God & GMOs: “Do Your Research”

Welcome to Part 3 of God & GMOs, a series I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, or Part 2: What is a GMO? and say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t heard much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!
Be sure to subscribe by email (on the right hand side of the screen —-> over there) so you don’t miss an entry!
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When you start asking questions about something like GMOs, the most common refrain you’ll hear is “Do your research.” The availability of information today is astounding. The collective wisdom of the known world is available in the palm of our hand. 

But the collective foolishness of the world is there, too. Anyone can write anything on the internet, and scientists (in academia and in the bigger industrial corporations) drastically underestimated the power of social media for steering the conversation about GMO crops. It’s frustrating to know how much information is swirling through the internet, especially in blogs, podcasts, and documentaries. If you’re browsing Netflix documentaries or typing your questions about GMOs into a search bar you’ll find lots of information that could very well be wrong. This freedom and availability of information is wonderful, but it comes with serious responsibilities. Fair or not, another equally important question that absolutely must accompany our previous concerns is: How can I find reliable explanations about GMOs? What’s a good source for my information?

My biggest problem with “do your research” cultural pressure is that there’s a specific end in mind, always opposed to scientific consensus: Do your research, and you’ll see that Big Ag/Pharma/Medicine is corrupt and I have found the superior way. It carries the implication that anyone who follows the conventional path is “uninformed.” In reality, anyone can write a blog, even about topics they don’t know much about. (I hesitated to write this series for years because I’m describing myself there, too.) Anyone can make a documentary. Anyone can craft a clever meme or infographic. Many of these “alternative sources” about science are just as biased and arrogant as they accuse professional scientists of being.

Aaron’s biggest problem with that phrase is that it’s a misuse of the word “research.” As someone whose life work is in scientific research and development, he’ll tell you that reading things on the internet is not scientific research. A frantic Google search is not equivalent to a series of laboratory tests or the body of work necessary to earn an advanced degree. This is an important distinction.

The Scientific Method & Scientific Research Today.
Do you remember science fairs from school? I do, because (believe it or not!) I actually won a competition during my junior year of high school. I did a lame project that took me an hour and I tell you the truth, I just copied-and-pasted the report requirements from an email into a Word Document to fill in my results. Many of the other entries came as the result of an entire semester’s worth of hard work, in some cases from students who have since become medical doctors. My project was not “high school science fair winning” caliber, but I won because I followed the scientific method. I scrupulously documented my observations, hypothesis, experiment, and results so the judges could figure out what was happening and could replicate the experiment to see if my findings were consistent. My classmates worked harder than me, but they were sloppy with their research and couldn’t answer some of the judges’ questions. I’ll confess that winning didn’t feel great. My physics teacher and another judge chided us all: me, for not coming up with a harder project, and everyone else for not documenting their research appropriately.

This gives us a helpful way to work through “anti-GMO studies” and “pro-GMO studies.” When Aaron publishes research, which is the professional grown-up version of a science fair project, he spends years working 60+ hours a week of compiling data, organizing it, and collaborating with his partners before sending the report to a “journal,” or an academic publishing team. A while later, he’ll receive a bunch of comments from a team of editors and blind reviewers acting as “science fair judges” with questions, criticisms, or recommendations to tackle before the research can make it to publication. (EDIT: Michelle, a professional scientist, explains further in the comments “My clarification would be this: those “editors and blind reviewers” are other scientists in the field, meaning colleagues and competitors. The reviewers are especially knowledgeable and invested in the quality of work being performed and published, because this work shapes the body of knowledge in their field. The very currency of their profession is critical thinking and their mantra is “show me the data.” In short, these are not a group of easily convinced or impressed peers. One’s research must be well supported by evidence in order to earn publication.”) The group seeking publication must meticulously record their methods, materials, and procedures. If another group repeats their project and gets different results it could have disastrous consequences for their academic and professional credibility.

When I look at anti-GMO sources, they usually paint the scientific community as a bully clique group trying to keep the truth hidden for their own profit, and say that the “powerful” scientists are suppressing studies showing GMOs to be harmful (or something like that). In reality scientists are only as prone to corruption and greed as any of us, and the community polices itself using a firm commitment to the scientific method, and the necessity of collaboration and peer review. So far the anti-GMO studies have not demonstrated anything that passes the muster of other scientists.

A good example of this is work from Gilles-Eric Seralini, a scientist from France who published a paper claiming GMO corn and the popular herbicide glyphosate (brand name “Round Up”) were associated with terrible tumors in his laboratory rats.  This study was later retracted after criticism from the scientific community as a whole concerning poor methods (he used a breed of rats that were inappropriate for this study because of their natural propensity to develop huge tumors), his changing hypothesis, and his obscure control groups (there were not enough rats in the control group and their feeding plan was not sufficient to compare them to rats eating GMO corn). As the spouse of a scientist, I’ll tell it to you straight: these folks don’t mess around. If they can poke a hole in an argument or find something wrong with a method or conclusion, they will, and they aren’t really worried about hurting anyone’s feelings in the process. The ways the scientific community responded to Seralini’s poor research with legitimate, reasonable criticisms gives me quite a bit of confidence in the process of scientific publication and peer review. Still, I see this guy’s work touted on social media and in “natural living” blogs as evidence against GMO crops on a regular basis.

