Just Keep Stirring
My husband is known to come into the kitchen and say, "Keep stirring," but he actually means "you don't need to stir that so much." He calls me a "stirrer," which I guess sounds somewhat better than what he called me on our third date. We were having Chinese food (for the second time) and he suddenly said, "You're an eater." I was taken aback and indignant, but as I got to know him, I realized it was a compliment, because it turned out that we were both foodies...which brings me back to stirring. I developed that habit as a child when I started helping my mom cook dinner. Since there was not a lot to do, she had me stir things, which I enjoyed, so I rarely put down the spoon or spatula - stirring sauces, turning bacon, flipping grilled cheese...multiple times.
My husband's nickname for me fits me in many ways - literally and figuratively. For the first decade or more of our marriage, I frequently rearranged rooms and furniture, which was not always a lot of fun for him (when he was home for me to enlist his help), but he graciously assisted in lifting and sliding and moving furnishings into their new positions...which immediately afterwards (or some months later) would sometimes end up back upstairs or downstairs, in the same place it had been before. It was great when we finally bought furniture sliders to go underneath heavy items. Eventually I settled down and rearranging became less frequent, but it still happens from time to time.
Why all the domestic stirring? Part of it had to do with three growing children with toys, books, and their creations, as well as their need for spaces conducive to learning, creativity, and play, all in relatively close quarters (1600 sq. foot condo) with no garage or yard (just a porch and patio). Being the visionary type, I would get new ideas for how to use things to be more functional or aesthetically pleasing. My perfectionistic tendencies drove me to look for the best placement, and I would determine that from a variety of angles. But theory often didn't match reality, so trial and error led to all the switching around. Changing circumstances were also a factor - deciding to homeschool, my mom moving in with us for a few months, kids not sharing rooms anymore, wanting all screens in one space, and the shifts in all of the above as time went on. Getting rid of and acquiring stuff also sparked stirring.
On a deeper, more personal level, altering our environment made it feel fresh - newness without making major life changes. Yet it was also a form of procrastination. Instead of dealing with the details - piles of papers in file boxes accumulated over many years of not keeping up with the fast moving conveyor belt of family/homeschooling life. I would continually say that I could only do that once my surroundings were in perfect order, which never happened because I procrastinated on the day-to-day as well. I also put off my creativity by thinking that once I got our entire house in order, it would be conducive to all the catching up (sorting, purging, putting everything in its place), then I could finally create (write, do art, weed and print digital photos, make memory books, etc.).
I say all this in the past tense, but truthfully, it continues to this day, though I feel like I'm so close to turning a corner now that I've just graduated our oldest and will be wrapping up our homeschool chapter in four years. Summer is slipping away, as it always does, despite a much clearer calendar due to all the social distancing restrictions in my state, but I've got about six weeks before we start our new school year, so I'm feeling hopeful that all my stirring will be productive rather than procrastination techniques, such as sorting candy into different categories (this happened more when the kids were younger - now they are in charge of their own candy categorization) and testing all the colored markers and organizing them by kind (just last week). Because I hate handling details, it is a stress response to immerse myself in meaningless minutiae to escape tackling more important drudgery.
At the same time, there is a natural part of me that likes analyzing and compartmentalizing. I generally prefer to do that with abstractions - philosophy, psychology, theology - but doing it tangibly can relax my brain and invigorate my senses - at least at first. By the time I finish, I can barely see straight and need a nap. All the stirring is eventually exhausting and unfulfilling. The tedium and the futility go against my genuine self that seeks meaning and transcendence. I end up with a guilty hangover for procrastinating purposeful priorities and passions of the imagination or intellect.
In addition to all that stirring, I'm a pot stirrer. Violations of morality fire me up. I have a habit of entering the fray to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness or to aid another who is in that place and under attack. I've been this way adolescence, growing up in a culture that opposes my worldview and rejects absolute truth. As a Christian in one of the most liberal areas of the USA (Marin County, San Francisco Bay Area), I've always gone against the flow - I even had the t-shirt in high school. "Just keep swimming [upstream]" was a theme of my youth before leaving the rapids of the river to settle in the pond of domesticity fed by the waterfall that is family life. Instead of fighting the current, I have been swimming in circles, thus stirring the waters.
However, I have never completely stayed away from the river - social media has made it far too easy to go back and forth between my actual life and engaging "the world." That has intensified with the extreme polarization of the country in our current crisis state. The last few months on social media have created a near constant state of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire - it's gone beyond pot stirring and into virtual ideological warfare on several fronts. I won't go into the details of all that now, but I'm sensing I need to stir the pot a lot less and go back to stirring what's in my house and my soul.
