From a Christian Cynic to another : A letter on Holy Week

4.05.2020



A number of years ago I stared down at a green carpet in a dimly lit room. Listening to music that was a bit too loud, if I'm honest. The songs were about a Christ-a God with us-who conquered the grave. Everyone was standing, but I wasn't. I had my head down and I kept thinking. "what am I doing here? I don't know if I even believe this."


That day was Good Friday, the day Judeo-Christians contemplate the heaviest parts of what they claim. It's the most unjust day of the year, if you think about it. It's a day to commemorate when the God-man who did no wrong by any proper court is made guilty by those whom he made. For those crimes, he's sentenced to death. In Roman Culture, he was granted the most humiliating death they had available.  But what's more, we claim, he didn't just pay the price of a crime he did not commit, surrounded by fellow criminals. No, much more.  His own father, the God of the universe, had him pay the price for all crimes forever forward and past. God Almighty poured out the wrath to fulfill his character of justice on every assault, every unkind word, every lie and every sin. We can never fully process what this transaction would cost.... and in the progression of such wrath, the narrative tells us he gets pierced in his side and left to suffocate after having his flesh ripped apart. Through it all, he's jeered at and scoffed at. It's shameful. It's abhorrent. His agony is evident. And we call it a part of holy week.


It's a heavy day for anyone who claims Christ because what we claim is that we put him there. We lay claim to the fact that we've done things worth causing a man to be beaten and murdered and shown disgrace and wrath. Part of the pain he felt was our own doing. If we feel ourselves not quite so guilty, we haven't laid hold of the fullness of it. Our texts tell us that it is for our transgressions he was put there.


I once had a friend ask me "what is the punishment if you hit your sister? Just once?" I said something along the lines of 'a time out or some reprimand?'


 "and if you hit your teacher?" ..."suspension I suppose."


He continued "and how about the president of the U.S.? If you punch him?" Not sure where he was going, I offered up the obvious "jail, federal prison?"


"And what if you punch the God of the Universe? Just once?" his point then being made obvious.


Have I ever done wrong? I have. The penalty would be too great for me to ever pay. My transgressions put my Christ there.


It's a heavy day for me for added reasons. I'm not sure why, but almost every single year I struggle deeply with my faith leading up to Easter. The cynic in me really shows up in best form and the struggle of it all makes me wonder if  I'll be raising a palm branch or jeering come Sunday. I cry a lot this week.


One year, Easter came shortly after we celebrated a birthday of a baby we didn't get to hear cry.  We bought donuts and blew out a tiny candle. Any praise felt bitter tasting for months after. Death felt too unconquered on that Good friday.


One year, one of my parents had debilitating back pain that did not heal for ages and countless prayers and desperate pleas. Pain felt too real on that Good friday.


One year, our marriage was showing very little signs of any hope and the Christ they told us would 'hold us together' didn't seem to be doing much at all. "A God with us" felt like a mocking statement that Good friday.


One year, I saw ugly things in the church that made me cynical (as if I needed any help.) The heartbreak and bitterness were strong in me. Thinking on the phrase 'he makes us all new' felt like a lie that Good friday.


One year a pandemic swept through keeping everyone indoors and away from their people and thousands dying.


Oh death where is thy sting?


Some days, I feel like I know exactly where it is.




But, Easter Sunday comes.


 I don't have much advice for the christian cynic to convince you of much. There are better theologians than I. A quick google of "desiring god, seasons of unbelief" will help a little. I know because I've searched.  But I will offer what I've found helpful.


Show up anyway.


My cynical self shows up on Sunday.  The words of praise feel weighty and at first they feel too costly. It feels raw to praise...and perhaps that's the point. I often ask the same thing I asked a long time ago? "Do I really believe this?"


Despite it all, Easter is and will always be my favorite holiday. This day is a day where we Christians go so bold as to claim death is finally dead. We claim it while death is facing us and reaching us and we can almost smell its coming.  I've claimed it while I had a baby dead in my womb. It's as if we call out victory while still running into battle. It feels naive, and yet we are told it's not. It's a confidence that seems unfounded until we realize it is not our act of faith that makes it true. Our confidence is found in the one who lives above time and space and tells us what will be.


Death will be dead.


During the service, we often have baptisms (a 'coming out' for believers where they declare their faith to their new family of fellow Christians.) and I bawl my eyes out at the hope we are proclaiming. We are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. It feels scandalous when we think on it long. Christ has begun his good work and will not stop until completed. We're his and it's not up to our striving, its all his glory. It's all his grace.


We have communion.  Breaking off bread and drinking wine and declaring that through Christ and what he's done we get to be here. We get to lay claim to the inheritance we don't deserve.


We all raise a riot of thanks as we realize that if all this is true, we're in the final chapters of the story and he's coming again and we can truly lay hold of what he promises. It's a foreshadowing to a day I long for more and more with each passing year. Can you imagine? When all his 'bride' (his church) comes together to worship him? When all is made right?


But when I wake up on Sunday morning, before I get to that service, I get dressed, often in something new, and I look in the mirror and I'm reminded.