Reading “Real” Science Research. 
The catch for most people here is that you have to pay to look at most of the studies published in reputable journals. If you want to look at the research scientists are doing in this field, you can search online but the reliability of free (or “open access”) studies varies widely. They aren’t all bad, but the limitations can be different. (Don’t hate too hard on scientists for this, though, because it is standard across all disciplines. My friend who is an English professor was just lamenting about paid access to research published in her field, too.)  If you don’t want to shell out money to read technical scientific publications, you would be wise to check out some science journalists and other groups who are reading these studies and talking about them.

Some excellent sources would be The Genetic Literacy Project and the Talking Biotech Podcast. We’re ecstatic about the upcoming documentary called Food Evolution. The Skeptical Raptor blog also has a wealth of DOCUMENTED information about discerning scientific sources, and is worth clicking around in as well.

God & GMOs

Thanks for reading! If you want to chat, I’d love to know how YOU evaluate sources for your information. Do you read blogs? Watch documentaries? Do you fact check much? Is that important to you?  

If you missed anything, check out the IntroductionPart 1: The Gospel, and Part 2: What is a GMO? to get up to speed. I’ll be back soon with some practical application of scripture and the Christian community’s responsibility to practice discernment and uphold truth in all aspects of life! 


God & GMOs: The Gospel

(Welcome to Part 1 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t read much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!) Untitled Design (2)

To kick off this series about God & GMO’s, I want to start with looking at the Bible. Christian teachers often speak of the Bible’s big story (or “Metanarrative”), which proposes that all biblical passages are connected to the full gospel story: God’s Creation of the earth and mankind, The Fall of Man into sin, Christ’s Redemption on the cross, and the final Restoration of God’s order for eternity. Don’t we need to get on to science? to economics? to agriculture? to ethics? Yes. But I’m mostly burdened to communicate specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters here. Before we start looking at some of that stuff, I’d like to review these points because we can’t really move forward in charged conversations without a common understanding of our spiritual foundation. (If this part doesn’t concern or interest you, I’ll have some helpful links and explanations about GMOs, research standards, and the scientific method coming up soon!)

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15)
Mankind was created for life in a beautiful, lush garden, that was full of enough food for everyone. No one would get sick, and no one would die. In that perfect paradise, we were created to tend the plants and animals with freedom to eat from all but one tree. Mankind’s original purpose was stewarding the earth and everything in it, bearing fruit by having children and by establishing ways of life for the coming generations. (Sometimes this is called the “Cultural Mandate.”) We love beautiful plants, enjoying the outdoors, hiking, lakes, fresh food, tending gardens and animals, and “agrarian visions” of idyllic farms because that’s what we were originally made for. Everything in us was made for Eden, and I think most of us don’t realize how desperate we are to get back there.

God created the earth, plants, and animals, and called them all “good.” He created men and women uniquely in his own image, (Gen 1:26-27) and called his image bearers living in that world “very good.” This is an important way God emphasizes the dignity of all people.
(Genesis 1:1-2:24)

“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) 

The original people in the Garden, Adam and Eve, ate from the one tree God forbade. The fall into sin means mankind and nature are both broken, which are connected in devastating ways. God explicitly says the ground itself is cursed, and that drawing out enough food to survive will be the lifelong toil of man. We listen to the Songs for Saplings catechism CD’s with our kids and find ourselves humming the song that goes along with this point – pain and toil, pain and toil, thorns and thistles, thorns and thistles – with amazement that this is still happening every single day. Aaron experiences this when he spends himself for the projects he manages for developing crops all day, and again when he comes home to see that the germination rate of our summer garden is abysmal. Farmers here and around the world live this out even more so as they work harder than most of us can imagine. This is a huge part of my life, too, in some ways. I’m in charge of the meals and eating at our house. Even though we garden and I have every grocery store I could want (and a farmers market) within a mile or so, and always enough money to get whatever we want (not just need),  I’m constantly planning meals, shopping, preparing them, serving them, or cleaning up after them while I set up for the next one.

This fall into sin also means that relationships are broken. The primary break and conflict is between man and God, which is not fixed until Jesus’ crucifixion, but this fractures our thinking and our relationships with other people as well. In many ways we are all looking out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Because of our fallen nature, we look for fulfillment in many different ways,  all outside of our standing with God.
 (Genesis 3)
[I discussed this at greater length for Christ and Pop Culture last summer as well.]

“…through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Colossians 1:20-23)
The only full redemption of the curse of sin in the fall is through Jesus, who restores our right relationship with God by dying in our place. While there are healthy and unhealthy choices we can make about eating, there are no particular kinds of foods or agricultural developments that are always sinful, and, as 1 Corinthians 8:8 says plainly, “food will not commend us to God.” The food that really matters for our spiritual state is Jesus’ body, offered in the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 15:10-20, 1 Corinthians 8, John 6, Matthew 26:26-29)  

After Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, we have the promise of his return, but we are still living under the effects of sin and death on our bodies and on the earth. We are not to live our lives in fear of death, but instead look with hope for God’s promised restoration of all things.  (Hebrews 2:14-15

