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!

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. 

walk in newness (2016)

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. – Romans 6:4

So much of this year – this move, this new baby, this new house – has felt like one giant baptism by fire. In many ways I am a much richer woman at the start of 2016 than I was for 2015, but it has come through much surrender, sacrifice, and sanctification. Last year demanded  we bid goodbye to life in Minnesota, goodbye to other dreams we would have welcomed, and I’m realizing that it was goodbye to another layer of certainty or control,  too. Five months into Missouri, I don’t think we’ve made much progress figuring out what it is we’re greeting with a “hello” here.

I knew I’d hit my life-surprise threshold when the new Star Wars movie came out. Since we had to wait a few weeks after The Force Awakens opened to see family (which was really just a cover for having babysitters so we could go to the movies), I almost read a bunch of online spoilers after I wailed to Aaron that I could not handle even one more big life event curveball. (Star Wars is a life event at our house. We are also in complete denial about the upcoming presidential election — no emotional reserves left for thinking about politics right now.) As someone who really likes goals and dreaming about things that could happen, my stance toward this New Year is extremely anti-climactic. Amid the general hopeful talk of “new years resolutions” and annual goals that everyone else is throwing around, I don’t really want this year to rock. I don’t want to make any big life changes or start any big dreams or have anything else I need to take care of added to my plate. We’re trying to remain positive but realistic about life right now, which means thinking in terms of an entire year is still a bit… much.

What I really want in 2016 is for my life to calm down and be more predictable. And maybe to get everything in the house painted. We’re trying to move from the current Breaking Bad drug den look into more of a “Fixer Upper” feel, and after 7 straight years of remodeling, I would like my house to look decent.

No matter how desperate I am to reduce the turbulence levels of my life this year, I can’t predict what God will bring us in 2016. But on the most practical level I know it is new, and that even when something new is hard, facing it with joy is a practical living-out of Christianity. Paul talks about “newness of life” coming from baptism, and that helps reframe the baptism-by-fire of this fall. Because the Christian life is is both initiated and sustained by the power of the resurrection, this isn’t something we hear once and move on from; it continually transforms us. This means the same resurrection that gives new life in salvation also empowers and compels me to walk in the newness born out of these changes, too. It might not mean I’m marathoning in newness or achieving greatness in any sphere outside of keeping my people fed and clothed. But it does mean we can walk forward step-by-step into this year with faith that this newness is for God’s glory, even without the excitement of big goals or new dreams about what that might look like.

So maybe all we know of 2016 is that it’s new. And that’s a good thing.

reading round-up (5.30.14)

Happy Friday! This week held a very noteworthy celebration: The first “real” piano student sign up of my Minnesota piano studio! We toasted this occasion with the most despicable-tasting sparkling cider available in the Target clearance aisle. (Seriously. It was awful. We both said something like, “We should have just had champagne. I think pregnant ladies in Europe drink sometimes and their kids are okay…”)
photo 2 (1)

Here are some reading suggestions for the start of a beautiful weekend…

[One] You guys, it’s been legitimately sort of HOT this week. We haven’t turned on the AC yet (we rebel against that sort of thing for a while), but it’s toasty enough to reschedule Max’s mid-afternoon walk so we can go to the basement for downstairs chores and naps instead. I have been really happy with my strategic door-and-window opening plan, which was inspired by this old post about “Living without A/C and Liking It!” from Like Mother, Like Daughter. We actually don’t know if the air conditioning unit works in this house, so we’ll get it cleaned out and hope for the best when it starts getting hotter! (I keep thinking… if you can’t make it until June for a/c when you live in Minnesota, you’re in serious trouble.)

[Two] I’ll probably whack out a whole post about how ridiculous the “mommy wars” are, especially in evangelical Christian subculture, but this post from Jen Wilkinson was particularly encouraging as I gear up for being a part-time working mom.

[Three] This look at the stairway to wisdom from David Brooks includes some great thoughts about the personal stories behind statistics, especially in relation to teen pregnancy.

[Four] I’ve seen this post about homeschooling popping around among friends quite a bit. I’m not going to deny that if I wrote an article about homeschooling (as someone who was homeschooled, has worked closely in tutoring other homeschool families in upper grades, is married to someone who was homeschooled, and will need to make some decisions about educating my own kid in the future) it would say the exact opposite of this one. In general, my opinion is that 85% of homeschool families need a more serious attitude about academics and a lot less restrictions for everything else. But it’s worth reading and reflecting critically whether you agree with it or not!

