a look back at May

The last couple months, I’ve been following Emily Freeman’s prompts to look back over the one that just ended. I managed to delete that email this time, so I’m making it up.

something I learned

May was rough. Especially the last little bit. I was asked why I follow the news so closely when it stresses me out so bad. It’s a valid question: I could do with less and my stress level would probably be lower. But I learned the news gives me sufficient context to know 1. There is more to the story than just this story and 2. I know very little outside my own lived experience.

It’s nice to have an answer to the question.

something I’m bringing into June

Related: I’m making a concerted effort to sit down and shut up and listen to people with different experiences than I do. So I have a ton of books and my instagram feed is much more diverse than it was. My TBR stack now has books by Ta Nehisi Coates (Water Dancer) and Coleson Whitehead (Underground Railroad) and Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise). This will probably work its way out in words—I imagine some of my work to do is talking about it more with white friends. For now, I need to read. And, for this moment, I’m not linking Amazon or even Bookshop for the titles, but instead recommend ordering from one of these stores. It feels insufficient. But its a start.

Also, I’m praying this prayer repeatedly. And also this one.

funny stuff heard from a kid

Lilly’s personality somehow keeps growing. (It was never small.) Lately she’s been saying, with great authority, “Watch and learn.” Generally there is no context to be found, it’s just thrown about randomly. Cracks me up.

spring in Alaska: a photo essay

Spring hits Alaska all at once and I love it. This year, I decided document it for a few days:

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Friday, May 8, 2020

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

This is five days of the same leaves on the same couple of backyard trees. I think I’ll make a point of doing this again.

The beautiful spring came, and when nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.

Harriet Ann Jacobs

Katherine turns eight

Hey, K.

You are spectacular. I really love seeing you grow. This morning, you and I went for a run. (You were on rollerblades.) We had gotten about a mile and a half into our 2.5 mile loop and you started snagging dandelions. I’d run, you’d stop in a glorious yellow patch for a few of the biggest and best ones. I’d look back, you would be hustling to catch back up with your little bouquet in hand.

“Sorry, mama. I just really love dandelions.”

You do not have to apologize for being awesome.

I hadn’t given you any instruction not to pause. We weren’t in a particular hurry. You hadn’t done a thing wrong—you were just being Katherine. I know you love dandelions. Remember your seventh birthday? I love it. I like that you’re mindful of others, wanting to make sure you don’t inconvenience those around you, but please, Darling. Don’t apologize for being your own lovely, amazing self.

The other day, right after you’d shopped all dang morning, spending every cent you had on presents to give to your siblings on your birthday, you and Jenna had a thing. Your sister, amazing as she is, has her own insecurities (just like you do) and sometimes it causes her to do some things that are super hurtful to you. Basically, she offloads her discomfort and insecurity onto you because she can.

I’ve long described you to people as having “a heart every bit as big as your personality.” You feel things big, you react to things big, and you love really big. But Friday, instead of losing your mind over Jenna doing this thing, again, that triggers all your insecurities, you used your words. With gentleness and honesty and a TON of courage, you came to her and calmly told her, “Jenna, when you do this, it really hurts my feelings.” She got defensive and didn’t react well and you spent… 15 minutes? 2o? pressing into the suck. She deflected and you refused to defend. When it seemed like she had a genuine grievance against you (even if she was transparently changing the subject), You would seek to understand because you truly want to avoid doing things that are hurtful to her. Eventually, your openness and kindness paid off. I didn’t catch the end of the conversation, but by the time you finished, she was in a good mood again and you played happily together for much of the remainder of the afternoon.

I want to be like you when I grow up.

There are so many adults who don’t have the skill you just demonstrated: blending grace and truth and love and courage and vulnerability and humility all together. There was no guarantee your sister would respond well—you told me yesterday you’re still nervous it’s going to backfire—but you acted from your own integrity. I don’t believe I’ve ever been prouder of you. When your dad and I get into touchy conversations, my aim is always to carry myself just like you did, and I don’t usually succeed, even with years and years of experience that he loves me, believes the best of me, and is generally for me. You don’t even have that level of security with your sister and still did the brave thing.