We also have the Holy Spirit for this age between Christ’s ascension and return. It is the Holy Spirit who develops us in unique, personal ways with spiritual gifts to build up the church and the kingdom of God in love until Jesus returns. (1 Corinthians 12-13, John 14:25-30, Ephesians 1:13-14

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
The Bible tells us the earth (and the generations of people in it) will be sustained in it’s fallen state and then restored fully with Jesus’ future return. While Christians often talk about “going up to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” the real promise of Restoration is much bigger than that. Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation talk about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 also talk about the resurrection being for creation as well as people. In the restored kingdom, or heaven, our resurrected life will be filled with food and feasting, without hunger, sickness, or death. When this happens, there will be sowing and reaping, but it will not require the toil that we’ve had since Genesis 3.
(Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Isaiah 25:6-9

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Now, Christians can (and obviously do) disagree about dietary choices and genetic engineering, but as we go on, I hope you’ll see the gospel story provides ample room for the way biotechnology is advancing modern agriculture. I also hope you can learn about GMO foods and scientific progress with the firm foundation of the gospel offering hope instead of trying to figure it out from a place of fear or confusion. I’ll touch on these (and many other) parts of scripture later, too. 

God & GMOs: An Introduction

Guess what? We’re going to turn a little corner and talk about GMO crops here for the next little bit.

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It’s not a secret that I am not much of a scientist. I’m more artsy and relational and feely; my gifts include teaching and communicating. In many ways it’s a powerful blend of gifts that I write and my husband Aaron is a scientist. For anyone who doesn’t know us, he’s a Christian plant biotechnologist (with a PhD in molecular biology) who firmly believes he develops crops using complicated biotechnology (sometimes “GMO” and sometimes not) for the glory of God. We’re both proud that he’s part of the production side of modern agriculture, including using biotech for GMO crops, and we gratefully eat “genetically modified” food all the time. He’s shared about this for The Gospel Coalition and I’ve written a longer think-piece-ish article for Christ and Pop Culture. We’ve also chatted with some of our friends about this on a Vernacular podcast episode and just finished recording an interview with our friend Abigail Murrish for her current podcast series Our Midwestern Life. But talking about science often feels like speaking another language. We have realized we spend a lot of time in our nerdy head-spaces about this, and that is not always helpful for most other people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many scientists engaging this topic with Christian culture, and the misinformation fed by social media and “mommy bloggers” is deafeningly loud. We have both sensed an urgent need to open this discussion in more accessible ways that we’ve done before. 

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this series for a very, very long time, but it’s a big topic and I find myself both overwhelmed by the material (which is out of my depth in the technical realm), and resenting the potential for social blowback. A new friend just asked me if I struggled with an unhealthy desire to please others and I had to chuckle a little bit. A Pew Study in 2015 reported that more than half of Christians think genetically modified foods (“GMOs”) are unsafe, and even more think scientists are unclear about the health effects of GM foods. Numbers for the general public’s opinions are similar, but if anything, I was surprised the disapproval rates weren’t higher. This means anytime I tell a new friend what my husband does for a living, I’m more likely to be talking to someone who thinks he’s harming the environment and our food supply than not. Personal responses to this news have ranged between supportive (which is rare, but appreciated), neutral, skeptical, and even hostile. Pleasing people? It usually feels like that ship has sailed. Still, as I prepare these posts, I wonder how this could impact relationships. I checked in with some staff at my church to find out if this might bring up any particular challenges within our congregation. When I close my eyes I can visualize the faces of people I dearly love, people I fear alienating because I know they disagree. Will Thanksgiving be weird if our GMO-skeptic family members don’t like what I say here? Is it possible to just remove some of my email followers for a while and add them back later? Should I block a few people on facebook so they don’t get an immediate notification about this? Would someone who really needs to hear what I shared about my miscarriages be turned off by my discussion about GMOs and food production?  

An important part of critical thinking is not just asking questions about a given topic, but knowing what kinds of questions to ask. It’s fair for me to wonder about those things, but I also have to consider a host of ideas from the other side. There are risks involved in not speaking plainly about this. The more that I read and discuss my numerous resulting questions with the Hummel family Scientist in Residence, I grow increasingly convinced that skepticism and hostility towards biotech in farming (even when it comes from well-meaning sources) feeds shame, anxiety, and conflict in communities around me. I’m even more concerned that this keeps lifesaving technology out of the hands (and hungry bellies) of people around the world who desperately need it to survive. If I serve the God who so loved the world that he offered up his only son, can I also love the world enough to risk opening challenging conversations with my community? Can I model gracious discussion so that Christians are equipped to make decisions about feeding themselves and their families with faith instead of fear? As science advances at a breakneck pace while we lack articulate voices explaining a Christian ethical framework for it all, will I look back at this time and wish I had spoken up sooner? I can’t help but face that the negative repercussions of anti-GMO sentiments, especially in churches around me, are not going to reverse until people like me are willing to turn the conversation around.

In sharing these upcoming posts, please know that I am pledging to offer the best information I can find, explaining it in ways that are clear and gracious. If you’re reading along, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or if you have any topic or specific angle you’d like to see addressed. (You can reach me in the comment box on this site or through the email address I have listed in the “contact” field on the site menu.)

Thanks, friends. Whether you consider yourself pro-, neutral-, skeptical- or anti- GMO, I hope you’ll stick around!  