I'm reminded of this creature that I am and I see what has yet to be made new. There are whispers in my mind "you're a fool." I'm reminded of the babies that didn't cry, the parent that still has the back pain, our marriage which still shows deep signs of the fall, the times I screamed at my kids, the people still unkind and the disease that still makes a claim. "and you think death is dead? "


This year, It whispers a bit louder as my phone buzzes to remind me daily that death is claiming my neighbors. As my husband and I have to work through the challenges of living so close so often. It whispers louder, "you sure Britt? You sure Christ has done anything to make you new? To make anything new?"


It feels foolish to claim some invisible anchor gives us hope. Doesn't it?  It feels foolish to claim that the Jews, some ancient people, were chosen by God, their creator and that from one of their own a Messiah-a man who was at the same time fully God- would come down and choose to heal a bunch of people who didn't care about him. That'd he'd feed those who would give nothing in return. That'd he'd laugh and bless and heal... then show up in a city where he knew he'd be betrayed, spit on and hoisted onto two wooden planks and nailed there naked to suffocate and bleed out. It's foolish to think that this man would do this and it would mean our everything.


As C.S. Lewis says Christ is either a liar, a lunatic or Lord. We know he lived, sources other than the bible prove that. The real question is if we believe how he lived.


"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."


And this is where I start to grow hope..I remember Peter.


"So Jesus asked the Twelve, "do you want to leave too?" Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom  would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God."


What other hope do we truly have? Have we not tried all the rest?


If you ever ask me what verse is 'mine.' I would tell you it would be be found in mark 9. Not because I find it particularly cool sounding, but because it explains my entire life.


In it, this boy is super sick with some sort of tremor or possession and his dad asks Jesus to do something about it.


Jesus asked the boys father, "How long has been like this?" "From Childhood," He answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."


"If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."


Immediately the boys father exclaimed," I do believe; help my unbelief!"



Come Sunday and today, and tomorrow, here's where you'll find me.


To the questions of doubt, I reply.  "Britt, where else can we go?"


I'll open my mouth and sing hymns and songs written by people who have faced much heavier circumstances. I'll show up and apologize when I fail and when I struggle with the cynicism of it all,


I'll say in my spirit "I do believe, help my unbelief."


I know I'll find myself sitting in a pew or folding chair looking down at the floor on a Good Friday years from now asking myself familiar questions. I know that this cynic in me hasn't gone away.


But there is a day coming when rather than looking down at that carpet, I will find myself somewhere far more radiant. And then.  I will look up and I will see him. I weep at the thought of it.


And he  knows. He knows how hard we've fought together with this. I can already picture his face. His laugh.  How tight he's held me.  And I'll lay at his feet and praise him and laugh because the cynic is gone and he was right all along. Death has lost its sting. It was swallowed up in victory. He helped me in my unbelief.


So, to those who may be doubting our Jesus, I'd ask you.


Where else can we go? and I'd encourage you to ask him "help my unbelief."


And while you're at it, every year I post the same youtube video because it means so much to me.


https://youtu.be/0EX0BRlpDk0


As always, thanks for reading.

Britt

On Homeschooling : Curriculum, Routine, and Heartbeat

4.03.2020


As we're finishing up second grade, and in conjunction with a bit of a Q & A that I've been doing on my instagram I thought it would useful to jot down what direction we went for the past two years (1st and 2nd grades) and what we'll be doing in this next year. Several of those around us have asked about what curriculum we use. Like many other home school parents-we, after a year of boxed curriculum-found the joy of pursuing different publishers for different things. The question of 'what curriculum' we use has become complicated, especially as I've grown to understand more about what 'curriculum' really means,  but I thought it might be useful to show a few of the resources we have discovered to form our general home school environment.

Mathematics:
For first grade we used Master Books for Math and Language arts. The "Living Education" series are Charlotte mason based books, and we enjoyed the math book quite a bit. The story-based learning model (two twins on a farm explore math with grandma and grandpa) coupled with the affordability and open-and-go approach was exactly what we needed while we had a young baby. I wanted to make sure we were focusing on some fundamentals (skip counting, addition/subtractions/, shapes, patterns, time telling for starters...) and this fit the bill.

As I saw my daughters affinities for math grow (in Kindergarten we had done a more 'pure-math' approach with singapore and she really loved it) and due to her dad being a math major himself, we returned to the desire to pursue a more 'pure math' approach. This led us to Math-U-See. Math-U-See is what we chose to pursue for 2nd grade and beyond. We seriously contemplated it for 1st, but because of the way it focuses very deeply on a smaller set of math concepts (Takes a Mastery approach) per year, I was anxious to commit to it if we later found that we would pursue traditional schooling options and Eowyn would lack breadth of understanding. While it's a much less affordable option, it goes into higher levels of math which is exciting to consider as we continue into those more tricky concepts to master (All the way up through Calculus.)

Ben had been eyeing this up a few years ago. Now a year in and having  used their primer for Eli, I wish we would have pulled the trigger for Eowyn years ago. The manipulatives and the DVD's make it a fun different approach and my kids all cheer when they get to watch a new lesson. It just makes a ton of sense for our family.

Also since we live in NH and have a portfolio requirement, the nature of the tests that are provided at the end of the week allow us to have something substantive to put into the portfolio. It allows me to assess progress and mastery of concepts additionally.  All in all, we love the whole design of this program and plan to use it for the foreseeable future.

