Thursday, August 9

Jai Masihki

Before I left for India I asked our supporters for prayer in several specific areas.  As I was making the list, this one popped in my head and I put it down with the others.
Pray for my ability to stay engaged.  The foreignness of it all will make me want to withdraw in order to cope.   But I want to be bold and confident. 
 A friend of mine read that one and latched onto it, imagining how she'd likely need the same thing if she were going.  Everyone comes back wrecked from India, right?  So she said, "When you get back, I want to hear about the times when you stayed engaged even when you didn't want to."  [I'm telling you, get yourself a friend like this.]  Now I had a focus and a personal mission.

She's coming over for tea in a little bit to hear my stories of courage.  This is what I'll tell her:

  • I walked through Muslim streets as a foreign woman.
  • I let the traffic happen all around me and just trusted its rhythm.
  • I hopped into rickshaws and taxis without my guides.
  • I didn't have a cell phone to call for help.
  • I ate everything.
  • I went without make up.
  • I ran through a train.
  • I touched the orphans.
  • I walked on a foot that wanted me to stop.
  • I took on more so my husband could rest.
  • I prayed for a women who could have easily prayed for herself.
  • I taught church planters what it means to be a good pastor, to be unified and to have joy.
  • I navigated a different foreign city, Zurich, on my own.
  • I refused to feel uncomfortable.
When we arrived we had less than a day to acclimate before hopping on an overnight train to our first village destination.  We were to teach church planters from the book of Philippians, Sunday morning, Sunday evening and three times on Monday.  We had worked out a schedule.  One of us would "share" for about 20 minutes each time and Dan and Chip would alternate the actual "preaches" for about 40 minutes. Not knowing if women would be there and not knowing the acceptance level of women who teach I was not prepared with more than two "shares."

Then our Western sequential planning encountered an Eastern culture.  Fresh off our long flight and overnight train on the way to the village church Sunday morning, everything was changed.  Five preaches and five shares turned into 5 shares [1 mine] and 10 preaches [3 mine] an hour and a half each over three days rather than two.   By Tuesday afternoon we were exhausted.  Spent.  Run over.

But I didn't shrink from the challenge.  I love to teach.  Of course, I love to be well prepared, to teach to an English speaking group, to make eye contact and nuance everything with body language, intonation, questions, pregnant pauses and purposeful movement.  And truthfully I most often speak to women -- not church planters.  Limitations being what they were, I didn't let fear be an additional one.  I could have declined both the invitation and the challenge and not received the grace.  I could have shoved everything to my pastor husband and feigned fear and trembling, but I trusted the God who had brought me there to do the work he wanted.   And in the end what was running over was really his lavish love for his church in India and for me.

India gave me the opportunity to not be afraid.
Jay Masihki: Christ is the Victory.

Monday, August 6

Normal Day


We begin normal life again today.  Laundry.  Shopping for food.  Taking J to Taekwon Do.  Pulling the weeds.  Our life is rarely glam and travel.  Actually, never glam.

Normal has a new nuance though.  Everything I do is post-India.  And in my head I am, indeed, thinking that as I go about.   When I do laundry, I can hang dry my clothes and know that they'll dry today.  When I shop, I don't have to shoo flies away from tomatoes.  When I drive my son to his class, I can stay inside the lane lines and trust others to do the same.  When I put my hands to the earth it won't be layered with defecation and trash.  I can put it to my nose and smell it.

I heard a horn this morning some distance down Broadway. And in that quiet moment, it took me back to the mornings in the flat on Shivalik.  On our quiet street, the occasional horn would alert me that others were stirring. The fruit vendor sounding out his call from his wooden cart.  The housekeeper letting herself in to wash yesterday's dishes. Metal cups and plates rattling.  Stale air reminding me that two showers would be on the day's agenda.

Most friends held the expectation that this would be a life-changing trip.  That when we arrived back we'd be different.  Perhaps startled into a new way of living or guilted into something more simplistic.  Perhaps that's true a little.  But for me it was life enhancing.  Everything that I do here, my friends in Delhi do there.  She can cook a fabulous Italian dinner or homemade chicken soup if she wants to.  She can get her clothes pressed for 80 rupees.  She can stop at the market for milk and eggs and bread.  She can sit in a coffee shop.  She can call home.  At the core, we live similar lives.

What I'm left with is the feeling that life is the same everywhere.  Mine may be easier, cooler, cleaner and for that I can be very grateful, but all of humanity wrestles with the same F's:  food, fuel, faucets, feces, fodder, financing.  And so we are tied together by our similarities rather than torn apart by our differences.

I move through my normal day feeling the rhythm of Delhi; sometimes I am chaos too.

Friday, August 3

Day and Night

God in the Yard: Week Eight
"Morning never seemed that astonishing until I started going outside at night... My senses woke to things that day, in her bustle and brilliance, had eclipsed.  A variation of experience highlighted contrasts, deepening the separate experiences of sunup and sundown.  One informed the other.  In these changing contexts I felt like a different person, more raw and attuned at night, more bold and curious by day.  I became more comfortable trying on these different selves." -- L.L. Barkat

This has been my India experience.  Life in the U.S. being day and life in India being night for so many reasons.  Night is something you just move through, even closing your eyes so that it goes faster.  Night is simply where you wait for the day.  But I had to walk through the night, eyes wide open.  And there were details in the night that I took note of.  When I did, night looked a little different.  And day grew that much brighter.

The boy in the day care with the scabs on his face was still a boy who liked to play Legos.  The family in the hot one-room apartment where we painted next door still nuzzled their baby and kept her cool, asleep in just her diaper. The boys in the childrens' home without a family still buzzed and played and bounced exactly the way my boys do.  We don't play and nuzzle and buzz because we live in the light of day; we do these things even with night all around us.  Because our human spirit knows that too much night will never grow a thing.

We in the day like to live only in the day.  We push away the night.  It either frightens or bores us.  But those who live in the night know how to live in both.  They are tenaciously unafraid. 

I have seen the night... sickly water, putrid trash heap, choking stench, hopeless shrine, burning body, beggers at every idle window, t.b. patient leaving life, fly-covered woman lying in the roundabout, babies asleep on concrete, men peeing in the field outside the train, long judging stares, police with machine guns, pushing...