Is the Bible Good for Women? (book review & personal recommendation)

When I was pregnant with my daughter, sometime in that second half when we already knew she was a girl, we heard a culmination of flippant, derogatory comments about women from a church community. The teaching wasn’t just “unpopular” or politically incorrect while remaining faithful to God’s word – it was wrong. It painful and embarrassing to hear: that girls should be raised to have “wife and mother” as their sole vocational aim; that a woman who earns money is a shame to her husband; that a wife should only read books pre-approved by her pastor or husband; that it is not appropriate to leave an abusive marriage. (Every single one of these things takes marriage for granted, subversively shaming single women as well.) Beyond the turmoil it caused us to hear those things, my pregnancy made this rhetoric stand up in a new sense. I sighed to Aaron that I was afraid about how hard church might be for our baby when she grew up. As time went on (in other churches, obviously, and not that one), this was a concern I didn’t quickly shake.

We’re Christians and we’re raising our kids in a definitively Christian home. They may or may not become Christians themselves, but there is none of this “feel your own way to your spirit leader when you’re old enough to want something religious” business happening here. Part of this means that some of our values aren’t going to reflect culture, and there will be things we hope to instill in our kids that will seem weird or offensive to others. As a Christian, I read the Bible that esteems women in cultures that demean them, inherently values them as God’s image-bearers instead of as child-bearers, and establishes churches and families to most fully celebrate the God-given dignity of each person. But brokenness is pervasive, and navigating theologically conservative churches as a, um, “woman with thoughts” has been harder than it should be. Though we’re in a wonderful church now, no one can deny how much harm poor theology can inflict on women and families. Some teachers I have known and loved otherwise become pharisaical and legalistic on this topic, placing restrictive guidelines for women that mimic affluent white families in 1950’s America more than any family the Bible talked about. 

In this I felt a heavy burden: conflict between what I saw in the Bible and how that could be twisted into derogative rhetoric wasn’t just a personal issue now. It was a maternal one, too. It’s one thing to set some of my own cognitive dissonance aside, but it’s another to assume my child could be quick to do the same.  Could I expect her to trust me when I teach her God’s word is good but then quickly excuse some of the inappropriate teaching we’ve heard? How would I talk her through some of these hateful or dismissive comments in a way that wouldn’t shake her understanding of a Savior who repeatedly demonstrated his personal love for and engagement with women, even to the shock of religious leaders around him? What was I going to tell her about the straightforward stuff that I still find hard to swallow sometimes?

And beyond this, how on earth would I deal with the really nasty stuff in there? You know, that the Hall-of-Faith father-of-nations Abraham and the man-after-God’s-own-heart King David start looking like sexual predators when you read their stories as an adult? Or the horrendous story of the concubine ripped in twelve pieces from the book of Judges? (And maybe the fact that concubines are even a thing? Hello, King Solomon. I mean, the Old Testament stories are really not lining up with ANY talks I heard at youth group about Christian sexual ethics.)

These are all good questions, and they are things any pastor or scholar should expect a thoughtful Christian to confront. I want to take my bible study seriously, and I generally find the teachings on the liberal end of the theological spectrum seem to be more serious about various agendas than about the scripture or about God Himself, which I cannot share. (This is not to say that my friends who align there are flippant about their faith.) But even though we give lip service to “being good Bereans” and wrestling with scripture ourselves, my more conservative evangelical circles tend to consider these questions more antagonistic than anything else. This is not how it should be. (And as we settle in to a new church, I’m glad to see it is not always this way!) In this turmoil, I found myself extremely grateful for the wise work from Wendy Alsup, “Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture.”

is the bible good for max

see? even Max likes it.


 This book isn’t specifically about parenting, but if I’m honest, I can’t even say it was primarily about women, either. It’s about Jesus and how God’s plan for salvation is evident on every page of Scripture. Alsup shows how turning just to those “feminine” passages in the Bible (the ones that show up if you search “women” in a concordance) perpetuates a disjointed and hurtful view of the human race. Reducing problems so often to “gender role differences” damages men and women alike, though it usually hits women more immediately. Upholding the Bible as the greatest commentary on itself, she tackles the hard questions about faith and femininity using the lens of Christ to understand God’s goodness to women.

“Is the Bible Good for Women?” is not just written to theologians and church leaders, it’s for skeptics, too. The answers aren’t always easy. She says, for instance, that the highest levels of church leadership are still reserved for men and my progressive friends probably wouldn’t change their minds here. I sensed in a few spots that my renewed parenting-induced panic meant I was the skeptic she wrote for, but I suspect this book would not make them immediately want to punch someone. I have loved enough people on both “sides” of Christian gender discussions to recognize this is a significant accomplishment. From the initial charge to read the Bible as commentary on itself through to the fascinating concluding analysis of the apostle Peter’s character development as a study in leadership and maturity, Wendy Alsup demonstrates a firm faithfulness to God’s good word and humility in these difficult topics. This is a gracious entry into a deeply divided discussion, and I hope to see further conversations on this topic continue in the Christ-oriented and compassionate direction she leads with this book. 