Language Arts:
For language arts back in first grade we used Master Books for their Language Lessons for a Living Education and struggled through it.  L.A is such a passionate subject for me, and to see my girl actively avoid that part of her schooling made me quickly begin looking elsewhere. At the start of first grade we finished 100 Easy Lessons (Ben taught her the lessons, and it was such a sweet way to learn to read.) and we've continued from that into readers her level. After a good deal of searching, we've landing in the Brave Writer camp for L.A and plan to continue in that program for the foreseeable future. We're well into the Quiver of Arrows program now and its sister writing program, Jot-It-Down and really love the scope and sequence of their lesson planning, the emphasis and manner the program teaches forming a writing voice, and the way it uses such fantastic literature to pursue those concepts. 

However, I have found that it is a 'trust the process' approach and for many this wouldn't be a good fit. I know several who have felt the need to add spelling programs and other programs to it. We haven't felt such a need.

With the copy-work, Eowyn has memorized some favorite quotes from the books and enjoys it immensely. Seeing her eyes light up when we read the section of copy-work she's been working on is something I cherish. Also hearing her try to say onomatopoeia is one of my highlights from this past year!

Eowyn is currently reading through the Zoey and Sassafrass books. She would highly recommend them.



Social Studies/History:


We thoroughly enjoyed our last unit with Beautiful Feet Books and plan to stay with them throughout the upcoming years for our social studies/history component. In 1st grade we did Around the World with Picture Books part 1 and it was the first subject that I was really able to see both kids get into together. So, with that in mind, we pursued it for  2nd grade. In 2nd  we focused on the elementary character studies and recently have begun Around the World part II.  I have loved the set up and way they teach about different cultures  through the 'living books' this unit provided. The teachers manual is wonderfully organized and open ended, the kids regularly enjoyed exploring other cultures and it was such a brilliant way for Eli and now Rowan to be included. In addition, these books are such timeless pieces that we keep going back to now a year later. I have yet to think 'this wasn't worth buying' when it comes to these books.


Side note: One benefit of Beautiful Feet Books is they offer just the teaching manual. I know several homeschool parents who have awesome community libraries, saving them tons of money. We started with BFB not having access to a very good library, and as we've gone, I'm finding that we're quite pleased to be building our home library (especially since we move often,) but am grateful that we can make use of our public library going forward.

Science:

Science is probably the most eccentric of our studies. This is heavily child lead learning. Eli is very experimental/baking driven, and Eowyn is very animal fact/story driven so we've used that to pursue different fun concepts as their interest leads. Seeing as every other subject is quite structured, it's been fun to see how our kids get to explore and deep dive or just snack on concepts. Also, I love that in science, they feel a good deal of control over their learning.

For science resources we rely heavily on our library, and we rotate different books on anatomy, geology, biology, chemistry and just observational science. We are also part of the Wild Explorers club (think  scouts for homeschool kids) and they are working towards badges. This has propelled a lot more motivated learning outside and has been super fun to be able to do with both kids . I plan to have Rowan join as well once he's older.

Morning Basket:

As a form of preschool for Eli (and Pre-K for Row) we do morning basket and include all three of the kids. This is when I throw a wide net and try to dabble in the topics I've been eager to expose them to, but don't necessarily want to spend dedicated daily time. We rotate through topics like art, science, history, bible studies etc. during this time.


We typically start with a song of sorts (we have a bunch of silly ones.) We ask everyone how they're doing and we work on our skip counting. Rowan is learning how to count to ten (we basically just try to find ways to include him, but I don't try to make him do anything.) We read a poem a day and look at a  days of the week/month/time/weather/season/clock calendar we bought in Finland. Each kid takes a turn and I've been surprised at how they're slowly piecing together these bits as times go on.

We then read on a rotation. Sometimes a bible story, sometimes a library read, sometimes art with a craft to go with  etc. The day typically depends on how much we deep dive and I also try to find freedom with this.


Read-A-louds:

When a new mom comes to me with questions about homeschooling (I'm so impressed with so many of these moms with babies, wasn't even thinking about schooling at that point! ) I often just encourage them with all I have in me to start read-a-louds. Exposing our kids to story, different characters, emotions, relational dynamics, adventure....what other tool does a home school parent have to equip their kids to face the world?

Some of our  Read-A-Loud book resources (and just resources in general) can be found here.


 We've looked at the way color weaves through Sarah Plain and Tall. We've seen the magic of a spider building a beautiful worded web, we've flown on dragons wings and listened to sweet songs in prairies. We thoroughly enjoyed the My Fathers Dragon series last year, Gooseberry Park, the Secret Garden, The one and Only Ivan, Hobbit, Little House on the Prairie, Sarah Plain and Tall,  E.B. Whites books and more. I tend to leave the more intricate books for bedtime (the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia etc.) because they're books I plan to return to and I want to introduce them to that rich language without expectation for them to do any true narration just yet. Ben has thus far read the nighttime read-a-louds (which I love!) Also the idea of such rich language in their dads deep voice filling their brains before bed makes me happy. They often remember much more than we'd expect.



