thoughts on community

“So tell me about your friends at church.”

We were talking about community and what I wanted to study at L’Abri and this question should be pretty straightforward, but instead, I burst into tears. I couldn’t answer the question, not because my church isn’t full of hundreds of amazing people, but I realized I had really great community… like ten years ago. And then we started having babies and Sunday is not my best look and a huge percentage of the people I was doing life with moved away in the time since and I didn’t notice because I still talk to them all the time, they’re just not physically at church with me. Then a little bit after Lilly was born, we were in a place as a family where we could probably manage a small group again, and we found a really great one. Love them. But… that one disappeared, too, sort of suddenly, traumatically. I still love them, but the people we did tons of stuff with day in and day out are gone.

So I look around myself and realize I’ve basically spent a decade distracted from pursuing community, so I relied on the one I had which is no longer local. And I didn’t put it together until she asked the question.

Now I have community, even locally. There are people I call (text) when I’m in a pickle or just want to share something goofy my kids just did or need to vent. But that circle doesn’t intersect much with the church I attend.


I left for L’Abri fully intending to wrestle the ideas of community within the church to. the. ground. Instead, I read some poetry and some Flannery O’Conner and generally worked my way through a stack of books I’d been meaning to read and they happened to have on hand (thousands and thousands of books in that gorgeous library, so it’s not such a huge coincidence) and eventually found some applicable books, but nothing got wrestled to the ground. What I did learn from the experience was from the actual L’Abri community (a dozenish people with whom I worked, ate, and conversed for a week): I crave this. I’ve been missing it.


I flew last weekend to California and met most of the Kindred Mom team. We brainstormed and planned and worshiped and prayed. More than that, we laughed until our abs were sore. We shared stories of our actual lives and we shared actual life. There were two ladies there I’d met once or twice, three I’d never met before. One of those I’d only interacted with briefly on Voxer (voice messaging app) earlier in the month. But the community was real. The love was legit. Unified by a common Lord, shared purpose, and overlapping passions kickstarted our kinship in a way I don’t remember experiencing before.


So back in Fairbanks Sunday morning, I look around and see the people I do life with. I made most of them from scratch in my belly. This is not how community should be done, and the fault is largely mine.

I clearly can do community, I’m just not great at doing it Sunday morning. My homework, then, is twofold:

I need to press in. It’s on me to reach out, regardless of my state on Sundays. It’s time to be intentional about it. I’m not sure what this is going to look like, actually, but I’m about to find out.

I need to lower the bar. I’m an introvert, so I would rather go soul-deep than surface-level. Actually, I’d rather do a lot of things than go surface-level. Waterboarding comes to mind. But that’s not how everyone else functions (though some do!) and it’s definitely what’s expected culturally. Apparently if you dive too deep too fast sometimes you scare people. Who knew? Anyway. I need to suck it up and up my small-talk game rather than hoping to magically bump into others who really want to talk about deep stuff.


Mostly, there’s a lot of grace. I’ve been doing my level best here, and I need help from Jesus to press in and make connections when I’m with my church family, and I trust Him to do that.

thursday post

Well, my hope had been to write early every week and post every Thursday, but… here it is midmorning on Thursday at the end of the second month and I don’t have any words to say.

That’s a lie.

I have all the words to say, but nothing coherent. Here’s what I’ve been doing the last week and a half:

I went on a trip with a friend to celebrate freedom and safety at the end of a relationship characterized by neither. We had great food and great fun and generally enjoyed ourselves.

I went down to join five of the other six Kindred Mom teammates in California. We laughed and cried and laughed until we cried. Three of them I had never met face-to-face, but the kinship was deep and immediate. I love them and I’m excited to share purpose and passion and projects with them.

In between the two, I published last week’s piece, and worked on graciously handling the heat I knew was coming. (Sharing was a matter of obedience rather than desire—political conversations make me tired, but they’re important.) That has continued through now.

I came home to my family Monday night, spent Tuesday doing previously planned activities, then getting a rather violent stomach bug. (Likely food I ate Tuesday morning.) Yesterday was spent nervously trying to consume liquids, and today I’m home with the gnarly dehydration headache I expected yesterday.

I have words to say about community and politics and church and marriage and kinship and illness. But the aforementioned headache coupled with the variety of things swirling in my aching head means today’s post is… this. Will try again next week.

BUT THE BABIES! …why this pro-life mama plans to vote democrat in 2020

Every time I see an objection to the President’s behavior or policies, if conversation carries long enough (and sometimes that’s not very long at all) someone mentions abortion. “Do you know of another viable pro-life candidate?” or “well, at least he doesn’t believe in killing unborn babies” or whatever.