There’s a fascinating relationship between math and formal logic, and the author’s formal training in mathematics education is evident in the systematic flow of argument and the careful presentation of facts. But it’s still personal, and the discussion often touches deep nerves. From Dinah’s rape (Genesis 34) and the Levite’s dismembered concubine (Judges 19), she shows God’s faithfulness to avenge those who abuse women. From the Law’s description of capital punishment for adultery (Deuteronomy 22), she points to the perfect fulfillment Jesus made to protect women where the Law was insufficient (particularly in John 8). From confusing and seemingly oppressive passages in the New Testament epistles, she demonstrates God’s extravagant goodness, too. Where women are forbidden to teach (1 Timothy 2), we see God equipping all women with gifts for the good of all people. Where Paul discusses head covering (1 Corinthians 11), we see God’s disgust for slavery and sexual oppression. Where wives are commanded to be subject to their husbands (Ephesians 5), we see more of the God who laid down his life and all earthly power for the sake of his bride, the Church. All this exalts the God who created all humans bearing his image, called us “good” then, and has given us his Word and Himself only for our good ever since then.

This book was a blessing to me and I expect it would be encouraging to most other readers! If I haven’t exactly convinced you to read this yet, you can also read an excerpt published in Christianity Today, listen to the  Mortification of Spin podcast with Wendy here , or consider this shorter review from the Gospel Coalition. And then you can buy it for yourself!

mercy every morning || (part 2)

[the wormwood & the gall(stones) || part 1] 

I’ve never understood why some people hate making New Year’s resolutions. Even if they come to a fail, you can always try. And at least an effort toward your goal is totally worth it, right? Not trying seems like the worst kind of failure to me. Relinquishing my usual practice of claiming a huge and completely unrealistic batch of resolutions in 2016 felt like a huge sacrifice. With limited support and two small children, especially that baby who didn’t read those books about how much babies should sleep, choosing a survive-every-day plan was the right thing to do. The circumstances forced me to live in the tension of believing that raising a child is one of the most productive endeavors and that it can also feel like you’re wasting your life. Yes, the children need more of me than I thought possible and that matters, but how could I have basically no other direction for my hopes and dreams in life? Did I not want to get anything done or become My Very Best Self Ever? Honestly, it was almost embarrassing. 

If you don’t like New Years Resolutions, you’re probably shaking your head at all of this. But really, whether you have an overly optimistic series of goals or don’t resolve for anything (and I guess whether February finds you powering through or in despair over broken resolutions), the problem with New Year’s Resolutions is not that some of us think too much of January as a “fresh start.” It’s really that all of us don’t think highly enough of the mercy God makes new for every day.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night.
And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day. – Genesis 1:3-5

Creation poetry might be my favorite part of scripture. I love the consistent whisper of hope: there was evening and then there was morning! The first day. There was evening and then there was morning! The second day. It happened again! And again! God’s specific and general self-display all confirms this: Light comes out over dark. Then day comes out over night, plants come out over dirt, order comes out over the void, all pointing to the truest poem of the resurrection, when life comes out over death. This is breathtaking, but it almost seems ironic for me: these days, mornings can be very hard. For a long, long time we lived in the tension of desires to consistently train the kids to stay in bed until a reasonable hour and not let that morning’s protester (because you KNOW they trade off like that) scream long enough to wake the other one. So when we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” with our kids most nights, that line “early in the morning/ our song shall rise to Thee” is a little haunting. Every time, I wonder: exactly how early are we talking here? And is this just once, or many different times? Just as those little people start sleeping more consistently at night, they develop the ability to crawl out of their cribs and the morning training takes a whole new set of strategies.

Mornings can be hard for other reasons, too. It’s a gift that in sleep, you are removed from whatever hardship you’re facing. This is true of daily tasks and difficulty alike. In sleep we are all leveled the same. But then eyes open, you remember where you are, and the task of the day comes over you.
My body is dirty and my belly is empty.
My child is poking my eye and the baby is crying.
My job is waiting, where I must face my own inadequacy or pour myself out for someone else’s benefit. Also, my boss is a jerk.
My relationship is broken – either I am in the wrong or I must forgive someone, or both.
Maybe my dream is crushed, or someone I love is gone, or whatever.
In waking we must eat, shower, tend, work, reconcile, grieve. Even the very best mornings, especially with my small children who can’t do any of this themselves, require a lot of faithful making: make the coffee, make the bed, make an effort to write, make the eggs. This year’s resolutions, even when I rejoiced to make them, have a way of condemning me with my failure to produce, and I think about that in the morning these days, too. It is in these early re-rememberings that God shows he is also in the business of faithful making, with new mercies that come every morning afresh.


Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:23-25

Mercy is interesting, especially when you’re thinking about hardship and restarts, because I don’t know if we always talk about it rightly. I’ve heard the word used many different ways lately: “Traveling mercies.” The mercy of a quick death.  The severe mercy of loss. The mercy of a parent passing over a child’s punishment. Sometimes mercy is supposed to mean divine protection, or healing, or sovereign guidance. I always think about the older translation of Psalm 23: “Surely thy lovingkindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and the dictionary tells me it’s a compassionate forbearance usually shown towards an offender. Let’s be really frank here: Compassion sounds great, but it means “Suffering-with” when we would rather pretend like hard things aren’t there. And then mercy meaning that compassionate forbearance there is “towards an offender”? I don’t like the implications of that last little part very well, either. But this is God’s solution to affliction. It’s not that we can ignore it or that he will necessarily remove it. We have to call hardship what it is to know the fullness of God’s love for us, because maybe this is how we know it doesn’t interrupt His care for us. Fresh mercy for every day means that in any state of sin or sorrow, whatever hits me when my eyes open each morning, God meets me there – no holding back, no matter what. It means I have to show up to whatever difficulty comes to me or I’m going to miss what God is doing for me in it. And it means that in any state of disarray, from my bed to my brokenness, God is faithfully making these messy and hard things new. 

the wormwood & the gall(bladder) || part 1

With over a year of living in Missouri, it’s fair to say this has been a move no one would ever want to relive. Though it came with so many good things, like a new job and a baby, moving is an unpredictable mix of gift and loss. Leaving and remaking home is hard anyway, but many of the details of this move and the rest of our lives this year have been notably challenging. When I was coordinating my recent gallbladder removal surgery (because amid this all I was having painful gallbladder attacks, of course), Aaron kept saying, “This has to be the last thing, right? No more emergencies for a while.” Two weeks later we were stranded with the kids in busy traffic when our van overheated. If this is irreparable, it will require a third vehicle purchase in less than eighteen months.

I am the man who has seen affliction … Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:1, 21-23

With physical ailments all around, expensive home repairs and neighborhood problems, and a long haul in cultivating new friendships and community, much of this has been affliction. But it’s also wandering, which feels like wasting, uncertainty, aimlessness, and disconnection – an affliction of it’s own sort, really. Our Minnesota theme was we didn’t see that one coming. So far Missouri’s is we can’t get a break or as thine income, thine emergencies shall be in measure. I said settling in here was going to be full of unknowns, full of newness. That has definitely been the case. 

These new things are hard, but there is also always, always good there, and it has been my practice to keep a gratitude list, recounting God’s gifts in all things. There is something particularly sacred about training our eyes on the way beauty and grace come through in all of life, but there is a difference between talking about redemption through hardship and ignoring hardship all together. 

I could easily share how God’s grace flamed so fiercely in this, and maybe I should, but I’m also starting to think there would be some spiritual benefit to keeping track of the bad stuff in life, just as much as the good. Why memorialize the wormwood and the gall, the bitter and bile? Scripture does so all the time, I find. Still, I have been fighting this since it seems to conflict with (among other things, like not wanting to sound whiny) my very-present concern for those souls stranded or running for their lives in the war-torn Middle East. We’re not under siege or refugees, so we’re okay, right? Things aren’t that bad. I’m a secure stay-home mom with living children, great health care, and food in the fridge, which alone means I have many, many circumstances “better” than others. People around the world risk their lives every day pursuing a small portion of these comforts and freedoms. But this mostly-empty empathy is more pride than gratitude. My help in life is not in being generally safe from ISIS coming to my front door, or comfortably feeding and staying home with my kids during a season when they need so much of me. My help in this, and everything, comes from the Lord, Psalm 121 says, under the heading “a song of ascents.” What is an ascent but climbing from lowliness to height? With the right perspective, with our hearts grounded in God’s mercy, recounting hardship is part of gaining a humble perspective. Brushing difficulty off because “it’s not as bad as someone else” is not always a sign of a content heart; sometimes it comes from a heart that doesn’t want to be needy.

I didn’t even realize this part of it until I started groaning every time I saw the negative consequences of my exhaustion, which has been just an undercurrent of these overall afflictions. This looked like lots of grumbling, but little praying, and a fair share of disappointment against other people. These are not the responses of seeing-grace-in-the-hard; this is evidence of resentment when others need me or I need something, and ignoring neediness, maybe hoping it will go away.  Acknowledging hardship admits a lack of control. Given full autonomy, who would choose difficulty or incapacity? Yet this is precisely why Christianity is not a point of achievement but a constant path of growing smaller: We are the backwards people, and our journey of ascent starts out being bowed down in neediness. Lamentations doesn’t tell us the wormwood and gall are to bend us down forever, but it does show that hoping in God and recounting his mercies starts from a place of honesty and humility about that affliction. 

I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2

[I don’t think I’m copying her ideas directly in anything here, but my thoughts on humility have been very much formed by Hannah Anderson’s excellent book Humble Roots. It’s definitely recommended reading!]

reading round-up 3.20.15

You guys, I think it’s spring in Minnesota. It’s been sunny and warm lately, so sometimes I can open the windows… If it snows again, I will cry. I’m still not entirely recovered from the polar vortex of the last winter. Since it’s been so nice, I took Annie outside to inspect the daffodil bulbs I transplanted to the front of the house in September, and then I found $20. (This actually happened.)

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Aaron experienced an unfortunate injury during the installation of our floor which resulted in our second-ever marital ER trip, but he is on the road to recovery and we’re almost done! It’s amazing how much this improvement is boosting my overall mood and outlook on life, and it’s been extremely nice to be excited about how our home looks again. I was not prepared for how discouraging it would be to move from the hard-won glories of our old house to the not-so-glorious interior of this one. I tried a lot of I-have-it-better-than-95%-of-people-everywhere-so-stop-thinking-about-aesthetics mind games during the past year, but when a beautiful home is an option, it’s a good thing and it feels good to be working towards that glory again. Isn’t this a better look than unfinished hardwoods with plywood patches?

