared of our house, wondering what there was to be dissatisfied about, I offer you this picture of the lights right above our bed:

photo 1 (3)

***
[Christianity] I was so impressed by a recent message from Jason Meyer discussing oppressive “hyper-headship” as one of the primary pitfalls of false leadership from his text in 2nd Corinthians. I recommend at least skimming the transcript to look at the descriptions and categories of abusive behaviors, but if you don’t want to read the transcript or listen to the whole thing (45 minutes), this summary will give you a picture of what he said with some key quotes. Any discussion that is quicker to define a Christian understand of gender by distancing itself from “feminism” (as if that was a bad word?!) instead of clearly separating from any form of domestic or spiritual abuse seems only misguided at first, but is actually creating a safe environment for abuse:

Doing nothing is doing something: it is looking the other way so the abusers can do their thing without worrying who is watching. Saying nothing is saying something—it’s saying, “Go ahead, we don’t care enough to do anything.”

Aaron and I really enjoyed “Why God’s Will Isn’t Always Clear” from Jon Bloom  because, well, it hasn’t always been clear for us, and a little encouragement in the midst of things is always good to have.

[Clothes] Part of the Early 2015 Life Overhaul included moving Annie’s bed in to our walk-in-closet and moving all our clothes to our spacious laundry room, and I went through every article of my clothing with the inspiration of this article about useful wardrobes. (I’ve been thinking about this for a while!) I now have a lot less clothes than I used to, and getting dressed is a lot easier.

[Science] If you are a fan of eating at Chipotle (those burrito bowls… mmm mmm), you might like this article from Iowa Corn sTalk with 6 Facts refuting Chipotle’s irrational series “Farmed and Dangerous.” Their food is great! But the current business practice of deceiving their customers and attacking family farmers is …not.

[Books] I have three books on my stack of stuff to read… it takes a little more to get there these days! And I think I need to get some fiction other than “The Pout-Pout Fish” going on in my days here, too.
The Gospel-Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel by Wendy Alsup
Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord life when death visits the womb by Jessalyn Hutto 
Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa by Robert Paarlberg 

[Music]
Andrew Peterson’s God of My Fathers is so touching for me. I love the lyrics at the end, especially:

Now we’re counting stars and counting sand
Little feet and little hands
We’re counting joys…
…Like their father, they are looking for a home
Looking for a home beyond the sea
So be their God and guide them
Till they lie beneath these hills
And let the great God of my father
Be the great God of their children still.
-God of My Fathers, by Ben Shive. From “Counting Stars.”

We also have been enjoying Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending almost every morning — what a beautiful start to the day.

We’re spending the beautiful weekend with some family members and planning to enjoy some “time off” from work and the house while the weather is so lovely. Happy Weekend!
Iris