Setting him aside for a minute (which isn’t easy, since he’s been sucking up all the air in all the rooms since 2016), let’s talk about this for a minute. Do I really plan to vote for someone who isn’t pro-life? Yes. Yes I do. And I think you might be free to do the same.

I have known the excitement and terror of positive pregnancy tests. I’ve felt babies grow to displace most of the vital organs in my body. I’ve known the visceral emptiness of even the earliest miscarriage. Yes, those fetuses are human. They’re definitely alive, with all the possibility and potential pain life entails. I’m aunty to a baby born just past viability grow and thrive (she’s two and looks a lot like my baby brother) and I’ve held a baby (this one a nephew) born still and far too cold at a similar gestational age and identical weight.

I am decidedly for these babies.

The reasons I don’t want this year’s incumbent to win a second presidential term are too numerous and layered to explore here today, and others do it better anyway. I’ve talked to many people who’d like a different candidate, but plan to vote for him again because he’s the only one in the field who will “defend life.”

I understand it, but here’s why I don’t plan to join them:

Abortion has been declining (relative to population) at a steady rate for about four decades. It doesn’t seem to matter at all who the President is; it keeps dropping. Reasons for the decline aren’t completely clear: it’s obvious that state policy has more impact on abortion availability, but since the rate drops in states both with and without new abortion restrictions, that clearly is not the only factor.

This math alone frees me to consider other candidates, but there’s more:

75% of recipients of abortion are poor, compared to 12% of the general population.

Abortion is a symptom of poverty.

People yell, “YES BUT THE ECONOMY” as a defense for Trump’s behavior and I will grant the poverty rate is down a bit over the course of Trump’s presidency which has doubtless spared some babies, but the poverty rate hasn’t changed in a statistically meaningful way since the 70s. While I’d love for someone to come up with a way to actually address this so we don’t have generations of people who can’t get and stay above the poverty line, what if we made abortion feel less necessary for women who are poor? What if we did better at pregnancy prevention for those who feel they aren’t in a place to raise a child and childcare for those who might be?

And, in all honesty, I think the democrats are more likely to pull that off than the incumbent. So, yes. Every one of the candidates in the running for the democratic nomination identifies as pro-choice. Even so, I suspect the number of dead babies will go down if we can address some of the underlying factors.

a footnote on socialism

“BUT SOCIALISM” is the other cry of the Right when defending the President. The argument goes like this: “Well, it’s better than having a socialist in office.”

Uh… okay. I’m not going to argue in favor of socialism now (or maybe ever). I’m too white, privileged, and middle class for that—I have money to lose with every step toward socialism. But what I don’t see is why the visible Evangelical church defends this as a moral issue. I have yet to see any biblical basis for pure capitalism as the right way. If anything, the systemic and moral obligation to care for the widow, orphan, poor, and foreigner seems to argue against it. The closest I’ve heard when I’ve asked for a biblical reason to vote against socialism went something like this: “Well, do you want ‘death boards’ deciding who does and who doesn’t get life-saving medical treatment?” No, not particularly, but I’m not sure it would be worse than insurance companies doing the same, or just giving the life-saving treatment to those who have means to pay for it. I’m not sure a “death board” would be more arbitrary.

So no. I’m not going to use my one 2020 presidential vote to vote against socialism, either.


Anyway.

I’m not here to convince people who are firmly pro-Trump that they should suddenly vote pro-choice. Go ahead and vote for whomever your conscience dictates. (I plan to.) I’m actually not here to argue at all. I’m just here to lay out my own research and conclusions in hopes that the handful of single-issue pro-life voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for a second term for this present based on behavior, policies, or tweets might consider other (possibly more effective) ways to protect the unborn.

I can survive voting for someone who stands for policies I don’t believe are best, who believes differently than I do about the role of federal government or guns or anything else. (In fact, I assume I’ll disagree with any candidate on something.) I cannot bring myself to cast a vote (or withhold one) to elect someone who stands against everything I am.


photo credit: Sarah Lewis Photography

going public (guest post for Kindred Mom)

Hey, everyone! It’s that time again—my post is up at Kindred Mom. Feel free to click here for the whole thing or read on for a teaser…


“What do we do with Jenna?” I asked my husband on a spontaneous evening walk.

I’ve been homeschooling the oldest since 2016 when she entered kindergarten and her sister was in pre-k. That year went poorly (I started it with a 6-week-old, a 1-year-old, and some Very Intense Curriculum), but we’ve found our rhythm in the years since. 