I don’t expect you to pull this off flawlessly from this day forward, and I want you to have grace for screwing it up, too. But I also want you to tuck this in your back pocket—you are capable.

Katherine, watching you grow up has so far been astounding in all the ways. I love seeing the ways you reflect the character and glory of the God who made you in His image. You’re growing up just right. Better than that, in fact. You’re growing up awesome in ways I don’t want you to apologize for. Your sensitivity mixed with your abundance, your huge feelings crossed with your enormous heart. You still have plenty to learn, but there’s time. My heart is full as I see you becoming. I’m excited to see how you navigate eight.

gentle deconstruction

I have foundation issues. Not the kind ThirdLove or Spanx can help me with; I mean like actual cement foundation. Our house is built on permafrost. (Non-Alaskans: permafrost is where the ground is frozen year-round below the surface unless you build something on top of it, in which case it melts and gets unstable. This, as you might imagine, is suboptimal for structures.) Anyhow. Part of our house sits on bottle jacks which get adjusted every so often when a corner of the house sinks enough to notice, and the drywall cracks both from the sinking and the lifting back up. But the part over the garage is on a foundation which, if we ever sell this house, will need to be chipped out and replaced. (With what? I don’t know. Andrew does. We probably need to dig it out and put some insulation down below it so the house doesn’t melt the permafrost? Something.) In order for a bank to loan to a buyer, this will be required. Our neighbors did it several years ago and it was… loud. Looked laborious. I hope this is something we can hire out when the time comes because I sure don’t want to do it.

“Deconstruction” has been getting a lot of play in Christian circles for a while. In mine, it’s a scary thing: people who used to be believers question everything they believed in and now they believe in nothing. They’re no longer Christians, which doesn’t fit with the way I read the Bible. (“…no one can snatch them out of my hand” and all.) Or maybe they never were, or they’re no longer identifying as believers (don’t get this set started on the way people “identify”), or worse, they do identify as Christian, but they’re heretics. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Bound to lead true believers astray, except, again, what does that mean, precisely?

I am deconstructing. It’s not in the overt “I used to believe all of this, but it’s all garbage and I don’t anymore” kind, or even in the “I used to hold these particular outdated beliefs but now I believe something more enlightened and progressive” type. It’s gentler than that. I love my church. (Even when it makes me the kind of crazy that typically, inexplicably, gets described as excrement of small flying mammals.) I certainly love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I have absolute trust in the goodness of God. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.

But human understanding of the Father, Son, Spirit, and Scripture? That gets some pretty serious side-eye.

I question things like power structures and politics. Remind me again how women are to use their gifts and how they aren’t and why? How does the Holy Spirit interact with people? Maybe more importantly, why are we so eager to make pronouncements about the ways He can’t? How are we at loving our neighbors? Great. What about the marginalized ones? The ones who scare us a bit? The Sinners? How about the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee? (Whoops! Sorry! Too far! Refugees are probably terrorists trying to steal jobs.) Tell me again why we have to be Republican if we want to love Jesus? Exactly what does a conservative leader have to do to overstep that support? Is there a point past which I can decide to vote for somebody else without being immediately suspected as a Jesus-hating Liberal with and Agenda? What is with the amorphous, capital-A Agenda, anyway?

How do we handle people with different theology? Why do we go all cancel-culture on people with theological differences—particularly the ones we label Heretics and Wolves? Why do we insist on inerrancy in people and freak the hell out when they get it wrong by our reckoning? There’s one Person who is without error, and to get mad when another human isn’t Him is kinda weird and idolatrous. Assuming that we are without error (and thus in a place to call it out in Them) is likewise putting ourselves in a place that rightly belongs solely to the Lord.