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Confession: We broke down and procured an annoying plastic singing toy for the baby, on loan from some friends. We’re hoping it’s temporary, but man… this thing is extremely useful.

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[Finances] I am still mulling over the points from Generosity Begins At Home by David Mathis. Being excessively disciplined about money, mostly out of necessity, for the entire 6.5 years of our marriage has brought some weird baggage to our lives. While frugality is often wise, it can be abused just as much as frivolity. We are the sort of people who err on the side of all things too-responsible, and we’ve had to remind each other that frugality is not the greatest good in life. It’s been nice to have some conversations along these lines:

A simplistic view of money — whether focusing only on its power for good, or merely on its potential for ill — misses the texture of the biblical portrait. How, then, do we move toward getting this balance better in our lives? And in particular, how to we go about using money to magnify our global God while not neglecting or minimizing the temporal needs of those to whom God has entrusted us? ….As tempted as we might be to think that pinching pennies at every point, and then sending our savings to the gospel front lines overseas, is the inescapably Christian practice, there is something to be said for our generosity beginning at home. Which is not to say, indulge your personal comforts, but forgo them for the sake of demonstrating care and concern for your spouse and children.

When it comes to details, I’m the free spirit in our house (Annie may be with me on this, though?) but it works best when I do the taxes, so that’s how we roll. Tim Challies asks Do You Pay Your Taxes Joyfully? And I must say… now that I straightened out Aaron’s work withholdings, we qualify for some fabulous new credits after the birth of a child, and have very little self-employment income, YES, IT MIGHT BOTHER MY CONSTITUTIONAL SENSIBILITIES BUT OVERALL IT IS EXTREMELY JOY-INDUCING TO SEE THOSE GREEN “RETURN” NUMBERS ON MY TURBO TAX STATEMENT. For the first time ever, I think.

[Theology] We have been talking oh-so-much this month about the vital importance of women knowing theology. I have been so pleased to see a few articles on this topic popping up, as I think adequately educating both genders is an area where most churches really fall off the wagon (whether intentionally or not).
Moms Need Theology Too, by Christina Fox. 

While books with practical tips are useful for some things, the hope they provide can be short-lived. In truth, it is in theology, in our study of who God is and what he has done, that gives us the real hope, real wisdom, and real peace that we need in our lives — the kind that lasts. It’s theology — knowing God — that anchors us in the chaos of motherhood.

Three Reasons Women Need Good Theology, by Alyssa Poblete. 

“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.” …Why did he wish to dissuade women from pursuing a better understanding of Scripture? Don’t we believe “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16)?

[Infertility] I’m very thankful that in my struggles to have a baby, I was not forced to look down the barrel of Artificial Reproductive Technologies. I’m also very thankful that I knew a lot about the topic before having a baby became a struggle, because I already knew where the boundaries of acceptable intervention would be. Most people don’t think about the ethics of IVF or other procedures until they are sitting in a specialists office, desperate for a child after years of devastating heartbreak. That doctor’s office is not the best place to start making decisions with such significant ethical ramifications. So, I talk about it now because I want other people to look at this topic before they are in a position to maybe utilize it themselves. I think Joy Pullman’s article in The Federalist, Four Questions About the Fertility Industry’s Lack of Oversight, poses some important points for discussion.

[Beauty] I love this computer wallpaper! 

I’m reading Hannah Anderson‘s book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image. So far it’s the perfect blend of thoughtful, challenging, enjoyable, and (the best part) written in just the right-size increments that I can pick it up knowing I might get interrupted again soon.


Anonymous 4: Abide With Me
Folk for Kids playlist on Spotify. 
I’m also on the hunt for some podcasts, so let me know if you have any recommendations!

Happy weekend!

reading round-up (11.15.13)

Conversations at home are talking a lot about risk right now, especially since I have come to describe life not as “stressful,” but as “risky,” and aim to have “the courage necessary to live well in risky situations.” I loved so many thoughts about how risk is The Surprising Ingredient to Creating a Pro-Life Culture from Tristyn Bloom, a junior at Yale.

Nearly two years ago at Christmastime, I sat at a cafe table with my friend Elyse, and while we hadn’t seen each other in four years, we have the sort of connection that allows (perhaps insists?) that the “synopsis of my spiritual journey since we last spoke” conversations should launch as soon as the coffee is poured. The discussion was refreshing and encouraging, and now you have the chance to get a small peek of what she shared there reflected in her article about how beauty and tradition in worship reflects the incarnation. While we don’t see exactly eye-to-eye or attend the same type of church, I’m enjoying so many thoughts she shared about the intersect of matter and spirit. The following commentary is particularly insightful in light of our recent unwelcoming church visit:

If church sanctuaries are merely places to hear music, see friends, and enjoy our morning coffee, there are other places where the music is better, the coffee is fresher, and the fellowship less forced.

(Special note – relevant because of her article’s content and title – we met doing drama in high school, playing Nuns in The Sound of Music. She is now married to the guy who played Captain Von Trapp. Ha!)

