Little

8/8/17



I tried to think of some way

to let my face become yours.

“Could I whisper in your ear

a dream I’ve had? You’re the only one

I’ve told this to.”

You tilt your head, laughing,

as if, “I know the trick you’re hatching,

but go ahead.”

I am an image you stitch with gold thread

on a tapestry, the least figure,

a playful addition.

But nothing you work on is dull.

I am part of the beauty.

(Rumi)



Do you know what it is to watch a dream die?

I bet you do. Maybe your dream was a career, or maybe a mission. Maybe your dream was a marriage that never happened, or one that dissolved. Maybe your dream was a person. Maybe it was a baby- maybe it was baby after baby after baby. I bet it was a good dream, yours. I bet it was so beautiful.

//

I’ve been running from my thoughts for two weeks, ever since we made the decision. People ask how I feel and I can’t drum up an answer. I don’t know, I don’t have time to think about it, there is so much to be done. I run, I busy myself, but tonight the house is empty. There is nowhere to run.

I sit next to the high chair while the toddler plays with his food. It’s so silent. He babbles and grunts of course but he makes no demands of me. I’m not used to it. His brothers are gone, his daddy, our housemate. Just Taavi and me and the sloshing of pureed carrots. Swish, swish, swish.

I fold at the waist and I cry, cry, cry.

//

We’re in the shower and I watch the orange mush swirl off his body, down the drain. The dirt from our feet leaves gray puddles everywhere: Not a sign of our commitment to solidarity with the poor, not a sign of being in the garden tending the earth, just leftovers from layers of filth in a house that never wanted us. Just a sign of poverty unto nothing.

He stands under my legs like a baby elephant, and my heart lurches with affection. He’s fat and slippery, like the day he was born, and the dirt on the shower floor twirls and mixes with the water and I’m back there again, holding that beautiful, beautiful baby. Taavi, I had whispered to him, dearly loved.

Tiny rivers drip down my swollen belly and plop onto his head, the fourth brother already finding a way to taunt his kakak. Kakak means older sibling in Indonesian, and by the time we had left the little Javanese girls in our alley were using it in reference to me. But that was years ago now. A lifetime, it seems- and well, three lifetimes it was. I was not yet a mother then, when that first dream died in the mountains of Southeast Asia.

You are little, He had told me. Be content to be little.

But I wasn’t.

//

The hot water feels like therapy, and I pray a thanks for the miracle it’s lasted this long while the washer simultaneously hums with the cloth diapers. He starts to whine and I start to smell it. Brown feces on the tile and his face a mild panic, but I’m not done here yet. I swipe the toilet paper and half-heartedly clean it up and into the commode but we don’t get out. He goes back to playing with tin measuring cups and I go back to trying to make sense of today’s onslaught of emotion. It’s disgusting and I know it and maybe you’re judging me but living with other people’s shit is just part of my days right now. Maybe years in the future I’ll think it’s weird too, I don’t know.

I married Eric because I could envision us accomplishing my dreams, together. I didn’t choose marriage because I wanted to lay down my life for him and our children every damn day for the rest of my time on earth. I could just see him grafted into the plans I already had. Easy.

The water pelts my head and runs off my nose. Drip, drip, drip.

I knew nothing of love, nor the vocation of marriage and family. I was a narcissistic 23-year-old who thought we’d be “better together”. More effective for the kingdom, you know. We’d be stronger as a team.

But it turns out, marriage and children and years and years of family life together isn’t about strength at all, except for the kind that comes from being crunched to a pulp and remade. The past 11 years have been marked by our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our failure to live up to our own expectations. Marriage and family life has taken every illusion I had about my own greatness, my own usefulness to God, and it has smashed it underfoot.

After Indonesia, I decided that if my calling was going to just be motherhood, I would make it the hardest, most impressive motherhood anyone ever saw. I -  I mean we – would adopt 12 kids, the more severe the special needs the better. We’d be like that family I saw in a YouTube video once.

Turns out, I’m not the woman I thought I was and bless my pathetic heart it only took one tiny little boy to prove it to me. And the second vanity was blown like a dandelion.

//

And now, this. We are leaving the Catholic Worker because trying to make it work was destroying us. We choose health. We choose our family. We choose wisely, and I know it, but it feels like the final nail in the coffin of my ego and I’m having a hell of a time hammering it in.

