Can We Talk About Our Consumerism for a Minute?



Eeesh, that's an ugly word.  And it's one that's been on my mind a lot lately.  Can I tell you the ridiculous story of how it started?

Last week I noticed that the leaves, they are a fallin', and it's probably about time to unearth the rake and take care of bidness.  Unfortunately, the rake is no where to be found which means it's still happily sitting (sprawling? what do rakes do?) in the shed of our old abode in Texas.  So one morning I head to the thrift store with Moses to locate a $1 rake.  (I got our snow shovel there in July.  I know they're good for it.)

But alas, no rake was to be found.  And don't you think that I didn't look in the vintage books, kitchen knick knacks, and children's clothing because you just never know with rakes.  I purchased the boys some shoes that they did actually need and then slipped in a little somethin' somethin' for myself.

It's the orange one.  I will never, ever, ever read it.  I don't even know what kind of book it is.  I just like it, okay?

I felt too guilty about it to tell Eric and I still haven't, so if you're reading this babe.... hi.

I like to think of myself as a simple person.  A conscientious human being.  Relatively speaking, I don't buy a lot of things.  But when I do I put a lot of thought into where I make my purchases because I want them to be from ethical, responsible sources.  But this week I've realized something: I don't put a lot of thought into why I make my purchases.  And that's what's been on my mind lately.  That's where the concept of consumerism comes in.

I buy things when I'm sad.  I buy things when I'm bored.  I buy things on a whim when buying something else would have been much wiser.  As much as I despise our modern culture of consumerism, I would be the hypocrite of all hypocrites if I denied that it's in me too.  It's not about the stupid book (I can't say that I actually regret it.  I'm not sure yet, to be honest.) and it's not about whether I can justify any purchase with talk of "embracing beauty" and "finding balance".  You bet I can.  And not all purchases are bad, obviously.  But it's a fine line, am I right?

Last week a dear friend (and Alyosha's godfather) came to stay a few days.  This guy is quite a remarkable person in that he lives a radical life of sustainability that would make Wendell Berry* proud.  He had come straight from a workshop where people gathered to discuss sustainable farming and nonviolent communication, and on his last day at our place he told me about an interesting trend he sees. He said that often the people who show up to the kind of events he enjoys are people who live radically simple lives, people who never buy or sell anything and spend their lives intentionally opting out of capitalism.  And yet many of these people, without even realizing it, consume experiences.  They are always looking for the next thing, the next adventure, the next opportunity to travel.  My friend mused that it was one reason he enjoys hanging out with our family: that the vocation of parenthood, and particularly of adoptive parenthood, is a voluntary narrowing of options.

His observation was meaningful to me in part because it was a compliment to our family life.  But it also opened my eyes to the idea that consumerism can take many (often sneaky) forms.  None of us are fully exempt from it.  Our success in living apart from it may only be determined by our willingness to keep the question of it before us every day.

My husband Eric is one of the most low-maintenance people I know.  I swear the only reason he owns ANY clothing that doesn't have holes in it is because he has to have one foot in the professional world.  I always joke that he wants our house to look like a monastery.  He does not share my proclivity to adorn bare walls.  Yet he says that his biggest struggle with consumerism is the desire for food and drink (read: coffee).  It's a deep-rooted comfort in him that he's been battling for years.  It's not that his health has taken a toll- he's just as slim and muscular as he was the day we met, damn him.  But it bothers him because it's an area of his heart that is depriving him of contentment and furthering a throw-away culture that he wants no part of.

Because that's what it's about, isn't it?  It's about how it effects our hearts and how it effects our society.  Within us, it breeds a restlessness and discontent.  It breeds an inclination to neither fully enjoy or responsibly use that which we already own.  And around us?  Around us we see a culture that demands more products, more choices, at the expense of the dignity of human laborers and animals.  We see a culture that wants freedom of choice in relationships: boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, even children, are used and tossed aside routinely.  We see a culture that itches to move on when human life gets inconvenient; we see it in the womb, with the handicapped, with the poor, with the elderly.  We see landfills heaped with the remains of what we no longer want.  We see rainforests stripped bare from our insatiability.  Everywhere we look, we see demand for more, more, more.

I'm guessing you don't want to create that kind of world any more than I do.  But it's hard to feel like anything we do can really make a difference.  And maybe it won't, in the grand scheme of things.  But is that any reason to not follow your conscience?  Not to me.  And maybe, just maybe, our only hope is one life at a time anyway.  Maybe that's the only hope we've ever had.

I'd love to hear your reactions to this; how you've wrestled with this issue in the past or how today has sparked new thought in your mind.  I know it's personal, but if you're so inclined, please share!