[Five] I love these thoughts on “scruffy hospitality” and welcoming people into life as you are!  Good, good words from Jack King.

“Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’ …Friendship isn’t about always being ‘excellent’ with one another. Friendship is about preparing a space for authentic conversation. And sometimes authenticity happens when everything is a bit scruffy.”

[Six] Two different friends have recommended the “Hillsdale Dialogues” series to me for combating intellectual decay. These lectures on literature have provided some mental stimulation lately, so they are worth checking out even if you’re a little intimidated (or not immediately interested) in hearing about The Illiad or Sir Gawain.

[Seven] Maybe especially because, finally, some things are really coming together —PhDbaby, duckling, puppy… what else could we want?– we’ve been battling a lot of thoughts about hopes, both the ones we felt were dashed so many times in the last few years, and the ones we’re still not sure about for the future. There are questions about calendars and things that don’t look like we thought they should at this point, birthdays that came before all the things we wanted to do by that age were done, and uncertainty about how to redream for some of life. I loved this encouragement from Ann Voskamp:

Time can’t dictate dreams or hijack hope or determine destination. Time may have hands on the clock but it’s arms are too weak to rob anybody of hope, steal anybody’s prayers, destroy anybody’s joy. And so what if time’s got hands on a clock — it’s God who has His Hands on the universe. Every little thing is going to be okay because God is working good through every little thing. All that’s happening is just happening to make miracles. There are miracles always unfolding under the impossibles.
“Joys are always on their way to us,” writes Amy Carmichael. “They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming.”
Because there is never a night where joys are not coming to us, there is never a road that can’t arrive at Hope.Circumstances can go ahead and run out of time — but the courageous refuse to run out of hope. We can always hope because there is always joy traveling to us down the unexpected roads.

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” – Psalm 147:11

The mosquitos are particularly nasty, but we’re hoping for another weekend of bonfires, laughter, Max adventures, and some more painting. (I can tell it’s making a big and beautiful difference in this house that needed a lot of “lipstick and rouge,” but will it ever end? I think “soft flipping” a house and getting a puppy effectively eradicated the possibility of ‘relaxing weekends’ before the baby arrives. )

(You can enjoy more quick reads at Conversion Diary!) 






There’s not as much goin’ on in my head as I really think there should be, and I’ve been reminded multiple times in the past few days that “pregnancy brain fog is a real thing.” I’m not sure if I can blame my mental fog on the baby as much as the fact that I’m conscious of my caffeine intake, and everything I’d consume gives me heartburn anyway. Additionally, Aaron is working long, long, long hours. Maybe 4 extra per day MORE than we had been hoping for. Thus, speaking mostly to a dog all day is not particularly mentally stimulating for me. We’re desperately hoping this is not permanent, as three straight years of this (with a city commute before reaching the wife, baby, and doggie at home!) is not generally the way to create a satisfactory life for anyone involved. My brain feels a lot more worn out than usual, and I can’t even blame something like a busy college semester for this sad fact. So, Aaron’s frustrated by the excessive demands of his job, I’m frustrated by my lack of a job, and we’re both unreasonably jealous of the other person. Everything’s a little hazy here.

In this foggy state, “The Lesson of the Chickens” still holds true: when you’re pressed on every side, you probably need to do something that restores and enriches you even though you definitely don’t have time for it. (If you did have time, you would already be doing it and then you wouldn’t be under so much pressure in the first place.) This means right now the kitchen looks like a grow house for the vegetable garden we were “certainly not” going to plant this summer, I’m priming the trim even though that time would be “better spent” job hunting or piano recruiting, and I’m doing some cute (but not necessary) baby/house crafting.

image (19) image (15)

That being said, the house and yard still feel foggy in many ways. Nothing is really “done,” so I’m trying to focus on finishing the little projects we’re juggling (mostly painting some furniture and getting pictures up) to power me through for the bigger ones, like painting the trim and ceilings. This also makes me feel funny about showing pictures since everything is absolutely in progress! Also, it’s getting a lot easier to have a young dog, but pulling out some of our old stuff and keeping the stuff we do have looking nice seems a little pointless with Max at the large puppy stage. (Especially if the baby is 2 when we sell this house, I will have a puppy or a toddler the entire time we live here… is it worth unpacking those awesome ceramic blue candle holders I used all my 24th birthday money on? Big questions in life right now, I tell you.)

image (16)

(Here’s hoping some white paint will make drastic improvements for our terrible trim and foggy, frustrated outlook on life!)