But I also saw the day peeking through...families, beautiful careful dress, simplicity, pragmitism, conserving energy, finding solutions, old men worried I'll trip, helpful police, thorough tour guide, the pastor's wife who offered me chai, the children who want their photo with you, the people of God's church in India, showing them the iphone photos of snow, sensibility. 

And home, I suspect will feel brighter, less weighty.  Night informs day.  My night self encourages my day self to be bold and confident, to look for the beauty among the ashes.  And my day self can look at the night with less sorrow.  Both belong to God's rhythm.  He is everywhere still.

Monday, July 9

To Listen, To Sense, To See

I'm going to India in a week and a half.


As much as I want to prepare myself in some way, I can't.  I've checked out books about India from the library and returned them unread.  I've briefly reviewed Hinduism, but I took a whole course in college.  And, honestly, I'm not really sure that I should reschool myself in it for this trip.   My time has actually been spent reacquainting myself with the God that I already know. In some sense I'm setting myself up for an experience that will simply happen to me, like jumping in a lake and emerging drenched in an element that I don't normally exist in.  Floating in it.  Letting it carry me.

I have tried to cram 11 weeks of summer (and maybe a couple years of life) into about 6.  I've gone room by room, closet by closet, putting things in order.  All the appointments that needed to me made (well-child, dentist, travel vaccines, eye exam, the specialist I've been putting off) have been made and just about completed.  Lesson plans have been created up through Thanksgiving.  Family photo albums done to a point.  Women's retreat planned and organized for when I return.  Hacked bank account dealt with.  We've even met with a lawyer to put our living trust, will and powers of attorney together.   I'm definitely getting things done, but I'm not really present in them.

I've spent the whole summer making things happen.  In some ways it has actually been the most intentional time of my life.  Looking deeply at my children when they talk to me. Calling my son when he's home alone.  Taking them places for quality time.  Letting go of other normal summer stuff so I can just be with them playing catch, watching them play, spurring them on, swimming at the pool. When I'm with them, I'm fully present and I know it.

india/varanasi_rolling_beediAm I afraid?  Am I putting my affairs in order as a result of that fear?  Am I drinking in my kids because of it?  Or am I anticipating that life will be different when I return to such an extent that I'm taking note of life as it is now?  Is all my preparation so that I can re-enter with a new set of eyes?  I can begin again with no loose ends to drag me back to what was.  I can simply jump off and move forward. 

Maybe a little of both.

Pray for us as we go and wrestle alongside an indigenous pastor who doesn't quite grasp a God of grace.  We'll pray with those wives who need love for the churches their husbands are leading.  We'll come face-to-face with sex trafficking in action; smell the slum; intervene for the sick.

And we'll also see the restoration that is already being done through charitable works, engineering and church planting... to see what God is doing through his church to end poverty.

Please pray for us to have eyes to see this part of the world as God sees it, to purposefully associate with a culture opposite from our own to make connections and exhibit grace.

And to return made new and fully present.

Thursday, July 5

Formative Play

God in the Yard, Week 5

For the summer, we've declared Fridays to be Outdoor Day.   All this boy energy must have an outlet.  And all this preoccupation on my part must be balanced with the here and now.  I am going to India soon, but I'm not gone yet.  My sons ought to feel my presence.

And so, on Fridays we play with intention out in creation.  The lakeshore beach.  The community pool.  A little hike.  A little bike ride.  This photo was in a bicycle built for four.  J is in the driver's seat.  S's feet are dangling, along for the ride.

It's amazing how difficult this day of play was.  These vehicles are not easy to maneuver. Sometimes, B got out and pushed.  Sometimes we stopped and switched drivers.  We all had to do it together.  And we enjoyed the adventure.

I've been trained, perhaps trained myself, to think that growth happens more through suffering than through play.  I think this is based on a persistent human desire to explain suffering.  If the pain is useful, then I can endure it.  Consumer that I am, at least there's something in it for me.  And that is true in at least some of it's intents and purposes.

It has never occurred to me to think of play as a growth vehicle.  It is silliness, juvenile, appropriate only occasionally.  That's how I think.  I do, however, enjoy watching my children engage in it...immensely.  And it dawned on me this week why that is:  because they learn when they play.  Their play is how they grow.  And watching them grow is actually quite amazing.

In his or her first five years of life we attribute a child's ability to grow and develop to his or her freedom in playtime.  We bemoan the child who has never been camping, played ball, pretended to be a different character. We sense there is something missing from their experiences that won't give them enough momentum to push into life's next experiences.  This isn't an unsubstantiated theory.

But, apparently, this is not so for adults.  Why not adults?  Is there a switch that activates at 10 years old (the age when one son declared he was too old for playgrounds and superhero swim shorts and another son has poo-pooed VBS) in which the path of growth moves from play to work?  Isn't it another both/and?  We seem to think we ought to take away play and replace it with work and pain.  But I think we're missing half the cycle.  Or at least I'm beginning to think it.

When children engage in imaginative play they push the work of understanding the world more deeply into them. Whether playing house or Jedi knight, they are working out the truths of life in safe and controlled circumstances.   When J & B were younger I would intentionally stop our school day right after the days' lesson and give them some time to play because I knew that with the fresh imprint of the Revolutionary War or dinosaurs or flight they would take the Legos or Rescue Heroes out and incorporate scenarios in their play from what we had just talked about.  And the lessons grew solidly in their minds.  Play was their practice test.

In play the purpose of our ways is made clear.  We reveal our true selves when we allow our ego to be shoved aside and our curiosity to win.  It grows us.  So, why don't we value play?  Why don't we open ourselves up to less productive, more imaginative 'work?'  I think I've discovered something new to add to the summer.   Outdoor Day is a great first step, but my attitude toward it now might be freer, lighter and healthier as we head out to engage the world and let its imprint set deeply upon us.

Friday, June 29

Good Gifts

God in the Yard: Week Four

Sometimes the thoughts take longer to come.  This week there was a question that lingered in the air with no place to land.  What is celebration?  Under this Crabapple tree, celebration means the apples haven't started to fall.  Yet.  Celebration is a party.  An invitation to others.  The release of a tension.  The elements of celebration:  remembrance, extravagance, familiarity.  What have I celebrated?  I made a short list.  What would I celebrate next?  I came up empty.  

