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!) 





{concerning vocation} reading round-up (11.22.13)

A few links on dealing with difficult jobs to follow up with what I shared earlier this week… enjoy!

The Gospel Coalition has written several articles I think are great here. Is Your Job Useless? tackles the idea of doing God’s work in your job, even if it doesn’t seem like purposeful or enjoyable work to you.

 Five Ways to Find Joy in a Job You Don’t Love is particularly helpful with practical suggestions for difficult situations. I love the point about looking for what aspect of God’s character is exalted in your tasks, even if they don’t seem meaningful or fulfilling to you.

How to Humanize the Workplace is a great look at healing for brokenness in messy workplaces.  This is probably most helpful or useful if you’re in management, but I would have had more productive discussions in my circumstances if I had been able to explain my perspective with the sorts of terms used in this article.

Following up on that note, this article about investing in your work highlights some important things to think about for long-term career growth, especially that making significant sacrifices for a job where your bosses, managers, and coworkers do not make decisions that honor your dedication and position disrespects the dignity of the life and vocation God has given you.

I actually haven’t read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor, but Aaron’s going through it with his men’s group and I have appreciated what he’s shared from it. It’s at the top of my list for Christmas vacation reading!

In Quitter, Jon Acuff tackles several practical aspects of getting from your day job to your dream job. His admonition that dreams are only worth chasing if you’re willing to chase them with all your spare time was the kick I needed to start teaching piano in the evenings, even though I was exhausted. Guess what? It ended up being not-that-exhausting… The mental and spiritual boost of working to get where I needed to go was immensely encouraging.

Finally, a solid exhortation from Albert Einstein. (Or maybe just Pinterest. Be sure to read what Abraham Lincoln said about quotes on the internet.) My life improved dramatically when I stopped buying the lie that my challenges were the result of a bad attitude. I realized I needed to think outside the box to discern the opportunity in the difficulty.


{concerning vocation} liberating society

Wrapping up lessons with my piano students is one of the most sentimental parts of this season of endings. I’ve been overwhelmingly blessed with a career that uses my talents and training, and after three years of a job that definitely  wasn’t like that, I have been especially grateful for every single day of this experience.

[image source here]

[image source here]

Maybe the most fulfilling part of this job is that it puts me in control of my success for a day of work. I don’t have to worry about choosing between making a customer or my boss happy. All I have to do is get along with this kid for this half-hour, and I really enjoy that I tailor my lesson plans based on what I know is best for each student because of our established relationship. I love that I am in control of studio members, so I can easily weed out students who don’t want to cooperate and parents who are manipulative or difficult. Most of the time those issues are probably just personality differences, but it’s a huge gift that I decide where I get to draw those lines.

Self-employment is an experience you can’t understand until you’ve done it yourself. I think it’s my best fit, and I’m excited that moving provides a great opportunity to make a few changes for better growth as a business owner… even though it does mean basically starting over with clients, too. This sets me apart a bit from others who don’t understand what it means to work for yourself, and I find the comments from people who don’t “get it” pretty laughable. Most people have been spared the hassle of billing, fees, bookkeeping, paying taxes that aren’t withheld by an employer, saving up for unpaid sick and vacation days, and selecting a single-payer private health-insurance plan for a woman in her mid-twenties, but those are just as much a part of my day-to-day business operations as sitting at the piano. 

I learned a lot of lessons in my season of office work and I think that strengthens my perspective in many aspects of life. I’m still not at the point where I would say I’m glad I went through that. I wish I hadn’t believed the doubts and been brave enough to start moving towards this sooner. On the other hand, self-employment is not for the faint of heart, and I still think we were a little bit crazy to jump forward while Aaron was in grad school and we had a mortgage and wanted to have kids, but it has enriched our lives greatly. In the face of other significant heartbreak and waiting, it has been a special gift to be so fulfilled and delighted in my job.