Our Routine:
We school year round, which allows us a bit more freedom to just keep the ball rolling. We have formed into a habit of six weeks on/ one week off style that seems to suit us well. This obviously is flexible with life. Here in NH there isn't a set amount of days you have to school (in AL we had to take attendance for 180 days.) The state standards do require a portfolio and state testing/performance reviews.

Daily:

On normal school days we start the days with breakfast and a show (we deem anything non educational 'twaddle' and ask them to watch something 'not twaddle.' So there's a lot of Wild Kratts, Story bots, magic school bus etc.) I spend a few moments prepping/ bible reading/ drinking chai during that time.

We go outside typically around 9-10ish and come in around 10:30 for snack time/morning basket. We aim to do this 3X a week.

On those other two days one of them is "Lady of the House Day" where we focus on life skills (and mom gets them some socks for the week! I'm the lady of the house. ) This means helping with gardening/laundry/baking etc. I used to be tentative about this freedom, until I realized that learning how to live well is a major component of being a healthy adult.

In the afternoon 4X a week we do our math/reading/language arts programs. We typically bring our poetry book in or a few others we want to read.

Eowyn has piano lessons once a week and we get together with our nature group/friends/women club once a week. We work to be out and about with our people 2X a week.

We spend on average about 3-4 hours maximum on school daily. Some days it looks more like 2 hours. I once was quite vexed about this and I'm thankful I've since gotten to rub shoulders with several families (many of whom have high school graduates now and into post-secondary) that have reassured me of the appropriateness given the age of our kids and the lack of school management that we have to do (Shout out to any teachers in the public school setting, the amount of directing and coordinating 15-30 kids is incredible. You're such a gift to your communities.)

Because of the time requirements this means we have a lot of time for play. A lot of time for Lego, fort building and bug catching.

With the end of the year testing, (We use the CAT) it's allowed us to gauge any major blind spots. Fortunately as of last year's testing she was on target in all categories and above grade level in the ones we suspected. If Eowyn was significantly behind? That would clue me in to work we need to do-but honestly, I wasn't surprised by the results as I'm getting to see first hand where her affinities lie and where we get to put extra focus.

And to end this post on a hopeful note here are a few of Ben and my favorite things that have come from Homeschooling:

1. (Ben) Seeing their creativity! Creating comic books and lego creations! It's been fun to see how the time and opportunity to create lended itself to such cool expression. We found Eli building a fire pit and at a nature group they worked to build a pretty epic tree fort with other kids. It's very cool to see them explore.

2. (Ben) The friendship between all three of them. Since they spend such considerable time together, they have had to figure out how to play together. Hearing the stories they come up with and adventures they go on has been special.

3. Speaking of friendship, since our kids aren't specifically hanging out with only their peers, my kids come at relationships with others with quite a bit of curiosity. Eli would say his best friends are age 29 (an awesome guy in our small group that's super kind with him) 8 and 4. Eowyn is similar. They approach friendship with generally less reservations and for it I feel like they are exposed to such a wide network of people. Forever grateful for that. I would argue that in regards to socialization, my kids get a wider breadth and depth than many others, and I'm humbled by that reality.

4. This past week Eowyn walked up to me and asked me if we could re-read a book we read last year. She said "mom, I just miss them...!" and I almost squealed! A lover of books is born!

5. Character development has always been a major pillar for why we want to home school. While academic competency is imperative for us to feel like we've succeeded at this, raising wise adults is more important to us than just raising smart ones. We're able to see the major lapses in character because we daily are living life on life (and our own major lapses in character are exposed!) which means we get to have conversations on a regular basis about heart issues. I'm not sure I would be gifted that privilege (at least, not in this way) had we not pursued this.

6. In a world where kids are more anxious and depressed, I see it more and more as a gift to give them the gift of peace in their learning. My kids feel all sorts of feels, and as someone who dealt with academic anxiety even as early as 1st and 2nd grade, allowing my kid to come at learning for the beauty and sake of learning has been beautiful. She LOVES math and when she takes a test she laughs when she realizes she made a mistake and is about to correct it. "THEY CAN'T TRICK ME!"

7. Homeschool has gifted us with the ability to speed up or slow down so our kids can fully grasp concepts.  This was a gift I wasn't always granted. I schooled well (and gave speeches to prove it!) but I mostly just learned the art of regurgitation. Grateful we can come at it differently. I've said this a million times, after hearing a dear friend share it with me. "I'm getting to redeem my education!"



As a final note, I feel like it is incredibly important to say this to anyone reading this: These gifts I've listed above are real gifts for our family because we're called to this. We're called to this until we're not. That calling may look like three homeschool graduates in the end, but it may not. We assess every year if this is the 'best yes.' While we have mostly grow more convinced of schooling in this way with each passing year,  our life circumstances can change and thus make this no longer 'the best yes. '

Private schooling or public schooling may be the educational path we go to in the future. We may  have a list very similar to the one above that shares all the things we absolutely love about public schooling, or private or charter.

Why do I say this? Because I think to suggest homeschooling as the ONLY way would disregard how pivotal and significant other educational options are. For those of us who claim a judeo-christian worldview, it so easily is turned into an idol. "This can save my kids!" "Protect them from the world!"  But this won't. If we pursue this for fear of outside, it will always be to our dismay.