One of the books that didn’t survive my pre-moving purge was Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, which I received as a gift several years ago, and I’ve wondered since if it would have been better in the recycling bin than as a Goodwill donation. (Not the first time I’ve dealt with discarding bad books.) My friend Emily and I lamented once that it embodied everything wrong with evangelical women’s ministry, promoting the idea that reading the actual Bible is too hard for girls and that in our supposed delicacy we can only be drawn closer to God by reading fluffy things about how much he loves us. Not, of course, that Scripture isn’t hard, or that God doesn’t love us. But. You know. There is just a lot more grit and salt and excitement in all the fullness and sufficiency of what God has already communicated. Also… there are major, major issues with someone claiming to speak the words of Jesus. Problematic all around! So I loved discovering this article by Kathy Keller that lays it all out there, and I feel so relieved to know I’m not just being cynical about popular devotional materials!

For some animal funnies, we both laughed at these Elk in someone’s backyard. I’m not saying he’s fat, just that he’s probably over the weight limit on that trampoline…

reading round-up (11/08/13)

Well — life has been exciting around here lately. There is a new home for us with a very exciting story coming. There is also the tiny detail of, oh, having a Doctor around all the time now, which is relieving and exciting  after  five-and-a-half years of slaving.
For some reads to tide you over until I can think coherently enough to finish other posts  soon…

Many of my friends blog and I just can’t get over how awesome it is to read something that makes me think, “I wish I knew them!”  when I actually do know the person. Reading this post on housekeeping from my friend Bethany provided one of those moments this week.

“Whether you are home during the day or not, we are all home-makers. …Adults do chores. End of story.” 

Amen. If you need me, I’ll be Pledge-ing in my kitchen.

I had some Bad Experiences with theological debate in high school and sometimes shy away from talking about theology because I don’t feel like it’s worth stirring controversy, but I was so excited reading this post describing how the Cross is not the whole sum of the Gospel. It was like reading a secret journal entry I haven’t writen yet. (It made me think of this clip from The Office.)  Back on topic – the fact that scripture starts off with “There was evening and then there was morning,” and takes us all the way to “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” leads me to believe that God points us not just to the cross, but to a different (though very closely related) event as the crescendo of salvation and history.  The salvation story doesn’t end at the cross, and we shouldn’t talk about the gospel as though it did.  The crucifixion and Good Friday are only “good” through the lens of Easter Sunday. Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead!

You can count me a huge fan of Wendy Alsup’s blog, and I really appreciated her post about growing hard-hearted in suffering. I have often said (complained) to my husband that this a very poor season to be wrestling with fresh grief again. Not that true grief ever really goes away, but a fresh heap put on top seems excessive, and this encouragement is timely.

On that note, I loved this description of grief as an air horn.

Finishing out as we started, with talk of homemaking, preparing for a new house means digging around for some extra decor/DIY inspiration. I’ve been enjoying a few ideas from Liz Marie, Remodelaholic, and some Apartment Therapy home tours like this one with cool built-in storage (be warned – sketchy items in their “decor”).

giving up

A little over a week into Lent, I’m surprised at how scattered my thoughts about self-denial and repentance remain. I suppose it’s not a very fun thing to think about. At least with the other “big” Church season of Advent, we prepare for the revelation of Word made flesh while planning holiday menus and anticipating the spiritual experience of getting loads of loot. Not so with Lent! For nearly two thousand years, Christians have spent forty days in repentance and self-denial preparing to observe the most extreme series of events in human history: Jesus’ undeserved betrayal and gruesome death that make way for the eternal victory of His resurrection.

It can be rightly said that this is a special season of grief for sin and brokenness in ourselves and the world, and turning away from these things back to God. Of course we should seek repentance at all times, but that doesn’t make Lent irrelevant. There is much to gain in approaching this corporately and systematically — or, to use the evangelical lingo, “in community” and “intentionally.”  Compared to our full observance of Christmas (and sometimes Advent), we evangelicals tend to tend to sweep Lent and Easter under the rug. Perhaps this is further evidence of our own brokenness, indicating that we don’t always take the the death and resurrection of Christ as seriously as his birth.

My thoughts and convictions on this topic are still not fully formed, but mostly my point here is that these forty days are a special time of examining my own heart and orienting myself more fully towards the gospel. In giving up small things – this year, it’s sleeping in past six o’clock and using the computer after dinner – I’m more aware of how much I hang on to and how much Christ gave up for me. And I’ve failed at one or both of these things every day. This teaches me even more about my own rebellion and powerlessness, and how much I must cling to God in all things. I want Lent to be a big deal because these tangible experiences help break me out of my own fallen perspective and emotions. Rightly understanding my own state of helplessness and defeat is the only way I can rightly understand what the gospel means. In Lent, when I turn my heart towards sorrow for sin and grief for all that brokenness has wrought in my life and the world, I gain a deeper understanding of St. Paul writing: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!” and the traditional liturgy stating: “Thus we proclaim the mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is coming again!”

Though “giving up something for Lent” alone is meaningless, with a contrite heart the tradition of fasting and denial teaches us about surrender, sacrifice, and salvation. These lessons are profoundly valuable. I’m glad to be observing Lent this year, because I know in “giving up”  little things  to make room for greater devotion to God, I’m learning more about giving up entirely.

“…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Matthew 10:39, esv.