I’m grateful the days I have worked are leaving more behind than a bunch of pay stubs. I’ve marched around my living room to the beat of a metronome to demonstrate that two eighth-notes fit in the same amount of time as a quarter note, watched hard work and discipline result in beautiful self-expression, and explained how JS Bach’s Crab Canon is like one giant math problem on a Moebius strip. I’ve helped kids prepare songs to play at their grandparents’ funerals, admonished unprepared students to develop a stronger work ethic, and taught them how to fairly evaluate their own improvements. The best part of a day is telling a child, “You worked hard and I am so proud of you!” Piano lessons? Sometimes it feels more like I’m teaching “Life Lessons.” I’m okay with that.

While I’ve been told I earn a “killing” (ha) to “stay home and sit around,” (ha) and have been told charging a fair rate is “greedy” (ha), none of that is true. I’m pretty sure I’ve been wildly blessed in this job and I’m grateful for that. How many people can say the cornerstone of their career is “rocking”? Not many. I’m in a happy minority.

music HA HA

reading round-up (10.18.13)

A few read-worthy finds from this week’s browsing…

Now that we’re house-hunting in earnest, these “Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos” are a perfect combination of hilarious and horrifying.

Woah! Technology always demonstrates profound beauty and intelligence in nature. Behold,  a chorus of crickets! (Hearing crickets always reminds me of my best friend from high school, because she hated them intensely.)

In terms of my business and ministry objectives, I’m already feeling a lot of self-pressure to be “even more awesome” when we move to Minnesota -I know, seriously, pull yourself together, Abby– and I really appreciate the admonition, Stop Trying To Be Awesome. I have way too many interests and ideas about what the next season might hold for me, but I want to remember how “classical philosophy held that limits are the precondition of beauty,” and keep these obsessive thoughts about accomplishments in perspective. (Also, I sort of know the author from my home-school group growing up. She was always much smarter and more eloquent than me.)

This girl grew up in the wilds of Africa. I wonder what those freaked-out ListServ parents who were concerned about the safety of mowing lawns would say about this…

I loved how accurately the advice about conservatism from Louis Markos at The Imaginative Conservative nails a description of human nature, political philosophy, and community:
“I want to draw you to something deeper, a way of life that is grounded in essential truths about God, man, and society. The true conservatism I would steer you toward begins with a foundational truth that is revealed to us in the Bible but which has always struck me as the height of common sense: namely, that we were made in God’s image but are now fallen. The first part is the ground of all human dignity and intrinsic worth. Apart from it, we are nothing more than great apes with no ultimate claim to specialness. The second part is the reality check, the reason why we need laws and limits, checks and balances. …Never forget that you are both the glory and the scandal of the universe: neither beast nor angel but an incarnational mix of the two.”


Sickie Blogging – Happy Fall!

Nothing inspires a thought such as, “Oh, I guess I could update my blog after a month to reassure people I’m not dead,” like being in bed with a nasty fall bug and a series of exhausting half-finished projects taunting me while I am home ill.

What has life been like in the past weeks? Busy. We remodeled the bathroom entirely. Our family had another wedding in Michigan, making it my fourth trip back-and-forth across the midwest this summer.

Aaron is feverishly working on his dissertation. My piano studio is keeping me so busy that I have a waiting list of students who would want to take lessons if I had a slot available. We have been working very hard for years, and these successes are marvelous gifts. In a way, this feels like we are getting that second burst of energy at the end of a race, as though the light at the end of a tunnel is blindingly bright.  We’re also doing some re-dreaming about the next phase of our life after he graduates, and discerning how to walk best with our desire for a family, our location, and our vocations. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to look like we had planned, but God has been very gracious to close and open doors in a way that takes some of the agony out of making these big decisions. A saving grace in some of these hectic days is that we have sold a significant amount of our stuff online, which streamlines some parts of life while we’re settling into a Fall that’s turning into a whole new kind of adventure.


Autumn is my favorite season, bringing the delights of soups, sweaters, candles, plaid, roasted acorn squash, hot wassail, and bonfires to accompany the witness of nature: God ordains a lot of beauty in seasons of ending and loss. I’m really thankful that is true.

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.}

three, cubed

Since I teach algebra this year, I’m getting a kick out of the fact that my birthday means I’m “three-cubed” instead of the straightforward twenty-seven! Last year I made a list of things to work on before turning 30. In the meantime, I’ve accomplished a few things and decided a few goals need to be revised, but it’s good to know there’s still plenty of living to get in before that big milestone!