Lately, she and I are butting heads. While she’s definitely an introvert, she’s the most extroverted of the introverts in our house: she has social needs that I’m simply not cut out to meet. Also, there’s conflict with her 17-months-younger sister Katherine, who has long been my big, physical reactor. At small provocations, she yells, hits, kicks, and throws things. When she gets wound up, I often hold her to protect her, me, and her siblings for half an hour or more. (I refer to this as “disciplinary cuddle time.” She is not amused.) Jenna doesn’t only want my attention; she wants her siblings’ as well, and she frequently gets it by needling Katherine, resulting in a full disruption of everybody’s day. 

We’ve been kicking around the idea of sending her to public school for a little while—we have to change something, and this may help. We live two blocks from the elementary school she would attend, but I hesitate—quitting homeschool feels like defeat. Maybe I’m not good at this and should just give up? Maybe I should stay the course and keep trying? I know this is a privileged choice—keep my kid home or send her to the great public school down the road. These are two decent options. So why does this all feel so heavy?

“I can’t make this decision,” I tell Andrew as we mosey toward home. “It’s too personal and too fraught for me to have any objectivity. I need you to just decide.”

“Okay,” he responds, having listened to me obsess for months, thus being well aware of the pros and cons of each option. “Let’s try public school.”


We start the school year in August with much fear and trepidation. I worry she won’t be ready for the sheer amount of stimulation a classroom entails. I worry her teacher won’t approve of my choice to homeschool her until now and will judge her behavior as she adjusts to a new environment. I worry kids will be mean, or she’ll fall into some soul-deadening pursuit of “cool.” I worry her relationships with me and her siblings will drift apart as she spends hours away from us each day. I worry that I am worrying too much and she’ll pick it up and worry more than she already does.

It works. My worry effectively prevents each of those things from happening. Her teacher is kind and encouraging and very chill. Jenna regularly jabbers on when she gets home about all her friends (an improbable number of whom are named Noah) and the fun she’s had. 

Actually, the biggest struggle comes after the second day. Mrs. Friedrich pulls me aside at pick-up: “Jenna’s having a hard time being quiet when she needs to be listening. I keep reminding her, but she’s still a chatterbox.” She is making friends too enthusiastically. We address the whole “no, really, you have to listen to the teacher and talk to your classmates at appropriate times and volume” and now she’s thriving, both personally and academically.


The biggest wins haven’t been solely Jenna’s, though


Click here to read the rest.

why birth photography?

In the hours and days that followed the first birth I shot, I *tried* not to tell everyone I came across, but with only moderate success. I got a lot of responses that mirrored my excitement and a few hesitant “Uh… Oh? How did that go for you?” replies.

And then I remembered that birth photography is relatively new as a profession and not something that makes sense to everyone. So I thought I’d take today to tell you why this is something I’m fired up about.

my birth

When I was not quite 10, my mom had my baby brother in her bedroom and birth became just a normal thing women did. I knew there were medical conditions that would warrant a hospital, but birth didn’t seem like an emergency on its own.

When I was expecting miss Lilly, I was pretty sure she’d be my last. I wanted to normalize birth for my older girls, but they were 4 and 5 at the time. Given that I can barely handle having my husband around through, I did not see having a couple preschoolers touching me and calling for my attention throughout labor and birth as a viable option. So I called Sarah Lewis, whose work I’d admired for years, to document it, in hopes that having images of me giving birth would demystify it for my kids a little. Additionally, my births are basically the most badass moments of my life, and I wanted to have a way to remember that, since I’m hardly present enough to take mental notes.

but then…

I didn’t know how that decision would impact me. Looking through the images, I saw parts of the process I straight up didn’t know about, despite having done it four times. I was able to see the way Andrew looked at me throughout the labor. Somehow Sarah captured me as lovely throughout the whole messy, excruciating process.

The last several years, I’ve pondered over why I’m so drawn to birth photography as an art form. I’ve been following several accounts for years, and when I finally got a camera that could manage it late this summer, Sarah was one of the first people I told. I knew she was getting out of birth photography for practical reasons, and I mentioned how bummed I was that I wouldn’t be able to learn it from her. “There’s still time!” she texted back.

some theology

As I’ve considered the appeal of this niche of photography, I realized that my reasons for loving it and wanting to do it have a lot more to do with theology than expected.

There’s been a war on women since the garden. Then when God put a curse on the serpent and promised his demise through Eve, I imagine it further pissed him off. There she was, an image bearer of his Enemy, and through woman he was going to be crushed? Oh, HELL no. Actual Hell no.

So I look through history and see the battle. There’s objectification, either through pornography (in the broadest sense) or insane modesty demanded by men who hold us responsible for their lust and sin.  There’s the devaluing of women in many cultures through millennia—we’ve been treated as chattel, our bodies valued only for the production of heirs or a workforce, our voices unrecognized in courts. Currently where I live, there’s a pervasive culture of assault and consumption that spurred the #metoo movement. There’s the patriarchy and pay inequity and both the denigration and idolization of motherhood and marriage, both inside and outside the Church.

This is war.

And one of the ways it shows up is birth.

I have heard several women say “I’m not one of those pretty birthers.” Or “I wish I were cute when I was giving birth like the women in those birth photos.”

Here’s this moment when a woman is at her most stunningly amazing. She’s mirroring her Creator in a way that’s unique and especially God-like—she is bearing life for heaven’s sake. (Actual Heaven’s sake.) And we’ve been conditioned to see it as generally terrifying and ugly and messy, even shameful, and “all that matters is a healthy baby.” NO. The baby does matter, obviously. But, whatever level of health the baby has, YOU ALSO MATTER. The very act of giving birth has value all by itself. It’s not the only thing, or even the best thing, but it is decidedly a valuable thing.

So, birth photography.

If I can show a few women how incredible they are during this time they feel less-than-lovely, like their bodies have become something they don’t recognize, it feels like reclaimed ground. It feels like beating back the darkness.

And that’s why I do this. I’m not into photography for the guaranteed bill-paying clients— seniors, weddings, families, classic newborn photography—not that they don’t matter, but there are plenty of photographers to do them. Birth photography isn’t always an easy sell and the hours suck. But I love it the most because it matters. It matters to mamas like me, who desperately want to know that their messy, vulnerable, terrifying offerings can somehow reflect Glory. In this one small geographical area, for a small number of women, maybe I can show them how they already do.

the shape of a soul

“Am I even cut out for this?” 

My bestie Alycia was nearing her licensure test. She graduated with a Masters in Social Work a while ago, but in order to practice clinically, she needed to be licensed in her state. I thought of everything I know about this woman, how she’s been doing this work informally since I’ve known her, how good she is at it, how it lights her up.

“Yes, you’re cut out for it.” All I can picture is my mom’s bedroom floor with a green cutting mat and rotary cutter and do-not-use-on-paper-or-you-will-die scissors and pieces of tan tissue-paper pattern attached to fabric with straight pins of various colors. “This is exactly the shape of your soul. It’s what you were made for.”


It’s been a few months since we had this conversation. She took the test and passed it without breaking a sweat. She’s been up here for part of that time, and is now walking toward this part of her calling.

And I’m still thinking about the conversation.

How, exactly, does one figure out the shape of her soul? I’m by no means a seamstress, but my mom certainly is (she made my wedding dress from a picture of me in a David’s Bridal gown and it was amazing), so I at least have an image of the process. Right now, I’m looking at a bunch of random pieces, wondering how they’re supposed to fit together and what they’ll make when they’re done. I have no doubt the Designer has something in mind, but I’m not sure what. I’m not even certain they are all for the same thing. Maybe it’s a collection of various pieces. I have no idea. This metaphor breaks down here—I don’t think God is giving me a puzzle to solve: if He wants me to do something, it’ll unfold as it should and I just need to live my life as it does. But I do wonder what it’s becoming. Not with anxiety, usually, but with curiosity and amazement. I’m finding pieces of me I didn’t know were there, or maybe even are contrary to what I thought was there.

So I’m paying attention.


My interests and passions are different than I expected at 20. I suppose I could have seen writing coming, but I never would have pegged me for a photographer—certainly not of birth—but I’m 100% fired up about showing women their beauty as they bear humans into the world. More on that some other week. I expected to be fully fulfilled by marriage and motherhood, which was a particular type of idolatry I’ll need to explore later. I didn’t care at all about politics except for policies surrounding unborn babies and now I definitely do—particularly about the intersections of politics, the church, and Jesus—but my pro-life bent is taking me some places I would not have guessed, places at odds with who I thought I was then. (Another post for another day.) I expected to homeschool my hypothetical children and love it and be good at it. I am homeschooling some of them, and I love and am good at parts of it, but it’s different than I expected—20 was just a little before I realized how truly terrible I am at teaching. My passion for marriage in general (and in particular, now) remains, but again, real life has added some nuance to my clear-eyed idealism. I stopped exercising and eating carefully because I hate my body and started exercising and eating carefully because I like it, which doesn’t sound like a huge shift, and behaviorally it isn’t, but you’re smart, and if you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know how hard-won this non-change is.

I could go on, but that paragraph is a beast already and I have about a month’s worth of blog posts embedded in it and that’s plenty. Basically, things have grown and morphed and nuance has been added in the last couple decades and I no longer have the very concrete, specific idea of who I’m going to be at 35, and 35 came and went a couple years ago.


So there are my interests and passions, which surprise me, and then there are the pieces of my actual life which are bigger and, in many ways, more significant.

There’s my marriage, which is entirely predictable in some ways and highly unusual in others.

There are my children, which, surprise! I actually don’t have as much control over as I thought I would, and that’s both delightful and terrifying.

There’s my home, which takes a lot more effort to keep than I ever thought about, and also I really love the liturgy of keeping it, except for the constant interruptions from aforementioned kids.

I’m an HSP, which presents some challenges, but is its own sort of superpower, too.

After a lot of years of neglecting sleep as a habit led to adrenal fatigue a couple years ago and now I have to be really careful about physical limitations.


So where does this leave me?

And why am I telling you?

It leaves me paying attention to my life, trying to discern my next right thing at any given moment, and encouraging you to do the same.

And the posture of paying attention and next-right-thing discernment is important, too. Many points would find me stressed out, fearful of missing something important. But now there’s quiet anticipation, trust, curiosity. I don’t actually need to know all the things now. I didn’t know all the things at 20—I thought I did in some cases but I didn’t, and the areas where I did know about the information gaps freaked me out significantly—and I don’t know why I’d expect to know them all now. To be honest, I’m glad I keep being surprised. A single straight line toward maturity without any detours or points of interests would be lame.

jet lag, rest, and being human

Last week was spent off-grid in a town outside Boston. I have thoughts about the time spent at L’Abri, but they haven’t coalesced into anything that makes sense yet. (I think last year’s visit took multiple months, and this year’s study was much less focused than last, so we’ll see.) For now, all I have is this:

Sleep is important.

Feel free to go back to Facebook or Instagram or email or whatever you were doing… this feels like a dumb post to share, but I decided I’d post every Thursday and this is all I have. It’s mostly notes to myself: L’Abri trips need to be slightly longer to account for travel recovery time.

I flew about 20 hours there Sunday before last, arrived Monday morning, had a full day to stay awake. It took until about Friday or Saturday to recover from what ended up a 36-hour day punctuated with three 1-hour naps, then Saturday night, I went to bed with a 2:30 am alarm, woke and traveled for 25 hours. As I write, it’s Wednesday and I’m nothing like functional.

I learned almost exactly two years ago that my body doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. If I choose to push past her demands for sleep, eventually she’ll just refuse to cooperate. I never want to be in the adrenal fatigue place again. I don’t have time for that crap.

So I sleep. Instead of my morning routine of gym or pool followed by quiet work time, I have been starting the day way behind, stumbling out of bed when my children require me, fumbling for coffee, muttering incoherently at my people while my brain struggles to come online. Usually I’m pretty functional about 10 minutes into a workout, which is nearly three hours before my children need me to have words and thoughts and directions for them. Not so much this week. I’m kinda dying to get back to my regular life, but for now, I’ll honor my own humanity and rest.

Resting when I would rather not is an exercise in finiteness. God doesn’t sleep, but I’m not Him. I may be made in His image, but I’m also made with some distinct limitations. When I choose to skip the gym out of a genuine need to recuperate, when I nap when I “should” be doing laundry, it’s a declaration to myself and my family that I have the same limits we all do. Where I would once would have berated myself for laziness, there’s a quiet agreement that His design is good regardless of my to-do list.

courage: do it scared

Last year, my word was “small.” After the tremendous mess that 2018 was with adrenal fatigue and a mental health crisis-bordering-on-emergency that bled into the beginning of the year, I needed to focus on doing the tiny thing in front of me. Basically the only goals I had were little habits: Sleep. Move. Find silence. Keep up on crap.

I fully expected the year to proceed in that fashion, with little acts of obedience to a big God adding up to nothing much—just another year of life with my family, which feels like nothing much and, at the same time, everything.

But as the year unfolded, my small steps started to become bigger and bigger risks with bigger payoffs and bigger crashes. We put Jenna in school because that seemed to be the next right thing for our family. I got a new camera. I don’t quite know how to talk about the crashes right now—there were a few—except to say they were as good and right as they were painful, and sometimes small steps toward what the Lord has for me are also small steps away from what he had for me in a different season. I’m not trying to be coy and I’m not hiding any big news, but the stories don’t all belong to me, so I’m figuring out how (and whether) to talk about those in ways both honest and honoring.