That brings me to soul stirrings - I honestly did not know where I was going with this when I started writing it. Writing stirs my soul like nothing else. Moving my thoughts from my mind on to the page (I write in a notebook before I transcribe to my blog) stirs up what's below the surface, so I can look at it, and see it all together, rather than fragments floating in the murky depths of my consciousness. My soul is stirred to grow - to leave off stirring that just goes in circles in exchange for stilling the waters to practice reflection. Stir and then stop. Don't just keep moving stuff around to strive for perfection that actually is paralyzing. Don't wait for the waters to stir. Dive into creating and attack the piles instead of stirring the room or the paperclips. More importantly, keep breathing throughout, and break for deep breaths. Tune into my soul stirrings - commune with my Creator and listen to that still, small voice; be attentive to the voices of those around me, and pour into my loved ones from the living waters that is the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
I agree with not comparing ourselves to other people's virtual facades, but really our online selves are just an extension of how we present ourselves in person, which is also not the whole picture of our lives. In fact, I know many people better through Facebook than in person, where all I can get out of them is small talk, if that - many times, we're like ships passing in the night.
And for introverts, this medium helps us to express the deeper thoughts that are harder to articulate on the spot with everyone looking at us and waiting for an immediate answer. But I am talking about writing, not about posting pictures and blurbs that really are akin to the same "in real life" interactions of fixing up our appearances and engaging in superficial conversations.
The best of both worlds is cultivating those deeper one-to-one friendships and small groups, and that same sort of authenticity (sorry for that word, but it fits) carrying over into our expressions online.
Granted, not everyone likes to write, so they cannot be blamed for only posting quips and pictures, nor should they be accused of only showing themselves in a good light. Not everyone wants to be vulnerable in this place, but that doesn't mean they are being fake or that that they don't reveal their struggles to those they trust.
So really, it's our problem if other people's posts make us feel envious, left out, etc. I have felt this way at times, but it's always because I haven't been spending time with that person, so I feel disconnected from them. That's when I reach out. If it's ignored, then I stop looking at their posts as often, so that I'm not reminded of the rejection. Eventually, if there is no mutuality, I may even unfriend them, because what's the point of only being connected to someone online if they are not interested in actual friendship with me?
Well, it's possible that they still read what I post sometimes and are encouraged, helped, or somehow touched...so then I have to put aside thoughts about myself and trust God that He wants me to keep that connection, even if it feels totally one-sided. That's also my calling as a writer - to minister to others without looking for my own gain. Someone may benefit from what I share without necessarily wanting anything else - I can either feel used, ignored, or not worry about it, and trust that God is working all things for good for those who love him.
I blog constantly. The trouble is that because [good] writing is so arduous and time consuming, most of it never makes it out of my head and on to the screen. Here are a few relics to prove it. Now's your chance to tell me if you would me to flesh out (pardon the pun you'll soon recognize) any of the following (italicized bits are transitions between posts):
What's Missing from the Modesty Debate
I'm an unabashed card carrying member of the modesty patrol, but I'm about to jump off the bandwagon and start my own band of vigilantes, because I'm starting to see where we've been coming at this all wrong....at least from the view of what it means to follow Jesus. Behind every virtue is another virtue, so if we track modesty back, we get to humility, and if we trace that to its root, we get to love. As C.S. Lewis said, true humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."
You can't be humble and immodest at the same time. The attitude of "if you've got it, flaunt it" isn't humble. So what is? It's seeking to help others rather than draw attention to ourselves. Putting on a low cut shirt or skin tight jeans or a short skirt cannot be done from a place of humility. It's either insecurity, vanity, or another -ity that is self-centered.
...On a kind of related note...though I didn't get far enough to make the connection, and to be honest, I've rather forgotten what it was right now, but considering I was willing to embarrass myself, it must have been profound...
Of Dainties and Danishes
To some women, God gives dainties, and to others, danishes. I confess to having coveted my neighbors' danishes, while failing to appreciate my own dainties. It didn't help that when my children depended upon my dainties for nourishment, they still didn't grow to the size of danishes, and they turned out to be low fat!
...More bodily related stuff...what is the fixation?? I think I'm digging myself deeper here...