And while we’re talking idolatry, why do we treat sexual sin as a way bigger deal than idolatry when the two are next-door neighbors on the list of things that prevent the inheritance of the kingdom of God? Why did we believe for so long it was okay to own other people (we found scriptural justification!) or keep them out of “our” bathrooms or prevent multi-colored marriages? What are we doing to dismantle the systems that still give white people a giant head start at the expense of the rest? Why, when believers all have the same Spirit of God in them, do we wind up with such divergent theology on so many things? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

These sound sort of dangerous and deconstructionish, right?

Instead of taking things for granted, I’m taking them apart, looking at the pieces, holding them up to my Father, and asking Him how they’re supposed to fit.

So far, my theology remains largely the same, though my politics have changed a little (lot). Importantly, I come at all of it with a lot less self-assurance—again, only one Person is inerrant. I am not Him. But I do trust Him.

The house stands.

But I am realizing I built it on a lot of things other humans told me, interpreting the Word the way I was instructed. It’s not bad—these humans pointed me to God­—but it’s not what I should have built a house on. So I live in the house while the foundation crumbles beneath it—not to destroy the house, but to improve it. It’s loud and unpleasant and a crap-ton of work I can’t hire out, but the house will be much stronger, safer, and better. And I’m not doing it by myself. I have a Guide and He actually knows what He’s doing (unlike me) and He’s given me a manual of sorts—it’s a little less step-by-step than the directions for assembling those particle-board cabinets and bookshelves I can buy for a few ten-dollar bills, but then life is more complex than those are—and His Spirit helps me figure out exactly how to read and apply it, and what to do when the instructions don’t address my specific scenario.

YOU’RE THE WORST—guest post at Kindred Mom

Hey, friends! That time again—my essay is up on the Kindred Mom site. You can go there to read the whole thing or read on for a bit of it.

She was standing in her partly-open doorway, leaning slightly forward at the waist, fists balled, arms locked and sticking out a bit behind her, yelling.


Her mouth was open wider than I thought possible and spittle was flying forth as she raged at top volume.

It was so cartoonish I actually laughed out loud. (I’ll let you imagine how that might have gone over.) This was only last Tuesday, but I honestly don’t remember what I did about it. I’m sure I did something.

The whole scene is swallowed in the hilarity of her Shrek-like anger. Is this good parenting? I have no idea. If someone had described this situation to me just a few years ago, I would have had two thoughts: first, I think I’d die if my child said something so hurtful to me, and second, that’s SO disrespectful! My child will NEVER do that. Or if she does, she won’t do it twice. 

News flash, Younger Robin: you won’t die and yes, she will do it twice or really a lot more. Actually, both my big girls have told me they hate me and I’m “the worst,” and the smaller two picked up on it and started mimicking, so I’ve now been “hated” by a three-year-old. And of course I address disrespectful and hurtful comments, but addressing it any one of dozens of ways won’t necessarily make it stop

Click here for the rest.

finding anticipation

“I really miss having things to look forward to.”

I was chatting with a friend this morning about the little stuff we miss. I’m beginning to realize how much I need to have things on the horizon. Maybe a trip next winter or even just a trip to Anchorage with Andrew that doesn’t get cancelled. My friend Lindsey calls it the spiritual discipline of anticipation, and I’m missing it. Big time.

My hands smell amazing. I bought fresh basil weeks ago for the best-ever tomato soup and (as usual) didn’t use the whole package, so I cut the bottoms of the leftover stems and put them in a cup like flowers and, while I cannot keep regular plants alive for anything, I can apparently keep basil clippings on my windowsil above my sink until they bloom. I touched the cup to move it earlier and now, hours later, I keep getting a whiff of amazing.

Today on the way home from an appointment to meet strangers (that I forgot about and thus I arrived late and stressed out), I noticed just the faintest haze of yellow on the hill: Green Day. It’s possibly my favorite day of the year: the birch and aspen all decide in unison to start sprouting leaves. It’s just a kiss of yellow today, but by this time next week, the whole hill will be green. Last week I said I was feeling uninspired to take photos because breakup in Alaska is exciting, but not especially lovely. We’re just on the edge of spring overtaking breakup and I can feel the excitement.

We’re also sort of emerging out of quarantine. I went to Lowe’s just now and less than half the people were wearing masks. Mandates are starting to relax here and everybody seems to be taking Alaska’s “strong suggestions” a little less seriously. The mathematician in me is screaming “Nooooooooo!” But the part of me that has been cooped up with my kids for the last million years with no place to go? That part is all about it.

When I talked about having nothing to look forward to this morning, I forgot about these little (big) things: blooming basil, leaves on trees, seeing humans who don’t share my last name. I forgot about the tiny bits that don’t require me leaving for somewhere novel. Can I just enjoy the bursting forth of new life that feels so right as we continue through Eastertide and look forward to all it brings?

The spiritual discipline of anticipation continues, though my formal plans vanished. What are you looking forward to?

a look back at April

Well, April is over. I can’t say I’m mad about it.

As with last month, I’m borrowing Emily Freeman‘s questions to look backwards, because it’s time to put out a post and I don’t have much else. And, again, I’m rearranging it so it ends on something fun. (I read On Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, who, btw, is a favorite, and he talked about how a person’s perception of a period of pain is basically the average of the maximum pain of the episode and the pain level at the end. I’ve experienced this and now apply it to basically everything. So we will end with light.)

What do I miss?

I miss taking pictures. Weird, right? But a few things have come together to make it difficult. First, breakup is ugly. A lot of dirty snow piles and last year’s dead vegetation. I am uninspired. Second, and probably more influential, my husband has been stealing my camera to video music and sermons for church, since video is suddenly an essential part of church services. So I frequently don’t know where my camera is, and when I do have it, the card comes helpfully preloaded with a ton of video and my settings are all screwy. The digital settings are fine—we have separate user profiles on the camera, so it goes back to manual everything—but the number of physical switches on the body of the camera that come back to me all kinds of wrong makes “taking a quick picture” impossible. I might be mild-to-moderately grouchy about it. Not at him, really—he’s got a job to do—but just at the situation that has everything, even this, all wrong.

What does peace look like in May?

Better self-care.

Andrew went back to work this week, so for the first time since mid-March, I’m home between 9ish and 6:30ish (and occasionally later) every day with some children I can’t take anywhere. I absolutely have to prioritize exercise so I stay sane, and I asked him last night for a night out of the house (probably library parking lot) and a night that he and I actually do something together (like watch a movie or something) every week.

What was the funniest thing that happened in April?

I don’t know about funniest, but this happened yesterday, so I remember it, and I did laugh pretty hard.

I got a text from Andrew: “Looks like maybe you had a couple kindle books that went on my work card a week and a half back…? History of Printing and Forgetting the Past?”

None of this rings any bells. I’m pretty judicious about my Kindle purchases and very careful not to use his work card on anything, and I tell him so. I check in with my sister who has, on occasion, used our account. Seemed like a long shot, but I couldn’t imagine anything else.

Then I get another text: “Looks like Brian has been buying books on my kindle… at least I’m guessing it was him since my device was renamed ‘BRIANLOVESANDREW‘”

Y’all, I died. I have no idea how the boy renamed his device, but whenever he writes anything (or, often as not, uses the alpha keys on my trusty TI-83 from 1997) he uses our first names:


We will be keeping closer tabs on the Andrew’s kindle going forward.

How are you going into May?

photo essay: quarantine, day whatever

Quarantine, day who-the-heck-knows:

I spent this day looking for light, both literal and metaphorical. This collection looks to me like a really random mix of images, but it’s just my life, from the cheery morning light reminding me to fold laundry to an unplanned trip out of the house alone.

This set of images misses the fights and the dishes and the mess. It’s not that I want to hide the reality of four bickering children from you, but they were on top of me, elbowing me in the femur and poking me in the eye, yelling in my face and whispering with their mouths actually inside my ear. Grabbing the camera was not the first thing I considered. Anyhow, the minimum focus distance of the lens I had on is way farther away than any of my children were.

Even in a day that had every bit of its allotted crazy, there was so much light that culling this post down to a reasonable number of photos was hard. This was maybe half of the photos I initially chose.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Go Where the Light Is.”

big and little grief

This weekend is my favorite every year. Andrew and I get to drop the kids off at Mom and Dad’s, drive to Anchorage on Thursday, spend all of Friday setting up a stage and sound (and I spend my whole day taping cords to red-and-gold carpet with wide, burgundy-colored duct tape), followed by the first couple sessions of a marriage conference we’ve attended (either in the regular attendance way or in an official working kind of way) some fifteen times. Saturday is more sitting beside my husband at the soundboard, followed by an early end of conference activities, splitting the ballroom in preparation for separate men’s and women’s sessions the next morning, and then a date night. Sunday we run the split sessions for a bit. (This is typically the only time of year I do sound and it’s stressful because the Anchorage Marriott’s ballroom system is janky and there’s a lot of bleedthrough from the men’s session on the other side of the air wall.) After that, we’ll reconfigure the ballroom back to a single huge session. We finish out the conference at 12:30 or so, wait for most of the attendees to clear out, and take everything back down. We’ll stay Sunday night. We used to drive back Sunday after strike, but that’s a six-hour drive that doesn’t start until about 4pm, so we finally started driving home Monday. Much better this way.

That was an inappropriate amount of detail, but every bit of it is seriously the best. I get time away with my husband to do ministry work alongside him (a novelty since the kids were born and my primary formal ministry became “the sound guy’s babysitter”) and it’s in service of strengthening marriages, which I’m passionate about.

Except… unless you’re reading this LONG after I’ve written it, you already know the whole thing is off. No gatherings over ten. Six feet between bodies. (I assume we could treat married couples as single units and just have six feet between couples?) In Alaska, there’s no intrastate travel, so we couldn’t even drive down.

And I’m sad.

As usual, my impulse is to minimize it. It’s not a big deal, just another weekend. Hopefully it won’t be cancelled next spring. There are people in danger, people dying. Domestic violence is on the rise for reasons that seem pretty obvious right now. I haven’t seen stats, but probably suicide as well. And the conference? I have a pretty stable, happy marriage—what about the couples for whom this was the last-ditch effort to keep it together? Suck it up. You’re fine.

I have done this weird internal self-shaming as long as I can remember. I did it when I miscarried and when my dog died and when my husband lost his dad tragically and all the smaller losses before, between, and after those. When I say “I can’t complain,” it’s probably code for “I don’t have a right to.” There’s always someone who has it worse.

So I shove that crap down. It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. My life is relatively good. This is a bummer, but I can’t complain.

Who, exactly, is it for, though?

I used to feel bad when I’d enjoy blessings despite the suffering of other people. (The pain of the whole world?) I’d hear about someone else’s sick child and I would feel bad for having healthy ones. It was some weird mutation of survivor’s guilt, maybe, for those surviving disasters other than death.

When I was in my early twenties, newly married, a friend of mine, twelve then, was with me baking cookies the afternoon her mom died of cancer. Through her high school years, she’d tell me how much she hated hearing people rag on their mothers—sometimes she’d shut them down with “Well, at least you have a mom,” just because she could.

I don’t do anybody any favors when I don’t fully receive the blessings I have.

I think grief is similar.