Sometimes April is hard for us. We pass lots of dates this month that recall God’s faithfulness in all circumstances. My 25th birthday in particular was one of the most difficult days of my life, and we’ll probably always feel a bit of a void for some little birthdays we wanted to be celebrating this month. In a few weeks we will celebrate Aaron’s Iraq homecoming anniversary – a special memory that is connected to lots of ugly, hard experiences, too. I love that the Northern Hemisphere weather reflects the church calendar so well, that nature is full of little green buds sticking off branches and new life coming out of the ground to remind us the Resurrection is real.

On a less thoughtful note, Aaron asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I felt really upset: “I don’t want more stuff! I want less stuff!” I don’t think he’s going to clean out my closet for me or anything, but my parents will be visiting this weekend and I think my mom will be a more willing participant in that project.

Thankfully, I haven’t accumulated any major new griefs or extra material possessions this year. I did, however, treat myself to a drive-through latte this afternoon as a “thank-you” to myself for finishing our taxes on my birthday.0412131316(I used a Christmas gift card, of course.) I’m so thankful for the gift of another year of blessings and growth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are a housewife.”

A few years ago, I used a precious vacation day from a job that I hated and braved 9 hours of driving in winter weather to visit my friend E, who was temporarily staying in someone else’s home. Due to some extenuating circumstances and another person’s irresponsibility, she had been abandoned and misplaced, and because that situation was out of our control, we went to work doing what we could: making the best of her makeshift location. Seizing the day (and night, until 3:00 am), we sewed curtains, upholstered the seat of an old dining room chair for her desk, coordinated her files, and sent more than half her clothes to a thrift store so she could survive with minimal closet space. I look back on that weekend as some of the most purpose-filled times of my life. One of my dearest friends experienced unfairness and betrayal on a level I could barely fathom, and I got to coach her into making that little room a bit more of a refuge from the very real hardships I couldn’t take away.

As the weekend came to a close, I dreaded the thought of returning. Starting that Monday, some personnel changes meant my job would go from very difficult to I-don’t-know-how-I’m-going-to-make-it-difficult. So with that impending doom in mind, it was most crazy to me when one of E’s friends asked me how I liked being a housewife. Seriously? I am gone 10 hours a day, plus every other Saturday, to work at mind-numbing tasks in an office devoid of any kindness whatsoever. I mumbled something about how I was far from a homemaker, and this woman exclaimed, “Abby, you live somewhere and are married. That’s all you need. You are a housewife! Everyone is a homemaker; some people just juggle a little more than others. What is domestic is primary and everything else supports that.” It was the encouragement I needed to actually get in the car and come back instead of hiding away with E forever, which I definitely thought about doing on multiple occasions.

Now that I’m basically thrilled to death with my job(s), it’s easy to lose sight of how homemaking fits into life. But those piano lessons and co-op classes exist for a dual purpose: to enrich the lives of students and  support my home. I know that when I focus more on the home-supporting, which does happen with some students, I become a crummy teacher. And sometimes I focus on student-enriching to the detriment of my own home, when I bend rules on lesson times or handle stressful parental interactions during my off-hours. So with that in mind, I am thankful for this “Spring Break” and the chance to devote some extra time to this housewife endeavor, which is going to be an ongoing project for my whole life independent of any income-earning or child rearing that might also be part of my vocation.

Don’t think for a moment that this housewife business is really about decorating or crafts, or home ownership or marriage or even being a woman. Plenty of great people don’t or can’t fit into those roles. And homemaking is not something that happens as a “lesser” career, or in subordination to a job. Instead, I think making a home is about cultivating your surroundings to act as a mini-church. It is in the home that we fellowship and eat, our sins are laid bare, we forgive and reconcile, we live out our daily acts of worship, and in the best cases it is where we are most comfortable being the people God created us to be. For Christians, this is exactly how we can begin with the end in mind. And so gospel-centered homemaking is, as C.S. Lewis says, casting a shadow of the Christian’s future heavenly home:

“I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavor”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” (pg 447-Letter of CS Lewis 1988 ed.)