My three kids will come out of this having to lean on Jesus. I hope that they will have strong character because of the characters we introduced them to (in so many books!) to guide them. I pray that they will remember what bravery looks like, because they saw it unfold before them, and forgiveness and wisdom and resourcefullness and grit. I hope they feel competent for what they want to do, and know how to truly experience their work for the good work they do and not for fear of man.

I know they'll have things they wish I did, They will say that in areas, I failed them. I'm okay with that.

 I am a product of my education and they will be a product of theirs. I'm grateful to my education because it equipped to now homeschool my kids. Thus,  my public education did not fail me. While I hope for even more for my kids than what I had, what a gift that I was equipped with the critical thinking skills to weigh and measure what we hope for, then the research skills to find it. May they have what they need to pursue what they're called to.

I hope this proves to be a resource wherever you find yourself. If you don't homeschool, or choose not too, just know you can still have intentional conversations, lego building parties, and read-a-louds.

And I think in the end that will be what matters most.

As Always, Thanks for Reading.

Britt



A Letter to the Future Owner of Our House.

2.19.2020



Dear Future Homeowner,

{To any friends who read this, we aren't moving. Nor do we have a dog. This is a hopeful letter for the future.}

If the walls of a home had all the words uttered between them written on them, and if those words grew in size with frequency spoken, this home here would have a very visually interesting story to tell.

Let me try to tell it. I've attached a pair of glasses for you to see the story I'm telling. They're part of the house. I'd encourage you to give them to the next owner if that day comes.

Now for the tour.

The guest bedroom held the laundry when it didn't hold the guests. That room, there down the hall. With the laundry, words of prayer over those guests (as well as many others) and my most vulnerable of moments were spoken. Spoken as a faith holder, a mother, a friend. Notice how many of words seem to contradict each other. I struggled deeply and out loud in that room. That room is sacred to me. I walked in weary, I often left a bit more emboldened and a bit softer. I hope the same and more for you. I hope the one who met me there meets you there too.

The kids room has many, many silly sounds; a few "stop touching me's" and more than a few bathroom jokes. I apologize, you'll have to paint over those. But notice the large script on the walls. The way they seem to sway a bit? The way it's as if there were two lines in each letter moving all at once? Those were the songs we sang, my husband and I. Every single night. Sometimes twice to a restless child.

Here are those songs:

"Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
There's just something about that name.
Master, Savior Jesus;
like a fragrance after the rain.
Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,
(we edited this part somewhere in a blur of sleeplessness and not remembering the words, but I quite like it now.)
But Jesus will still remain."

And then,

"As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee.
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength, my shield
To You alone may my spirit yield.
You alone are my heart's desire
And I long to worship Thee."


The first was a very deliberate choice as a new mother and father. It was sang to me as a child all my life and thus seemed very fitting.  The second song became permanent by accident. It was the only song I could remember with a screaming boy (he screamed two hours every night for the entirety of his first year.)  I sang over and over to him that song until it became 'his song.'

Now two songs are sung every night. 

The hallway most certainly is scribbled with "MOOOM" and "DAAAD" and in equal measure "Go to bed!" with various threats of various kinds. They mostly listened. They did get fed desserts contrary to the walls proclamations.

The kitchen and living room are probably the most visually interesting rooms, as you'll soon see. The words on the wall move about in different colors and certainly different fonts as vibrant as the new and old friends that brought them. If you look down at the bamboo floor (the man at the Hardware store told me we didn't have wood, "we had grass floors," and now I know why he said that...) you'll notice the scratches, they're from laughter as chairs shuffled. They're from furniture moved over a lost toy or, in my most insecure seasons, deep cleaning fits before people arrived. I moved the couch...no one looks under the couch. There's a lesson in there-about how our insecurities leave their mark on others- but I digress. 

The chew marks are fortunately not from the guests or the children. They're from our great adventure of a dog. 

Then there's our bedroom. That might be the most curious of the rooms, certainly the most varied. 

It has an amalgamation of words! (but probably not the word amalgamation, because I definitely don't say that on a regular basis.)

 The wall on your right has all the phrases related to budget meetings. Words about making ends meet and not forgetting to pay such and such and the particularly sore topic of amazon transactions.  The one adjacent has dreams we spoke about and scribbled on the white board and then erased as real life happened...Sometimes that was really sad...but I've come to know now the dreams weren't as great as the real life. Those other weird words are about Star Wars Lego building and watercolor and print making. It's a happy creative little wall. 

The next, I feel I must ask you to turn away, but since you've already glanced, is our most precious. 

Did you notice the words, how they shake?

That only happens in this room. 

That's because of how they were spoken. Vulnerable. intimate. soul-shaping. Words spoken to each other in the deepest moments of joy and hope and failure. These 'pillow talk' words, mixed with prayer, hurtful confessions, affirmations of love to each other, raw insecurities, confessions of deep wounds.... This too is a sacred wall.

And lastly, and perhaps my most favorite. 

The ceiling.
 
Mixed with the vulnerable was the stupid, clever, and funny. Clever one liners, repeat movie lines, dumb dad jokes. They all produced the laughter. Heads tilted back, large guffaws ran loud and free and ended up there.