If my friend’s grandpa died of covid-19, if an acquaintance is having a hard time making ends meet in the face of sudden unemployment, if someone is grieving the loss of her marriage in addition to living through a pandemic as a newly-single mom, if a friend has to navigate a military move and deployment of her husband and it’s all in the air but she still has to care for five kids, or if someone I know has a small business about to go under because nobody is shopping, I can support them in various ways. I can offer empathy or groceries, maybe buy a gift card. You know what isn’t useful? Shoving down my little grief over a cancelled weekend because bigger problems exist. Perspective is still important, of course, and whining is never good, but minimizing my own feelings leads to a whole host of other crap down the line. (Ask me how I know.) The amorphous and physical anxiety I experience when I push sadness away eats up my margin and my ability to be a human. I’m no good to anybody.

Naming and feeling the things, even just within myself (or, you know, discussing them at length with couple dozen of my closest internet friends), makes me more empathetic, not less.

So I’m sad. It will be fine, but it sucks right now.

looking for hope


That’s the word I used tonight to describe myself to a friend in a Marco Polo message I meant to send a week ago as a check-in but simply could not. This isn’t the first time I’ve used the word, and it’s not necessarily quarantine-specific. It’s been a year or more since I told someone I was suffocating under a pile of small humans I produced, and at that time, I still had the ability to go places and do things. My current really exciting outing is sitting in my husband’s truck in the library parking lot by myself. (And I don’t mean to minimize that—it’s fabulous.) Please hear me: I love my children. I especially love them one and two at a time. But when they all pile on and they’re bickering constantly, words like “buried” and “suffocating” are the ones I feel.

I read an article just now that quoted John Piper: “Hope governs our behavior” and went on to talk about the very in-the-moment nature of motherhood and how that can squash it.

This resonated as completely true. I have become so myopic—all I can do is count down until lunch after which I will send the children outside after which they will have screens: a rest. Then after that, it’s checking the clock with constant calculation of “time until 7:30.” My day comes in chunks of, at most, a few hours at a time. Things that normally involve hope for me are ones I work on in the breaks—planning, learning, Bible study, creativity. And mostly, I’m just in need of rest.

The quote sent me on a rabbit trail looking for the quote by Piper which I could not directly find. He said:

In fact, fear itself is not wrong. God actually designed us to be fearers. Fear is a faith-revealer. What we fear reveals what we trust. It’s a strong response to a perceived threat commanding us to protect our hope. In that way it governs our behaviors.

John PIper, The Only Thing we have to Fear (emphasis mine)

And also:

Hope is not an add-on to Christian experience. It is part of the first things. The essential things. It is a vital component of saving faith, because part of what we believe relates to our future. It is impossible to be a Christian and keep on believing that your eternity will be bleak. Saving faith is the “assurance of things hoped for,” and such faith believes that “God is the rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:16).

John Piper, Why Would the World Ask About Your Hope?

Welp, so much for the quote. But all this got the wheels turning: did I really lose my hope? No. I still get all kinds of fired up about all things being made new. I just forget it when I’m going from one snack request to the next. This reminded me of Romans. (Aren’t you excited about this canoe ride down the stream of Robin’s consciousness?)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV, emphasis mine)

And here’s the payoff. Our sufferings lead to endurance which leads to character which leads to hope. My (relatively light) suffering—the regular daily struggles of life with four children, currently in quarantine—is working on my heart to produce endurance, character, and hope. I didn’t lose my hope, but it’s not complete yet, either.

I have no brilliant tie-ups here. I’m about to drive home (later than planned) to my very sweet and longsuffering husband and my four delightful-but-noisy children. I will still be tired and overwhelmed and will very likely lose sight of my hope yet again. I don’t know the fix for that. But it’s on my radar now and this all is producing endurance and character for sure and Paul seems to think (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so, you know, pretty reliable) this will lead to hope.

Addendum: I wrote this last night and did not get home before bedtime, hallelujah. Currently my seven-year-old is making banana bread with her five-year-old brother. She is wearing roller blades and a helmet. Little Lilly (3) is throwing flour around. Jenna’s on a zoom call with her class because the world is weird right now. Just thought I’d give you a real-life update. I am, in fact, fully overwhelmed, but keeping hope in mind.