And then there were the exciting things…  Writing for Kindred mom in 2017 led to joining the team in 2018 and excellent friends in 2019 and we’re all getting together for the first time next month and a passion for editing I did not expect. A 100 day project meant practicing hand lettering a few minutes a day from April through July and now I know how to do that. Saying yes to engagement with a new friend on Instagram followed by some collaborative work led to a mastermind group where we encourage and hold each other to account for our creative endeavers.

General awkwardness is pretty much my worst nightmare, but saying, “hey, I think you’re cool, wanna be friends?”  followed by skipping small talk and diving straight into borderline overshare territory has resulted in so many actual friends and one or two perpetually awkward acquaintances (in which I reached out and there was no reciprocation).

The camera made way for a birth photography mentorship which led to shooting a couple of births which led to oxytocin and more potential births and suddenly the thoughts I had about taking up birth photography in about five years when gave way to “now is good, I guess?” and a website and business cards and all things legit. A homework assignment led to my first art show rejection followed by my first acceptance and now a couple of pieces of mine are touring museums around the state for the next two years.

As I was thinking through 2020 and what I was going to focus on, I jokingly told people I was going from “small” to “badass” or “kickass” or maybe just “ass,” as it’s apparently the most complicated word in the English language. (For real. Go watch the video. I’ll wait.) The jump from “small” to whatever 2020 was going to be felt jarring, but the thread that kept surfacing was “creative risk.” I’m just going to have to leap.

I hate leaping. It feels scary and naked. I’ve never started a business before. Marketing feels icky to me, and it’s going to have to happen. I’m afraid to hang out in a birth space, taking photos, trying to stay out of the way. Don’t get me wrong—birth is totally my jam—I’m just nervous about it.

So 2020’s focus is courage. I’m just going to do it scared. The writing, photography, business, friendships… all of it.

2019: what worked and what didn’t

I’ve been trying hard to take time to slow down and look back instead of plowing forward into 2020’s new stuff AND THERE IS PLENTY OF THAT. So, because this blog is sort of my personal record of all the things, let’s look at it together, shall we?

What didn’t work

We’ll start with the downer because it seems lame to end on it. Here’s what didn’t go so well:

Parenting

This is a huge bummer to say, because it’s important and a huge part of my life. But it’s not working. My brain is glitchy and I’m not consistent and I’ve basically trained my children to ignore me. Changes will be made in 2020. I’m excited to take this course that starts in February. I don’t expect it to be a magic bullet, but anything is an improvement.

Moderation

Unpopular, but moderation doesn’t work for me. My doctor gave me the okay in June to have sugar and dairy in moderation and I basically turned into Cookie Monster. I gave up extraneous spending for Lent last February and the exercise was illuminating, but after abstaining from discretionary purchases for a few weeks, I rebounded HARD. I don’t half-ass much, so if something is good, but only in small doses, I need to basically make hard rules about it so I don’t try to moderate. (I can have one sugary thing, but on Sunday, for instance. This is not my rule, but it could be. Once those praline pecans I got from Costco today are gone.) In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, she talks about moderators vs. abstainers—how some people do great moderating, but others are better served not trying to. I’m an abstainer. My moderating ability is abysmal.

Keeping on top of logistics

I really thought 2019 would be the year I got household routines under control. Not so much. Things like cleaning and keeping up on photo albums and reimbursements for homeschool were all things I started to put systems in place for so they didn’t all pile up. And then I got distracted. I can’t remember what by. The systems looked good on paper, but I didn’t actually implement them. Will tweak and try again.

Classical Conversations

We tried it this year. (Still in it for the remainder of the school year, most likely.) I love everything about it. The families are great, I love connecting with the other parents, my kids are doing great in their classes, I love the classical model in general and this curriculum in particular. But… I can’t do it. The long and early morning with so much noise and so many people (even if I like them!) has drained me and made Thursdays a thing I dread. I will miss the individuals at CC next school year, but I’m going to have to work through the material on my own. So far, twelve weeks in, I haven’t found a good way to salvage the day.

What did work

Self-care

I got in a really good rhythm of going to the gym and pool with a couple of BFFs on the regular. I found ways to pick up quiet moments to read or write. I have a good system of study and rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough and plenty to build on.

Public school

I put Jenna in the school around the corner after much internal turmoil. (Actually, I made Andrew make the final call because I simply couldn’t.) Not only does she thrive in a classroom environment, but we all do. Her relationships with siblings and me are improved, my relationships with all four kids are better, and the relationships of those at home still are all better as well. I know I said I didn’t believe in a magic bullet for parenting, but this kind of feels like one in this little area.

Bullet journal

I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I’m pretty happy with it. My favorite part? Every time I come across a book to read, I can add it immediately. I know that’s goofy (and I could do the same thing with my phone) and it’s at least as stressful as it is useful because my “books to read” list is about 150 books long, but still.