Don’t make me little, I beg.

Beloved, you are little. You are so marvelously, marvelously little.

There are a million ways to take up your cross and His arms are outstretched and the water falls and I cry, cry, cry.

On Poverty

7/5/17


For the past eight days, we've had essentially no running water in our home.

It started a few weeks ago when our water pressure dropped drastically and it took several days of phone calls to our landlord to get someone out for repairs. When a plumber finally did come out, he turned the water off completely and said he couldn't fix the pipes. They were too corroded to touch. A second plumber came out the next day and concluded the same thing. Our family of five plus our housemate spent the better part of every day simply trying to survive: Cooking, flushing, washing dishes, cleaning up spills, and even brushing teeth and faces required exhausting levels of work. We hauled water from our friend's house down the street in a Rubbermaid bin and gallons of plastic bottles, lasting us two days at a time before doing it all over again. There was not a single gesture of help or accommodation from our landlord; not one sincere word of regret or condolence.

After five days another plumber came, patched up more than one hole and left, supplying a barely usable trickle of water- not enough to run a washing machine, shower thoroughly, or even flush the toilet. He said it was the city's valve that was faulty. Days after that someone from the city finally showed up, found the mysterious last leak, and patched it up.

Water had been spewing at four gallons a minute, he said. The landlord vaguely assured us we'd "work something out" when we got the water bill. He has yet to decide how much of a discount to give us from our rent this month, despite us demanding it be at least half the norm. The ball is in his court, and he knows it.

//

Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about being denied basic human dignity.

//

Maybe it's easy to hear this story and assume we're getting what we pay for. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We've never paid anything close to the rent we're paying on this house (you'd be appalled if I told you) and it's in the worst shape of anywhere we've ever lived. We had very few choices of rental properties that were in the area of town that is accessible to people without cars- the people we hope to open up hospitable arms to. The further you go out to the 'burbs, the cheaper (and nicer) the properties get. But no one in need can get to you. Which is maybe the point.

But our motives weren't completely altruistic- they were practical too. Our housemate doesn't own a car and needs to be within biking distance to work and other places. Our family only has one car so most days one of us must be able to walk or bike to where we need to go as well. There are two universities in this town and landlords know they can hike the price up if the location is right, because students can cram four or five friends in a house and split the rent. But this house we're in takes the cake. In addition to the water fiasco, the bathroom is old and gross, the backyard so overgrown with sticker burs that it's essentially unusable, and the so-touted "third bedroom" is an entryway that my baby sleeps in that does not have a vent or an outlet. We have to run an extension cord into his room to put a fan in so he can actually sleep through the night without waking in sweat. If we're in this house through the winter, I fear the consequences of putting a space heater in the room. I don't know what we'll do.

The truth is, we want out. But if we break the lease it will cost us money we don't really have and can go on our credit record, possibly keeping us from leasing or owning in the future. We- the three adults in the house- are talking constantly about what to do, and the conversation has been started with the landlord. But ultimately, the ball is in his court. Will he show mercy if we ask to leave amicably? Maybe. Maybe not.

//

Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about who has the power and who doesn't.

//

Because of the mental space the house has taken up in my brain the past week and a half, I missed the necessary window to book a doctor's appointment for Alyosha to get a new Ritalin prescription. I have one our doctor in Iowa sent with us with hope and a prayer, but pharmacies here won't fill it across state lines. So he's been on half meds for two days and runs out tomorrow. Life will get harder for all of us then, unless by some miracle I can get him seen today. I'm angry at myself for letting it sneak up on me, but when you're manually fetching pails of water to flush your children's feces with while they stand around to watch, you don't have time to stay on top of scheduling appointments.

I don't know what school they'll attend because I don't know where we'll be living on August 15th. I haven't registered them anywhere. It might not get done until August 14th. I might be that mom, the one that everyone wonders about. Why didn't she have her act together? Doesn't she care about her children? What is so hard about just filling out some school paperwork?

I'm not sure when the last time was that my oldest two ate a vegetable. Well, I guess it was the green beans at my mother-in-law's house this weekend, but other than that I have no recall. I feel guilty about their eating habits, but once again, when you're just trying to survive it's amazing how quickly things get overlooked.

//

Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about keeping your head above water and everything that drowns as you tread, tread, tread.