*affiliate link... but you're only doing yourself a favor 

Why Might A Christian Family Choose Public School?


In the past decade homeschooling has become an increasingly popular educational choice for many families and perhaps especially for Christian families, both Catholic and Protestant.  A way of life that was once looked at as (let's be honest) a bit weird is becoming more and more commonplace.  And that's a great thing!   Parents should have the right to choose how to educate their children without being seen as anti-social freaks.  There are many wonderful reasons to homeschool our children or to send them to private schools.  Please hear me say this right from the get-go: I am not implying that any type of schooling is better or worse than another, and I never will.  In fact, I reserve the right to change what our own family is doing from year to year!  There is no formula for this stuff.

However being in the Christian parenting world in the past 5 years, I have sometimes picked up on a subtle vibe that public schooling is an inferior choice to homeschooling or private schooling.  (No one in our church community has ever made me feel this personally! I just mean I feel it in the wider Christian subculture.)  I know that people do have a variety of reasons for putting their kids in public schools and sometimes it really is as simple as living in a great school district.  Nothing wrong with that!  But many of us have made the decision actually based on our Christian values, not in spite of them as some might assume. So I wanted to take some time to shed light on what exactly that means to our family.

Investing in the Heart of the Community
The idea that "our children are the hope of tomorrow" is incredibly cliche but there's a reason why: it's simply the truth.  We believe that following the way of Christ means loving the community He has put us in (and remember what D.C. Talk said: love is a verb).  The public school system is at the heart of any community, simply because children are.  What better place to actively love our neighbor and labor to make our community one that reflects God's Kingdom?

Offering Our Resources
We are not wealthy and we are not saints.  But we do have a happy marriage, my husband has a secure job, and I have been able to give most of my time to our family life.  Unlike many other parents in much more difficult circumstances, we have some financial and emotional energy to give to our children's education.  We see this as a matter of justice.  Where others are struggling, we can carry some of their share.  That single mom might be working three jobs and have no margin for helping her child sell wrapping paper, and she certainly can't buy it all herself.  So I'll do those stupid fundraisers that I hate so much, but I'll do them because it makes this place a better school for both of our kids.  

I signed up to be a parent volunteer in Alyosha's class, mostly meaning I will come a few times a year to help with the seasonal parties.  One of the requirements to be a volunteer was a background check that cost $12.  The only thing I could think of was how that may completely disqualify some parents from volunteering.  $12 is nothing to me, but I could have easily (so, so easily) seen different outcomes of my choices when I was younger and $12 would mean a lot more right now.  I don't take my privilege lightly.  And I want to ask you this: if all the families who can pay for a background check or who have time for a fundraiser pull out of public schools, what will become of the children who have less?

Building Relationships with Hurting Families
Which is a great segue into the next point, which is that you get to actually build relationships with people who are in need.  Of course there are people in need everywhere, we all know that.  And of course there are certainly many different types of need.  What I'm saying is that if following Jesus' example of seeking out the poor, the broken, those in need of Good News, is something that is a value to you, well look no further than your local public school.

Letting Our Children Meet Different People
While it is critically important to us to create a home environment that reflects our faith and to be deeply involved in our Church, we do not deem it necessary or even beneficial that our children be only surrounded by other Christians.  When I see a mom with her head covered at the elementary school, I am sincerely glad because I want my son to know she exists and that she's not scary.  I want him to see me talking to her.  And I want him to know that her children are just like him.

The same thing goes for race.  Obviously this may be more important to us as a transracial family, but I would hope that it would still be a value to me if we weren't.  I want my children to have friends who don't look like them, some who don't even talk like them.  I want it instilled in them as early as possible that we can be different and still be friends.  I honestly don't worry about my children growing up and losing their faith.  I do worry about them not doing anything with it or not being open to anyone who doesn't share it.

Supporting Our Community's Teachers
Being a teacher in any capacity is tough.  Being a public school teacher is arguably the toughest.  Our teachers manage large class sizes of students with varying abilities and backgrounds, many from broken homes or hard situations that need extra attention and encouragement.  They almost always work overtime without getting paid for it, and then they have the added pressure of those blasted standardized test results.  If all of the invested, intentional parents pull out to put their kids in other forms of schooling, who will send these teachers encouraging emails?  Who will surprise them with coffee gift cards for no reason?  Who will volunteer to organize the class parties or attend field trips?  Who will go out of their way to thank them for what they do?


Regardless of what schooling path we choose any given year, my children will be raised enveloped in the knowledge that God loves them and is with them.  They will be educated on the tenants of our faith, as they grow we will read books and wrestle hard questions together, and I believe that the spiritual convictions of our family will one day become their own.  One of those convictions is that we don't make decisions without determining how it will effect those around us.