What If We Prayed As Often As We Peed
I'm a master at two things, which go hand in hand: procrastination and inconsistency. Take, for example (actually the point of this post), the prayer closet I created in the spring. Most days it collects dust, much like my soul. Distractions trump good intentions almost every time. And then I go looking to recalibrate my spiritual life, which is what happened three weeks ago, when I went to the reflective retreat at Mount Hermon, which was, for the second time, like entering the wardrobe and coming out in Narnia, minus the animals and the drama. I've been meaning to blog about my experience ever since I returned (which is what I meant to do a year ago when I went the first time). Obviously it hasn't happened…yet. There's that word I'm always saying: "not just YET…"
…So a funny thing happened that has nothing to do with spending time alone with God, but it's affecting it…in a good way. Even more than my soul, I neglect my body. One thing I don't do enough of is drink water. I was reading a book (being so theoretical is largely responsible for my YET life) and it talked about the importance of getting enough H20. So we bought a fancy alkalizing water filter (to help balance out our acidity) and now I'm trying to drink more water…and tea, and sometimes coffee (but caffeine
...Yup, I stopped mid-sentence. Probably the kids' fault. Life is a series of interruptions. But at least I got that far, unlike this next post which is a mere title...
How Homeschooling Liberates Women
Rather than passively reflecting back on the past year, I'm going to spend the coming year traveling through the last decade and then some, all the way to the founding of my family. Before I explain how my time machine will work, here's a little background:
I got married 12+ years ago, pregnant a month later, and then over the next five years, had three children, moved to five different houses, and relocated our business twice. A little over two years after we finally settled down and stopped having kids, we unexpectedly started homeschooling. That was five years ago this month.
Lots of other things happened during that time, but guess what didn't happen? Filing. As in papers didn't get sorted or purged. They piled up and got put into boxes. The only organization to those boxes is two categories: 1) the children's artwork 2) everything else. These boxes currently line our upstairs hallway. Partly because we don't have a garage and partly because I'm delusional - I have continued believing that if they're visible, I will deal with them. Instead, the collection keeps relocating, and on average, a new box is added to it every year (in each of the two categories).
I admit to having hoarding on one side of my family. Thankfully, there are minimalists on the other side. So I tend to collect papers and books, while frequently purging other stuff. In fairness to myself, I am continually giving away books, but new (used) ones seem to constantly replace them. So it's the papers that are the bane of my existence. And after that, it's the digital files, namely the visual souvenirs of our life stored in iPhoto, which also go unsorted, and therefore unprinted.
Back to the future...er, present, and how that relates to the past. Enter the phrase "reflect and project." I am a future oriented person and an idealist. Which has led to more delusions. Like believing that there's a pot of gold at the end of my boxes. That when I finally have discarded 80% of what's in them and organized the remainder, I can then begin to fully live. Order will bring me peace, out of which will flow creativity and harmony. It's actually rather similar to how many view a new year - as the opportunity for a clean slate. That if we can just put the past behind us and head out on the right path, it will lead us to the self and the life we've always dreamed of.
Well, I've decided that united, the above delusions can actually divide and conquer. To deconstruct my idol of idealism, I must deconstruct my piles. I'm calling it Reflect and Project. During one hour of the kids' afternoon rest time, I will alternate Reflect days with Project days (hereafter referred to as RD & PD). On RDs, I will sort and file one box (when I get through all of them, I will move on to organizing digital files). On PDs, I will create - write, make art, or work on my MMTIC certification. Reflect signifies both processing through the memories resurrected through finding old pieces of my life and the idea of reflecting God's image through implementing order. Project means both its noun form, as in creative project, and its verb form - projecting into the future, as in goal setting based on future vision.
...So an hour a day (five days a week) is devoted to the past and the future, which means I hope to be living in the present most of the other 23 hours a day. And how do I intend to do that? Well, I've got another hour a day goal, but this one is a limit. On my internet activity. That's right - one hour a day for reading articles and interacting on social media (doesn't include productivity stuff like renewing library books, banking, ordering household goods, etc.). I have a timer app on my browser that shows me how long I've been browsing and it's broken down into websites, so I can see the time spent on each one. The way that I'm hoping to accomplish this - gulp - is by giving myself that hour when the kids have their screen time, since that's their limit as well. That both keeps me accountable and ensures that the computer doesn't divert my attention from the kids. It will stay off until that hour, and since I rarely text and don't like typing on my mobile devices, I will just use them for checking email, writing brief responses when needed, and doing the "work" stuff I listed earlier.
Another reason for the limitation on my internet usage is because I really want to return to writing on a consistent basis. I had hoped to begin that last spring, but apparently I wasn't ready. So I'm planning to purchase a nifty word processor type keyboard which can send data to the computer. We bought our 11 year-old an electronic typewriter last year, which she loves, but the correction feature conked out, so she and I are going to both love using this new writing instrument. My goal is to blog once a week and to begin working on outlines for some book ideas I've been pondering.
Before I go on with my other goals, I should back up a bit to the theme that ties it all together. It actually relates to my previous post. Just as the the Sunday morning church service models a pattern for worship during the week, our days have a liturgy, guided by our priorities. We can think of Sundays as the feasts of the church year, and the rest of the week as ordinary time. It's easy to lose our spiritual focus during those warm, lazy days of summer and hectic weeks of fall when we're not following a pattern of seasonal worship. So, too can we drift from what really matters as we go about the business of our daily, routine lives.
To build a template (so to speak) of hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly living that adds up to a purposeful year, which year upon year creates a meaningful life, the foundation can only be one thing: It's what Jesus said was the greatest command: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. So "my" time must be based on activities that bring every part of me into worship (enjoying God and glorifying Him) - my intellect, my emotions, my body, and my spirit. When we are loving God (which we can only do by receiving his love), we can follow what Jesus said was the next greatest command: Love others as yourself.
I talked about a couple of the major ways I intend to love God with my mind in 2014 - there are more of them, as well as goals for my heart, body, and spirit (not that they're all neatly compartmentalized like that) that I will share in my next post...
Most people (well, only the lucky few who get them) take a sabbatical every seven years, but in my case, I've taken a sabbatical for seven years. Not from a job, though, but from what I'm doing right now: blogging.
Seven years ago (maybe even to the day), I signed off what was then known as the God blogosphere. I was part of that first wave of Christian bloggers who started talking aloud and then to each other. We created a larger dialogue that manifested itself in posts and comments and blog carnivals and even a convention - GODBLOGCON. Despite different denominations, backgrounds, ages, genders, and more, there was a kinship between us. That's not to say there wasn't also controversy and tension, but it didn't dominate our interactions.
My first blog was called Proverbial Wife. I started it in late 2003 or early 2004 (I had my first baby at that time, so it's a bit hazy, and I'm too lazy to go look it up). The name was a reference to the Proverbs 31 woman, whom I aspired to be, and it was quite catchy, but despite its popularity, I eventually changed it (felt like to much to live up to), and that - changing blog names - was to become a pattern with me. I can't even remember all the names, but the main ones were Marla Swoffer (as in dot com) and Marla's Musings and Always Thirsty. I also had multiple blogs at various times - notably, Olive Cheeses (food blog), GodBlogRoll (a directory of blogs categorized by bloggers' Myers-Briggs personality types), and Intellectuelle, a group blog of Christian women who won a writing contest I dreamed up - it was hosted by Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost.
I loved connecting with others who shared my faith and were deep thinkers, since it had rarely happened offline after I finished school. It was as close as I would get to being part of something like the Inklings - that group of Christian writers which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, my literary (and in Lewis' case, spiritual as well) heroes. Speaking of the Inklings, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the way my blog got its wings was when it was noticed by Jared Wilson, ringleader of what was then The Thinklings, a group blog, which though all male, I considered kindred spirits. They were the first ones to spread "the conversation" to my fledgling blog. (mind you, when I use that phrase, it has nothing to do with anything "emergent")
After 2+ years of blogging daily (or more), I had a solid readership, but the nagging feeling (conviction) that I needed to change my priorities finally got through to me with the news that I was pregnant with my third (and last) child. I had sensed that I should quit blogging when I was about to have my second child, a year before, but when an amazing and generous couple who read my blog gifted me with my first apple computer (which totally converted me) - a macbook (after I joked that I would blog during my labor if I only had a laptop) - I felt that I couldn't throw in the towel just yet, that with this second baby perhaps I'd finally master time management.
That was not to be. And instead of writing from inspiration, it had become an obligation to perform fueled by my desire for acceptance/affirmation/admiration as well as a more pure motive of wanting to encourage and connect with others. But there I had trouble as well - I was too transparent and vulnerable. I didn't "overshare" by today's blogging standards, but it was too much for my personality type (we INFJs are extremely private) and there were other factors at the time (see I've learned to censor myself) that made keeping certain deep things offline even more important (hint: never work out stuff on the internet that you haven't worked out with people in real life first).