A note to end on: My family is going to be okay. We have affluent parents who can meet our basic needs in a crisis, we have higher education degrees that afford us opportunities, we have a lifetime of experience in white middle-class America in our pockets with which to work through options. It will be tempting for many of you to start brainstorming solutions for me, and although I deeply appreciate your care, I assure you we're spinning this over a million different ways in our brains every hour. I didn't write this post hoping you could solve my problems for me, or even for your sympathy or cries of injustice. I'm thankful for how you guys love me, but this post isn't really about me and I hope you see that. I have options. This post is to help us understand the plight of those who don't.




Are We Letting Consumerism Plan Our Families?

6/20/17

I push the massive red cart through the aisles, joking apologetically to passersby about my ineptitude at navigating a spaceship. My three-year-old and one-year-old sit happily enjoying their free ride, chatting it up with one another, with me, with anyone who will listen, really.

We need diapers, so I maneuver carefully through the numerous baby aisles, passing a veritable mass of inventions, each almost identical to the last. For a brief moment, the normalcy of these aisles gives way to reality and I see the absurdity for what it is. I have to count them, I decide. 11 activity mats. 6 excersaucers.

Tossing a few (of the dozen) plush animals at my boys to buy myself some time, I move to the bouncers. Only four, I’m surprised to find, but they all look almost exactly the same: sleek and white, seemingly better suited for the Apple store than the baby aisle of Target; four variations of a product with almost no discernable difference between them.

My three-year-old cannot contain the stimulation any longer. “I want to buy something!” he yells.

Bingo, I think.


Most Christians would probably agree that America has a consumerism problem. Yet if we’re honest, most of us are also unwilling to do anything about it ourselves. We will sit and bemoan the state of a society that values things over relationships, monetary exchanges over natural pleasures, but we subconsciously feed into the epidemic all the time. We convince ourselves that a “want” is really a “need”, we see lack where there is abundance, and we spend money because it physiologically makes us feel good, though we rarely recognize it.

But perhaps most damaging of all: We let consumerism plan our families.

It has become common for happy young couples to wait years before marrying because they are convinced they simply cannot afford family life yet. Certainly, this can be a harmless decision, but let’s face it: it does no favors for those attempting chastity before marriage. Waiting years in an intimate relationship to consummate the intimacy already in one’s heart is no easy task, and all too often becomes one tossed aside in frustration.

But a bigger problem, and one we’re seeing increasingly more frequently are couples in committed marriages postponing having children for years because they don’t feel financially prepared. And can we blame them? Articles like this one claim it costs $12,000 to see a baby through his first year of life, $230,000 to see Junior into adulthood. Who could help but balk at figures like that?

Yet all over the world parents are managing to raise happy, well-adjusted children at a fraction of those numbers, and almost all of our grandparents did as well. Ah, the argument might go, but in our time and place, cost of living is simply much higher. And to an extent that is certainly true: Childbirth itself costs much more than it did 60 years ago, and most American parents plan to save something for their children’s college education. These are valid expenses, absolutely.

But much more impactful may be the thousands of smaller choices between birth and college. With their first walk-through of a big box store’s baby section, parents-to-be may quickly become convinced they’ll need to renovate a new wing of the house to accommodate all the “necessary” gear. Get Chip and Joanna on the phone, stat! And it only continues as that baby grows under the roof of parents who feel they have no option but to keep up with the Joneses. They literally see no other way.


The goal of marketing is to make us feel a lack when in reality there is none. (If there were, we would know: Humans are incredibly attuned when it comes to identifying our vital material needs and seeking to meet them.) And we are never more terrified of lack than when it comes to our children; a noble instinct, but in our modern society, a sorely misdirected one.

If a young married couple believes that before they can bring a baby into the family they must be able to provide a closet full of stylish clothes, the newest playthings, a restaurant’s worth of feeding supplies, and every popular Mommy & Me class in town, they will struggle mightily to embrace a truly pro-life mentality.

And if that’s true of the young marrieds, how much truer is it of those unmarried and facing unplanned pregnancies? When bearing the weight of choice in a culture that tells them they have not “earned” the right to be parents yet, how many feel doomed before they even begin?

We need to support those in crisis pregnancies with programs like the Gabriel Project and local Christian pregnancy centers, to be sure. But have we underestimated the extent to which rejecting a culture of consumerism might change the trajectory of a baby’s life? If we as faithful Christians embraced lifestyles of radical simplicity, might it pave the way for young people to believe that relationships are not built on bank accounts?