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” – Samwise, in Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. 

rough newness

After what honestly feels like the most unsettled month of all time, we find ourselves in a new year, a new town, a new house, and we’re starting to get some of the puzzle pieces of this new life put together just enough to start re-dreaming.

We didn’t plan to move to Minnesota until what really feels like the last minute. We committed to this job less than three months ago! Aaron has a commute that will take up hours of his life (and our family time) during this season, which is just unavoidable if you are the sort of person who needs a yard and works in a big city. I don’t have any piano students yet, which means the budget is t-i-g-h-t for the foreseeable future. We don’t have friends yet, or a church – although we did visit one close to the new house and plenty of people said hello so we certainly plan to visit again. I can’t remember how to get to the grocery stores without looking it up on my phone and I can’t find one that carries my favorite brand of boxed pizza crust mix. I say all this not to complain, but to acknowledge that transitions are always rough, and this week I am feeling that roughness a lot.

We sat down on New Years Eve and talked about the year past, which we have wondered about and anticipated for our whole marriage, and I couldn’t stop talking about how I am scared to be so out of control in every bit of things. We have lost a life that was working and have to figure out the new one, which may or may not have much in common with the old one. It sounds so negative to speak of things in these terms, so I have to reframe these conversations and rename these fears. I want to think of this as entering a new life with so much beauty and goodness and wonder to uncover and receive. I want to be grateful that it isn’t going like I planned, because what I strive for is never the very best. I certainly didn’t expect all the goodness we experienced in Iowa, but it was there waiting anyway.

Because if I think of this in the way I want to, I would just write about how much I miss the park by my old house, and the high ceilings, the dishwasher that worked, the people I knew, the kids I saw every week. I would tell you how much I miss the Fareway meat counter and our church and knowing just where to go when I needed to get out for a bit. I would lament about how disappointing it is to be a longer drive away from our extended families, which means significantly fewer visits in the next few years. Instead of staying in that longing, I want to figure out how to accept the unsettled mess of today a little longer. Because even when I thought I had it made, I was never really in control and I was always flying by the seat of my pants anyway. (Nostalgia is such a liar.)

There are no serious New Years Resolutions this year. Just a few practical must-do’s, such as getting a piano studio off the ground and possibly getting a part-time job while that starts up, and then upgrading a few things done on the house. (Like I said, I really miss a working dishwasher. There are also several things offending my aesthetic sensibilities.) But I want this year to be full of receiving grace I could not have orchestrated or dreamed of myself, and I want to have a good attitude about it in the meantime. I’m going to fail at this, probably a lot, but when I’m not keeping it together, I want to fall forward. I want to fall into the newness of whatever moment God has given.

One of the beautiful, new, delightful gifts (already!) has been the arrival of this little pup, who has been hoped for many, many times in the past five years. The timing of getting a seven-week-old puppy while your moving boxes are not unpacked is probably not advisable, but we decided to take advantage of a litter with the exact parentage we wanted. It’s probably better to do this before we start to ever think about new furniture, really.


So we are trudging through the joy (cuddles and cuteness!) and duty (chewing and housebreaking!) of having little Max, and someday when we stop sleeping in winter coats so we don’t freeze to death when we take him out in the middle of the night, I will probably have many wonderful updates about how the rest of life is coming together, too.

All his work is done in faithfulness. …The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord. – Psalm 33:3&4

Dr. Leaf Blower

My friend had the following conversation with her children on the way over to our house this fall.
“You’re going to have so much fun at Mrs. Hummel’s house! Her husband is blowing their leaves into a pile so you can play in them.”
“What should we call Mrs. Hummel’s husband?” – 8 year old
“He’s Mrs. Hummel’s husband, so that would make him… what?”
“Umm… Mr. Leaf Blower?” – 4 year old
Well, that’s Dr. Leaf Blower to you now, kid. That’s right. There is a PhD in the house. We can cross this one off the 30-before-30 list. Aaron defended his dissertation so he’s officially all Philosophized, Doctorized, and formally recognized as being both outlandishly smart AND diligent.
I’m pretty smart, but Aaron is smart in things I can’t wrap my brain around. It took me a few months to memorize his job title. (“Working in a Plant Pathology lab as part of an inter-disciplinary Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology program,” is a mouth full, in my defense.) And when I think about this PhD and the hard work it took to get here, I’m so grateful for Aaron’s work ethic and his courage in risky situations. This man has been perpetually stressed for about 10 years. I know this man started off this adventure five years ago by putting overtime beyond overtime in to ensure that his presence was a blessing to his lab mates, aware that his work would communicate to others that Christianity is supposed to make you a better scientist, not the opposite. In the first part of grad school he was still in the military, and this man would spend four or five days almost without sleeping when he had Drill weekends, and then get to the lab even earlier as soon as he got home. This man sat on the couch and read papers instead of attending sports games. (Breaks were more frequent in hockey season after we had a TV, of course.) This man never complained about the inconveniences of our tightwad budget, like eating sandwiches and leftovers for lunch every day, and using an old cell phone that barely texts – forget 3G network access! This man was cheerful about the added financial risk of my self-employment so we could both live out the dreams God gave us. This man who loves the outdoors spent many a beautiful weekend day (sometimes both of them) working on his projects in the lab. He has spent most of the last five years in a white room without windows, and hasn’t really even had coworkers to share the days with for quite a while. This man dutifully tackled many of his highest pressure assignments in the seasons where I have been most grief-stricken and needy instead of the encourager I wanted him to have, because grad school doesn’t wonder what would be most convenient for your personal life when setting up experiment deadlines.This man has been diligent even when he was definitely thinking things like this:
grad school[From #whatshouldwecallgradschool, which is not appropriate reading for minors or grandmothers, but is fall-on-the-floor hilarious to those who are in graduate school.]
I can’t say exactly where the credit goes for this successful presentation and defense of the dissertation. Was it the slave labor he has accomplished in the last five years at the laboratory bench? The good reputation of his peer-reviewed publications? The prayer warriors who have been lifting him up, especially during this last big push to wrap up everything? The decadent cheese trays I prepared as refreshments for his committee of judges? Some combination of all those, I bet.
After a great presentation and record-making short deliberations from his committee, we ate dinner out in a state of ecstasy before he came home and watched The Hobbit trailer several times over in a manner befitting his accomplishments.
downsize (27)
Then the sense of romance and adventure wore off, and we got back into courageously tackling all the other risky situations in life, because that’s what diligent people do.
(And if you want some thoughts about this holiday of Veteran’s Day, here’s a link to some reflections on Veteran’s Day itself, and all posts related to the military.)

From “home” back to “house”

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”  — Proverbs 14:1 

We spent the first nine months of our marriage in a tiny apartment saving up  –we slept on the floor on a bunch of blankets to avoid spending money on a bed– and dreaming about a house. I think the most “homey” touch we added to that apartment were a few pictures on the walls, but we never really settled.  New to the area, we drove around and inspected different corners of the community, visiting new friends for the chance to snoop on houses in their neighborhoods as much as the fellowship. We spent those months eagerly waiting for our home.

There are fond memories from our time in “The Apt,” like warm evenings when Aaron fished in the pond stocked with baby blue gills and an energetic Weimaraner from the neighborhood ran out of his yard to join me on country runs. (With country dirt roads, a gym at the complex, and few friends to distract us, we exercised a lot despite the eau de piglette near the farms.) We connected with our next-door neighbor and a few other residents we’re still friends with today, and I swiped the pumpkin from the main office door on Halloween when it was inappropriately defaced. (We still laugh about it today – not suitable for blogging content though!) I certainly wouldn’t miss paying for laundry, living on the third floor, buzzing guests in and out, neighbors who smoke out of their sliding glass door, or paying rent into a financial abyss, but the boring box apartment was a rite-of-passage and I stress-cried a lot the week we moved out.

Buying a new house meant adding in Lowes as a line-item on our budget; painting and repainting (I was young, it was our first time picking colors, and this was in the days before Pinterest, people!); searching for just the right accessories at Goodwill; sewing curtains; and spending every spare moment dreaming about or working on projects to improve our charming -though dated- mid-century bungalow. I poured a lot of grief into these projects through the years and most of our family visits involved more demolition than relaxation. Sometimes the enormity of the project felt overwhelming, but it has been a very rewarding endeavor.

stage 14

And now that we’ve agreed to sell it soon, there is a funny paradox of completion – other than the absence of a crib in the back room, all the dreams have been realized! It’s as beautiful as I knew it could be. And yet, we have to think of this season as stewardship in a new way. It’s not really my home anymore. I’m a steward of this place for a new buyer, and I completed so many nit-picky  projects of care to present the best vision of the home to complete strangers who traipsed through to judge it in hopes that they would make a high offer to purchase from us.

stage 8

I think selling the first house is a rite-of-passage on it’s own, especially when I know the turnaround on another house will likely be faster and not as dramatic. It is good to know these efforts in building up my home have been the fruit of wisdom, and that God will give us the strength we need to build up the next place (though, likely, with less remodeling) while eagerly awaiting the final home He is building up that is not temporal or changing.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” -John 14:2-3

stage 13

shooting for the moon

My summer reading plans are always a bit, uh, ambitious, and I don’t usually get anywhere close to completing the list before I get distracted by other books or run out of time. I’ve accepted this. At least when I shoot for the moon, I’m likely to land among the stars.

summer reading

Especially when I’m working and there is always stuff to do around the house, it can be too-tempting to be in the middle of a book when I get bored with a project, like transplanting hostas or demolishing something in the bathroom. I usually just make myself some iced tea and finish my book so I only have one project left incomplete. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always go over well with Aaron at the end of the day. But I am really, really, really grateful to be self-employed and less busy in the summers, and part of that privilege gives me extra household responsibilities on my off days, so in an effort to stave off boredom AND live responsibly, I have been devouring audio books.

It complicates things a bit that I have to get CD’s from the library and listen on a huge boom box that Aaron had in high school, because our technology situation is laughably behind the times due to our grad-school/self-employed set up. (The CD driver on my six-year-old laptop is uncooperative and my iPod has buttons.) And audio books are hit-or-miss because sometimes the people who read them have overly boring or soothing voices. The best ones are usually read by the authors, because they have the most authentic vocal inflections and they have a vested interest in hooking readers. So far, though, I’ve been enjoying the Harry Potter series because the story is engaging without being overly complicated. Aaron and I were a little curious about this because we grew up evangelical, which meant JK Rowling was probably a demon based on how everyone’s mom talked about the evil books. After starting them now, I can see why parents would hesitate to permit young kids to read the series, but I would definitely call these “fantasy” and not “occult,” probably in the same category as Chronicles of Narnia,  Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. I think it’s also pretty telling that I’ve never talked to someone who has read the books and still condemns them; it’s always someone who is just guessing on the content. (The books are so interesting when you know Latin, too. It adds another layer to the plot if you know the Bad Guy’s name, Voldemort, means “Will of Death,” for instance.)

Other than that, I’m a huge fan of GoodReads to keep track of books I’ve read and get suggestions from people I trust. (The GoodReads site makes it easy – I can tell if I trust someone or not based on their “shelves” and “book ratings.” It will also probably put me on a government watch-list.)  I’m keeping a summer reading list there, and so far I’m working through Nancy Guthrie’s Lamb of God Bible study, some Wendell Berry essays, and a book about the Russian aristocracy right before the Bolshevik revolution. You know, to keep things interesting.

My favorite things to read are suggestions from friends, so I’d love to hear any other suggestions! Do you like reading in the summer? Are there any books you keep returning to re-read as years pass? (Is anyone else really excited about another season of 24 returning?)

Starting Summer 2013

Happy Summer!

I had an action packed spring! In the last six weeks, I visited friends in Kansas City, finished teaching 6 homeschool classes, wrapped up the last weeks of an intense Bible study program, visited family in St. Louis, began the laborious task of establishing a Summer Break calendar for music classes (this is far more time consuming than just teaching), and presented most of my 30 piano students in recitals. These were not the sort of milestones that gave me the “high” of accomplishment; it was more a wave of weary relief and a few days of catching up on sleep before the next Big Thing began. 


{a typical week out of 30… whew…}

I knew this year was going to require a lot from me. It’s been a season of personally investing, building relationships, growing, persevering, establishing boundaries, and receiving lots of good gifts. After two semesters full of good stretching in every aspect of my life with breaks that weren’t really breaks, I feel a little bit like a dry sponge that is finally soaking up some water again. I’m still teaching piano a few days a week, but not so much that it doesn’t feel like a summer break. Between insanely comfortable weather and one less big tree in our yard, we’ve kept the windows open for a month and enjoyed many hours working on the yard, making up for a long winter by absorbing lots of fresh air and sunshine (when available).

There is no shortage of things to work on this summer. House projects, money projects, upcoming wedding projects (three in our immediate family before September!), writing projects, and several trips will make for an action packed season. We have lots of “irons in the fire” around the house that are close to finishing, and many new things to enjoy too. I remember the days of boring-job-and-no-summer-break very well; I’m so thankful for the gift of a relaxed schedule and I’m really excited about everything coming up soon!


{a friend’s girls stopped by to roll down our hill. wheee! this is what summer feels like right now.}