Nothing forseeable to celebrate.  It can't be.  What crowds it out?  Ungratefulness. Entitlement.  Or perhaps humility and trust.  It could be either way.  Was I unwilling or just unknowing?

A friend stopped by, returned an item loaned, shared her current hopes and fears.  Good choices are all around her plate, but which one to partake of?  I said, "Take the path you want."  I know that sometimes there are only good choices, not always one holy and one repugnant to God.  He can give a selection, just gives it, and any one we choose we simply put our fingers around it and smile.  And he puts his arms around us and says, "I'm so glad you like it. Let's enjoy it together."

He has done this for me... given me what my heart longed for.  Given the gifts of answered prayer.  In this season, this home in Denver, he's redeemed an old burdensome job, given purpose in ministry, provided a "boundary of dwelling," helped my son (helped me with him), provided for an anniversary dream, gave me a community of mothers different from me, made our finances sure, provided a husband's love of his job, his wife, his children, took away the fear for the future.  I began to wonder even early on, "Will all things be answered here?  All the things I prayed in that borrowed bedroom with heavy hearts and sighs?  Will he bring them all to the table and settle them?"  He has done that one-by-one.

He is in the habit of giving, loves to give good gifts.  And more are coming.
More are coming!

I will celebrate when the prayers I pray come to fruition.  There are more redemptions. Why shouldn't there be?  He is making all things new.
I made a list.
I await the chance to celebrate.

Saturday, June 23

First Chapter Books

As a parent I'm no different than any other; I have a list of  things that I can't wait to do with my kids.  The hardest part is waiting for them to be old enough to play catch, take hiking, or go to the theater.  Reading chapter books aloud to them was at the top of my list.  We do read alouds during our school year every day, but those selections have a specific purpose, and they aren't always designed with my youngest in mind. 

The Phantom TollboothThe Boxcar Children Bookshelf (The Boxcar Children Mysteries, Books 1-12)Their first personal read-alouds usually begin around the time they are five and they have some connection with my own childhood.  J's first read aloud was The Boxcar Children, a book I loved so much that I convinced my best friend to check it out from the library on my card.  She promptly lost it and I paid the fine on her behalf secretly hoping she was really just keeping it because she loved it as much as I did.  B's first read-aloud selections were a little different because he shared a room with his older brother so bedtime stories were for both of them.  But I chose The Phantom Tollbooth with my math-minded, artistic B in mind, remembering when a teacher read it aloud to our class while we made thickly colored wax crayon drawings of the story.  

Stuart LittleNow it is summer.  And as I snuggle in with five-year-old S before bed we get to read something together that's just for pure fun.  The first one I picked for the two of us was Stuart Little by E. B. White.  I remember getting the set of books by E. B. White when I was a child and reading them all at least twice.  (My oldest absconded with my set and did the same thing.  Only the tattered, coverless pages are left.)  We both enjoyed Stuart Little though I wonder what he thought about the ending since the story never really concludes.  But then again, maybe it's good for him to know that sometimes our hardest searches will come up empty and what we learn to live with is hope.

Rabbit Hill (Puffin Modern Classics)The second choice is Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson.  We are only one chapter in, having broken it into two sittings, and the vocabulary is beyond him.  Sadly, I take on the role of dictionary during much of our reading, but most of the time I just let the words hover over his head and see if he shows an interest in knowing them.  I know it's ideal to read above their level, but this one might be just a bit too high.
Old Mother West Wind
If we can move through this one quickly enough, I'd like to introduce him to Thornton Burgess' animal stories.  I found an old edition at a library sale years ago and those stories are delightful.  And after that I want him to hear...

Sunday, June 17


Most mornings before the children rise, I have been able to be outside in the yard.  Sitting under the Crabapple tree, feeling the acceptance of nature.  I woke up yesterday, shunned the chilly morning and chose the couch.  Book and journal and pen I began.  The crowding started immediately:  stale, gritty, inanimate, lifeless surroundings.  The room did not speak.  Grabbing my sweatshirts, I quickly rejoined the reality that calls.

The moment I opened the door I knew it was the place of God. Surely nature, too, has omnipresence.  The breeze was blowing already.  The leaves were twittering and whispering.  The birds were mid-song.  The green healing from the hail was in process.  The Coreopsis bloomed without me.  I wasn't the one to create it. I just joined it, wanting to be a part of its story. 

God too is always at work whether we're aware, whether we trust, whether we understand or not.  However, days and weeks go by when I do not enter his reality.  Sadly the inanimate rules my mind and heart. It's not a leaving that I have to do, but an entering. Ever present, ever powerful, ever loving, ever purposeful. Whether or not we choose to take notice of him, he is always there being who he is and we can join his story.  

Opening my book I read this from A.W. Tozer.  "Always a living person is present, speaking, pleading, loving, working and manifesting himself whenever and wherever his people have the receptivity necessary to receive the manifestation."  This was my firsthand experience.  Nature was the object lesson.  

Earlier in the week I had contemplated what it is that nature communicates that words cannot.  Perseverance.  The true-grit nature of it.  The never-give-up-doing-what-is-right aspect.  We humans have a stopping point.  We push through a little of the rough, maybe even a hail-like stoning or a wind.  But we give in when we look around and listen to outside voices.  When we think a disaster has won, we let it. Quit. Move.

Nature stays put. And takes the hit and re-creates the beauty over and over.  The tender leaves might wait a year to return from the hail.  The tree takes on a new form and purpose after the fire.  The bird will learn to fly.  The tree will produce seed though so many thousands were left unfurrowed for naught last year.  The bird will sing when none answer.  

To be consistent in my one thing is to take that image of God and push it out of the soil, expose it to all that is nourishing and let it continually be both the inner and outer covering.  God is continuous. Nature follows suit. I want to be like my maker.  

Friday, June 15

Read it Again

My summer reading theme this year is "Re-Reads."  Last year I caught up with various sub-cultures a bit as I read through some of the most influential books from the past 10 years.  This year, I'm catching up with my former self and standing her back-to-back with my present self, measuring the distance between.  I'm re-reading those books that had significant influence on me, maybe left me breathless, and asking the question, "Does this book still hold its place?"

These books are attached to moments and experiences.  When I read them I endured a hard/interesting season of life, pondered a question, sought out a perspective.  As I re-read the books, I'm looking back to where I was the first time, seeing where I've changed, how life took turns I wasn't expecting.

The list is significant.  But the moments re-lived may be more overwhelming.

East of Eden
East of Eden
To begin I've picked up the book that began my love of Steinbeck, East of Eden.  I took it along on a roadtrip with my husband up California's Highway 101 through Steinbeck country. Three years into marriage.  One church down.  Seminary educations in full swing. Childless and idealistic.  This story gave me a dose of reality I couldn't relate to and yet couldn't shake.  Have I seen and understood more of this reality in the time in between?  And just when I had my Steinbeck collection all in matching orange spines, why did Penguin go and change the design?
The Pursuit of God
The Pursuit of God

Secondarily, I've re-opened The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer on my Kindle.  This is one that I read during our impossible journey years ago.  When we were packing up everything to put in storage for an undetermined amount of time, I kept this book out knowing I needed what it had for me.  While waiting, praying, crying out to be heard, hoping, sighing, living without a home, without a job, or a purpose  I'd put our two kids to bed in our borrowed rooms at my parents house and go out on the arbor swing and just let Tozer teach and calm my anxieties.  Our current season is the opposite of that one.  Will Tozer still give clarity toward a fuzzy future?

The rest of the list:
Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle
Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright
Men and Women in the Church by Sarah Sumner
Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson
Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
Night by Elie Wiesel
Entering His Presence by Don McMinn
The Skilled Helper by Gerard Egan
Native Son by Richard Wright
Sacred Companions by David Benner
Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist

Sunday, June 10

The Effort of Growing

God in the Yard: Week Two
"Spiritual life and growth is complicated by the question of whose job it is to keep our lives from falling into nothing." -- L.L. Barkat
This week, the Salvia were engorged with blooms, the Columbine were coming to their grand finale, the Jack Frost was saying a sweet good-bye with his dainty blue flowers, the Hostas were just emerging with force and fullness.  And this week we had a hailstorm.

There was utter helplessness in my chest that night. All the beauty that I had partnered with the plants to create was decimated.  Cleared away.  I could do nothing to save them.  I could only hope they would endure into the next season.  As I deadheaded the beds last night I found myself encouraging them onward.  You don't have to fall into nothing.  There's still life left in you.  Keep trying to grow.   I'll help.

Around me, lives are falling into nothing.  Friends who once had strength are currently powerless.  Those in a place of influence are finding that fewer and fewer are paying attention anymore.  Among them is a sense of general ineffect.  And though their great griefs tug at me, in some sense it reassures me that everything is as it should be.

It's the ebb and flow.  One cannot be hot all the time, though we fool ourselves into thinking it's possible.  My experience says that the ebbs are what's real and the flows are really a sort of appearance.  What's for certain is the rhythm.  When we are full the thing that assuredly comes next is a great emptying.

If that's true, then is there anything that can be done to keep my life from falling into nothing?  And if there is, then does that effort fall to me or to God?

Years ago, the depths of my Calvinism would have pronounced, "Whatever will be, will be."  Through the miracle of wandering homelessness I saw that in the end there's nothing I can really do.  No one is truly self-made.  In recent years,however I felt more of that effort falling to me, a sort of gift from God who says, "In this season you can take some of the reigns, but be wary of snakes in the way of the horse."  I recognize the partnership we keep with God much more readily, and as a result my part has risen from nothing to actual service.  And still when we fly he keeps us aloft; when we fall he inclines to rescue us.

I believe it's my job to preserve my soul because there are not six degrees of separation that will do it on my behalf.  Not my identity. Not my husband. Not my reputation -- my previous story.  What grows me is my service, my following a prompting, my disciplines, my open heart, my seeking... and my falling.  And yet, I also believe it is God's job to preserve my soul because the Spirit of God has been given that role to move, to prompt, to focus.  It is a partnership of sacrifice and submission, not primo and secundo, but as in most things of love, it is both/and.

I do not know how my garden will fare this summer.  Once the leaves are gone, and they are not all gone, how can the plant produce its food?  But I believe that the earth will replenish; that it is far more enduring than I.  Everything is as it should be.  And everything will be changed.

Sunday, June 3

Sitting Under Trees

Week One: God in the Yard.

A small space I tend to overlook is the foot of a tree.  I remember sitting under trees during rain showers, swinging from their branches and scraping the dirt away from their roots with my shoes, buring treasures at the base of their trunks... when I was a child.  I remember the different feel of the bark of Aspens, Maples, Oaks. I loved being next to something that was bigger than myself knowing it wasn't out to surprise me.  Once I nailed a sign to a tree and after a while the tree began to ooze its blood through the hole and it made me sad.  My botanist father sighed.

Sitting under trees is an activity left for children.  They don't have a list of pressing things.  They seek rest when they need it.  They follow whims and imagination.  When we encountered this tree last week on a hike through Kasha-Katuwe my children instantly ran to climb the roots.  I stood back to take the picture.

We have three large trees in our yard; a Silver Maple, a Colorado Blue Spruce and an Austrian Pine.  I never sit under them.  I walk around them with wariness like I'm an intruder.  I know they leave hands sticky, let insects move up and down their barked highways, drop things from their branches.  I'm concerned that they too thoroughly shade my garden and might kill our new grass.  I avoid the trees.

Last Friday, I sat under a tree for the first time in years.  It was out of necessity; the grass all around was wet but this young Cottonwood had a broad, dry root protruding from the soil at its base.  I leaned against the bark, velcro to my shirt, and watched my children play at their games.  My freckled skin needed shade for that hour and the heart-shaped leaves provided it.  Having my journal handy I pulled it out and wrote a few thoughts.  An adult friend walking past, taking the children out to the field, whistfully commented that she wished she could be where I was.  I felt childish; perhaps I should have been working too.

In order to grow I feel like I need permission.  To grow as a counselor -- something I've become by default -- I need to feel like I'm allowed to push the one I'm helping.  To grow as a leader I need other leaders to say, "Come on.  We think your growth is a good idea.  Keep trying."  To grow as a teacher I need permission from the world to continue to follow my gut for my own kids.  To grow as a writer I need permission -- maybe just from myself -- to set aside time to write.  To grow as a wife I need to feel like what I'm doing is what he needs me to do.  To grow as a Christian I need permission to grow on my own sometimes without taking a group along with me.

Cottonwoods don't seem to need any permission to grow.  If they happen to park their seed by the water and they have enough space they'll continually grow.  And they don't just do it adequately.  They pile on gigantic branches, gain heights of  nearly 100 feet and are considered majestic and magnificent.  They spend their 70 years thirstily sucking the water from the ground and continuing to do what they were made to do.  There is much to learn from their consistency and persistence.

This summer, I'll practice sitting under trees.  I'll fail sometimes. I'll miss a day.  I'll be misunderstood.  I'll fear that, like Lent, I'll miss the point and the practice will not produce a purpose.  It will be easy for others to label me as "odd".  But something is there to be learned and enjoyed.  I'm not a child anymore.  Here we go.

Cultivate these things. Immerse yourself in them. The people will all see you mature right before their eyes! Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don't be diverted. Just keep at it.  (1 Timothy 4: 15-16)

Saturday, June 2

Right Up To The End

J is front row on the left at his eighth grade continuation ceremony.
My oldest son is in a small charter school.  He was home educated through 6th grade and we had various reasons for making that switch when he entered 7th last year.  This May, he graduated from eighth grade.  I think academically he accomplished some great benchmarks this year.  His teachers challenged him and enjoyed him.  However, his last week of school consisted of watching The Lord of the Rings (in his teacher's defense they had just finished reading and writing essays on the Hobbit), ultimate Frisbee, yearbook distribution, locker clean-out, random school-specific standardized testing, an awards ceremony, continuation ceremony, a day at an amusement park and a school bbq.

S's Kindergarten graduation from his once a week Options class.  S is in the plaid shirt.
My other two sons continue to be home educated.  B finished 4th grade and S finished Kindergarten.  Their last week of school was nothing like their older brother's.  S's final task was to daily read through his last four lessons in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  We played some math card games and he participated in some of what his brother was doing too.  We were covering the Revolutionary War so B was typing up a paragraph on Washington as the first President, creating a book jacket book report on Johnny Tremain that we had read aloud, trying to at least make his over-ambitious rag-rug until a potholder, mapping out major war battles and watching a video about Yorktown.  In addition he continued to do some fun multiplication drills online, finished reading through the book of Exodus with me, and reviewed about a dozen spelling rules.  On our last day, after he'd finished up all of the above, we did our traditional oral review quiz that happened to take over an hour.  Then we proceeded to plant the front garden and map out our family road trip.  The learning never ends.

To say their last weeks were decidedly different is a bit of an understatement.  But I don't have final grading to get done like J's teachers do and B&S and I get to intersperse slacker fun activities through the year rather than cram them all into the last week.  Our last week is always one of productivity and pushing through to tie-up loose ends and wrap-up notebooks.  And our last week is never easy.  When we are a week away from being done for the year we start salivating for the outdoors, taking our work upstairs near the windows or outside on the deck.  We linger over lunch because the sandbox is such a nice place to finish the meal with a Popsicle.  We have to push ourselves back inside because the garden seedlings pushing through the earth are too distracting and steal our focus.  But we make the academics happen all the way to the end.

It's exhausting.  But when that final review is done and the notebooks are complete we heave a sigh of relief.

And then we hop in the car for a roadtrip and listen to Adventures in Odyssey tell tales of early America, visit a few museums of American history, hike through areas of geological peculiarity... I just might count vacation as school days for next year.

Sunday, May 20

Following the Call

I'm going to take a cue from my reading.  It's time to be done indoors. The outside is calling me.  I'm not able to read them all at once, but these are the reads that are vying for my attention.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
God in the Yard:  spiritual practice for the rest of us begins today as my summer practice.  I'm going to combine the spiritual practice with blogging practice  posting my reflections here.  If you're working through this book too (I've invited several friends), leave me a link to your own blog posts and we'll have a nice little virtual group.  

I normally lead a book group at the park in the summer.  This summer I knew I needed to say, "no," to that.  I'm long enough into life to know that I need to pay attention to my hesitations.  However, I realize that the 'being outside' element of that was probably very nourishing.  This book will get me out, on the grass, in the Columbines, fingers to earth.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has been on my nightstand for several months, a gift from my aunt who buys me books to chew on.  I was waiting for enough room to read it.  As we move into summer, I'm finding that space.  In the first few pages the author describes her home by a creek and says, "I like where I live; there is much to think about."  Isn't that what nature truly causes?  What we call enjoyment is more accurately the act of taking notes on beauty, design, dependence, flexibility, perseverance.  Taking a walk along a creek may be our way of clearing our head, but really we are working with thoughts, resorting them based on our primary connection to the loamy paths and rippling water.  

The Art of the Commonplace:  the agrarian essays of Wendell Berry.  This is the first I've read him and I've barely begun.  Regarding Walden, I doubt I'll actually crack it this summer.  But it's a nice thought.  We'll see. 

As the outdoors continue to call, I am making final plans for the family getaway.  I'm looking forward to changing spaces for a while, trading brick houses and creaking hardwood floors for expansive vistas and zippered breathable nylon tents.  Exchanging what I engage in from school books to sand dunes, from piles of dishes to tent rocks, from cold dark bedrooms to the amazing enclosure of caves.  The outdoors are calling.  It's time to heed the call.  It's time to think about something different.

Saturday, May 12

The Grass Is In

We've been working in our backyard since we moved in three years ago.  Little by little, as the tax return allowed, we added the garage (and then had to wait a year to add the driveway and electricity), the brick walkway, the grape arbor and perennials, the basketball hoop and the irrigation system.  This year we added a little garden, a little staircase and a whole lot of grass.  It takes a lot of water, sure.  But it's amazing for a house full of boys to be able to run and wrestle and play.  And for me to walk in bare feet as I nurture the perennials and note how they are opening and blooming and breathing again.  It all just goes together.

Monday, April 30

When Lent Ends and We Wander

It's three weeks after Easter and something is amiss.

I have a restless spirit inside.  When we start to feel restless we give each other lots of advice like:  
  • Get outside -- We have new sod in the backyard (a three year dream), I've cleared and planted a little garden, and the basketball hoop, the sandbox and the bikes have been broken in for the season. 
  • Clear the calendar and refocus -- We've had two weekends with no obligations other than general house upkeep, taking bike rides and playing baseball together.  
  • Make sure to get date nights -- My husband and I have had two dates in three weeks.  Connection is happening here.
  • Shake up the school day -- The boys and I have had several field trips and hikes together.  And in school we've begun our last unit wherein ds asked to linger on Vikings... so we did.
  • Take time for yourself -- I've had two evenings with friends and actually spent two hours shopping this weekend which is unheard of in my world.
Then why the restlessness?  I looked at what's missing from my list and I've concluded that it's the second loss of Lent.   The first loss was felt during Lent; the sacrifice, the giving up.  The second is what I'm feeling afterward; the loss of the disciplines.  During Lent I fasted and read through prayers.  When Lent was over I stopped.  During Lent I led a Bible study through Romans.  We happened to finish before Easter.  The disciplines in my life have nearly ceased. 

What I'm feeling is not the restlessness of needing something new, but the ache of needing something ancient, something practiced.  In the middle of it I questioned if my Lenten fast was actually producing any spiritual product in me.  In its absence I now see what it did.   

In Exodus 24:7, the people of Israel respond to God's covenant, marked by the giving of the Ten Commandments, and in the Hebrew what they say is translated as, "we will do and we will hear."  The doing, the practice, would precede the hearing, the deeper understanding and life-propelling belief.  Maybe they didn't understand why keeping the Sabbath day set apart or how honoring the legacy of their families would benefit them at the start, but they agreed first of all to do -- to go through the motions and trust that God's pleasant relationship with them would be the result.

As a student of the spiritual disciplines I know this to be true.  How funny that I thought I'd take some time off from them.  The doing breaks down our ego that wants to preserve itself in perceived security and productivity.  The hearing can't happen when we're filled with other types of doing even when the agendas are of family, learning and ministry. 

The fast itself was not the goal; the open lines of dependence and attentiveness was.  The fast was not a means to an end; it was the viaduct of continual grace.  

We think that the doing is burdensome to us.  But missing the hearing bears a greater weight as I allow my mind and my spirit to wander in search of a regular place to land.  I can't hear unless I do.  I'm too crowded with good intentions.  And so I've begun my next season of discipline which will take me through the Ordinary Time.  And we'll just keep the doing going and trust that God's pleasant relationship will by my result.

Sunday, April 1

The Loss of Lent

I joked with my husband the other day --

In this final week of Lent, in which we've gone without meat for 40 days, I said that we could revisit the food that we liked the best.  Have a request week.  Lent: A Look Back.  We'd eat the meals that we'd most enjoyed.  It's interesting how they seemed to be meals most like those in ordinary time:  chili, fajitas, macaroni and cheese.  We'd even eat another meal of red beans and rice (as if we cannot have it after Easter).

This lenten experiment comes to a close in a week.  On that Easter day our community will throw a party and that party will involve a meat smoker named Moe.  It frightens me a little.  My culinary studies friend said, "Be careful going back to meat after going so long without.  It could take a month to add it back completely."  So, I'm afraid of that.  But I'm also afraid of what it will mean.  In one sense, I understand the joy of the occasion; a party is completely appropriate when one encounters a substitutionary atonement.  But in another sense, I think I've missed the point of the fast.

I've thought more about food in these past 40 days than I ever have.  I have not for one day mindlessly eaten anything.  I've planned and even pre-prepped every meal and found solace in my stocked vegetable bin and pantry of vegetable broth, olive oil and Parmesean cheese... the staples of our Spring.  I've thought less about God than perhaps a fasting pilgrim ought.  In all my activity I still felt the emptiness in our meals, and I sought to fill it.  I was left wanting.  I focused on all the things I could still have and tried to forget the loss I was supposed to be embracing.  All that I did in order to "get through" this loss feels, now, a little like denial.

This weekend, my husband was out of town.  This isn't the first time, of course.  But the moment he left I missed him.  He was still fairly close and yet he wasn't anywhere.  The loss crept in and I swept it away in the same manner I've coped through Lent.  I planned the days.  I filled the time and space with my boys, my to-do list, and with cooking videos late into the night.  I left a light on and slept next to the pile of the day's unfolded laundry.  At least something was there.  I filled that space too.

There's something dark about my aversion toward feeling loss.  Albert Haase calls this the false self that avoids pain, blame, criticism, disgrace and loss and he suggests that we "never flee from the present moment, even if it is painful, confusing, sorrowful, distressing or heartbreaking.  'Surrender to suffering as if it were a loving energy.'"*  This is distinctly what I have not done during Lent.  Each meal has been as intentional as the life of a blind friend of mine who sets everything where she knows she can find it.  If I plan it, I won't stumble.  If I can anticipate it, I'll succeed.

My success was more important than my grief, than my God.

How then will Moe's appear to me on Easter?  I'm afraid that I will look at it and succumb to guilt for not having missed the savior who died, only wanting to celebrate the redemption of life.  I did not sacrifice, I only substituted.  I missed the lenten idea.

Should I elongate the suffering until I feel it in my bones?  No.  When the bridegroom is present it isn't time for fasting.  True, we go with Christ into his suffering, but we equally walk with him into new life.  It remains to be seen whether I go to Moe with celebration or with the cleansing grief that comes when I realize that God himself has had mercy on me, a sinner.

*Coming Home To Your True Self:  Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase, O.F.M.

Monday, March 26

Wizard of Oz Unit


When I went to bed last night I had no idea what we were going to do in school this week.  We just finished studying about India last week and I didn't feel the need to stretch that out any longer.  So, we have this one week left before we take off two for spring break.

What to do.  What to do.

We have spelling, math and writing and Bible to continue in.  Those can all be stand alone sujects just fine.
B has been asking us to help him grow crystals (a Christmas gift) and that sounds like a good school activity to me.  Additionally, I had also begun reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to B&S off my Kindle while we were waiting for appointments.  And they've really been enjoying it.

If crystals can be dyed green they might resemble emeralds... hmmm.

And so began our Wizard of Oz Science Study for the week.
...growing our own Emerald City.
...soda bottle tornadoes.
...animal (lion), vegetable (scarecrow) or mineral (tin man) classification.
..."Witch" dissolves in water?

And because our vacation in May will be in Santa Fe where the Georgia O'Keefe museum is AND poppies show up in the next chapter of the book we'll work on a huge O'Keefe poppy mural I just purchased from Art Projects for Kids.  It will be huge and B is so excited to get into my pastels.

I love it when all things converge.

Wednesday, March 7

Number Card Activities

I made over a hundred number flashcards about 10 years ago and I just keep using them over and over again.  Each card simply has one number 0 - 100 written on its front.  I have duplicates for 1-20 as well as smaller cards with + - =  signs on them.

Today we pulled them out to use with S and I discovered that I had a cheat sheet of activity ideas stashed in between the cards.  I don't know who to credit for the ideas, but it made for a perfect day of math activities with him.  I love it when my past-self helps out my future-self.

Grab a stack of cards and a marker and make your own set.  These were great activities to do with my 5 year old:

  • Hold up a card and have him say the number on the card.  We worked with 0-20 today, but in the next few weeks we'll work through chunks all the way up to 100.
  • Hold up two cards and ask which number is greater.
  • Hold up two cards and ask your child to count forward or backward from one of the numbers to the other.  
  • Pick a card without showing it to your child.  Have him or her guess the number by solving a number clue such as, "This number is one more than 63," or "This number is one less than 35," or "This number is between 59 and 61."
  • Place the cards into number families (20's, 50's, etc.)
  • For basic identification practice, create a concentration game using the duplicate cards and try to find matches.  
  • Make your own number sentences:  put one card down, put a +/- card down and put another card after it.  Follow it with the = card and have your child solve it.  
  • After you use them, they'll need to be put back in order so make this your child's last activity.

Monday, March 5

Broken for Me

The memory of tonight's homemade macaroni and cheese lingers.  

Made by my husband's hands with the guidance of a capable recipe, it met me after my Monday evening workout with all the comfort and satisfaction it promised.  I was looking forward to this meal.  It didn't disappoint.  Thirteen days without meat and I'm at the threshold of walking away from it for good.  

That's not the point of this fast.  However, as I daily engage it I continue to question what its point exactly is.  My understanding of Lent was enriched through some of my weekend reading. 
During Lent, death gives way to life, just as it does in the change of seasons.  
A part of Lent is death. That's the giving up.  Last Sunday I made sausage.  Sundays are a traditional day off from the fast. Our boys are enjoying that little break and I wondered if I should break my fast too.  My husband said, "Not for me."  And where he goes I will go.  It's easy to make succulent meals without the meat.  I haven't missed it.  I wanted to do some missing.  I made two sausages for myself, I thanked God for it, for the day of grace and feasting.  And I gave my share to my boys.  I needed to feel a little of the death -- to intentionally go without.  
The fast was a way to ritualize and enter into the death of Christ, with the hopes of sharing in the resurrection...
There is joy yet to come in this season.  In me.  In the world.  We daily step forward into it.  But for all of us, our death is present even at our birth.  All life is joy and sorrow; not one without the other.  In this season, I am attempting to invite a bit more of the sorrow.  But I can't keep from focusing so much more on the joy -- like reading a story when I already know the ending.  To this point, the true practice of penance is still quite lost on me.

For me this fast is a joyful tension.  I'm happy to give up, happy to work around, happy to find another route to nourishment.  The challenge itself makes me happy.  How carnal of me to actually enjoy Lent.  Yet, each time I prepare a meal I sense the brokenness of it.  It is incomplete and still it's the best it can be.  The meals without meat reflect who I am; broken and longing for a day to be made whole.  Knowing the joy will come... is coming.  I cannot completely grieve.  Yet I cannot completely rejoice.  This is the joyful tension of Lent.
...the practice of penance is a way to ritually experience in our own lives the self-emptying of Christ.
He gave himself up for us.  The fast doesn't truly make me more like him.  It's a tawdry attempt at best.  But as I continue to push into this meager sacrifice I can more intimately connect with the ultimate one given as grace on my behalf.  

Thanks be to God.

Sunday, February 26

A Great Thing

We have begun a new unit study about India that should take us well into March.  Its purpose is twofold:
1. to expose the boys to a completely different culture, its inner workings and curiosities.
2.  to help me grow in knowledge for a trip there this summer.

These are my favorite studies to do; those in which we are all students together.

However, as I put my "teacher" hat on all of my lesson plan ideas were essentially me telling B what he needs to know about the country.  Yet I have never been to India.  Aside from a class in Hinduism in college, I have very little insight into the way the country thinks and works.  Yet, I embarked to teach him.

We started out with the geography of India.  B drew his own outline map of India (and did a beautiful job) and then over the next few days he filled in mountain ranges, rivers, bordering countries and bodies of water, major cities, listed all of the states, and drew the flag.  That was a fair enough assignment for a fourth grader, but he was still relying on me to give him the resources he needed and I'm not sure he was super interested in the process.  I was still at the center of the lesson and it didn't seem right to me.

As I was reading The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer, I had a brainstorm of sorts.  In his chapter on teaching in community he said this:
Passion for the subject propels that subject, not the teacher, into the center of the learning circle -- and when a great thing is in their midst, students have direct access to the energy of learning and of life.
I reviewed again the two purposes of our unit study.  What would help B and I move into the subject itself so that we both take hold of "the energy of learning and of life?"  And it hit me.  He shouldn't spend his time doing what I think is important for him to do and know.  He should explore India for himself.

I'm going to let him create and submit an itinerary for my trip.  He can research and compare plane ticket costs, find locations of religious or cultural significance, tell me how to take the train, what the money exchange looks like, and how I should respectfully dress.  He'll be my tour guide through India and present me with a little portfolio.  Anywhere within a day trip on the train from Delhi is fair game.  I'm certain the Taj Mahal will be in the mix.

We are reading YWAM's biography of Amy Carmichael aloud and will work on a journal project to go along with that.  This week we'll also begin working on some Indian embriodery  (yes, my son loves to sew).  And for a culminating activity we'll have to splurge on a little construction project:  These Nanoblock sets are perfect.

Tuesday, February 21

Lenten Eve

At Christmastime, I feel a sense of mixed anticipation when we light that first advent candle the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  As the flame ignites I feel the minor paradox of wishing it weren't so and wishing it would be tomorrow.  In that moment, all the work is ahead of me.  I had to unpack the advent wreath, find suitable candles and a book of matches. Nothing else was required in order to begin.  

At Eastertime, I have wished and wished for a way to lead my family to engage in the season.  My evangelical roots never mentioned Lent, only Easter.  It was about resurrection, yes, but also new clothes and deviled eggs and ham.  And it was just one day.  Later in my life, Good Friday practices began to creep in.  Even so, Easter still seemed to be something we bumped into as we went around a corner.

I think I've been sending up my own shoots from those roots for several years now.  I've observed Lent, but in my own way, taking up instead of giving up.   I've not felt compelled to move toward the traditional ideas of sacrifice, thinking perhaps they were overused or even irrelevant.  And just what vices did I have that I needed to break free from?  I don't drink coffee, watch t.v., eat daily doses of sugar.  It seemed that giving up wasn't what Lent wanted from this evangelical girl.  And that seemed to make perfect sense.  

This year we are going to lean in a little more.  As a family, we are going to do some giving up.  My children are intrigued.  My husband seems completely agreed.  I am expectant... of what I have no idea.  But we are moving toward resurrection together.

We are going to give up meat for 40 days.  We are not extreme carnivores.  Meat is not a stumbling block for us.  It is something of daily life.  Mundane.  Quotidian.  There is no sense of luxury in meat.  I don't feel any degree of attachment to it.  Or will I find that I do?  

I've spent the last several days looking up ideas, recipes, to help us move through this time with a sense of newness.  When giving up something we often go seeking something else to fill its space.  I have mapped out menus, watched cooking videos, asked friends for ideas.  I have shopped not once, but twice assuring my youngest that, yes, we would at some point buy salami once again.  We have slowly eaten away the vestiges of meat products as if we were moving or leaving the country for a month and knew everything would spoil if we didn't consume it now.  

And today as I moved the frozen sausage to the back of the freezer, safe to eat on those Bridegroom Sundays, and stacked the edamame and pre-cooked broccoli and cheese calzones in front of it, I reflected upon my work of preparation.  It reminded me a little of what the Jewish households do prior to Sabbath.  I sensed a bit of the sacred as I stacked cilantro, cucumbers and carrots whose day will come tomorrow.  There has been clear intention in my work.  I will do without this one thing.  I want to miss it a little, but I don't want my desire to have it back consume me.  I want to experience a new taste, but of God more than hummus made twenty ways.  

This is not about food.  It's about tension.  It's about paradox.  Paradox is that place where two profound truths can be true at once.  The same man who was savior was also decimated.  The God who loves generously exhibits bone-chilling justice.  We learn through effectiveness as well as failure.  We each need both community and isolation.  The paradox of new life is suffering.  Both are true.  But how much do I know even one of them well?

Tomorrow I'll know what tomorrow will hold.  Not today.  But I've loved the preparation. Alongside my giving up, I'm taking up daily prayers, repeating them every ten days.  Vowing to live with whatever discomfort arises.  The loving and the suffering go hand in hand.  And when celebrating Easter I will rejoice that all the work has, indeed, been done.

There is a name for the endurance we must practice until a larger love arrives:  it is called suffering.  We will not be able to teach in the power of paradox until we are willing to suffer the tension of opposites, until we understand that such suffering is neither to be avoided nor merely to be survived but must be actively embraced for the way it expands our own hearts.         Parker J. Palmer  - The Courage To Teach

Monday, February 20

Silence and Solitude

It's unusual for a homeschooling mother to say that she makes regular space for a discipline such as silence and solitude.  For all of us there are pressing needs to attend to, plans to outline, materials to find, children to guide, meals, field trips... The list could go on and on, unless we are intentional about pressing pause.

We think a lot about who we are teaching to but many days we lose sight of who we are teaching from.  We teach out of who we are and, for me, that means I teach from that point where the gospel transforms me with grace and truth.  If I try to teach from any other place, I grow weary.

And so I take a day every couple of months to practice silence and solitude.  To talk with the God who gives me life and breath, creativity and skills. To listen to what the next steps may be.  To pray with intention and thought.  To read and consider the passages that affect me.  To come to new understanding and take steps toward transformation.

The hardest part about taking a day for silence and solitude is first deciding to do it.  Some mornings as I rise early amidst sleeping boys to gather my materials I question the necessity of my plans.  There are other things I could and should be doing.  Indeed, there will always be.  And I believe that God works even while I daily accomplish, but having your best friend beside you all the time is different than looking her in the face and really hearing her.  And so, I push myself to go so that I can hear.

There is a retreat center near my home that allows me to rent a dorm room for a day.  This takes me away from all distraction.  Though I nearly convince myself that I could accomplish much devotional writing, my laptop stays home.  I cannot have that pull to go any other place. I make myself exist with little.

I begin the day in my journal, longhanding a list of what’s on my mind and heart: struggles friends are having, uncertainties about what’s next for me, unanswerable questions I’ve been asked, temptations and tendencies I can’t seem to move past.  Doing this allows me to move beyond the circumstantial in order to get to a place where I can see and sense God’s presence.  I then present my list to God in prayer and ask, “What to YOU want to do today?  Which of these will we address, or will you take me somewhere else?” 

Other days I simply ask, "What do you want me to hear?"  And throughout the day when I'm unsure where to go next, I just go back to that question. 

I bring materials that make me think more deeply about the truth of God; books with questions that pull me out of myself (a raging introvert) and more toward the person he's creating me to be.  

For a portion of the day I dive deep into a particular scripture:  the whole book of Titus, reading John for the sense of the greater story, or looking up verses about perseverance.

Incorporating the physical connects the mind to the soul and opens up new ways of seeing: walking and whispering aloud nearly always provides clarity.  Adhering photos to an album gives room to think and pray for the people within them.  Using my camera to observe the details of creation gives practice in counting gifts.  Practicing physical postures of prayer takes my thoughts to their deepest importance.

When I'm hungry I eat, but only after I ask, "Is this really what I need, or am I escaping from something hard?"  When I'm tired of sitting, I walk.  When I'm tired of walking, I rest.  And at the end of the day I try to determine: 1. What did I hear? and 2. How will this time away affect my time back with people?  Our time with God should, to some extent, change us and benefit those we love and serve.  I am refreshed and challenged.  I shouldn't go home and assume everyone else feels the same.

When choosing books to bring, I select only those that I'm currently working through.  I often begin one a few weeks ahead so that I can be in the thick of it, struggling to appropriately place it in my life. I believe in working from where God already has you.

I encourage you to give it a try.  Once a year, twice a year, once a season.  Make yourself available and see what becomes of you.

These are some of the titles I easily suggest.