One thing I’ve found by now, as I prepare to bring our fourth child into the family, is that babies need far less than our culture tries to convince us of. Quite frankly they are often most happy with less, as parents unable to rely on things are more free to engage in truly bonding activities that help their children thrive. This is a secret many parents of large families wise up to over the years, but it’s a tough sell to convince a first-timer that less is more.

If more of us lived out voluntary simplicity, spoke openly about our tight budgets, and joyfully invited young people into our homes rich in love anyway, perhaps our culture (even if only first within the Church) might become more pro-life. Maybe instead of communicating the message “you don’t have enough to do this”, we could instead communicate, “you are enough to do this”.

And maybe, just maybe we would see more young people made brave against the sneers of society, bolstered by our cheering them on to choose people over things. Every time.

Summer Book List 2017

6/9/17


Hey guys, remember when I promised to roll out a hefty new series on Catholic Social Teaching - while simultaneously moving halfway across the country to rejoin an intentional community, taking on a new part-time job, and welcoming a surprise pregnancy? How absolutely precious of me.

So, yeah. That series is running a bit behind. But I thought I'd hop on, wave hi, and throw some book recs your way for those long summer days ahead! We are due to arrive in Texas on Tuesday and are up to our ears in cardboard boxes as I type. Odds are you'll have a more productive reading season than I, so share your recs in the comments or on FB!

Amazon links are affiliates and help support our house of hospitality at no extra cost to you. And for those who don't know, anything you buy after clicking through my link goes to our credit- it doesn't even have to be the item I recommended. Thanks for thinking of us when you shop!

Just Finished Reading:




This is the kind of delicious novel that you devour in three days. It follows the stories of two women; one a white lawyer in modern-day New York, the other a black slave in 1850s Virginia. The long lasting impacts of slavery are explored here in an accessible way, bringing home again the shocking implications of the foundations of our country. Historical fiction at it's finest.



Currently Reading:




I'm a total sucker for classic literature with a child protagonist (think: To Kill a Mockingbird). This one is a rich coming-of-age story with excellent character development and descriptions. It's not exactly a page-turner, but if you're appreciative of thoughtful, exploratory writing I think you'll dig it. I am always refreshed by seeing the world through the eyes of a child.



Big Father Martin fan here, so my interest was piqued when I saw his spiritual memoir at the library. Coincidentally, it follows the same format that the book in my head does- one that maybe will see the light of day in the next five years. I'm always moved to witness how the faith of the saints and other spiritual mothers and fathers inform the way we live out our personal Christian devotion today. The Body of Christ is a powerful thing.




Sigh, Walter Brueggemann, why aren't you my friendly neighborhood surrogate uncle? If y'all are not familiar with Brueggemann remedy that quick. Most of his tutelage comes to me through husband osmosis, but I'm reading this one cover to cover myself. (And the other authors are great too! Wink.) This is a topic I'm passionate about and think many of you will love it too.



Will Be Reading:



Has everyone else on the planet read this one by now? I'm way behind here but have heard only good things and am determined to tackle it this summer. If you've read it already, was there anything that took you by surprise?



Eric's Reading:



A few chapters into this book and Eric was telling me it's a must-read for me as a mother of boys, so I definitely hope to get my hands on it one day, even if it's not this summer. Neither of us are huge fans of the Wild At Heart kind of men's books, not that there isn't good stuff in there, but because the model is really not inclusive of all types of males. Adam's Return, in contrast, examines the male initiation rites around the world that Rohr has spent half his life studying, and draws conclusions about the needs and desires of manhood and men's relationship to Creator and Creation in light of them. Eric highly recommends it.



Kids Are Reading:




My bigger boys are in stitches over the Pigeon series of books by Mo Willems these days. It's not necessarily impressive academics, but sometimes it's nice to just see your kiddos cracking up as they pore over a picture book. (And they're fun for parents to read too!)

Linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for Quick Lit!

//

It's about time for another monthly newsletter update, and thank you to those who took the time to fill out the quick survey last month- your feedback was so helpful! If you'd like to sign up for these more personal notes, you can do so here. I'm excited to tell you All The Things after our big move next week! See you then!
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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS