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!

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

blessed sojourning

The Lord watches over the sojourners – Psalm 146:9

Every single pregnancy I’ve experienced so far has had some milestone in the first week of August, from the first positive pregnancy test several years past to Annie’s delivery twelve months ago. Her birth and losing a baby right before that pregnancy mean both last year and the year before, I spent this date in labor. That’s about as detailed as any public birth story will get from me, but I think it’s an ironic blessing that I spend this week once again exhausted with crushed ribs, heartburn, and the constant presence of the rolls and punches of a child who seems to have some particular athletic inclinations even in the womb. I don’t know if moving makes this stage of pregnancy harder, or if it’s being pregnant that makes moving harder, but I’m not going to lie: this has been a tough week and I think it’s going to stay that way for a while. Yet my sentiments from last year still stand: There is no third trimester anywhere near as uncomfortable as the one that doesn’t happen. We’d be very surprised (and in a state of medical emergency) if the new baby were to arrive this week, so I think our big move to St. Louis will suffice for this year’s Notable Early August Event.

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

These feet are not as swollen as last time! Which is unbelievable, but really awesome!

How’s moving? It’s hard, but good. Last Saturday we were in Minnesota, where Annie woke us up very early so she could get some extra springy-doorstop play in before we left. All the stuff that survived my extreme-minimalist purging had been packed into a moving container earlier in the week, so we spent the morning cleaning out the “Coon Ranch,” the house we bought at the end of 2013 before I had seen it in person, for the last time. I will not miss scrubbing the cracked ceramic tile floor in the kitchen. We said good-bye to that house, then returned a mattress to our neighbors who were also dear friends, and she said, “Even though you have to leave, I am so glad you came!” I shed a few tears and agreed with her. We drove a few hours south, and right before we fell asleep on a guest bed in Iowa, Aaron said, “I miss the Ames house more than the Coon Ranch.” Maybe nostalgia is still just a huge liar? Who knows, but I agreed with that sentiment, too. Traveling south reminded us clearly of good things in Iowa, different good things in Minnesota, and even more unknown good things to come in Missouri, (which, apparently, does NOT sound like “misery” in the local dialect!? Who knew?).

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time...!

Aaron locking up the Coon Ranch for the last time…!

After a quick stop in Iowa, we drove to St. Louis with a poor baby girl’s carsick moans accompanying us the whole way. It was tough on her, but at last we made it! We’re staying in a furnished apartment for now, which has the marvelous bonus of an outdoor pool (saltwater, so fancy), luxury bathing facilities for humans (a sweet soaker tub) and pets (a “Dog Spa” shower room down the hall, which means Max is cleaner than he has ever been before in his life), and generally the ritziest living conditions we’ve ever had. I have stayed in a hotel fancier than this… maybe twice in my life? First-world comforts make these 700 square feet feel very tight with all of us here, so Annie sleeps in her pack-n-play in our walk-in-closet, just like she did in Minnesota, and I am certainly hoping we won’t be here long after the new baby arrives. Still, it’s great to have a nice place to land while Aaron starts his new job.
annie in toybox
And now my eyes are glazed over from looking at so. many. different. houses online, and I’m extremely impressed at what a trooper Annie has been for our real estate excursions so far. Most of these houses we’re investigating have enormous backyards (one right on a private lake!) with lots of bedrooms and space, and it’s pretty marvelous to think about enjoying one of these places long-term. (HA! WATCH US MOVE AGAIN!) This doesn’t exactly feel real! It’s easy to look back at the last two years and wonder what on earth just happened?, but this craziness has been matched with so much joy in having little Anne here with us for a whole year. I usually sing her the Doxology before naps and bedtime, but the several thousand times the familiar Psalter tune has sounded with this sweet girl in my arms this year does not seem to be enough to express the wonder and thankfulness all around.
Anne, five days old.

Annie, five days old. How has it been a year already? We love you so!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

faith and sight

“This is all so amazing, but I feel like our theme for the year is, ‘Well … didn’t see that one coming.’ Be sure to put that on the Christmas card.”
“I think this is exactly what it means to ‘walk by faith and not by sight.'”
“Easy for you to say, Abby. You can’t even see your feet when you walk right now anyway.”
–pillow talk at the Hummel house.

Sometime this spring, when we started finishing up some nice projects on our house, falling in love with friends, and generally feeling like things were really holding together in life, I mentioned here on the blog that I did not anticipate moving this year. Ha. Ha. Ha. Apparently the only thing funnier than moving to Minnesota in December is saying you are going to stick around a bit and then moving to Missouri in August right before having a baby, so that’s what we’re going to do: Move to St. Louis this August, when I’m 7-8 months pregnant. Just like our last move, this was not on the list of options I gave God for my life, but I’m really getting the impression He isn’t consulting me most of the time.

This means over the course of about 20 months we’ll have added a large fun-and-energetic dog and two babies to our family, bookended by two state-to-state moves. It means I’m unexpectedly packing up all our stuff, furiously prepping the Coon Ranch for listing and feeling very aware of how lucky we got last time with a quick sale. It means keeping the current house clean enough to pass a white-glove test and looking like a hotel with a dog and a baby as I round the corner into the 3rd trimester of another pregnancy. It means passing up time with friends here because I am busy preparing for the move, so it feels like missing them already. It means hoping we like the new doctor I picked online (backed up with good personal recommendations from real people, of course), because I don’t have time to shop around for someone to deliver the new baby. It means that I’ll be trying to set up a new home (renting at first, for sanity’s sake) with Max and these almost-irish-twin babies while Aaron starts a new job that will probably be pretty intense. He’s been working 12-13 hours a day with a commute most of the time now and the new job would have to be pretty bad to rival this year’s schedule, but he still needs the freedom to be very committed there. It means figuring out where to grocery shop and bank and go to church with a 14-month-old and a newborn. It means starting all over with friends at a very intense, needy season of life. It means moving into another house I haven’t seen beforehand.

moving boxes

This also means all Aaron’s hard, hard work over the past 7 years is rewarded with a really great job that essentially landed in his lap, one that’s even better than we would have hoped for two years ago when he was initially job hunting. It means settling somewhere we can at least think and dream about staying for good, instead of moving-with-the-intent-to-move-again like we have been doing for a while. It means we have two kids after years of wondering if it would ever, ever happen. These are good gifts – true undisguised and tangible blessings – and they come mixed with some sorrows, but they are delightful anyway. Bringing a new baby home to a new place in a new state is not what we “saw” happening for this year, but it almost feels like that’s even more reason to do it anyway.

…we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Corinthians 5:6-7