Autumn Leaves


A few weeks after we moved this summer, a dear friend from back home sent me a text message to tell me about a dream she'd had.  In the dream, she and I were in the backyard of our new home.  I was heavy, burdened, and crying. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a horse came slowly walking up to me.  In it's mane were beautiful, crisp autumn leaves of every color.  My friend said that in her dream I reached out and touched the horse's mane, touched the leaves that were tangled there, and I smiled, full of joy.

It's been a long time since I've had a dream that I really believed was from the Lord but the moment I read her text, I knew that this one was.  It was a hard summer for me and though I hadn't told her this, I was quietly holding out hope that the tide would turn come autumn.  When my friend relayed this dream to me (and thank God she didn't just write it off) it felt like reason to cling to that hope; the hope that just around the corner would be joy.

And now here we are in mid-September and though the days are still summer-warm, the nights and mornings beg for long sleeves and light jackets.  There aren't many leaves on the ground but the oak in our front yard is turning dry and brown.  We went Saturday to an orchard to pick apples because September is their month, no matter how brazenly pumpkins try to weasel their way in.  School is in full swing and gone are those first weeks of afternoon crashes off the high.  There is a rhythm in the air now, and all four of us are pulling it in through our nostrils.

I have suddenly found myself with a life as slow and wide-open as I've longed for for years, and what to do with it perplexes me.  When you've been concentrating so long on keeping your head above water, what do you do once you find yourself on sand?  I want to better integrate the values we carry into our newly found rhythm: those of slowness, local involvement, being with the poor, family prayer, sustainability,  community, the list goes on.  But I am treading softly, recognizing that the only way to incorporate these in a permanent way is to go slow.  Slow, in fact, may be my word for this fall.

A few hours ago, I told Eric that I feel the desire to write less and focus on these things more.  Yet here I am now, before you and this computer, but I can't help it.  Right now, this is my meeting place with God.  This is where I can sit and reflect and connect the glaringly obvious dots that I otherwise miss.  Those that, like a child's game, link up to reveal a picture that I should have seen before but couldn't.  At a time in my life where (to be honest) God often feels inaccessible, I know I can always find Him once I started putting down words.

Whatever it is you do that you know you can always find Him in, don't ever stop.

But before I cracked this keyboard, I decorated our living room with all the autumn goodness I could scrounge up.  Personalizing this house has been a long and slow process for us.  We're still trying to make it feel like home, like a place of comfort and joy.  There was something about hailing the advent of fall today that got me one step closer to that.  Maybe it's because it's our first season-change here.  Maybe it's because I finally feel capacity to expand, to bring in good and beautiful things for my family's joy.  Maybe it's all the reasons and none of the reasons, and is just simply a gift.

Special thanks to my little nature-lover, Alyosha Daniel, whose penchant for hoarding acorns and pine cones finally paid off. (I let the feathers be.)  Hope he doesn't mind that I raided his stash.  All non-living objects were things I had around the house, or was saving in the basement for when I found the first red leaf.  If I do these seasonal posts often enough, it will become clear that I have my own hoarding problem with crocheted blankets.  There simply is no cure.  I apologize.

What I'm Reading - Fall '15


Picking up where we left off at the beginning of summer.  As always, Amazon links are affiliates!  :)

Just Finished Reading

Quite possibly the happiest I've ever been whilst reading.  So, so, so good.  I borrowed it from the library, but I seriously need to own this book.  It's probably not AS funny if you're not currently a parent, but, seeing how I am... it was perfection.

I love memoirs, and in many ways I saw myself in this one.  Amber Haines is a poetic writer, true Southern girl (love.), and a seriously brave storyteller.  There were more than a few times I found myself blushing at her unashamed descriptions, and I'm no prude.  It was a delightful surprise to find a female Christian author open up into such vulnerable places.  I'm a fan.

I covered this one in it's own post here!

This will probably be my favorite read of the year.  The way the author manages to tell her unique story while also telling MY story (of the past 5 years) is remarkable.  I think she and I and our sons could be best friends.  (Call me, J.L.!)  A must-read for adoptive moms, a should-read for all moms, and a please-read for everyone else.

PLAN CHANGE: There were a few books on my summer list that I didn't make it through.  If you care enough to wonder why, then ask away.  Otherwise I'm assuming no one does! ;)

Currently Reading

This one makes me wonder why I'm even writing a blog.  Why not just post a Merton excerpt a day?  Amazing book.

* PLAN CHANGE: In my last post I mentioned checking out Yes, Please by Amy Poehler from the library, hoping it would be a great next humor read. But once I got there I flipped through the thing for 5 minutes straight and never laughed out loud once. What?! So disappointing.  Didn't even bother to check it out.

Will Be Reading

I fell off the Liturgy of Life online reading group this summer with our big move and Eric's travels, and I am so excited to hop back on board with this one!  I have only read a little Wendell Berry (Eric's a big fan), but loved what I've tasted.  I know I have a lot to learn from this well of wisdom.  If you're interested in reading and discussing with other lovely women, you can find out more here!

I learned my lesson from Yes, Please and read a little of this on Amazon before shackling the library with the burden of my waiting list spot.  Looks like a fun read!

Okay, confession. This will be the first Jen Hatmaker book that I've read.  I can be slow to pull the trigger on reading contemporary Christian authors, but Jen is so funny that this one's a no-brainer.

Because everyone really should read at least one Jane Austen novel a year, am I right?  I actually just realized that I don't think I've ever read this one! Not sure how that happened, but there ya go.  Will be remedied shortly.

I'd love to hear what books you've been loving lately, and which ones are on your list before the end of the year!

For the Moms Who've Been Flattened by Motherhood


There are some moms for whom motherhood is a manageable thing.  They feel the ups and downs, the stretching, the lack of time, the lack of sleep, the lack of personal space; but it's never just all too much.  They're never pushed over the edge.  They always manage to keep it together, despite the growing pains or the twists along the way.  And to these moms I say with all sincerity, "well done! The human race might not have survived without you.  I am so glad there are women like you out there!"  I certainly deal with my fair share of jealousy, but I truly am glad that some women find motherhood to be something short of soul-crushing.  I'm just not that woman and, if you were drawn to this post by the title alone, then neither are you.

I have always loved being with children and have always wanted to be a mom, even as a little girl.  When we began pursuing adoption I had grand images in my mind of the kind of mother I would be.  What I saw in my mind's eye was a woman strong but kind, firm but soft, disciplined but playful: I imagined myself a woman capable.

A day after landing on American soil as a brand new mother, my own mama asked what I was most looking forward to about this season.  My answer was something along the lines of "doing it really well, making it go really smoothly, so that Eric will want more children soon".

No pressure, self.

I was not prepared for adoptive motherhood, I'll go ahead and say it.  We were living in Indonesia when we went through the process and got very, very little training in therapeutic parenting beforehand and had no connection to other adoptive families.  That does not exactly set one up for success.  It was only a matter of time before traditional parenting practices began failing us left and right.  By the time Alyosha turned three, all of my incapabilities were resounding off the walls of our home.  I was deeply attached to him, derived great joy from his little personhood, and loved that we belonged together.  But there was no escaping the fact that I was sinking.

I was flattened by motherhood.

But even with my face pressed to the floor, I knew it was good.  It was the very best thing that could have happened to my soul.  "His strength is made perfect in my weakness".  What took me a little longer to realize is that "His strength" still doesn't often "look" strong.  Often it looks like enough grace to hold on, enough grace to be humbled, enough grace to break open and love the world a little more.

When I got pregnant with Moses, I was thrilled.  Already being a mom while preparing to have your first baby definitely has it's challenges, but one perk is that you don't do that thing first time moms do where you hold rigidly to your expectations and plans and parenting methods you've determined to be The Right Way.  You're flexible because you've already experienced how it can all blow up in your face anyway.

That being said I still had my preferences, I just held them more loosely.  I planned to give birth with certified Nurse-Midwives in an esteemed local birthing center, but I was open to ending up in the hospital if that's what needed to happen.  I planned to breastfeed but I knew that sometimes that doesn't work out either.  Basically, my ultimate birth and newborn plan was something like this:

have a baby, be his mother.

But none of us are exempt from having hopes, no matter how much we temper them with the understanding of other possible outcomes, and I was no exception.  I felt empowered through learning about natural childbirth, reading testimonies of women who are strong and focused during labor, watching The Business of Being Born and admiring the woman who pushed her baby out in the birthing tub without making a sound, so intense was her concentration.  I didn't have that expectation of myself, but the very idea that it was possible intrigued me.  Natural childbirth, it seemed, was all about the breathtaking strength of a woman.

I spent about two hours in the birthing tub and finally had to get out when I threw up in it.  Do you know what I was not feeling?  Strong.  For THREE AND A HALF HOURS I pushed a baby with a head twisted under my pelvic bone.  Do you know what I was not feeling?  Capable.  Finally, the midwife cut an episiotomy and I was able to bring my precious baby boy into the visible world.  It was one of the greatest moments of my life.  And do you know what I felt?  Flattened.

Oh don't get me wrong, it was amazing and I was happy.  But to be honest, I was too exhausted to have any strong mindfulness of the miracle of the moment.  I just wanted to sleep for a few weeks.  With my baby, of course.  I liked him.  ;)

money shot

I had heard that women who give birth naturally recover more quickly, so I was kind of hoping to be the woman who was out of the house with babe in tow a day later.  But we all know that certain *ahem* things in labor can effect the length of recovery.  I didn't leave the house for 2 weeks.

I want to be clear, this was a beautiful little season in my life.  I had so much family around to help, it was the Christmas holidays, and I had this amazing little person glued to me 24 hours a day.  In many ways, I loved it.  But when I look back, the word that comes to mind is flattened.  And it wasn't until today, almost 2 years later, that I made the connection between bringing my first son into our family and bringing my second in.  The same thing happened both times.  Motherhood flattened me.

But the Good News for moms like me is that Scripture says we are the clay and He is the potter. What must happen to clay before it can be molded?  It must be flattened.  It must be pressed and pushed and kneaded beyond recognition.  And then and only then can it be made into something beautiful, something useful, something able to hold that which another needs.

The first time my hoodlums met each other, hours after Moses' birth.

The Good News for moms like me is that the Poor in Spirit are blessed, and they shall see God.  I can attest to this, not because I am so great or so holy, but because I am so flat and so poor.  Motherhood has flattened me, but it has also gifted me with new eyes to see God.  I see His generosity towards me when I look at my children.  I see His love for me when I realize that He was indescribably more flattened for me than I could ever, ever imagine myself to be.  I see His presence here when I see other parents make mistakes even as they try their best.  I see Him in neighbors that don't like me, I see Him in moms that parent differently than I do, I see Him in my husband who suffers with me.  And yes, I see Him in me.  Because I know that the kind of love that allows itself to be flattened yet continues to love relentlessly doesn't come from me.

And you, flattened mamas of the world, I see Him in you too.

Because They Belong to Me


I can't get the picture out of my mind.  The boy is so tiny, so limp.  He looks not much older than my Moses.  I bet his mama loved listening to him piece together sentences.  I read he had a brother who was 5, just like my Aly.  He also drowned when that escape boat capsized.  I wonder if he was the swimmer Aly is; wonder how long he held on.  It's been 24 hours since I've seen the picture, and I'm still crying over it.  But can I make a confession, right here, before you all?

The first time this post on the refugee crisis popped up on my Facebook feed, I didn't click on it.

Maybe this doesn't sound particularly indicting but it is, friends.  It was so intentional.  It was such sin.  Because I didn't want to know.  I didn't want to know about the suffering of my fellow human beings, I didn't want to know about the dead bodies of children just like mine being scooped up on the beach, I didn't want to know about the terror that other mothers are living with today.  My own life has just begun to settle down into the soft soil of routine, of normalcy.  I didn't want to give that up.  I desperately wanted to remain ignorant, and I made the willful choice to do so.

By the mercy of God that post has continued to circulate, and it came back up on my feed yesterday afternoon.  I had a chance to be redeemed, and I took it.  If you did the same as I the first time around (or the second, or the third), you'll find no judgment here.  But it's not too late for redemption, and there are more Aylans that can be saved.  Please don't hide your eyes from them.  Don't we know they belong to us, too?

"Somebody's Child".

I want to scream.  HE'S MY CHILD! HE'S MINE, DAMMIT!  AND HE'S YOURS TOO!  DON'T WE BELIEVE IT?  DON'T WE BELIEVE THAT WE BELONG TO EACH OTHER?  None of us, none of us, could find that boy in the sand and not double over in sobs.  None of us wouldn't say that we would have done anything, anything to save him.  I believe in humanity too much to not believe that.

The problem is, here in our living rooms, we don't have to look.  We click the X, we scroll through, or maybe we read and pray and feel it but we don't walk downstairs to get our wallet and type in those numbers.  We don't sign that petition because it takes 3 minutes and we've got to make dinner.

I believe in us.  We can do better than that.

Below is a link to an extensive list of ways that you can take action.  This is not one of those horrific news stories about which you can do nothing.  Please sign a petition. Please donate to one of these legitimate organizations that are saving lives.  If you only have $5, sign a petition and donate $5.  The God who multiplied the loaves and the fish can surely do something miraculous with that too, can He not?  But please consider giving more than you feel able.  As Anne Frank said, "no one has ever become poor by giving".

They belong to you, too.  Don't turn your head.

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)