The other problem was that because of being a crusader for truth, I was attracted to controversy, or it to me, but whatever the case, it got ugly. The stuff I alluded to in the aforementioned paragraph got mingled in with the online drama, which caused me major distress...and did I mention I was also in my first trimester of pregnancy? That brings me back to the biggest reason I had to quit blogging: my family. I had three year-old and one year-old daughters, with a son on the way. I wanted my attention to be focused on them - after all, they were the reason I was staying home. I also wanted to guard their privacy. And of course there was my husband, too. My online life definitely detracted from my real life - I simply couldn't spread myself so thin, especially being the slow, methodical, non multi-tasking person that I am. I won't even mention how my daily hours online affected the housework...
So that is why I quietly exited my public writing life seven years ago, feeling both relief and grief, but believing I would one day return to my writing (since I have always known - well, since high school - that it's a calling/vocation) when the kids were all in school and I would have my mornings free. That was supposed to have happened this last fall, but three years after I quit blogging, we unexpectedly became a homeschooling family, and I knew things would never unfold the way I had planned, but I also didn't (and don't) regret being on this path...and adventure really...that God has marked out for us. I also know how much it will enrich my writing.
Somewhere in there, I started blogging again (what can I say, I couldn't stay away), but not with my real name and not with any consistency. Thus I had no readership until a couple of years ago when I adopted the Literary Mom pseudonym. I was already a regular Facebook customer (see, even quitting my day blog couldn't keep me offline...sigh...), so setting up a writerly page really couldn't be helped. Thus, instead of blogging, I was blurting out thoughts and curating information for others (i.e. amassing lots of interesting links that came into my massive news feed caused by an untold number of page likes). That continues to this day, though I have "unplugged" from Facebook for weeks and months at a time (fasting it from it for Advent or Lent usually) to sort of reset myself. The internet is paradoxically a perpetual source of angst and delight for me as a person and a writer. I have a love-hate relationship with it and its social media offspring.
This past Lent, I gave up white flour and sugar and alcohol (except on feast days of course), and found myself blogging a little more frequently, which was what I set out to do, albeit half-heartedly. It felt surprisingly right and good. That got me thinking about how long it had been since I had left the God blogosphere; I realized it was exactly seven years. Through the working out of various circumstances (including a reconciliation I consider miraculous) in recent months, I had felt a gentle nudging to come out of hiding, so to speak, but also a sense of trepidation. Nothing had changed for me to be able to suddenly devote myself to my writing - my kids aren't little, but they're still young - and homeschooling is very consuming. So I really wasn't sure what the point in using my real name now would be, yet I also started to feel bothered about my picture being a face behind a book. While it had been apt for a season, I sensed that keeping it (and continuing to not use my real name) began to reflect a kind of cowardice that didn't apply to me. In fact, overcoming fear continues to be a major theme in my life.
So the seven year timing (I'm big on patterns and symbols and rhythms), feeling free to be myself, and rediscovering the joy of writing all gave me the inspiration to throw off the anonymity that bound me and cautiously start a new chapter in my blogging life, going forward with the lessons learned from my previous one, as well as what I have learned during these past seven years of relative reclusivity.
Here are some of my blogging resolutions:
I will not market myself or network or have giveaways (not really my personality anyway).
I will not blog out of compulsion or obligation or on any kind of timetable.
I will steer clear of controversial subjects, especially pertaining to other bloggers and their views.
I will write to express what matters, not just to me, but to others, and most of all, to God.
I will keep my family my first priority and not let blogging distract me or steal time from them.
I will be careful about what I share, guarding my family's privacy and not getting too personal.
If I am ever unsure, I will pray about what to say. I will not impulsively blog.
I will not compare myself to other bloggers or compete with them.
I will not feel compelled to respond to every comment. In fact, responding to comments will be the exception rather than the rule.
Why I Don't Write
The present moves too quickly for me, like a conveyor belt dumping unsorted words and pictures into the past, the chaos capturing my creativity in a prison of piles, printed and digital. If only I could turn the time machine off for a moment to get caught up. Then I might finally be free to paint the blank canvas the future is always dangling before me.
Is He Him and Am I Me?