I'm most certain the ceiling is covered with laughter. You could paint it over but I'd recommend leaving it. I hope you add to it. It might be my favorite part of the whole house. Several other rooms also have the trademark laughter. That might be what makes this home absolutely exceptional.

There are more rooms with more enchanting phrases, as I'm sure you'll find yourself. There most definitely are a few not-so-lovely that should be covered with paint as quickly as one can. I did try, yet they pierce through. However, I have found a remedy I'll get to in a moment.

Please notice nearby, the "I’m sorry."

Notice how large they are in every room, it is due to their frequency. If I could recommend one thing, I would offer that useful phrase. We practiced it often and learned how to say it with sincerity to each other. As we found ourselves needing to speak it often, we understand its meaning quite well now.

There are toddler 'words' and sentences spoken from those of different countries, and with PhD's and Ivy league degrees (I cannot fathom  how we managed to get them here, other than to conclude that even the greatest of minds need food to eat.) There are also words from precious people with no degrees who are treasured to us all the same. 

Two things have reigned supreme and I'd offer are decent means for joy:

1. We love a man who claimed he was God. They called him Jesus.

2. We learned-through much failure-to love the eternal souls he allowed us to call our people.

To suggest it was all enchanting would of course be proven false. Just one glance at those ugly, ugly words spoken in anger and hurt and misunderstanding mentioned above and you'd know the errancy of such a claim.

But if you look close, please take a few steps nearer. The remedy. Do you see that strange red under glaze? It appeared relatively soon after the words found their way to the wall. See how the mix seems to make the words fade a bit? As if the wall itself was healing from it?

That's due to the #1 I listed in what reigns supreme. It correlates to our hearts, I think. As he heals those, the walls seem to, in turn, heal as well.

Only he heals words like those. We invited him in and he stayed. He's in the process of making it all new, He says. Give it time, he's been doing this for a while. You won't have to deal with those sights much longer.

Because of all this and more, this home really does have a lovely story to tell.

I'm excited to have you in it. I hope these walls prove more lovely because of your joy. I still do apologize about the scratched-up floors. If you can, try to see it as a reminder of people who lived and laughed and found toys. I learned to not clean under the couch as often as I grew to understand deeper love.

Also, remember the remedy, if you find yourself with seemingly permanent words.

All the very best,

The previous homeowners.

P.S. Sorry about the Knotweed. We tried.

P.S.S. The crappy paint job on the side of the mirror wasn't our doing...but we also never got around to fixing it, so I'm sorry for that too.

P.S.S.S. The peony bush will bloom in spring and it might be the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. The family who first owned the home (and lived in the previous house for over 100 years! The woman had the Boston globe cane! In the 1940 census she was 12 here and she lived till 103!)  was  I suspect,  the ones who planted it. I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me. They say peonies can live for over 100 years! I planted another, just in case we're closer to its end. Although I might never see it bloom in full, perhaps you will. I hope you will.

In favor of a few essentials : where a christian gal finds herself amidst culture shifts and adulthood.

2.04.2020



A whole year in beautiful New England!!! Next week! As we've talked over this at home, I have been processing what all these moves have taught me. Here is a good summation (albeit lengthy) of where I find myself (particularily as it pertains to my view on faith) today.

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I grew up with a very conservative take on the world. I lived and loved in black and white. I'm a daughter of a Pastor. Grew up in small, conservative, Midwestern culture.

I recollect from time to time the dialogues I had as a young woman with others outside of my framework and wonder how different the discourse would be if I got to engage with them again.

 When I went to university I felt a bit slighted by the construct I had grown up in. I had lived many years without gray and now my whole world felt filled with it.  I think I blamed my parents a bit. How could you let me grow up in a bubble??? Yet, as it often is with parenting, we fault our parents less and less as we are parents ourselves.  I now understand the gift it was to let a child be a child and I'm giving that gift to my kids too.  I've now seen the way my daughter undergoes a great deal of anxiety when confronted with all the gray and I'm eager to protect her wisely. Maturation comes, and with it, broader understanding of circumstances.  I hope to equip her to face those days as my parents did me. She's already been faced with seeing racism on display, culture clash, language barriers, and loneliness. Much of that I was spared at her age, she grows up differently than I and I'm sure she will have her own reconciling with how we parented.

When I entered my early twenties and needed to mature a bit, the gray continued to abound. From wrestling with it came slight deviations in theology and world view. I changed my views on a few issues. Yet, I still found myself in familiar territory. Just enough changes to feel like I was a black sheep in the same pasture. Novel, but not radical.

Getting married to a kid from a different denomination caused a few more necessary deviations. Death of children and theology of suffering contributed to a few more. A bit more gray had to be allowed here and then again there. God became more complicated. God became more real. No longer an equation, Less of a religion, More a God who spoke and who had the time for case-by-case. More El Roi - The God who sees.  He proved more masterful than I originally knew him and much more kind.

When we went to Finland, my world kind of blew up. All those clear lines that had for the most part found themselves straight in Midwestern culture came unraveled and messy. Parenting and marriage and how one ought to function were not universal, I came to understand. Even the ways God reached people were outside of what I thought was acceptable. An entirely different culture meant that my 'essential values' weren't actually absolute truths. Please hear me, around the world several friends and I hold the same deep love of our Savior even though we come from entirely different cultures and paths to Him. I do believe in absolute truth. My most treasured understanding from living abroad is this truth:  Jesus is larger than culture. His impact, healing, miracles and way with his people are universal and timeless.

MUCH of what I originally designated as essential and true, however, slowly slid into the 'specific to culture' category. It took its rightful place and in the space that it left, there was a lot of freedom. A lot of humbling too, if I'm honest.

Then we moved to the South.

In a lot of ways, that move was an even bigger shock to my set of values and beliefs than across the ocean.

See, while we lived in Finland, christianity was not the normative. In the south, White-christian culture was. At least as it was presented to me. 'Monogram that jesus shirt! Pray over the cashier! Ask each individual where they go to church. Just don't confront the racism. Just don't challenge me when I talk poorly of my darker neighbor. '

 I struggled. How do I respond when I find myself hearing such hurtful comments in the same paragraph as casual conversation about religion and Jesus?

There was a very clear distinction of non-white and white christian culture. I wrestled with that. When we found a church that also wrestled with this brokenness in southern culture, and challenged it, we found our place. What I mostly learned is that I didn't have a clue.  I didn't know even a little bit of the challenges most of my black friends and families face and I had yet again a lot of humbling to do. Our Pastors lovingly challenged our own majority culture embrace and with it the covert racism I allowed in my own heart. Their Jesus looked different than mine in more ways than one.  Thankfully, my friends chose to engage with me and through their honesty and explanations and corrections, the essentials got clearer. My faith began to align more with scripture and my friends taught me to understand our God in a way I had never understood Him. He grew even more beautiful and more righteous and more at work in his people.

It's funny how in my entry into adulthood my essentials began to shrink, but as time progressed, those few 'essentials' became more full bodied.

This season was a curious time for me. There was an invitation. If I wanted to enjoy being in the club I could, or I could figure out a way to step out of it. Our thoughts on politics, on social issues , on the christian ethic in the workplace....it began to show itself as different from majority culture. It honestly was a bit of an identity crisis.

We voted differently. We worshiped differently. We understood scripture differently. We didn't own any monogram!

Then we moved North.

From being a 'kinda-sort of-liberal (who just came from a country who has a social system)' to being the 'conservative-homeschool-mom-who-is-neck-deep-in-Jesus-Land" over a short plane ride was a bit of a shocker. A funny one, if I'm honest.

I swing back and forth on if this experience is a gift. I do think it is, but sometimes it feels rough. What one culture prizes, the other rejects. I'd like to now say that my identity is secure after all these moves. I'd like to say that I move boldly from one culture to the next, girded with my clear essentials and my ability to adapt in the gray. I'd love to say I know exactly who I am in the midst of it all. ONWARD!

The reality is much less of that. More a touch of being lonely. More understanding deeply in scripture that 'this is not my home. ' It's more wondering if there's any other misfits who long for a kingdom where all is made right? Who take God seriously and themselves not so much (Most New Englanders take themselves very seriously, I have found)... It's more combating social anxiety and deciding how to go forward when  I was terribly misunderstood when I said that. Which happens a lot, actually.

At this point I'd like to take a moment to thank all you new england lovelies who have been kind, who have laughed with me and let me be whatever this is that I've become. Your laughter, your wit and wisdom and your choosing to come and sit at my table literally have saved my heart and made my days bright. Thanks for loving me even when I say awkward stuff.

I like to think that seeing so much of this earthly kingdom is preparing me to feel at home in my Heavenly one. Actually I know that to be true. Which is why I choose to thank God for this unique life we're allowed to live. What a gift to have so many friends all over the world. How lucky am I that a time is coming when we'll be all together at last!

Here is where I find myself in this season. This whole year of living in the North East:

Because I lived with clear cut answers so long, I now have grace for others to not see it my way. I too couldn't understand how someone would live in that gray tension. I too tended toward dismissive and large language to separate what I knew to be true and what they claimed.

Because that (broken) theology fell absolutely apart when crisis came,  I now live confident that perfect understanding of God is not the point. HE is the point. Yet, I don't fault you for holding tight to some of what I would now say are non-essentials. He's faithful to all of us to show us what we need for the good works He has for us.

Because I lived a stranger in a foreign land (and still do) surrounded with those who didn't hold my values, I'm able to set down any value that don't match up with who God's showing himself to be. And I give you that permission too. It's okay to change. It's actually imperative.  I also have room for you to hold values that I don't have. I know we have a few essentials we can agree on. Even if you don't love Jesus.

Because I lived to see the way a christian (lower case c) culture can twist things a certain way, I understand why so many have rejected my Jesus. But I don't pretend that I get the fullness of the hurt you've experienced in the name of some Higher Power that shares the name with my God. I do think  I'm getting better at listening. A lot of you have been vulnerable enough to share with me your 'why' and I deeply thank you for letting me in. Thanks for letting me still pray when your kids are sick and when your heart aches. I love you deeply, thank you for knowing that.