Travel

Y’all, my kids are all weaned. I took my first truly babyless trip in 2018 (no babies in or on me) and a few more last year. I like my kids a lot. I like them even more when I get back from some time where nobody is calling for my attention at all, let alone every five seconds. I actually don’t even care where I go. I’ve loved Santa Barbara and Boston (area) but I feel like Bismark, ND would work as well. Is there a quiet spot? Are there books to read? (No? No biggie! I brought fifteen, because I can’t moderate even my book packing!)

Learning

I get intimidated by things I don’t know how to do. I am not good at being bad at stuff. I get frustrated fast and just want to burn it all down. But this year, I did the 100 day project and lettered daily from April into July, and now I know how to do brush lettering. I got a new camera and was sorta forced to learn Lightroom and it’s fine. Maybe this year I’ll figure out Photoshop past “watch YouTube videos and cry.” Mostly, I’m glad to have practice being bad at things and getting better. I feel like it’s an important skill.

my favorite books of 2019

Hey!

So every year, I put together a list of my favorite books of the year, and it’s fun to look back through and remember what I’ve read. It’s… a lot. I don’t say it to brag or humblebrag or anything else. I read eighty books last year, which is a record by a long shot. I can hardly handle watching tv or video… apparently it frees up some time.

The list of books that I’d marked as “favorite” was about a quarter of those. I’ve whittled the list down to eleven. (I tried to do ten, but just couldn’t cut it any more.) The descriptions and photos are all swiped from Amazon, but I’ll add notes about why I like them, too. These are in no particular order and the inclusion of both Amazon summary and my brief thoughts on them is owed directly to Emily P Freeman, whose 2019 “books” post I read this morning.

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkein

(Fiction)

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

Why I liked it: This is the first Tolkein I’ve ever read. I don’t know why it took so long. I read it at the very beginning of the year, and I still find myself recalling parts of it. Masterful. Lord of the Rings is definitely on my list this year.

Prodigal God, Tim Keller

(Christian nonfiction/commentary)

Newsweek called renowned minister Timothy Keller “a C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century” in a feature on his first book, The Reason for God. In that book, he offered a rational explanation of why we should believe in God. Now, in The Prodigal God, Keller takes his trademark intellectual approach to understanding Christianity and uses the parable of the prodigal son to reveal an unexpected message of hope and salvation. 

Why I liked it: A take on the familiar parable in which the main character (the Father) gets the focus and the needs of both older and younger brother brother are addressed. The writing is intellectual, but the concepts are soul-deep. It’s on my stack to reread in 2020.

The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan

(Christian living)

Widely-acclaimed author Mark Buchanan states that what we’ve really lost is “the rest of God-the rest God bestows and, with it, that part of Himself we can know only through stillness.” Stillness as a virtue is a foreign concept in our society, but there is wisdom in God’s own rhythm of work and rest. Jesus practiced Sabbath among those who had turned it into a dismal thing, a day for murmuring and finger-wagging, and He reminded them of the day’s true purpose: liberation-to heal, to feed, to rescue, to celebrate, to lavish and relish life abundant.

With this book, Buchanan reminds us of this and gives practical advice for restoring the sabbath in our lives.

Why I liked it: I need rest so deeply right now. This book helped me see that, and helped me understand why.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

(Fiction)

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Why I liked it: Eleanor is quirky and awkward and self-protective and unhealthy. It was fun to see her unfold and grow and let others in. It was hopeful for me because I share some of her neuroses.

The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk

(psychology/psychiatry)

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments—from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga—that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.

Why I liked it: I didn’t This book triggered the crap out of me. BUT it was also so incredibly helpful… It creates a framework for the way my brain and body work and also made sense of the behavior of so many others I love. This is kind of an “everybody read it” important book, but also, it’s a little like eating lima beans: good for you, if not entirely pleasant.

The Bark of the Bog Owl, Jonathan Rogers

(Christian fiction/allegory)

As Aidan Errol is pronounced Wilderking, a pact is signed between Corenwald and the Pyrthen Empire, but as Aiden shoulders the weight and glory of his destiny, Corenwald is double-crossed and an epic battle to save the kingdom ensues.

Why I liked it: This is a total cheat. It’s the first of a trilogy, an allegory that tells the story of young King David of Israel set in a southern swampland. I liked all three, but I didn’t feel like listing them individually and this list is plenty long as it is. Rogers’s writing is masterful and the story is engaging.

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland

(politics)

More than ever, politics seems driven by conflict and anger. People sitting together in pews every Sunday have started to feel like strangers, loved ones at the dinner table like enemies. Toxic political dialogue, hate-filled rants on social media, and agenda-driven news stories have become the new norm. It’s exhausting, and it’s too much.

In I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), two working moms from opposite ends of the political spectrum contend that there is a better way. They believe that we can

  • choose to respect the dignity of every person,
  • choose to recognize that issues are nuanced and can’t be reduced to political talking points,
  • choose to listen in order to understand,
  • choose gentleness and patience.

Sarah from the left and Beth from the right invite those looking for something better than the status quo to pull up a chair and listen to the principles, insights, and practical tools they have learned hosting their fast-growing podcast Pantsuit Politics. As impossible as it might seem, people from opposing political perspectives truly can have calm, grace-­filled conversations with one another—by putting relationship before policy and understanding before argument.

Why I like it: The political party I’ve identified with for my entire life has worked its way farther and farther from my actual values, but it’s taken with it a lot of people I love. This offers a blueprint for discussions about tough topics with a goal of connection rather than winning.

Tattoos on the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle

(Christianity/social activism)

For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith.

Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom.

These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.

Why I liked it: Father Gregory Boyle is warm and endearing and tells stories that had me alternately laughing and tearing up (often in the same paragraph). He lives in a world I have never experienced but removes the us/them barriers.

I’m Still Here, Austin Channing Brown

(Christian social issues)

Austin Channing Brown’s first encounter with a racialized America came at age 7, when she discovered her parents named her Austin to deceive future employers into thinking she was a white man. Growing up in majority-white schools, organizations, and churches, Austin writes, “I had to learn what it means to love blackness,” a journey that led to a lifetime spent navigating America’s racial divide as a writer, speaker and expert who helps organizations practice genuine inclusion.

In a time when nearly all institutions (schools, churches, universities, businesses) claim to value “diversity” in their mission statements, I’m Still Here is a powerful account of how and why our actions so often fall short of our words. Austin writes in breathtaking detail about her journey to self-worth and the pitfalls that kill our attempts at racial justice, in stories that bear witness to the complexity of America’s social fabric–from Black Cleveland neighborhoods to private schools in the middle-class suburbs, from prison walls to the boardrooms at majority-white organizations.

For readers who have engaged with America’s legacy on race through the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson, I’m Still Here is an illuminating look at how white, middle-class, Evangelicalism has participated in an era of rising racial hostility, inviting the reader to confront apathy, recognize God’s ongoing work in the world, and discover how blackness–if we let it–can save us all.

Why I liked it: This challenged my worldview in important, necessary ways. I thought I was going to have all the words to say about it, but months after finishing, there’s just a strong desire to listen.

Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens

(Fiction)

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Why I liked it: Y’all, the buzz is REAL. I’d heard so much “ohmygosh this book is so good” since it published mid-2018 but actually knew almost nothing about it going in. If you read the summary above, you know far more than I did at the outset. I’m going to let that be and just say it’s an amazing story, well-told.

Adorning the Dark, Andrew Peterson

(Christian/creative living) (I made that genre up.)

Making something beautiful in a broken world can be harrowing work, and it can’t be done alone.

Over the last twenty years, Andrew Peterson has performed thousands of concerts, published four novels, released ten albums, taught college and seminary classes on writing, founded a nonprofit ministry for Christians in the arts, and executive-produced a film—all in a belief that God calls us to proclaim the gospel and the coming kingdom using whatever gifts are at our disposal. He’s stumbled along the way, made mistake after mistake, and yet has continually encountered the grace of God through an encouraging family, a Christ-centered community of artists in the church, and the power of truth, beauty, and goodness in Scripture and the arts.

While there are many books about writing, none deal first-hand with the intersection of songwriting, storytelling, and vocation, along with nuts-and-bolts exploration of the great mystery of creativity. In 
Adorning the Dark, Andrew describes six principles for the writing life:

  • serving the work
  • serving the audience
  • selectivity
  • discernment
  • discipline
  • and community

Through stories from his own journey, Andrew shows how these principles are not merely helpful for writers and artists, but for anyone interested in imitating the way the Creator interacts with his creation.

This book is both a memoir of Andrew’s journey and a handbook for artists, written in the hope that his story will provide encouragement to others stumbling along in pursuit of a calling to adorn the dark with the light of Christ.

Why I liked it: Um, duh, it’s Andrew Peterson. Also, he’s talking about creating and the spiritual import of doing so. Somehow he managed to make a work of art out of a book about making art. I don’t understand, but I’m also not surprised.


There it is. If, for some reason, this list leaves you needing still more books to read, here’s 2018 and 2017.