Dinner is ready - pork tenderloin and sweet potatoes are in the slow cooker; cranberry-mandarin sauce is in the fridge. I should be changing loft bed sheets (my most dreaded monthly task), but I'm going to let my husband help me with that, so that while the kids have their screen time, I can have mine (not that I haven't already been online throughout the day). Yesterday I dumped 9 pages of rambling into my journal (the one pictured above). I felt like there were so many ways and angles to approach expressing the epiphany that came to me, but I had to just pick one, and in so doing, I didn't expand upon its every facet of meaning. To do that would have resulted in not just a very lengthy blog post, but an entire series. And frankly, just the thought of that overwhelms me. Rather than polishing my scrawlings into eloquently articulated prose, I merely transcribed them (okay, I ended up totally reworking it), and hopefully you'll find a diamond in the rough, or at least an intact shell amongst the fragments of my mind.
Sometimes just thinking deep thoughts makes me tired, let alone trying to craft them into something worth sharing with the world. And that brings me to my epiphany...(forgive the inconsistent tenses, as this is both past, present and future, but all at the same time)
For a while now, I have been questioning my calling as a writer, wondering if that's really how God gifted me, and if he did, if it was just for a season. About a decade ago, a major shift occurred both in the world and in my life, and it has intensified with each passing year. Some of you know it as Web 2.0, which interestingly coincides with my own metamorphosis. As the internet entered its next incarnation, now known as social media, I became a wife, mother, and homeschooler. I went from being a person who spent a lot of time alone and a writer whose online interactions were limited to a static website and occasional chatroom to being surrounded by people nearly 24/7 and part of a virtual world where I communicated with multitudes in real time. While I was making the transition in my identity, the thing which had previously defined me the most was being redefined by a new media world without clear distinctions between writing and written communication. I haven't the time or energy to do what I once lived to do (while pining for the life I have now), but my talents (if I have them) are certainly not missed in a world where everyone with a computer (which is everyone) is a writer. So I'm losing [a part of] myself and left wondering if that's who I really am anyway. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic.
There were some other changes too. I used to be something of a crusader, though my voice wasn't as pious as some. I liked to write about controversial ethical issues. My writing was fueled by standing up for what was right, for going against the flow - you know, all the usual cliches of a Christian girl growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area and immersing herself in liberal institutions of education and journalism. Some of my identity was in the facing the challenge of being the odd woman out. I'm still passionate about injustice, but I'm not as black and white or as judgmental (it's the old adage - the more you know, the less you know). So some of that fire that fueled my writing isn't there anymore - I've mellowed as I've been humbled. And I'm also not out there "fighting" because I spend most of my time at home - I'm the keeper and educator of my children now, not the literary Joan of Arc I sort of resembled before.
With this shift in my thinking, so little time to spare for writing and so many words inundating us, I feel even more pressure to say only what is worth saying, that others aren't already saying...and so I have been wondering if I really have a unique voice and meaningful messages that can help others. And if I do, is it even needed? The last thing I want to be is another onscreen distraction from people (including me) living life to the fullest.
It has been humbling to have these thoughts, but it has also brought on an identity crisis of sorts. Suddenly I faced the possibility of not being who I thought I was. And if I wasn't that person, then why did I still have the desire to be her? The compulsion to write wasn't gone - far from it - I'm on the catch and release program with ideas and insights, except that I'm not usually intentionally fishing for them. They come and I let them go. Always with a twinge of guilt. Though I remain convinced that the good ones - if there are any - will return at a time when I can fully grapple with them. So my passion to write has been stifled...or is it just being tempered? My mom (aka my muse) said something today about how when we're held back, God uses that to make it even better when it's fulfilled. But it's natural to also question the whole thing. Which is what I've been doing until now (yes, the epiphany is still coming - you didn't miss it).
On Thursday, I was washing dishes when it dawned on me (and no, I wasn't using that brand of dish soap) that my "identity crisis" was very similar to the crisis of faith I experienced in college. Having grown up in the church for the latter half of my childhood, I began grappling with philosophical questions now that I was out on my own: Was God who I believe he was? Was the Bible really true? There were so many belief systems that seemed to be saying so many of the same things. How was I to know that the religion I had been raised with was the right one? Maybe they were all (or none) valid.
C.S. Lewis to the rescue...I didn't even have to finish reading Mere Christianity before my doubts were assuaged. I continued to read apologetics and other books written by "thinking Christians." Underlying my intellectual struggles with my faith, though, something stronger was there all along. Actually someone. His name is Jesus. He had been with me through a tumultuous childhood (not the churchy one you might have been assuming) and brought me into a flourishing adulthood that would not have been the natural outcome of my upbringing. Prayers answered, provision supplied, path directed, comfort rendered, insights revealed - my life was a series of epiphanies, or theophanies, if you will, of my Creator and Savior walking with me, and carrying me when I most needed him.
That paragraph read like a Christian cliche - from C.S. Lewis to the famous Footprints poem. But there's a reason for cliches. They express universal truths. You can fault them just for being overused.
Jesus in my life and Jesus in the Bible might not always feel real, but he was true. Truer than me to myself or to Him. The thought of living without him was more than I could bear. Why would I feel that way if he were just a figment of my imagination? Losing my religion would mean gaining acceptance in the world in the prime of my life - recognition, praise, admiration and reward for my abilities and appearance. The temptation to turn away was strong, but the knowledge of whom I would be turning my back on was stronger. I could not simply forget what God had done for me, nor could I risk losing the fulfillment I had from following him, even if at times, the way was not clear and the guide was silent. He had proven himself over and over, though not in the scientifically observable ways tangible objects can be tested, so to decide it had all been a delusion would be to deny my identity in Christ...and who would I be without that? Without him?
Therein lies the parallel between my crisis of faith and my crisis of calling. I had been questioning my identity in much the same way I had questioned God's, though on a less fundamental level, but still involving both of us, because who God is, who I am, and what I am called to are inextricably linked. This time around, 20 years later, I am, predictably, much clearer about the fundamentals - I know I am a child of God (not that I don't still go through bouts of doubt), a woman (no doubt about that one!), a wife, and a mother. All of that is more than enough. In fact, the first is sufficient. And yet, there is one more defining part of me - my calling to write. God being Creator is enough, but he is also Savior and Lord, and because he made humans in his image, we, too, need to realize the full expression of him in our lives, so that we can use our passion and dreams to carry out his purposes. We are each an epiphany, a manifestation of his love, grace, and truth to the world. If we can do something, we should do it for his glory, even if we cannot do it as much or in the exact way we think we should.
What I realized about believing in my calling is not that I'll never doubt it again - just as I still have times of questioning who God is - but that I can't measure its validity by the state of the world or even my own life. While who I am is tied to what I do, it is not defined by it. Just as God is not defined by my spiritual experience of him. I am in a season of life where I cannot devote myself to writing or theology or contemplative endeavors. Yet those longings in me don't wither just because I can't fully pursue them. Knowing who I am and who God made me, I can trust that what I am doing now - raising and educating my children - will make me a better writer and help me to know God more, so that when this season shifts to a new one, I can bring my experiences, and my more mature self into the next season when, Lord willing, I can use the other parts of me that have been developing through mere living. That may look nothing like what I imagine now, but that reminds me of how it is with our deeper longings, which cannot be satisfied in this life. We envision their fulfillment in heaven but we do that with our earthly imaginations. There is so much we sense yet cannot grasp, so we must hold tightly to what has been revealed to us - who God is, his great love for us, who we are in Christ, and what he has called us to.
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." ~James 1:17
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people." ~Philippians 2:13-15
"But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith." ~Philippians 1:22-25
A Different Kind of Amuse Bouche
I remember the first time I was served an amuse bouche. Just when I was trying not to reach for another piece of bread, a tiny plate of fuschia and golden beets sprinkled with smoked sea salt was set in front of me (see picture). Not only was I unaware that beets came in more than one color, but that restaurants (really good ones) sometimes serve a complimentary pre-meal morsel called an "amuse bouche." Literally, it means "mouth pleaser." I'm not big on beets, so my mouth was indeed surprisingly pleased by the delicate and satisfying flavor of this amuse bouche. It also encouraged me that more good things were to come.
I like the quote in the wikipedia entry "The amuse-bouche is the best way for a great chef to express his ideas in small bites." Spiritually speaking, what if God was the great chef, the gospel was his idea, and your words were the small bites?
Before most people encounter Jesus in a personal way, they will meet his followers - not just in person, but in books and blogs by believers. The old saying "you're the only Bible someone will ever read" could be more hopefully phrased as "you're the first Bible someone will ever read" Christians are obviously not perfect representations of who God is or flawless interpreters of his written revelation of himself to us, but that is precisely how he will use us to reach others. His power is made perfect in our weakness. He has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. And at the same time, God made each person in his image. He loves us and reveals himself to us and through us. Our words--spoken and written--can illuminate God's truth.
Let us then be a living fragrance, so that when people breathe in our words--either aloud or through our pens--it will provoke an irresistible urge to taste and and see that the Lord is good. May his Holy Spirit in us awaken their spiritual senses and pique their palates like an amouse-bouche, making them hungry for Jesus and thirsty for the water that only he can give, beckoning them to the holy banquet where they can be satisfied with the richness of his grace, in the presence of their Creator who has a unique purpose for each human being in bringing glory to himself.
This is a new blog, but I am currently stuffing the archives with "the best of" from the past six years of my blogging life. I sense that this will be my permanent writing home, so I want it to chronicle my journey from the beginning of this era.
The Dearth and the Angst
As per usual, life has gotten in the way of blogging, which is as it should be. Being should occupy more space than expression. Doing than thinking. Practice than theory. Living than communicating. This is the mentality I have been trying to live since quitting my former (obsessive-compulsively posted to) blog a few years ago, and more recently. It's a constant challenge and I often fail due to my propensity to all things intangible, chiefly written words, whether my own or others'. My one victory is that I have never texted. But that's mostly because I'm too cheap and lazy.
Really, what it boils down to is that I don't have a sensing preference. I am intuiting with a capital N (iNfj), which means I prefer to operate in the internal world of ideas and ideals, abstractions and concepts, dreams and visions. Extraverted sensing is my inferior function, and I've been developing it ever since I entered my 30s and started having children. Parenthood of young children is a very hands-on role. Physically caring for another human being who needs to be held, fed, clothed, diapered, bathed, wiped (nose, hands, butt), and just generally touched a lot requires the intense use of all five senses, especially tactile.
At the same time I became a mother, I became a homemaker, and that too is largely sensory. I can cook well, but I'm slow, oh so slow, and clean up takes me even longer. But the truth is that I spend more time researching and analyzing recipes than it takes me to make them. And really, this is how I am about everything. School (and I was a professional student my whole life through my 20s) really didn't prepare me for becoming a mom and homemaker. And because of my natural abilities, I didn't learn to manage time well--I crammed and performed well under pressure. Pressure (usually caused my own procrastination) these days results in me being impatient with the kids and yelling. Ack.
...So where am I going with this? I yearn to write, to create, to carry out all sorts of brilliant (or not so) ideas, but I absolutely cannot in good conscience do any of that (including blogging) if my house is not in order. And I don't just mean externally, though that's a big part of it, but not in any Martha Stewart sort of way. Right now our homeschool room is in process, as am I, and I need someone to light a fire under my behind to get me sorting (the story of my unorganized life), arranging, preparing, planning, and just generally getting our little academy ready to open its doors in...oh, just over a week. Already, I feel myself pushing that forward a week, because there's simply no way...
And that, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling. There is no pressure. And yet there is. Never before have I felt so compelled to get my act together. It may also have to do with a sort of microcosm in our home. This summer I finally got our daughters' room in order. The systems are in place, and with regular checking, it's staying pretty much that way. It was well worth the glazed over eyes and wrecked back I had from strewing a million tiny objects on the rug and figuring out which sparkly speck went with which playset (and we don't even have that many toys!). I also converted our Ikea coffee table (the one with the little sorting slots underneath) into their Calico Critters dollhouse table and toy holder. Whenever I repurpose something (which is pretty frequently), it's like getting a shot of adrenalin.
Systems are key to creativity and productivity. I'll never be a slave to systems, but I intend to master them. First, though, they have to be put in place, which is where I am right now. I've actually been here for years (trying to catch up) but a couple of new things this year are making my dreamy self actually move forward--one is homeschooling and the other is not having any more children. This is the first time in the last seven years that I have not been pregnant or had an infant. My youngest (and my only boy) is totally milking that (no, we're not still breastfeeding!). Much of my daughter's lives at ages 2 and 3 are a blur, because of their siblings entering our lives, so I'm reveling in actually experiencing my son's transition from toddler to preschooler. Speaking of which, he just started going to preschool part-time, three mornings, which is another reason I actually have some hope of not only getting everything in order, but actually doing a decent job homeschooling.
There you have it. The dearth of posts lately and the angst of me having lots of things to say (and the drafts/pictures/recipes to prove it), but absolutely having to abide my conscience and get down and dirty with papers and books and other printed materials which have hindered my life for far too long. I have no intention of going away from this blog, but I don't know how long it will be before I post again, let alone regularly, so pray for me. To follow through. To become fast. To stop reading everything online and crafting emails as if they're novels and looking up 50 too many recipes every night for dinner and all the other zillions of microbial time wasters that keep me from using my gifts, both to bless my family and the great big world my heart aches to somehow give to as well.