Because I now live in a culture that isn't really too fond of Christianity, I'm back to remembering what it means to not be in majority culture. I don't have it figured out. It feels lonely. And its hard to know somebody one way and to see that so many haven't experienced Him in His goodness. I'm okay with being your weird Jesus friend, if your okay with me being your weird Jesus friend.

I love theological discussion. I love the way we think about God and I like thinking about the implications of embracing a world view that includes Him or not.... However, if you're wondering where I am at, here's the basics for me:

My essentials when it comes to Christianity:

I really do think that Jesus guy was/is for real. I think he came alive from the dead, and I think heavens coming.

I really do believe He came for us who are sick, who recognize our need of Him  and that there isn't room for shame at his table (or mine.) He already took care of that. I think he looks for reasons to save, not reasons to condemn.

I really do think He actually holds marriages together, because I contemplated leaving mine and He showed up. I think he holds mothers together as they weep over their dead children because I wept over mine, and he showed up. I think he sees lonely faces as they try to get through their days without community, because I've been seen....because he showed up.

He weeps with us as we sit in the ache of what ought to be, but what isn't in our lives. And even if you don't embrace my Jesus, I hope you let me sit with you as we ache with what ought to be. I also will bring the party hats when things go right.

I used to struggle really hard against a God who weeps and yet holds the power to fix it.

I've come to understand that  we can experience a weeping Jesus and not grow bitter against him because He IS doing something about it.  His kingdom is coming and glimpses are here. We want him to make it right, and that is because he put that in us.  Our need for right-eousness is from Him. We will arrive at a day when all is made right. Glory. What a gift that he aches with us in the wait of it all.

I think he calls us to a different life, for our good. I think I've learned my best thinking got me in some terrible places, so I want to do things His way. I dont think he's afraid of our wrong doing-He's just already seen how the story ends, and he knows which path leads to joy. I think he's a Good Father, and thats why obedience doesn't feel like a dirty word to me. The more I've experienced Him, the more I've grown convincd of his goodness. The more I've grown convinced of it, the more I've grown willing to follow...

and lastly, there's room at my table. I really like when you're here.

 You can always sit with us. 

January Recap.

1.29.2020



It is okay to write a January recap two days before it's through? I hope so. 

Before you read any of my words, one article that has been an absolutely deep encouragement to me is this one posted below. I encourage you to read it (even over reading this. It's worth your time): 


One of the things I've always loved about photography is its ability to allow us to put aside the hard bits and remember the things that were bright. 

January was a brutal month for us. We suffered from the death of a dear friend, home ownership woes, major sickness, double ear infections from said sickness, canceled airlines, lost phones, and other trivial circumstances mixed in. There were tears from all five of us.

It all added up to moments of looking up and wondering if God was hearing anything we were asking him for. Of weeping in church at songs we did not believe amidst our grief, and at the very least, concluding these prayers we were slinging up to the Almighty were being left unanswered...or perhaps on a more hopeful note, we were being told a resounding no.

I'd like to say when trials and suffering come I shore up well. Let me be a female version of Job; my life mantra quickly being "shall we accept only the good?"  But I don't and I'm not.  I question God's goodness as quickly as the next. I'm closer to a wife of Job, or maybe his annoying friends-just trying to figure it out. "How can we figure this out so it doesn't happen more? What did you do to deserve this?" 

It's a frusterating condition, this chronic forgetfulness/need for control. If I were to remember the times he has showed up so clearly I cannot deny it, perhaps I'd fair better. 

But, I'm grateful he's patient with me still. 

 I cried a lot of tears this month. Tears of grief, of fear, of dissapointment. While I don't shore up well, I'm grateful my anchor does. He holds us fast.

But as we tuck this month away, I'm grateful for the photos. Grateful for the reminders of beautiful flowers and sunshine days spent with family. Of laughter with my mom and sister, Of lemon meringue cake, and silly boys and birthday parties. Laughter filled moments at the zoo, and watching a boy absolutely delighted by how deeply he is loved...

Praise God for the sunshine, for modern medicine (ear infections for three of us after a major illness is no bueno. Praise God for antibiotics before a plane,) for a family who sees, and financial stability enough to buy the 8th bottle of dimeatap and to pay for Urgent Care Visits. 



As we close out this month, I'm grateful we're now closer to being fully well. I'm grateful life keeps moving, even in its weirdness. and I'm grateful for the way grief makes us kinder. I'm noticing none of my friends are exempt from drinking a cup that has woes mixed in. I used to think it was purely a sign of the fall, but I take a great deal of hope we're more like Joseph-and God is really working all these things for our good.  I've come to realize many of my dear friends who have drank from the cup they've been given have grown more grace-filled and more joy-filled. While I've seen some who drink it bitter and turn out bitter,  It's incredible to see how so many of my dear friends rise from their hardships more beautiful. They've taken on that 'long obedience in the same direction.'

It is my hope t as we face hard days and find we overcame them, we'll continue to grow softer, slower to speak, and quicker to be confident that if we can be seen through this, then we can encourage each other  dawn will come for them too- Even when night feels so awful and dark. 

Perhaps thats the gift, by seeing the contrast, we understand the brightness of the light.

Looking forward to February and whatever cup she may bring.


33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I'm glad we know how the story ends.